FAILE STUDIO VISIT

Brooklyn-based art collaboration, FAILE, comprised of Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller recently shared their studio with MTV RE:DEFINE as they prepare for their exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, opening July 10th. FAILE’s style is highly recognizable as they often incorporate pop culture iconography in their work. They are constantly exploring new mediums that can be seen on the streets and in galleries and museums around the world, be it wheatpastings, large scale murals, prayer wheels, arcade games, stencils, canvases and the list goes on. Lately they have been working on a number of site-specific projects that encourage audience participation. One of which is titled, Wishing On You, a project with the Times Square Alliance that is set to open on August 17th. Peep FAILE's studio visit below!

Photographed by Cody James

1. You have a show opening at the Brooklyn Museum on July 10th, titled Savage/Sacred Young Minds, where does the title come from?

Savage/Sacred Young Minds comes from the passions and contradictions of youth. A time in one’s life where one sifts through the cultural landscape searching for authenticity and meaning, and also rebels against those systems of meaning, tearing them down, making them anew.  A chaotic exuberance – the savage vibrancy of young minds that are, in turn, capacious enough to balance the sacred and profane. 

2. What is the show going to consist of?

The show will feature the FAILE Temple, a large scale sculpture of a custom built temple in ruins which was first presented at Portugal Arte 10 in Lisbon in 2010. This will be the first time this work has been shown in America. The show will also feature the FAILE & BAST Deluxx Fluxx Arcade also originally presented in 2010, a collaborative project that is a sort of homage of the 80’s arcade seen through the eyes of FAILE and BAST. In this we celebrate arcade cabinets, pinball machines and foosball tables as sculptural form mixed painting, custom games and sound. There will also be 6 new paintings and 2 marble sculptures. It should be a very interactive and exciting show to see and experience. 

3. How do you feel when you see people physically interacting with your work (i.e. the arcade games)? 

Both the Temple and the Deluxx Fluxx Arcade are meant to be touched and entered into and experienced. They both comment on the different ways we consume and experience media in digital and analogue worlds. It’s always amazing to see people with these works. The Temple was presented outdoors originally as a public work which was so wild as people thought it was a real Temple that had been there for hundreds of years, they would open their tour books and stand in disbelief wondering what this could be. It’s such a comprehensive work in it’s use of ceramic, mosaic, steel and stone, it has  a magical presence to it. The Deluxx Fluxx Arcade is just fun, everyone leaves with a smile and is excited by it, I think if we have that kind of response we always feel good, as the whole point of the show is to get people to engage with the artwork and feel consumed by it.

4. A lot of your work references the past via iconic symbols and motifs that you continue to explore. At the same time the work seems new. You had likened this to always having one foot forward and one foot back. What are the beauties and struggles of maintaining this balance?

We’ve always collected things, ephemera from the past and we see these bits and pieces as a part of our cultures collective whole. Sometimes it’s not a beautiful reflection but it highlights our desires and insecurities in a way that’s often times being sold back to us. Much of what we find are these icons and archetypes in this, we love the stories and the cliches as these are timeless. They are the same ideas that have helped us find meaning for generations. So we play with that. We pull from that and we remix these ideas to form something contemporary. We live in a time where we have a great excess of information and content, the challenge becomes how to find meaning in it all but that’s also the part we enjoy. As artists it’s our job to look at the world and make sense of it and try to represent that through the work we do.

5. For this generation tangible products are more of a commodity/rarity than they were when we were growing-up. Be it comics, baseball cards, video games, etc. How is your work as an extension of these? 

We love the craft of objects, the physicality of something. Be it a print and the way the paint and ink sit on the paper or canvas, our works on wood and the worn history and evidence of time that comes through, and a whole set of other materials that shows up in our work. It’s the same reason quilts have been such and inspiration to us. Each piece has a sense of history in it. Many of the great hand-skilled crafts are being lost and we enjoy celebrating that in our work. 

