Jim Drain has made fuzzy sculptures and kooky sweaters, furniture, videos, installations, and collages. Now the prolific artist is turning his attention to a place where many begin: painting (kind of).
Drain spoke to A.i.A. over the phone from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where he's been developing a new sculpture for the U.S. embassy in Rabat, Morocco, a collaboration with students at his alma mater, RISD. While in New England, Drain created a brand-new body of work for the upcoming show, "Drain Expressions," which opens at Los Angeles gallery PRISM on November 10. After that it's back home to Miami where he has a slate of projects and collaborations planned for Art Basel Miami Beach.
HEATHER CORCORAN What new developments will viewers see in your show, "Drain Expressions?"
JIM DRAIN For the past several years, I've been interested in textiles. I've been making sculptures for the last ten years, and I came to more performative works that use knitting, and this is sort of another progression from this interest in textiles. I think it's just more of a focus on flat pattern and color combinations.
It's really a process of discovery, taking things that I know from knitting and textiles. We've used these woven ribbons and twill tape, which wee painted different colors and wove these different structures from it. The show includes four of these woven objects, which are the central focus of the exhibition.
CORCORAN How does the material inform your work?
DRAIN The ribbon provided a structure, sort of brought its own rules with it, and the fun thing was just trying to figure out how to disrupt that. There were moments when it was like, hey, let's apply these colors on two strips and then weave them together and see what happens—reinventing camouflage in some way.
CORCORAN Using such a specific set of materials has built-in limitations. Are there also freedoms that come with it?
DRAIN Yeah. Once we began, you could see all the different directions you could go in. And the weave structure is pretty simple. But then the variations within it can get really crazy, and especially if you're applying color. I feel like we only just started to get somewhere with it. In the end it was too bad that we had to stop, because there were just so many discoveries we made along the way.
For me, color's been really important, but usually it comes with the yarn, so this was the first time in a while where we were just creating color. That's just a basic painter thing, but it was new for me. That experience was totally amazing, too.
CORCORAN At the same time, you're also working digitally, like with the animations you contributed for the 25th anniversary of the GIF.
DRAIN I had a blog for the past year-and-a-half. In the beginning I didn't know what it was going to be for. I was just posting photos of the studio and process images, but then the blog itself grew into something where it became really fun to make GIFs and make all these visual jokes online. There's something in Google where you can drop in images and it will give you a visually similar display of all the images that look like the one that you started with. I was dropping in paintings from the show at PRISM, seeing what would come up. It's sort of like this synchronicity machine. or like reading tarot; it tells you things that are obvious in the image itself.
CORCORAN Were there any surprises when you put your images in the Google search?
DRAIN I dropped this one studio image of ribbons, and the [result] was all kids dressed up in these really bright colors. It was just all the same thing, and it had nothing to do with ribbons or the studio at all. That's what it was reading, which is really cool. It totally made sense with the image. It's just so weird, this synchronicity moment.
Then this other image was like this ribbon pattern of bright orange, and that came up with all these tropical birds, they were awesome, and like someone squeezing a piece of fruit.
CORCORAN Whenever people talk about your work, there's a narrative that's tied to place: your early work in Providence, your involvement in the Miami scene. How does location relate to your work?
DRAIN As I was making this work I was gathering images, and it was amazing to make this work in autumn, too, because all of the paintings started looking like autumn trees. My studio was a space that belonged to someone who I used to work for, who had a loft that he wasn't using. So it was just very familiar territory. It was actually just outside of Providence in Pawtucket. Pawtucket's this super-old industrial city, and everyone lives across from the elementary school. It's just like being in normal America. And it was awesome.