Andrew Wodzianski was our first “Inside the Artist Studio” story (last January). He makes his puppeteer debut this Saturday for ELVIS’ BIRTHDAY FIGHT CLUB extravaganza so we figured it may be as good of a time as any to rerun it.
All Photos: Chris Svetlik
Intrigued by the way artists make do in a city notorious for its lack of building stock that is both suitable and affordable, we’ve decided to go on a mission to investigate and document the work spaces of the city’s creative class.
Local painter Andrew Wodzianski’s Chinatown live-in studio space is a shrine to high and low culture: it’s a pastiche of Herman Melville, John Waters, Mies van der Rhoe and DC Comics artfully sewn together by someone who looks like he belongs more on Savile Row than Massachusetts Ave.
Join us as we discuss with Andrew Wodzianski the tragic loss of trannies, what it’s like to wake up to your own naked idealized image and how a unfortunately painted hallway can find it’s way in your work via your subconscious.
BYT: How long have you been in this space?
Andrew Wodzianski: I strolled into this uberexpensive Chinatown closet in November of 2004.
What drew you to this area?
I had made the decision about a year or two earlier. I knew that I wanted to move into the city. I was working and living in the suburbs, which was making my soul puke.
I found my self constantly coming into the city for events and it just got to be a monotonous bastard road trip over and over again. So, I thought to my self, “Why not just live here and do a reverse commute?” So, around 2002 or 2003, I started house hunting. I began gravitating towards Chinatown, knowing that I was working in Southern Maryland and I could have a fast escape from the city. I bought this place as a blue print and a year and a half later I moved into it. I think I was one of the 4th or 5th people to move in.
When I moved here. This building was the fringe of China town and in the six years since that fringe has pushed back about 3 blocks. So, trannies that I could access just by crossing the street to the parking lot are now unfortunately, bumped up to K St.
I know that you are a big fan of camp. What do you think about the zoning regulations that in Chinatown all of the signs have to be in both mandarin and English?
This is the tragically ludicrous and the ludicrously tragic. I live one block east of Chinatown proper. Unfortunately it’s a dying neighborhood that remains on life support as a marketing ploy.
It’s interesting that you say that. Explain.
There is an appeal to the exotic. Chinatown in cities across our nation have that. Of course there is an indigenous Chinese population that lives there, but those populations have dwindled, especially in D.C. I mean, this is a pale, pale shadow of what it used to be. The thing is, the Chinatown neighborhood is the one god damn neighborhood that survived the riots.
Being one of the first tenants in this building at a time when it was located on “the fringes” of development paints a pretty desolate and creepy picture! Kind of like the Shining meets New Jack City-light.
Yea, it is a little bit like life imitating art. Steven King is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine.
Were you working in here at that point? How did that desolation affect your psyche?
It wasn’t my intention to work here when I first moved. I had been hammered with lectures regarding studio safety while in graduate school, and I’m long enough in he tooth to have seen some of my friends and teachers succumb to years in the studio because of lousy studio practice. They would get knocked off by liver cancer or—
Oh, from drinking like tormented artists?
I mean, everyone has their vices, but it was more from working with the toxicity of the chemicals. I don’t want to say that they were negligent, but it was more of a cultural thing. If I were in this for the long haul, if it’s my intention to take this to my dying last stroke, I have to be able to do it as long as possible. It was driven home in graduate school that to work, and to eat, and to live in the same space is a bad idea and that you need a separate space. So, I didn’t work here at all for the first two years.
My day job is as a professor in Southern Maryland, my dean and president, were very, very gracious to me and allowed me to use their art lab as my studio, which was great, but it had me going to campus all the time and I wasn’t really enjoying my home. So, after about 24 months I had had enough about it. So, then I started to strike this balance where I would do the majority of my work here in this space, and I would do some of the more labor-intensive stuff at the campus.
What does that entail?
Stretching canvases, building frames, varnishing, sanding things out, and anything that requires dust or paint spattering. I would do those things on campus. Once things were drafted out and plotted, then I would bring that work back here. As you can see it’s rather clinical, and relatively clean. I still eat and I sleep here. I have a cute little, overpriced hospital filtration system that removes particulates from the air, and plus I always have the windows open so I have pretty good airflow I think. Although, in a decade, a trip to the Cleveland medical clinic may prove otherwise.
What do you normally wear while you’re working?
I don’t wear this (points to his 3 piece suit). That said, on the rare occasions that I’m still on campus and doing finer detailed work, I’m still in my suit. That usually amazes my peers, colleagues, and students. Normally when I’m here, I have no inclination to leave. But, if I do, I usually put on some sort of garb fit for going out.
So, you are always dressed up when you aren’t working inside of your apartment?
Yea, I’m pretty confident with my button downs. I have some god-awful cargo pants that I work in.
Oh my god. An eighth grade boy would wear these!
Yep. I rock those out.
So, when you are painting here, do you ever have to put anything down?
No, I am a remarkably controlled, contrived, methodic, premeditated artist. All levels of creativity are hammered out in the beginning phase. By the time I’m actually dedicated to an image, to a size, to a format, when the work is brought here, it is glorified grunt work. I am just a technician.
Do you listen to anything when you work?
I only play music over when I have guests over. But, when I am painting, I play National Public Radio. I am a news junkie. I have my cute little radio set to 88.5 WAMU. I can tll you every days programming schedule from 7am to 7pm.
