Interview between Amy Boone-McCreesh and Elliot Doughtie
A: First question – how are you doing and coping with everything happening right now?
E: I’m okay. It’s been a while now since the pandemic started. I’ve been mostly out of work since March and I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. So I just went into the studio everyday, its across the street from my apartment which makes it easy. It felt weird at first going in and I felt guilty about it and I didn’t do much. Then I had a super productive period but then it got hot so I’m back to not accomplishing much again. I don’t always make work when I’m there, but being in the studio helps to change the pace of the day. I usually wander across the street around 2 PM and I’m here until about 6 PM and that’s my capacity lately. I had a couple of shows postponed or cancelled, so I don’t really have much to structure or push to finish right now. It’s an odd change of pace to get into and I’ve been able to push the ideas I was working on into abstract territory or just do random stuff with no clear purpose.
A: I’ve been having a hard time in the studio, feeling like art is trivial, I know it is important and a way to archive the world around us but hard to justify. How do you feel about the role of an artist in society right now?
E: You’re right that the pandemic has made it difficult. It’s a daily thing to convince myself that it’s okay to even be interested in art let alone make art. I work in art museums too so I feel it from the artist perspective as well as that perspective. And everything’s gone online now and I am someone who really enjoys consuming all of that kind of art related media and interviews and what not but its becoming overwhelming. Kind of a battle between FOMO and What’s the point?
Also there’s a priority now for art that translates to the web well that scares me a bit as an artist who makes work that is large but made up of small details that tells a story that can’t be captured all in one image. It’s meant to be walked through and around not on a screen. But I think there are still the conversations people end up having around all this strain to go online that are important. And the institutions that are trying to figure out how to keep “open” and stay present might end up doing something that really captures what this moment is like.
I like to ask each artist where they grew up or about their formative years, as I feel it almost always finds its way into our work – you grew up in Texas, right?
Yes, Dallas, which is its own brand of Texas. I was born there and lived there the most growing up, but my mom’s family is from New Orleans so I was kind of back and forth between the two cities till coming to Baltimore. I went to undergrad in New Orleans, then went back to Dallas to work afterwards. Then I just kind of broke at some point and needed a major change. A lot of it was personal as well as career based, so I wanted to move somewhere new and far away. I felt the change of location would help me deal with other major changes easier. I was working part time for an art gallery and one of the artists had gone to MICA for his MFA and hated it, and he has his own reasons for that. He told me not to go. But then I stubbornly had it in my head that I needed to be there so I applied. Baltimore wasn’t even really on my radar, but I got into MICA and came here and I love it. I’ve been here seven years now.
Can you explain your work in simple terms with those that may not be familiar?
For the past couple of years I have been making sculptures and installations that are centered around the bathroom, both public and private, and using objects that are found there that are familiar, but making other objects that seem familiar but aren’t. Also using objects that stand in for body parts as if the bathroom were to become a person itself with its own needs and desires and vices. I will slip in other objects too that bring you more to the narrative that I am trying to create, which is how the space of the bathroom is complicated for someone who is LGBTQ. Well, specifically my own experience as a trans person. Ever since I started making work that was super personal and involves me having to come out every time I introduce it, it depends on the situation how detailed I want to get with the work. I think the sculptures can be universal as having a body is but I will include an object, like a binder or Buck Off, or small glass vile with not quite clear liquid, that then brings the work into the very specific realm of my own experiences. The objects might be recognized for what they are or not, I enjoy art that has its secrets.
I use a lot of tile, sometimes real and sometimes painted, plaster, and lately epoxy. Also copper pipes have been present in most of the works for several years as a way to bring the inside structure out and touch on the idea of internal plumbing and ingestion which is why cast plaster bottles are also a common object in the work.
A big part of this website was figuring out how to break through downward momentum, fighting Inertia, how do you keep going as an artist?
I just try to keep busy and go to studio. As basic as that sounds, it’s the only thing that actually works for me. I’m down on myself constantly; post-show blues, moving studios, finishing a work and then just watching it sit there and thinking, why are you even here? You have this momentum when creating and then it goes nowhere sometimes. I just try to find meaning in my work, rearrange it if need be and keep myself busy. If I don’t keep busy I’ll get down. I have some tricks though, I keep beer in my studio and not at home so that I have to go to the studio and get it. So I’ll sit there and have a beer and think about the work or scroll through my phone and even if I don’t do anything, it still makes me feel like I did something. I even started growing a tomato plant at studio, so I have to go water it and check on it everyday and it gets me there.
I get mad about the fact that people try to hide their struggles with their work, especially if we’re suppose to be educating other artists, we’re setting them up for failure. But it’s fine; it’s okay to be afraid.
I’ve noticed that when I get to a certain point in the sculpture I am working on that I hate doing, that’s when I get down again and it gets harder to push through. Especially having to sand, and especially sanding when it’s hot in the studio. So my attention will shift to something new until it gets to that point and the cycle continues. I currently have several projects mostly in the back of the studio that are at that point and they’ve just been sitting there. Instead, I water my plant, drink a beer, and talk to Phaan through the wall, she has a studio next to me. Tell myself I’ll try again tomorrow, eventually I figure it out and the work finds a place that I might not have intended for it when I started. Ultimately I have to have trust in that.
What brings you joy outside of the studio?
Oh, that’s hard because ever since I moved to Baltimore the studio is the center of my world and all my friends are artists. It’s all consuming it feels like. I do read a lot, and listen to audio books and podcasts. I have two cats. They are my absolute world and if you have met me you have heard me talk about them. Sheldon and new baby kitten Gus.
I’ve been cooking a lot since the pandemic now that I have time. I never really cooked that much before but used to love baking as another form of creation. I’ll have a craving for something and then I’ll look up the recipe and see how I can modify it. I was a cake decorator for a while, but I haven’t really baked much since before grad school. It’s a lot of messing up and then doing it over. I remember it being so stressful having to do it all with a deadline, but the rush and the joy others found in what you made was great. I loved that job, but I also hated it so much too. Near the end they moved me to a new shop in the mall with a station where people would watch me decorate through a window. That kind of killed the fun of it for me, but now I am finding it again. Funny thing too is this mall has an amazing art collection. People would ask me where the whatever store was and you could say take a right at the Warhol or something like that.
Usually I end an interview by asking artists what they have coming up or what they would like to promote – we can substitute this with recommended readings, coping mechanisms, or projects you’d like to promote!
I have two shows coming up that are actually going through, which I feel awkward and nervous and guilty about because everything seems constantly changing and up in the air. One is a solo show at BasketShop in Cincinnati in November. The show was set up through ACRE residency I did last year and has been a long time in the process as it was suppose to happen back in June. We received a grant from ArtsWave in Cincinnati to put it together and the extra time on the show has meant it has just been growing in my studio. I am also a Trawick Prize finalist this year and that show will be September 4-26 in Bethesda. My coping mechanism/recommended reading would be the queer utopian novel The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions. I’ve been rereading this over and over lately and keep it by my bed. It was lovingly shared with me last summer when we read it as a group on blankets in the grass and feels good to be back there again.
Click here to see Elliot’s available work in the INERTIA shop, 50% of the sale of Elliot’s work will go to supporting Free State Justice.