THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
Stevie Hanley, Saint CHRYS, 2019.
Sumi ink, gouache and acrylic on paper,
72 x 38". Courtesy of Marc LeBlanc Gallery.
Stevie Hanley, Parallel Inversion, 2019.
Chalk pastel on oil and water color emulsion ground on paper in oak frame
53.25 x 42.25". Courtesy of Marc LeBlanc Gallery.
Stevie Hanley,Orthopedics for Aliens, 2019. Gouache, acrylic, spray paint and collage on pape; frame: styrofoam, Plexiglas, 62 x 47". Courtesy of Marc LeBlanc Gallery.
New Art Examiner: So just generally, how are you doing? How are you feeling?
Stevie Hanley: It's been a rollercoaster of emotions. I've been pretty busy because I teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, adjunct in three different departments. So it’s actually a lot more work sort of trying to figure out how to do online teaching… but that is officially just ended, and all my summer classes have been canceled. All my fall classes are up in the air. So… I can just work on my own practice, and [luckily], I'm in a privileged enough state right now that I have enough money saved up to get me through the summer without an issue. Come [fall, if I can’t teach,] that'll be another story, but I’ll figure that out when that happens… It’s been ups and downs.
NAE: People are finding some silver linings, but there's also a lot of unease in not knowing what the future holds. So let’s talk about the silver lining part of it. You have more time for your practice. How are you feeling about that?
SH: I'm excited. I've been feeling [a] little bit [of] unease as well. My impulse is to produce a lot, and I think this whole global pandemic and economic slowdown has also made me question the sort of production… I think it’s all ultimately good for the art world that a lot of things aren't just being forced to be made very quickly. And so, I'm doing a lot of writing, and that’s been helping my practice a lot and just giving myself permission to go slower. I also got sick. I was diagnosed COVID-19. I got pretty sick, much sicker than I thought I would get, but a silver lining [was] just like teaching me to slow down and to listen to my own body. I felt that I was the sort of person that was pushing my body all the time, sort of ignoring it and thinking like the mind had to control the body and then realizing that no, the body like also definitely needs a say in like what is happening… I've been trying to just slow down.
NAE: Well, you seem a lot better. Would you say you are fully recovered?
SH: I am. My lungs are a little bit sore. I don’t know if they’ve reached their full capacity. They are not how they were before, but I'm fully recovered, yeah.
NAE: I read your piece in The Quarantine Times, and I thought it was very honest and got to the heart of the struggle of being stuck at home. It seemed like there was a lot of introspection going on for you and for Noah. Can you talk a little bit about that piece and how it may have helped you with your practice and your process?
SH: I've always believed that artists, and people in general, can learn a lot from their limitations. So I really took this as an opportunity to learn from the limitations. So with materials, trying to only use materials that were here in my home. I have a studio, but when I was diagnosed with COVID-19, under doctor's order, I could not leave to go to the studio because it was like a 15-minute bus ride. [I decided to] embrace making work with things I have in the home. I do think that's true that you can learn from limitations—and it's hard. You may have a time where you're not producing or you're trying to figure out what to do and then…being honest with this sort of guilt and shame about masturbation, about a sort of loneliness…anxiety or paranoia around cleanliness or contamination or this virus sickness and mortality.
NAE: You're someone who's pretty engaged in Chicago's art community. How much does being engaged in the community affect your work versus being disengaged from the community?
SH: My apartment is an apartment gallery, “Siblings Collective.” I've always been engaged with curatorial work from [a] pretty early age. I was told by an art instructor of mine, Veronica de Jesus, that you need to get over this idea that you just make your work and you're going to be discovered—that you need to put on your own shows, whether that's in a restroom or in the back of the U-Haul truck. I think that mentality actually was really empowering to me because it gave me as an artist more agency rather than having someone else be the arbiter of taste… and also, working with other artists, I found that it's a very privileged, intimate space to enter someone else's creative process. People are so different, and they work so differently. It can also be a difficult situation to be in but ultimately a really enlightening position, so. Our gallery was already slowing down a little bit before all this happened. I was trying to focus more on my own practice, but yeah, I don't know. It's like I have never really been this type of artist [that has] one thing I do. I have kind of reacted against that. To me [it] just felt like a corporate sound bite. I didn’t want to do that and… I don't know why I like the sort of idea of morphing or shape-shifting. Yeah, I would say that ultimately, I still feel like my practice has been pretty crowded in painting and drawing. That's a sort of starting point when it goes out from there.