What are your work habits? I would either take you as a manic painter or a controlled painter.
I have a lot of extraneous things that interrupt my painting. Fortunately, I’m able to say “No” enough that I’m able to carve out blocks of time. If I can get a block of time going for my self then I know physically it has to stop around the fifth hour because my eyes will get tired. I feel like I could do more when I was younger, but maybe that just wasn’t good painting. I feel more confident in being able to stop after four or five hours.
How does the physical space of your studio limit your work?
While I could work larger, I really need to paint things that could fit under this ceiling and also fit in my car. Because of street parking, I have a compact car, and because I have a compact car, that limits my width to a very precise dimension. I’ve stretched that as far as I can go. Quite specifically, I drive a Ford Focus. A goddamn Ford Focus. If I throw down those seats I have a 36-inch width to work with. I can make it as long as I want to. I’ve had 10-foot canvases, it scares the crap out of people on the beltway, but it works. And as I work with diptychs and triptychs, and the idea of canvases being joined together, I can create something longer as well.
So did that interest in triptychs grow out of your special limitations?
Well, that’s interesting. It was a means to and end originally, but then I realized that since this is the form I’m working in then I tried to manipulate it as an afterthought and be more deliberate about how I was composing things knowing that the formation had to fit in the back of an American car. So that’s been a pretty interesting issue. Most of my pieces are based on logistics first and then I work around it. I put the parameters up, I put myself in the proverbial box, and then I see how well I can creatively work my way out of it.
Can you tell me about the color underneath your door and how that relates to your work?
Yea, you had asked me about how my space was influencing my work. I didn’t even realize how it influenced my on an aesthetic level until after I had a solo show in Norfolk and I had all these scary clown paintings on display. I had some friends to come down and see the exhibit and they were like “God damn it Andrew, this is like walking down your crazy hallway.” So in the hallway I’ve got the welcome rug on acid. So when the lights are out and I’m falling asleep on my cute little Berlin sleeper sofa, I have this constant reminded that there is this glowing orange emanating from underneath the door that is so horror movie cliché that it isn’t even funny. But, it didn’t even occur to me that my clown paintings were taking on that saturation or that intensity. This could be arbitrary analysis, but prior to developing that clown series, I was going to be developing a palate with vibrant oranges, purples, and blacks.
What is it like to wake up and see your work first thing in the morning?
I had this painting that was larger than the rabbit suited guy over there and it was about 8 or 9 feet tall, and at the time it was in the corner right near my sleeper sofa. So, when I woke up in the morning I would see myself naked looking down on me and I was like “I need to get that painting out of my house!” I’m having this weird queer out of body experience that is not helping me wake up in the morning at all that is making me panic.
Does it make you panic or start your day off on a delusional foot?
It’s like, “Fuck I gotta do some sit ups” or “Damn I need to get a haircut.”
I see you have a lot of masks around your space and that masks and disguise are themes in your work
Even before my these work in graduate school, which was basically glorified disguise, I was interested in—not that I would have been able to use this term as a 13 year old child—but, mask-iconography and disguise. There was just a fascination with monster movies as a child that has never left me, as I’ve grown older I’ve been able to take that fascination and apply it to other realms of study. Whether it’s ritual, or gender identification, sport, or warfare. I also love head coverings.
What’s appealing about them? The play that comes with it? Or, the dramatic seriousness?
Well, for me personally, its play. I would like to in a union way, I’m the trickster. So, I’m more likely to take it from a comical, jester, kind of front. That said I understand that masks and disguise could be used as incredible serious and practical ways. And you can see that from the art around my house.
So are you interested in that dichotomy?
Absolutely. It’s the personality conflict, it’s such a goddamn clichés, but it’s the human condition. I like the idea that we all play different roles in our lives, you are a daughter, a journalist, a reader, and a volunteer, whatever they may be. In my case, I’m a professor, I’m an artist, and I’m a Samaritan. When you have a mask in our day-to-day situations we switch instantaneously, but when you are given a mask you change and there is this release and there is a transformative affect that I think is liberating.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a dying rust belt town in Northwest Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Eerie, in a town called Franklin, Pennsylvania. My father had gone to school at the Carnegie Institute, he got his engineering degree, he got courted by a few different firms, but decided to strike out on his own. At the time, Franklin had been bubbling with development with the steel industry and he thought that it was up in coming, a gamble that was ultimately wrong. He did well for himself though and was able to carve out a niche and became a city engineer for Franklin and neighboring boroughs.
My father’s practice was in a three story Victorian home that was part of the historical society. It was just a big monstrous haunted house. He had carved out an office on the first floor and would wake up religiously everyday, put on a suit and tie, and then walk down stairs. He crossed this threshold, he was at work. He was influential to me as far as his Puritan work ethic and the idea of having a division of spaces.
To me, your description of living in this creepy haunted house, your Dad’s live-in work space and his Dad dressing up, kind of resonates in the life you are living now in this space, you’ve created a space covered in creepy masks and horror imagery references, where you dress up in suits and execute serious focused work.
Yea, you are definitely on to something there. There is clearly a connection there.
+ To learn more about Andrew Wodzianski and his work please view his website
+ Previous Coverage of Andrew Wodzianski: Delivering a Coffin To A Gallery
+View other editions of Inside The Artist’s Studio:
Adam De Boer
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