Jonathan Latiano http://www.jonathanlatiano.com/
Studio Visit, Baltimore, MD.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I grew up in Eastern rural Pennsylvania, Coopersburg, near Allentown. I used to spend a lot of time in the woods or corn fields, that’s what you did out there. I’ve always been really fascinated with nature and natural processes. I didn’t go to a magnet high school or anything like that, so I was taught at an early age that being a studio artist was not a career option.
In high school I did a lot of theatre, I was good at drawing, and I had worked a lot with their video program. My high school was at the forefront for a lot of those types of programs, teaching us Final Cut Pro and things like that. Me and my friends were always making these weird movies. So when I went to college I started off as an animation major with the idea that I’d work for Cartoon Network or Adult Swim. I went to a strictly animation school that first year, it was very technical. I figured out fairly quickly that I wanted a broader academic education and I also realized that I didn’t really know how to draw or paint or anything about color. So after a year I transferred to a liberal arts college, Moravian College, which is where I got my undergraduate degree in Studio Art. I transferred in still thinking I was going to work in the commercial animation industry but it was at Moravian where I really fell in love with the fine arts. It still took me a while though to wrap my head around what a practice would look like, again, where I’m from, that wasn’t something you did as a career, and you went to college to make yourself attractive to the job market. Now I pass this onto my own students, if this (art) is something that you really want to do, you figure out a way to make it work. My parents aren’t artists but they were always supportive, my dad is really into old Donald Duck comics and Japanese prints, and John Waters films. So I think that actually had a lot of influence.
WHAT IS THE DRIVING FORCE BEHIND YOUR WORK?
For a long time the answer to this question was nature and sciences like geology and evolutionary biology, but more recently it has become clear that I am motivated by how human beings view time and the subjective quality of that. The whole idea of getting a truer perspective on time is interesting, geology and evolution just happen to be good vehicles for that. So I am always thinking about that in the pieces I make, both in a linear narrative quality and the abstract. We happen to be at the very start (or the end if you’re not an optimist) of the Anthropocene, it’s a very important cusp in both our species and the planet’s histories. When thinking about time; I am thinking about right now, the future, and the past and how they are all relevant to each other. I think this is why I work in installation too. A lot of times I am either trying to slow down or speed up how viewer looks at things.
Because of technology, everything is speeding up and flying at you, it feels like everyone is yelling, re-posting and sharing and rarely really looking at anything (I admit I’m over-generalizing here). I think it’s really hard right now for us, both as individuals and a society, to slow down and actually spend some time with something. There’s a piece that I am working on right now for the Peale Museum here in Baltimore that I think is going to be really difficult to photograph and Instagram, on one hand i’m worried that’s going to bite me in the ass for promoting the show but on the other I’m pretty excited about that aspect of it.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ROUTINES OR RITUALS WHILE WORKING IN YOUR STUDIO
Drawing is a big routine, I never formally exhibit my drawings, but I draw every day I’m in my studio. It’s how I wrap my head around my installations when initially conceiving them. I also make a lot of lists, and keeping them out where I can see them is really helpful. I like to get in around 8 or 9 in the morning and do a standard work day, the summer is good for that. I usually divide my day in two halves, one will be more creative exploration, writing, drawing, research, the other half of the day is manufacturing or production. Podcasts are a big part of the studio, when Cindy and I are in here together we listen to the same thing. We usually start the day with NPR then Cindy usually lets me handle the podcasts, we both really like science fiction and classical music and politics. I have interns currently and we let them DJ when we’re in the mood for music, we both enjoy that. Cindy and I have a good work dynamic, when we first get in we’ll often sit for about 20 minutes or so and talk about the world and art, and what’s going on in the Baltimore art scene, and our friends. After that we are pretty good about just going and working for about eight hours. Sometimes we’ll yell to over to the other about something on the radio, but mostly we don’t talk during the day unless it’s having the other pop over quickly to look at something.
DO YOU HAVE ANY HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF YOUR STUDIO PRACTICE?
