B. THOM STEVENSON STUDIO VISIT

B. Thom Stevenson is a prolific painter. His light-drenched Brooklyn studio is something to behold. He recently walked us through his newest body of work, paintings that channel punk fliers and Picasso's with text that beckons you to draw near and explore more.

Photographed by Nick Sethi

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1. What are the themes and motifs that you are most drawn to at the moment?

I've been making these simulacrums of different pictures I am attracted to, like Picasso paintings and images of ancient artifacts I find in old books I've collected. Deliberately distorting through reproductive techniques, and then painting. Sometimes I pair with words to present abstract meanings. I'm trying to boil these images of objects down to their essence.

2. Can you tell us about the video store project you wrapped in June?

The video store was called “NEW RELEASE” and was a collaborative project between the artist, Philip H. Ashley, Half Gallery director Erin Goldberger, and myself. We pumped some life back into this video store in Chinatown that had been abandoned for 10 years. We cleaned an inch worth of dust out of the place, repainted select areas, re-carpeted and got some money off the rent after we removed ten un-working toilets. Erin curated performances and a selection of artist videos and Phil and I showed new paintings and some video. We set up the space to be this immersive experience, an amalgamation of the three of our video store memories. 

3. You were recently in a show curated by Graham Collins at the Journal Gallery in Brooklyn titled, “Freedom Culture. Can you tell us about the work you showed?

I showed a new oil painting in a stainless steel frame called FOCUS. I also showed a few oil paintings on stainless steel, these where earlier works from my “flyer series” and are painted in gloss black on a flat white ground.

4. Last year you launched the RYOBI room in the back of a Bodega in Brooklyn, it’s been to Miami, and it’s coming back to Brooklyn this fall. What is special about this non-traditional setting for viewing art?

The Ryobi Room came about when I saw this secret back room in a bodega around the corner from my old studio. I brought it up in a conversation with Coley Brown, Philip H. Ashley, and Ruben Hernandez. We wanted a place to show some of our new work and were tired of waiting for some one else to do it for us. The Ryobi Rooms have been a great place to improve or work outside of the traditional, sterile and often complicated gallery space.  It felt great to build a show on our own terms. These back room shows take people through an everyday bodega and show them a secret, create a mystery in someone’s mind. An Easter egg. 

5.  You’ve recently started making paintings with stones that have stickers on them. What are these saying about Americans bumper sticker mentality?

I drove across country recently and didn't see many bumper stickers. I was looking for them too. I didn't see many for sale either. Even the largest truck stop in the world had a pathetic selection. I feel like people are afraid to make bold statements anymore. Or if they do, they make it on Twitter. It's just easier to hide behind a cell phone than a steering wheel. But these rocks are a little about that amongst other things. The stones themselves are from my hometown and I bring back a few at a time when I visit.  The stickers are racing sponsors and places I've been. 

6. You walked around NADA, Miami and even Walgreen’s dressed as a police officer. What was that like?

It was exhilarating honestly, people look at you with such guilt, it’s astonishing. It really changed the way people acted when I was present. It was this Trompe-l'œil performance type thing.  Jose Martos kept trying to give me a little photograph of some dude that had "fucked him over". I bought beer in Walgreens and everyone let me cut in line. I dropped my gun in a crowded elevator.  I think everyone should be required to be a cop for a little bit, like jury duty. 

7.  How do you see this vein of prankishness translating in your work?

I want all my work to instill a chain of reactions in people. It's fun to fuck with your audience sometimes. Never malicious, but definitely a little twisted. I like Abbey Hoffman (he's from my home town) and Guy Debord, Ken Kesey, Cindy Sherman, and Chris Burden, Duchamp and Timothy Leary. They all believe(d) in skewing the public’s perception of their world. It's important to re-examine one’s reality every so often, sometimes people forget, sometimes people need to be helped along. 

8.  You seem pretty focused on the arts community and your friends, supporting each other’s careers. How do you see community in the evolution of each other’s work?

We all help each other. Text each other new paintings we've finished or artists we like, etc. and whatever. Community is very important, that's obvious, but a little known fact is that all the best artists were buddies. Lots of everyday questions I Google for solutions and read the trials and tribulations of other people trying to change their iPhone batteries and the like. But this Art World stuff is constantly changing and no one path or experience is the same, it really helps to have people that you can bounce ideas and problems off of, and vice versa. 

9.  What do you have coming up?

We are putting together a Ryobi Room in October with some artists we are really excited about. I'm doing a little book with Half Gallery for the NYABF put on by printed matter. Then I am putting together a body of larger monochrome works on canvas. I'm excited about the next few months.