Collection Explore
Shifting Poses
with Geoffrey Chadsey

On November 9, 2018, Skidmore students Bailey Mikytuck ’20 and Emery Spina ’20 interviewed artist Geoffrey Chadsey as part of the course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry.

Emery Spina ’20
What was the process to make Global Dandyism?

Geoffrey Chadsey
It’s a slowly built-up composite of different source materials that I was working with. One was a photograph I had been carrying around with me for probably fifteen years of a basketball player standing in his living room. He’s in his boxers with his hands on his hips in a Mark Spitz pose. I knew I wanted to do something with that pose. And I had a Chuck Close photograph of Kate Moss, and I was recognizing this repeated gesture. I think I was trying to make up my mind between them, and I just put them all in there. I honestly can’t remember. I think those are Grace Jones’s lips. Then I started inserting myself. I cannot remember where the face came from. Those are my eyes. I think those are my hands. My hands are almost always in the work inevitably. The bottom ones are Kate Moss’s hands.

A lot of my portraits are in various stages of undress. There was something about clothing decisions that I was fascinated with. And I was joking with myself about how you get implicated by what you look at or what your source material is. I’m constantly looking at clothing. I decided to start bringing that into the work to question how clothing choices project an identity or class or sexual aspiration or perform masculinity and so on.

There’s fashion in my work, popular culture, and rock and roll or hip-hop fashion where you have a lot of permission to be performative. So putting on lipstick, putting on a crazy hat, whatever. That space is fun for me to fantasize within. And Grace Jones is the ultimate source text. I just think she’s incredible.

The phrase “global dandyism” is from an academic conference that I came across online that was specifically looking at black dandyism. It was about a culture of dress in black culture that was happening in France.

Bailey Mikytuck ’20
Are there multiple figures depicted in this work?

Yes, three, I think. I was drawing, and I kept changing my mind on the figure. I decided to keep the change of mind within the figure, so that it ended up being multi-armed. I like that idea of a shiftiness of this character who can’t quite seem to figure out what pose they want for their final portrait.

Is it supposed to be read as one being?

Yes. We can go into multiplicity of identities or the idea of a person aspiring to be another person, and there’s a degree of appropriation that’s happening in the image. It’s this mixing and matching of identities that I think we all carry in ourselves. As I’m drawing, I build up, and then afterward, I make guesses as to what it’s about.

Can you speak about the appropriation aspect of your work?

All my drawings are appropriations because everything comes from a massive archive of images that I steal off the Internet. There’s no real people standing in my studio.

I didn’t want to just stick to white bodies. So as I was drawing this, somehow this African American face came in. And it was only later that I thought, “Oh, is this a blackface rendering?” There’s something about being a white artist. The second you draw a black face it’s like, am I making a commentary on blackness or is this just me trying to bring other faces into this drawing? I don’t want to just be drawing white bodies. For a while, I was drawing green bodies, a goofy way to get around it. It’s an irreconcilable question right now that’s clearly driving me to make more work. I keep waiting for someone to be pissed off, and then I could figure out how I’m going to respond because I can figure out how they’re reading it. That hasn’t happened yet.

How many different reference photos go into one piece?

Global Dandyism is about eight. There are probably five to eight photos that I’m working from per image.

And you find these all over the Internet?

Yeah, Google image search is the best thing ever. I’m an enormous thief on the Internet. But the operative word isn’t “Google”; it’s “search.” It’s like looking at a blank piece of paper. A bunch of artists do collaborative drawing parties, and part of that is realizing that you have this archive in your head. If you start making marks on a piece of paper, you start recognizing images, and then you sit there trying to bring them out, and it’s not so much about rendering something that you’re looking at; it’s just coming out of your head. In some ways, what I do is the same thing. It’s just that my imagination is now taking place on a computer screen. I’m waiting to see what comes up.

Sometimes I’m active about going out to find something very specific as I’m making a drawing. I’ve had two drawings where I thought, this clearly needs a fanny pack. I couldn’t tell you why. I was doing all these searches, and I could not find the right fanny pack. I went on Amazon and bought four different fanny packs. And then I sat in my studio with the fanny packs with my hands jammed in them, photographing myself trying to get that image in my head. Sometimes there are those moments where I’ll get an image stuck in my head and if I can’t find it, then I’ll make it.

info Created with Sketch. plus Created with Sketch.
Geoffrey Chadsey (born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1967)
Global Dandyism, 2013-2017
watercolor pencil, crayon on mylar
Tang purchase

How long did you work on Global Dandyism?

I have a bunch of drawings happening in my studio at the same time. I have some drawings that I’ve revisited repeatedly over ten years. Every now and then, I get an inquiry for a drawing and I’m like, “That doesn’t exist anymore. It looks like this now.”

Global Dandyism was finished in 2013, but then I showed it again in 2017. And before I gave it to the gallery in 2017, I decided to rework it a little bit. I rendered into the top head more, made it more cartoonish, and I rendered the limbs a little darker. My mark-making had gotten a lot darker, and I decided to make Global Dandyism more comparable to the work I was doing at the time. Sometimes my dates on my drawings are a little confusing. I think if something’s in my studio, it’s fair game; I can keep working on it.