When I can, I like long distance running, it’s the closest thing I can get to meditation. It’s good to clear my brain out. I put on some serious top 40 and just book it as hard as I can. I’m also a pretty avid Star Wars fan. It is one of my favorite things. It’s a great time for that genre, it’s all back and in a really fun place. When I want to relax I’ll hop onto Wookiepedia and figure out really what the deal is with Mon Calamari cruisers. But for the most part this (studio) is what I do. When I’m not in the studio, I’m teaching or thinking about teaching. I realized a while ago it’s kind of a top down thing. I make art, I look at art, and then I get to interact with the next generation of artists and it just becomes one big practice. When I’m not in my studio, I’m usually still thinking about the things I’ve got going on in my studio. I’m also lucky to have good friends and a great and supportive girlfriend.
A FEW YEARS AGO YOU WON THE MARY SAWYERS BAKER PRIZE- DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT CHANGED THE TRAJECTORY OF YOUR WORK OR AFFORDED YOU OTHER BENEFITS THAT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN EXPECTED?
Definitely yes, I was relatively young when I won, it was 2013 and I was one year out of graduate school. It made a big difference in a lot of ways. The first thing I did was get a studio at School 33, I could barely afford it at the time but I knew that in a couple of months I would be getting the money (they tell you you’ve won about 2 months before it’s announced but you can’t tell anyone). During that time I didn’t have a great adjuncting schedule, I was new to teaching and there were only one or two classes for me that semester, the money really helped get me through that. That year was a great studio year though. I built the Baltimore Museum of Art show during that year, which is one of my favorites.
I sometimes have problems with my older work but it’s been three years and i still feel really good about that show. The Baker prize money forced me to register as an artist for taxes and the influx of the money made me think about how to run a tighter ship. It gave me confidence in my work but has also made me harder on myself. I think that I wanted to live up to being an artist that won the Baker, which might have been unreasonable. Right after winning it, I felt a certain degree of responsibility that I needed to push harder, push research, and to make sure that my work continues to evolve. There are times when that works out really well and times when it doesn’t. I can never express how grateful I am to have been selected for that. It was a really wonderfully intense experience and I’m immensely proud.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLE IN YOUR STUDIO PRACTICE?
One of the most frustrating things about my practice is that I rarely get to know exactly how the work is going to turn out until about a day before a show opens. I prepare as much as I can in the studio but I never really know what it’s going to look like until I am on site. That’s really exciting at times but it will also cause me pain, because it stresses me out. Scale and size are also issues, I have a hard time throwing things away. I try to cannibalize as much of the past installations as I can because I inevitably have to destroy them for space reasons…….which also causes me pain.
WOULD YOU EVER CONSIDER SET DESIGN IN A THEATRE OR CINEMATIC CONTEXT?
I do really miss theatre and it’s something I should take in more, living in Baltimore which has a great scene. Every year I set a goal to see more theatre. Cindy and I have talked about this, working with set building and props but one thing that holds me back from that is that those careers are all encompassing from what I can tell. If an opportunity came up to collaborate in that setting I would probably jump on it in a heartbeat. I am always thinking about old science fiction, the way they did old special effects and movie magic. I have been thinking more about motion and dance actually, collaborating with dance companies possibly.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PROJECTS YOU ARE CURRENTLY WORKING ON OR EXHIBITS YOU WOULD LIKE TO PROMOTE?
I am making a piece for the Peale Museum a show titled Birdland and the Anthropocene curated by Lynne Parks, it runs from October 6-29 of this year. It’s a big group show, with artists from around the country. We get the whole museum, all four or five floors. I am making something that is more of a sensory experience rather than a large physical, structural thing. It’s much more inside the viewer’s own head space.
For a long time I have been preparing to work on a large public art piece for Baltimore City at the proposed Cherry Hill Recreation Center. Recently that project has been delayed for a few years, so that is on the back burner. It’s a bummer but that has given me time to work on a project I’ve been thinking about for a long time, which is where these big mirrored pieces have come from. The larger spheres take almost a week to make, so I think the whole thing will take about a year to fabricate. There is no specific venue for it yet, this whole thing is really out of my wheelhouse and I have just started to do studio visits for it and trying to workshop the technology. The most immediate thing is the Peale Museum, but besides that the schedule is pretty open ended which is good because I kind of need that right now. It’s nice too because since I have been out of graduate school, most of the works I’ve created have been for a specific exhibition, so this is the first time in a long time I can kinda really allow myself a wide range of failure in the studio, which is always important.