This Friday night, January 9th, the Breeze Block Gallery in Portland will be opening a solo show by Bill McRight along with Alex Lukas (whom we interviewed here). Entitled Willing To Lose, the exhibition will feature McRight’s signature homemade shanks, engraved stainless steel camping mirrors, drawings as well as some surprises. He talks about this and a lot more in an interview conducted for us by his good friend Sage Vaughn.
Take a look at the questions and answers below…
Sage Vaughn (SV): Did you go to art school? Did you ever go to jail?
Bill McRight (BM): I went to a liberal arts school for undergrad but majored in fine art. Then, I went to grad school in Brooklyn. It was pretty cool I guess. I haven’t been to jail – got arrested a couple times as a kid for criminal mischief, but I don’t think I was ever even in a holding cell though.
SV: You like Tom Sach’s zip guns? When are you going to make your version?
BM: I like a lot of Tom Sach’s works – the zip guns and the cabinets with weapons and stuff. I have debated making zip guns. I have no knowledge of how that stuff works though – I’m not even that into guns… I feel like a knife is a lot more personal than a gun. I have made quite a few tattoo machines and given and gotten some pretty tight tattoos that way.
SV: What’s your thoughts on the effect weapons have inside such a sterile place like a gallery?
BM: I think that weapons in a gallery is unsettling. People often don’t know how to react. I have gone back and forth on presentation. Sometimes it’s in these really raw wooden boxes, sometimes it’s been shanks hanging on string from a board with nails (definitely the most sketchy), but for this show I went with a more “scientific” presentation. The shanks are in shadow boxes with glass over the face. It looks really clean even with these dirty “artifacts.” I like showing these this way because it reminds me of a weird museum presentation. Oh, I also included this one cabinet kind of box with a bunch of weapons and this one panel I made out of old boards I got out of a basement and then hung everything off of it. The work on old wood just looks like a crazy person made it.
SV: How are your homemade body boards coming along?
BM: I haven’t made that many paipos. I actually have been thinking a lot about these – need to get a good sander and will resume production by spring. I think the hand plane I made for body surfing helped me understand how the paipos need to work a little better. This is a project I can’t wait to get back to. It is rad to make stuff you can actually use beyond looking at it on a wall. I can’t wait to get back to body surfing either, that’s really my favorite thing – just the ocean and me. It’s fun with friends and it’s fun solo (that’s a bit more scary though). The best times have been going a few days in a row. One day I was out with a couple buddies and some kids were already out there, at one point a sea lion popped its head out of the water maybe 10 feet from my buddy and all of us were in the shallows real quick.
SV: What kind of pieces did you make for your upcoming show?
BM: Oh shit, I guess I started answering this a couple questions ago. Anyway, I made 7 shadow boxes with 2-3 shanks in them, 5 shadow boxes with individual shanks, 8 of these little stainless steel camping mirrors that have skulls engraved onto them, 8 ball point pen drawings on stationary from galleries and businesses, one cabinet thing full of weapons, and a panel with some larger weapons on it. I’m planning on a couple of things on site as well but I don’t want to ruin any surprises.
SV: Do you usually have a concept for the work for a show, or is more of a sample of your works for a period of time?
BM: I usually wait ’til the point where I should have started maybe two weeks earlier and make as much stuff as I can in a short amount of time. This show is a little different. I knew about it way in advance and didn’t want to do the last minute thing, so it’s kind of a concept and kind of a sampling. I usually start with one idea and watch it grow as I work. There was a time I built a shack inside of a gallery and the whole inside was painted red and had a red light and a heat lamp in it. Also, there was the time you and I collaborated, making bats and throwing water balloons of paint, that was so good.
For this show, hmmm, I mean, it’s been an interesting time in my life, things are good for the most part but there has been some dark stuff that definitely influenced this work as well. I think the drawings and engravings have been a meditation on mortality. The weapons have evolved over time too – the ones in this show have more detail and personal touches, ornamentation if you will. There is stuff engraved on the blades or handles, some have special paint jobs, so they seem even more alive to me. I guess none of this gives a very clear concept but it’s there. It’s playful and serious at the same time. There are inside jokes and me remembering what it’s like to be a kid. I think this might be the most cohesive body of work even though its spread across a few mediums. It all makes sense to me at least.
I forgot to mention the name of the show – it’s Willing To Lose. I stole it from an interview on WTF and it sums up my feelings lately. I think the actual quote was something like “i’m willing to lose” then Marc Maron interrupts and is all “that’s beautiful! what a beautiful statement!” And then Josh Homme says “I’m willing to lose myself fighting for what I believe in, my family, my work…” Those aren’t exact quotes but it’s something like that. I like the idea of doing what you need to do but being willing to lose, you know get lost in the things that make you who you are and not having to “win” or even be successful – just doing what you do because you love it.
SV: Has moving to LA affected your work?
BM: I know that it has influenced my work but I don’t know how directly. I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been and dealing with things instead of pushing shit aside and letting it pile up. I think it’s made my work more playful, and it’s helped me branch out with stuff. I think the work has become broader in thought and I just want to make stuff all the time and do it bigger and better. LA has probably helped me to focus and unfocus at the same time. I’m having the urge to make so much stuff beyond what I’ve made before. I can’t wait for the chance to expand to furniture and make whole environments that everything belongs in. It’s coming soon.