NAE: I would love to hear more about the slowing down of culture at large, personal self-care slowing down, and then art production slowing down. Do you have more thoughts on those ideas that you want to elaborate on or share?
SH: I think that our capitalist society really pushes a sort of unhealthy kind of rat race… a kind of sickening, like, speed that I think is ultimately really destructive to the environment, for one thing. People like coffees to go, lots of, like, single-use plastic. Just this sort of need to like send someone a small little present for every little holiday through Amazon. All these little things actually have really big global effects, and I think my own personality sort of is that way. I like to be, like, [that] sort of overly fast. It’s, like, a way of dealing with my own anxiety that I am trying to slow down everything—and that has been helpful…I've been giving myself permission recently to… take all the time I need, but also, like, letting my sleep schedule change too. So if it's even the middle of the night and I wake up and I'm like, “I want to, I want to write, I’m going to do these things”—I think you are just giving yourself permission to do that. But not to feel like you have to, like, do things as fast as possible. But rather, like, I'm going to do things right and do less things and do them better. I don’t know if better is the right word, but that has been really helpful.
NAE: It is a thing that we can all benefit from, this idea of slowing down. Unfortunately, we don't all have that benefit, and essential workers are going through a lot right now—the people that are deemed essential at least. We can’t avoid the political nature of this moment, so do you have any thoughts you want to share on that topic?
SH: I’ve been in Chicago for about 4 years, but before that, I lived in Berlin, Germany for 6 years, and… it's just really sad, the difference between Berlin and Chicago, and there's just such a criminal lack of resources here. I was diagnosed from symptoms of COVID-19, and a bunch of my friends were, but it was nearly impossible to get a test, and even if you were to get it sometimes it takes up to 10 days to get the results, which I… just don’t understand. Supposedly this is the wealthiest nation in the world. So it is mind-boggling.
NAE: There are so many things people want to see change. For when we come out of this, if you could only pick one solution to a big problem what would it be?
SH: I would say Medicare for All. Yeah, like public option or something where people who are sick could be treated in this country and not go into like a lifetime of debt.
NAE: When things are back to normal, [what’s] the thing you want to do the most that you can't do?
SH: I miss going to the movies by myself, which is weird. I miss the sort of space where I can be by myself or with other people. Like, I also really like cafes for that reason. And I miss dance clubs, even though I was always a little bit suspicious of people who, like, say, “Oh, dance clubs are these revolutionary spaces,” and I'm like, I don't know if I believe that's true, but now that the access to them has gone, I do really feel there is truth to that… more true than I realized. I guess another good… I found myself, like, connecting to a lot of old friends that used to be very close friends, but because I moved, [over time] we became distant… I find myself now communicating with these people that are from my past. That has been another silver lining from the situation.
NAE: Just the idea of revolutionary spaces is something that's been on my mind. What do you think of as a revolutionary space?
SH: I do think about the gay bar a lot, gay spaces. And gay spaces have already been disappearing for a very long time for a lot of reasons. Maybe people don't need them like they used [to]… when people were closeted and it was more dangerous to be out and before [people could meet online.] I think about Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by [Samuel R. Delany.] He talks about these spaces being spaces where people cross racial boundaries and class boundaries. Especially some of these sex spaces, because people would go and just want to get off, and maybe a white businessman would hook up with a black guy, and in another situation they would never do that. In that situation… I feel like these connections could be made because sometimes through the online sites… the algorithms and our own choices are [sorting] us into specific groups. Going into [a physical location] that is just open, you go there, and the possibility of meeting strangers like, the Manhandler [Saloon] which may shut down after this, could be a revolutionary space… Sometimes I am also, like, critical of these spaces too, because there also seems to be [a dependence] on substance usage and sometimes substance abuse. Being the child of alcoholics… that was always my issue with the spaces too, and that it seems like a lot of times people would need to use a lot of drugs or alcohol just as a social lubricant, and that would also sometimes feel a little sad, but it also was nice that people could be together.
NAE: Do you have any final thoughts final thoughts on what you think is not being discussed enough in the mainstream media or in the public conversation that you want to highlight?
SH: I think [it’s] being discussed, but I think it needs to be discussed more, and that would be class, like the economic situation of it. Unfortunately, it seems like there has been a polarized view of people on the left for calling for longer quarantine times, listening to science, and people on the right are calling for going back to work, but I feel like it's the not the most productive binary to buy into because it is a sort of privileged space to be quarantined. A lot of people can’t afford to do that, and we already have a lot of essential workers—delivery people—delivering our food and doing all these things, [who] are usually poorer people. So I'd like to see that binary broken a little bit and talked about in a significant way.
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