Drew Austin talks moving on, vanilla ice cream, and the freedom in not giving a fuck.
Written by Kristopher Wright | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a warm, spring, Sunday afternoon as I arrive at Drew Austin’s studio located on the RMCAD campus. As an artist, spring has always felt to me, like a welcome change of pace.
For the avid socialite, Denver’s creative scene seems to power down during the winter. There’s less art to go out and see, and with that, the focus shifts to the studio. For many art college seniors like Drew, this spring is especially unique. Walking through campus, I can’t help but think back to 2014 when I was on the verge of finally graduating art school. For many, like myself, my final semester was a time for getting things DONE. A time for making serious work, to show my friends and family just how far I had come since I first began my creative journey. This was no time to take risks…right? But for Drew Austin, this is precisely the time to throw creative caution to the wind.
As I walk into the Spivak building, I find that Drew is the only one there... Come to think of it, he just might be the only one on campus! And like the proud and disciplined craftsman that he is, Drew comes to work! His pressed, button-up shirt is guarded by a clean blue apron. He sits at a desk, sips his coffee and begins the day.
The studio walls, however, tell a very different story. News clippings, paint chips, reference images, wire mesh, and just about every drawing material you could imagine, are scattered throughout; revealing Drew’s true nature as an artist, one who’s method of making work is constantly in a state of growth and refinement.
So, I’ve been following you on Instagram. You’ve been putting out a lot of new work! What’s the most exciting thing happening for you in the studio these days?
Well, I’ve been pretty frustrated honestly, because I feel like I have all of these big ideas I want to explore and not enough time to spend on them. This is my last semester coming up, and it’s challenging to push myself to meet the demands of school projects and explore these other ways of making at the same time... I recently started collaging, which has allowed me to experiment with mark making and language in a new way. Right now I’m really interested in this Fractal form I keep coming back to!
Are these Fractals a continuation or a departure in your practice?
Traditionally, my work has been about love, gender, and masculinity and relationships. And right now I’m trying to decide whether or not these two bodies of work can go together or even should go together. I’m really excited about the uncertainty of it all. I’m not sure what these Fractal works are about, but I keep revisiting the form.
I hear it’s your last semester at RMCAD! Congratulations! How are you preparing for this new chapter in your career? And what are you most looking forward to?
Right now, I’m just trying to remain as productive as possible. I’m really excited to take more control over my own process and, in a lot of ways, the linear philosophy of making work no longer makes sense to me. I’m much more interested in the process and, in turn, I’m rejecting the idea that different aspects of my work need to ‘fit together’.
What part of school won’t you miss?
Vanilla ice cream critiques!
'I’m rejecting the idea that different aspects of my work need to ‘fit together’.'
What’s a 'vanilla Ice cream critique?
Well, a lot of the artists that I’ve been around always think about critique the same way they do vanilla ice cream... Vanilla ice cream is neither exciting or offensive, and that’s why people love it! You don’t have to care about it to enjoy it.
It’s really frustrating because I want critical feedback, but somewhere along the line, so many of us get comfortable and we stop challenging each other. I don’t want to just know if my work is good or not, I want to know why.
What's the best way to avoid becoming a Vanilla Ice Cream critique offender?
I think we need to find ways to engage in critique more often. Even if we're not in school, it's still such a key step in making successful work. The more comfortable you get, the less fucks you give and the more honest and helpful you can be!
I get the sense that ‘comfort’, or the lack thereof, is an important component to how you make and why. Given the deeply personal nature of your work, how do you remain fearless?
When I first entered RMCAD my primary focus was photography. And up until then, I had always found myself making work with a neutral viewpoint because I was so aware of the opinions of my friends and family back home... I was terrified! It wasn't until I found the right professors, like Katie Caron, did I receive the kind of mentorship that challenged me to explore art making through other processes like installation and sculpture... I’ve learned that letting go of the fear of what other people think, even those closest to me, is hard, but necessary if you want to make work that means anything. You have to leave your comfort zone.
You’ve done Photography, Installation, Ceramics, and you’ve even dabbled in art education. As a creative, what methods of engaging in art has been the most personally satisfying?
I want to do it all! Haha. I mean, if I was a painter? I think I'd go crazy! I don’t think I could ever just paint. Everything is here, pencils, sharpies, pastels, oils, paint and fucking spiral graphs. Having all of these tools to choose from allows me to challenge myself to stay flexible explore everything that I’m interested in.
'The more comfortable you get, the less fucks you give and the more honest and helpful you can be!'
You've gained some recent popularity, thanks to your free drawing giveaways on Instagram, many of them are part of your Fractal series. How does it feel to share these artworks with so many people when you’re still in the early stages of investigating these forms for yourself?
It’s really exciting actually, and the response has been positive overall. I’ve sent art to maybe 10 states already? Giving away drawings keeps me active and gives me a chance to take risks and learn from myself. It also helps me to understand which kinds of artwork resonate most with people that don’t know me and aren’t familiar with other work I’ve made before.
What artists are you paying the most attention to right now?
Tracy Emin is a huge inspiration for me right now. She has this tent piece with hand-felted letters spelling out the names of everyone she’s ever slept with... And at first, you get this sense of this taboo sexuality surrounding the work, but as you read the names, the viewer begins to realize that the term ‘slept with’ can be interpreted more literally. With names like ‘grandma’ written in the tent, you begin to appreciate the concept of intimacy being something more than sex. Intimacy is something you can share with anyone.
Drew Austin is currently living and working in Denver, Colorado.