Interview, FIX IT BROKEN, Volume 1, Issue #2, 03/31/2011
Gene Wisniewski is an artist. Gene Wisniewski is a great artist. Gene Wisniewski will be providing the cover art and accompanying artwork for Issue #2 of FIX IT BROKEN.
Gene takes his work seriously, and he is clearly well educated and undoubtedly passionate about what he does. He fears the dismal possibility of spending all day in an office, and for that he paints and writes with desirous vigor, and we are lucky to have him on board.
Check out the interview below, as well as Gene's website.
Greg Dybec: Let's get to know you the quick and easy way. Who are you? Where are you? Why art? Why writing?
Gene Wisniewski: Ooh, just like speed-dating! My name is Gene Wisniewski (pronounced just like it looks), and I am a visual artist and writer residing in Weehawken, New Jersey.
My artwork falls into the category of Surrealism in the strictest sense, in that the images are based on things that come to me in my dreams or spontaneous sketches I do without thinking about them. A lot of my writing is about art and artists; it covers a wide range of styles, from comedic satire to essays to poetry. I just gathered a number of pieces into an anthology called “The Art Collection”, which I am presently trying to peddle to agents and publishers, in case anyone out there is an agent or publisher.
The exact origins of my fascination with art are shrouded in the foggy depths of the distant past. Betty Ann Rotundo, one of the kids I hung around with in high school, won a scholarship to Cooper Union, and I think I thought that was pretty cool. I was also encouraged by my third art professor, Leon Golub, although not by my first two, who matter less than Leon Golub. In any case, I was a theater major in college and didn’t start studying art seriously until I was I my thirties.
I began writing because I had two sentences in my head and decided they belonged together. Not long after I had an eleven-thousand-word story, and while the original two sentences didn’t wind up RIGHT next to each other, they were only 176 words apart in the final draft. Some friends told me the story was funny, and so, mad with power, I decided to send it to some literary magazines. It was published in Exquisite Corpse from Louisiana State University and the rest is whatever it turns out to be.
GD: How would you describe the current state of the art community? Is there a commonality between that community and the literary world?
GW: There’s no money around in the art world so the dealers are literally holding up collectors at knifepoint in their galleries. No one is safe. The writers are looking a little more well-heeled than the artists.
I think in both circles, once you immerse yourself, you find they are really very small, and everyone knows everyone with only a degree or two of separation. There is cross-pollination between artists from different disciplines, but that mostly seems to happen at parties. My impression of art openings and literary readings though is that they’re pretty homogenous overall. I would say readings are ever so slightly more cliquish than openings, if such a thing is possible.
Of course, once you get into the upper echelons of celebrity, the various disciplines cross paths much more frequently. Oprah knows everybody.
GD: Are your art and writing processes similar?
GW: I see both as solving a series of problems. And, while a piece of art can be created by a group of people, I don’t generally indulge in that sort of thing, so another characteristic the two activities share is that they require me to be alone, or in a situation where I can wrap myself mentally in a little cocoon. On a bus where people are being considerate of their fellow passengers and speaking quietly on their cell phones, for instance.
Writing for me anyway is pretty much always the same, whether it’s something funny or something serious. The only thing different is the emotional state I’m in while I’m writing it. It’s all about trying to create a sequence of events that’s logical but unexpected (although leading a reader to a foregone conclusion can sometimes work. I just tried that myself.)
There’s the constant search for just the right word, making sure your sentences are well constructed, and trying to keep your worst excesses in check. You have to keep reviewing that you haven’t put in anything that contradicts anything else you’ve written, which is like juggling more and more plates, and then juggling more and more plates on a unicycle as the thing gets longer. So it’s a lot of thinking ahead but also a lot of re-reading.
With art, sometimes it’s just a matter of having a piece of paper in front of me so I can draw something that pops into my head. The next step with these particular pieces is to edit them to see which, if any, are worthwhile. Since I don’t alter these images at all before I make paintings out of them, it becomes the same thought process as painting your kitchen ceiling. Being careful to stay in the lines. Mixing the right color. The one part of this body of work that’s similar to writing is coming up with a title.
Once you get into painting of any type, the most obvious difference is the enormous amount of preparation involved. To begin writing, you turn on your computer. To begin painting, you spend an hour laying out paints and doing various and sundry adjustments, that is, if you have the light you need and sometimes even the weather (Michelangelo made the mistake once of trying to work on the Sistine Chapel when it was too damp out). If you are painting something from a model, whether it be a vase of flowers or your own face in a mirror, you have to get out of your head, like when you’re writing, and relate to that model. You’re also more in the present because you can’t think about what’s next until you put something on the canvas.
One project I’m working on now is an art book. I found a Jehovah’s Witnesses book from the 1970’s in the basement of my apartment building, and I’m transforming each page into a piece of art, either by incorporating what’s on the page or obliterating it. This is the first time I’ve ever done art where I had no idea whatsoever might happen, and really learned the value of a happy accident.
GD: What influences you and gets the creative juices flowing?
GW: The terrifying and all-consuming thought that I will spend the rest of my life working in an office.
GD: If you, as a whole, could be described and seen as one particular image, what would it be?
GW: I see myself as a four-winged bird in a barbed-wire cage. I not only sing, but I dance just as good as I walk.
GD: In the "Artist's statement" portion of your website you state, "Spontaneity is at the crux of my work," but you also explain your formal education and technical expertise as being essential to your trade. How important is it to channel and balance both of these aspects, and is it vital for them to coexist? Do you think this is often the case with many successful artists?
GW: I’d like to take this opportunity to invite readers to visit my website, http://www.genewisniewski.com, to see more of my work.
Good art always balances freedom and discipline. I feel, on general principle, if you are going to make art you should be good at it. Fran Lebowitz makes this argument far more wittily than I could ever hope to in the film Martin Scorsese recently made about her.
In my case, I wouldn’t have the nerve to show somebody a painting I made out of one of my deranged little doodles without knowing that I was at least a reasonably accomplished draftsman. And I would never want my expression limited by my lack of technical ability.
Of course, genuine passion trumps technique in art any day. Vincent van Gogh wasn’t a great painter in the academic sense, but he did have a certain enthusiasm. However, if you’re not making art in a mental health facility or a shack in rural Appalachia, you really should learn your craft. Then you have the right to toss it out the window.
GD: Tell us a story. Any story.
GW: A woman who looks like the “before” Susan Boyle comes to an all-night diner every evening. Always orders tea, sits at the same table next to the wall, plays “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” on the jukebox. When the song comes on, begins gently sobbing. The staff is used to her—“Weeper’s here. Must be 8:30”. This goes on for a year and a half, until the restaurant goes out of business, and is replaced by a high-end espresso bar...
GD: What does the term "Fix it Broken" mean to you?
GW: I like that it can read three ways at least, and probably more:
Fix It WHILE YOU YOURSELF ARE Broken
Fix It ONLY IF IT IS Broken
Fix it WHEN THERE’S NOTHING REALLY WRONG WITH IT UNTIL YOU’VE MESSED WITH IT SO MUCH IT GETS Broken
I prefer the second over the others, since it most likely requires little action on my part. The third sounds far more time-consuming. The first would be my last choice, and honestly sounds more than a little undesirable.