Study for Marriage Portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln
Hi Dawn! Your art is such a perfect reflection of you. The same person that makes high-minded art about aristocracy is also the same person that gave us "Nice Rack".
Nice Rack, image via Some Space Gallery
I first met you at your opening of Schönbrunn (A Failed Attempt at Something Grand) in 2006. After that, you just seemed to be everywhere all at once with shows at SOIL, SAM Rental/Sales, TAM and then shortlisted for a Stranger Genius Award. If people hadn't known you before, they certainly knew all about you after 2006. Were you just hunkered down in your studio that entire year?
I was so tired at the end of 2006 I just sat down and cried. The Schönbrunn and The Artful Scheme of Happiness had both been researched for a little over two years and then it took about a year to six months to make the work. Before I start any show I spend a lot of time at the UW Library doing research, writing and walking around the campus processing things. Then when it comes to making things I put all of that esoteric stuff aside and make a crap load of stuff. When it is time to edit the show I trade my beret for my mortarboard.
#1 Century in the USA, image via 4Culture
A lot of your art references another time. Have you always been a history buff? What attracts you to the past? Does the art world owe a thank you letter to your 7th grade history teacher?
I think that setting things in another time, or finding the larger historical patterns, helps me look at issues in “my time” in history with a grain of salt. I think for some time I have been hiding behind history to tell very personal stories that I didn’t know how to articulate in my own way.
The same could be said about my use of humor -- I tend to use these armatures to keep me safe as I work out things that concern me. I would however like to take this moment to formally thank my 7th grade history teacher and Vice-principal of Solvang School Mr. Bob Raleigh. I think that year was American history and we had to memorize the Declaration of Independence.
"This is never going to end.", image via Some Space Gallery
You frequently show with Alice Tippit. Your two styles merge so well. What draws you to the idea of working collaboratively?
Alice and I are both extremely perverse and I think we were lucky to find each other. Our collaborative style is largely based on the comedy duo: one person sets up the joke so the other person can “bring it on home.” I immensely admire Alice’s skills and her insight. I like working collaboratively because you get to become this whole new artistic entity. I think this is why a lot of musicians start side projects---so they can stretch their legs a little in a new direction without having to quit the band.
Bad Idea, Alice Tippit and Dawn Cerny, image via Francine Seders Gallery
Your installation at Henry Art Gallery this year is the most personal work I think I've seen by you. Was the title, "We're all going to die (except you)" about your brother and your response to his enlistment? Or was it broader statement about death and war and grieving? [Side note: Have you ever heard of Unbunny? He has a song called, "We're all gonna die"]
No, I haven’t heard of Unbunny…but I am going to look him up! It is crazy how many songs are about death when you start looking for them. The shows catalyst was really seeing the mourning costumes in the Henry’s collection around the same time my Grandpa had died and my brother had joined the Air Force. I think before that, I was thinking about the idea of the “epic” and how if you make a battle that has no specific “sides” than it reads as a metaphor for something larger where good and evil can’t be distinguished anymore. I saw those costumes and was like “Oh Shit. I am going to do a show on death: what a terrible idea.” I knew if I was going to do a show about death, war and the sublime I wanted it to pivot between something that felt “personal to the artist” but also design places where the audience could find their place. "We're all going to die (except for you)" as a title reads very personally (like it could be for my brother) but it has larger implications about how we all live in on (in objects, stories, the environment, psychologically, etc.) I think that it is most important that people know they count.
Waiting Room, photo by Malcom Smith (image via The Stranger)
Installation view (image via The Henry)
Your art is funny despite the underlying themes. Is that just a natural reaction to death, like nervous laughter?
I think my work is funny but I am never sure why other people see my work as more funny than it is depressing. Much of the time I am insinuate a punch-line and people must feel that and laugh. I try to be very honest with my own failures (personal and artist) and that is always good for a laugh. I do use humor but it is always jokes based upon human frailty and sadness--- they are only joke people who have know deep sadness can laugh at. I have a deep love for people and tragedy and I think this must mean deep down that everything I make has that love too. (I am Oprah)
My favorite piece of yours is the double Mary Todd. Where did that come from? I remember seeing it and whispering, "oh...my...gawd". I could look at it forever. Please tell me a museum purchased it!
Oh man, that piece has got MAD voodoo in it. We had it up in the dining room (ooooohh that made me sound rich!) and we had to pack it up because it is soooooooo Mary Todd Lincoln. I spent a year reading and doing work about her and Abe and I think when it came to executing it something “else” took over and it completely was crazy/pretty/occult/life-size Mary. It has not sold but Shoreline Community College bought a large etching I did as a study. It hangs, ironically, in the Library.
Installation view of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln (image via artist)
(image via artist)
What does 2009 look like for you?
Patrick Holderfield and I were both asked to do works for Gallery4Culture this June in conjunction with Seattle’s centennial celebration of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. I had only learned about the A.Y.P. four weeks before I had been asked to do the show so it has been a really amazing excuse to do a lot of reading and thinking about the last 100 years here in Seattle. I have only been here for the last 11 years but trust me, the 89 before I got here were far more interesting.
I am still looking at death and cool and drugs…while not being/doing any of them.
I am learning to say “No.” more and be let go of disappointing people.
I am trying to eat less candy. (I just lied about that one…)
I am going to kick my egos ass in the next two years.
(image via artist)
Is there anything you want to add?
Everyone be patient with me. I promise I will work hard and seek out my blind spots. Also, the X-files is a really important thing to watch in conjunction with reading any Joseph Campbell & everyone should read the book "Please Kill Me" it will make you proud to be American.
(image via The Henry)