What drives you to go back to these pieces from years ago and revisit them?

Resentment? I don’t know. I joke that when the drawings are in your studio for too long, they’re like children that don’t leave home, and you think, “Go out in the world and make something with your life.” Because they’re pencil, I can erase. It’s fun to rework them because a lot of the rendering’s already done, and I can start shifting the figure. Because I’m already doing stuff with multiple bodies, it just becomes yet another body that’s on the page.

Do you ever have drawings that just don’t work out, or do you push them until they work?

Being called illustrative is such a dirty word in the art world, and what I’m doing is so over-articulated in some ways. There’s this idea of the over-determined image, where something becomes so packed and overly conscious with meaning. Those images tend to really irritate me, and then I figure out how to break them.

There’s definitely stuff I’ve worked on too long. There was one drawing I’d been working on for four years. I was erasing, and there are times when the pigment really stains the plastic, I couldn’t get the pigment out, and I just kept working on it and working on it. I could feel this fury growing up in me, and I became an eight-year-old kid. I picked up a bucket of water and I threw it on the drawing. And there’s this funny thing, when you indulge rage, it doesn’t make you feel better, it just makes you more angry. Then I picked up a plant and threw it at it. And then I just was, like, full-on hissy fit. I ripped it off the wall, jumbled it all up; I was jumping up and down like an angry cartoon character, and I threw it in the corner of the room and then went out and got drunk.

But I knew not to throw it away. It looked like a dead body. It looked like I killed something. I rolled it up, and I took it out right before a show last year. It had been rolled up for three years, and it mellowed out. It is probably one of the best drawings I’ve ever done. I never want to go through that again. I don’t think I can replicate that experience. That drawing was dead. I worked on it too long. I think I wrote in a crayon at the top, “This drawing is fucking dead.” Talk about over-determined. And then that all bled down the image. It’s probably the most painterly image I’ve done. It’s probably the most visceral one in the show. It was definitely the one people were going up to and being like, “What is going on with this?”

Why did you choose Mylar to draw on?

It’s plastic, so it takes watercolor pencil really well. You can wet it. The watercolor pencil becomes paint, then it dries, and you can still erase it. The plastic allows me to work in ways that are both wet and dry, and there are no distinctions between the two. And it takes a beating. I can sand it. There’s sanding that happens in the face. You see these fine marks where I beat down the pigment. And I just love the ghostly quality. It’s plastic literally, and then it’s plastic figuratively in the sense that it allows me to move media around and not distinguish between this is pencil, this is paint, this is crayon. It all becomes one on the surface.

How do you decide what images to use?

Gut instinct. I do really goofy searches, like “nude full body, high res,” click. The Internet is overfilled with images of people presenting themselves to the camera for whatever reason. I found this glorious image of a woman, full nude, full bush, in her hot tub, standing on the edge of the bathtub just presenting herself to the camera. There’s nothing artful or alluring; it was almost like a mug shot. It was such a motherlode finding that image. I instantly could build on that body. And it became a drawing of a chimpanzee-like figure with a fanny pack pulling a gun out on the edge of a bathtub.

I’m looking for awkward moments. I’m looking for moments where I feel I can play a little bit with gender slippage. There are these amateur shots of men presenting themselves to the camera as an object of desire but, at the same time, also performing this “I don’t give a fuck about how I look” attitude. It’s that funny balancing act of being masculine. And I love poses where I feel something’s wonky. Either I’m going to make it wonky or there’s something in the performance of that masculinity that is interesting; it could just be that the body is awkward or the person doesn’t look like they’re fully convinced of how they’re presenting themselves—these kinds of moments.

Do you usually intend for your drawings to be gendered or are they meant to be read as ambiguous?

Ambiguous. I’ve been rethinking lately about how these get expressed on the page. I am cis-male. I grew up being a sissy basically, constantly feeling like I was failing at being masculine. So I identify with gender fluidity even though I present as cis-male, and there’s something about starting to play with these gender slippages that I find really liberating. As trans identity gets more talked about, and we hear of very real experiences grounded in very real bodies, I’m worried that somehow my work is another form of appropriation of those experiences.

It’s a very modern art practice to mine different cultures, different experiences, and mash them together to try to come up with something new. It’s been fun for me to play with these gender slippages, and there’s a whole line of art that’s been done over thousands of years that looks at hermaphrodites and pan-gendered beings. But I’m more conscious of how that gets played out on the page now. Am I going to change what I do? I don’t know. But it’s a new question mark that’s above my head.

The great thing about people is they’re opaque. You can only get so much access to what a person’s thinking. I try to have the drawings be like that as well, with indeterminate legibility to who these fictional beings are. You can’t look at this figure and say, “I know what that guy’s about.” That’s what I’m trying to capture.

Cite this page

“Shifting Poses with Geoffrey Chadsey.” Interview by Bailey Mikytuck and Emery Spina. Tang Teaching Museum collections website. First published in Accelerate: Access & Inclusion at The Tang Teaching Museum 3 (2019).
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