6. Speaking of tangible, can you give us the back story of how t-shirts started making it into your panel work?

McNeil’s Dad used to race stock cars in the late 60’s, we’ve always had photo albums in the studio of his old cars and the typography he would paint on the sides. So this racing inspiration had been in the studio and the work for some time. But it was later on that his step-Dad who was an old muscle car enthusiast, became ill and eventually passed away. McNeil’s mom sent some of his old racing t-shirts and asked if we’d make something of them for the hospice he had been in at the end of his life. We’d been working with the wood paintings and modular pieces of wood in the work that were being painted, so McNeil cut the t-shirt down and stretched it onto the wood like a canvas which then mixed in with the painted wood palettes. This moment transformed the wood paintings leading to incorporating more materials which today has vintage t-shirts, copper printing plates, carved wood and other vintage fabrics. 

7. How do you view these panels in the context (maybe process is a better word) of quilt making?

Well in the same sense that quilt making is about giving form and beauty to disparate pieces that often had a history of its own, (like old jeans or bed sheets or something) we do the same in our work. We stitch together pieces of the past to make something of beauty and meaning today. 

8. Can you tell us about the Prayer Wheel installation you will be installing in Times Square?

For the last seven years we’ve been exploring the use of spiritual objects in cultures throughout the globe. Often with the question what do we pray for in a modern city, what do we revere and how? One outcome was creating the FAILE Prayer Wheels which are steel-mounted, kinetic paintings on carved wood that address contemporary ideas of ritual, myth making and worship. The installation in Times Square is the largest iteration of this idea to date. A 7ft tall painted and carved wooden prayer wheel housed in a painted and carved pagoda-like structure emblazoned with FAILE iconography. As the wheel spins neon lights are illuminated in the ceiling that not only reflect the traditions of Times Square but also the feeling of a carnival prize wheel. It’s a project that invites interaction, and permits the viewer spontaneous moments of invocation and play. 

9. In terms of work in the streets, it seems large scale murals are your primary focus these days. You mentioned that you still enjoy wheatpasting/stenciling when the situation permits or while traveling, what are some of your richest recent experiences doing these?

Big murals are always great to create. Mainly because they connect with so many people due to their size. The early work that was much smaller and more covert would connect with the people that were really paying attention to their environment. A little image that peaked your interest while walking on the way home from work. Which was so genuine as these people were aware. This is how much of our work found a following in the beginning. The murals though, they just hit you. It becomes a part of the neighborhood in a big way and that’s a really special thing to give to a city and also to have the opportunity to leave that there. Covington, KY was the most recent experience where the people were amazing and the mural found a home in a place that’s really trying to find it’s creative base and revitalize this great little downtown there. So many cities that were once hubs of industry that now sit more vacant have incredible walls to work on and murals really do bring a fresh energy to a town. The Midwest especially, and all throughout America, there are these small to medium sized towns that have so many great opportunities to bring this kind of energy to the older factories and other spaces that now sit dormant. 

10. Which artists (not including each other) challenge you to experience the possibilities in art outside of your own field’s of vision?

We find artists like Richard Prince really inspirational, in the sense that he takes risks and has developed multiple bodies of work that keep evolving. There are artists like George Condo and BAST whom we love the way they paint and abstract figures. But you also start to look at how an artist lives and how they grow and after time when you find yourself asking these questions you start to look up to artists that have pushed themselves and stayed prolific.  

11. While you guys have a packed schedule ahead, what are you looking forward to accomplish that you have yet to?

Once Jeffrey Deitch asked us what are dream show to do in NYC would be and we said, “we just did it,” referring to the Nothing Lasts Forever show on Christie St. (now Lehmann Maupin, then an old glass warehouse) in 2007. While, we’re very excited to be showing at the Brooklyn Museum and Times Square this Summer, we’re not going to say that again. There are several projects that sort of sit in our concepts folder. Some for a long time now. We are big believers in putting these ideas out into the universe and looking for the opportunity when they will come back to us. When a few of these come to fruition we’ll check back in. Just know, that we are now experiencing the very moment where 5 years ago we dreamed that we’d show the Temple at the Brooklyn Museum and 2 years ago when we first spoke to Times Square Alliance. Very cool moment for us. 

12. If you could go back to one year (if you can’t pinpoint a year then choose a decade) in time and use it to gather reference materials that would inform your work today, what year would it be (and why)?

1986, the year the space shuttle Challenger exploded. We were in 4th grade and watched it live. First teacher in space. It was a profound moment for us, an end of innocence you could say. The year has become an additional moniker in our work and is a reminder of failure but the idea that great things can come from those moments as well, as long as you keep pushing ahead. 

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