SV: You ever listen to Frank Zappa?
BM: I don’t think I have, maybe through a college roommate but that stuff has eluded me for the most part. Born Against was the sound track to most of this new work.
SV: How many skulls do you think youve drawn in the last year?
BM: I don’t know, maybe 1000, probably not quite that many, but at least 500. That’s not all real finished art quality skulls, but I draw some and then throw them away immediately – a lot of them were drawn on post-it notes. Let’s say between 500 and 1000. I have 12 skull tattoos at last count and want to just keep getting those.
SV: What do you think the effect is of such a repeated action with a singular subject?
BM: I think doing anything repetitively makes for variation. I have drawn so many skulls, but to look back at them they have changed a lot. I see new ways to make them look and things i can add to them. It becomes a meditation of sorts. I think drawing so many of these things has made me get good at it, and if I start to get bored with it, I just push myself to do something new with it. They started as a thing to do when I got stuck and have become a go to subject that has become second nature but is still challenging to me.
SV: If money/time was no object, what would you make for the next year?
BM: Honestly, more complicated versions of the weapons. That’s the first thing – then furniture, paipos (plywood bodyboards), hand planes for body surfing. I also want to make cast aluminum skulls, so that’s going to happen no matter what. I would be getting huge stainless steel sheets and polishing them to mirror quality then engraving giant skulls and flowers. I’d also get a plasma cutter and do sheets of metal with the lines cut out. Let’s see, you really opened up Pandora’s box here. I’d probably be building structures, making embroidered patches and engraving all the flasks forever. I think that would fill the year nicely.
SV: Small Tiger vs Andy Warhol? Mammoth vs Richard Serra as a robot?
BM: Andy and the tiger would be friends and the tiger would let Andy ride him like Battle Cat and He-Man. I imagine robot Richard Serra would be made out of huge sheets of steel so he would easily crush anything. But at the end of the day, Phil Collins Pham would wreck everyone with his judging stares. Phil Collins the cat wins.
SV: Heard from J Shockley, you used to do some major print making… Tell me about the steamroller.
BM: I did tons of linoleum cuts and some wood cuts. My buddy Dennis “Wolfbat” McNett used to have his students do 4 x 8′ woodcuts and then print them with a steam roller. I did a couple of those, usually really fast and not as detailed as the smaller stuff. It was pretty fun though.
SV: What do you think about sexy art?
BM: Like Frank Frazetta or the guy who paints sexy robot ladies? love it! I think art should be sexy no matter what it looks like. I like super clean and shiny stuff and I also like dirty stuff, if it was made with passion it’s sexy. Is that the right answer?
SV: What artists are you into right now?
BM: Man, this is gonna be all over the place, Leonard Baskin is one of my all time favorites and a go-to for me. Lately, @brendan on instagram kills me. I find the stuff that Joel Morrison is making interesting; Ralph Eugene Meatyard forever. Ben Venom is one of my favorites and a valued friend; Jon Bocksel the same. I couldn’t be happier about doing a show at the same time as Alex Lukas. I work in the “art industry” as a day job so I don’t find myself at galleries or even looking at art as much as I used to. Oh, Eddie Martinez makes me pretty stoked when I look at his stuff. I don’t know who else, you, people who are my friends and make stuff get me the most hyped. That and dead people.
SV: Art history? Thoughts…
BM: Interesting, it wasn’t in my thoughts when I was in school but like I said dead people’s art is awesome. I think I might find regular history more interesting though. I think art was probably better before the internet made the life span two hours or whatever. How long does stuff stay in an Instagram feed?
SV: When making your weapon pieces, what are you feeling? Anger? Focus? Release?
BM: Probably release, focus and playful. I get hyped when I think they are coming out good. it makes me feel invincible (I don’t know how to spell).
SV: I know youre not a violent person, but would you be stoked if one of your pieces ever ended up as evidence in a murder trial?
BM: Yeah, probably, especially if the murderer had bought it and then killed somebody with it (this is sort of sarcastic).
SV: After our spiked bat vs. water balloon installation at THIS, i realized we both were never destined for the Major Leagues… Did you ever play sports? (this is such a stupid question). I just wanted to mention we did that rad installation together. It was one of the most pleasurable art experiences I’ve ever had. I have never laughed as much in a gallery in my life. I’m always so nervous that the work is good enough, the gallery has their shit together, the collectors will show up, etc… It was such a beautiful moment for me.
BM: HA! Yeah I played soccer as a little kid, skateboarding (is that a sport) & bodysurfing (again is that a sport?) as well. Andrew Schoultz once called painting murals in the sun “art athleticism” – I like that sport. That bat and paint balloon show was the best thing ever. I want it in print that we need to do that again, we should try to do it at BRUTAL next year! That install or performance or whatever was the best time in a gallery, grown men giggling all night long – perfect. I hate having a day job but love the fact that I can take risks with art and not worry as much about selling. I mean, please buy my art but it should be fun all the time.
SV: If your art and my art fought, yours would kick mine’s butt, but the aftermath could be pretty rad… Just saying
BM: Lets make them fight more often, I think mine would just be intimidating and then it would reveal its real feelings and they would probably just hug it out xoxo.