In summer 2016, Peter Cotroneo’s work was featured in New American Paintings, No. 124, “The South,” as the editor’s pick. Rubens Ghenov, assistant professor of painting and drawing in the School of Art, sat down with Cotroneo, the 2016 visiting director of foundations and recent MFA graduate, to discuss his art and experience at UT.
Rubens Ghenov: Do you think that drawing holds a prophetic agency for the artist? Here, I don’t necessarily mean of speaking “truth,” but in “prophesying” as in predicting the future.
Peter Cotroneo: There’s a really great David Shrigley drawing that has two hands holding a circle and at the top it reads, “What does the future hold?” and on the circle is written “arthritis.” I do think of drawing as a meditative process.; an act of forcibly forgetting information both in thought and in practice. Is this prophesying, in truth or in predicting a future? I don’t know. But I do think that the work of the artist, any artist, in relationship to drawing, is to forget it, and in that way it goes on forever.
RG: In your most recent work you have procured a minimal condition both in the extraction of all color and paint, as well as a sparse depiction with your subject matter. Can you talk about the trajectory of that process? Was it a process of eliminating unnecessaries? Is it to see color via black and white? Is it the immediacy of drawing in the framework of painting (stretchers, gesso, and canvas)?
PC: When I first got serious about painting I was also getting really into professional wrestling. I saw painting as a space to fill and fill and fill some more so it wouldn’t sit nicely on the wall, but come out and pile drive you. As I came to understand my position in the studio, I instead became increasingly interested in having the smallest voice in the room. But I question if that stance is still strong enough to pile drive you through the table? Excising color became a strategy to remove a semblance of glamour from the work; to rid the work of unnecessary design. The subject of the paintings is really the act of making a painting – to make a “landscape” or to make a “portrait” in the history of landscapes and portrait painting, but to get there through the dumbest ways possible.
RG: If Philip Guston and Jockum Nordstrom were at two extremes in a line, who would you land closer to? If there is another line that intersects it perpendicularly, who would you say would be at the other extremities?
PC: I’d probably lean towards Guston on that line. For me it is a question of affective space, and in that regard much more akin to Guston’s end. Maybe a line of Ad Reinhardt and Paul McCarthy would intersect at that point.
RG: In many MFA programs amongst many aspects, there is usually a tendency to extirpate and break down in order to rebuild the artist; how, if at all, has that happened to you here in relation to the idiosyncratic program we have at UT? How did the subject matter and the physicality of your work change?
PC: I think that UT put forward a much more generative space of thought. It wasn’t a process of breaking down so much as it was building up until the pile toppled over. What remained upright was a core set of values that had been put in place maybe earlier on, maybe not, but certainly solidified during my time at Tennessee. The subject shifted from an illustration of an idea cloaked in a thin veil of “research” to becoming the idea itself and becoming the research itself. The physicality was always there, but in losing that illustrative property it became much more affective.
RG: How did the AIR program work specifically for you? Did it bring about different conditions that another MFA program might have not? What are some aspects from it that you gleaned or things you didn’t necessarily get from the professorship?
PC: With the Artist-in-Residence relationships were more quickly formed over being in a new place and not knowing how things quite work here. I was afforded the opportunity to connect with these artists not over satisfying degree requirements, but really developing a studio practice and talking about art. By having an ever-changing influx of ideas and interests a richer and deeper exploration into art and why we do things is fostered. I think I adapted my working methodologies and interests to where the AIR was in their own practices for better or for worse. But that adaption and change, self-imposed as it was, helped to further my own construction of an artistic identity in my work and in my studio.
RG: Jason Dill the skateboarder once mentioned in an interview that skateboarding is not a sport but indeed an art form, and though most people who are familiar with it get a sense as to what he might’ve meant by that statement, could you speak a bit about the relationship skateboarding might have to your modus operandi and praxis in the studio? Do you find correlations betwixt them?
PC: Skateboarding is the reason I started drawing—but that’s a different story. I do think that the idea of a body in space utilizing style and repeated gestures to craft a unique outcome (this is skateboarding) is something I often think about. Also the inherent deviance of skateboarding. The way a skater misuses a handrail, a deviant practice from the social norm, may inform the way I use oil paint. There’s a level of failure that must be overcome in a skating practice and in a studio practice, and I think this correlation is something that I have never been able to divorce from the two.
RG: Whose work throughout all art history do you wish you had made? What about their work causes that desire?
PC: Kasimir Malevich. He was so radical. It’s work I have always tried to understand, but never could. How do I personally adopt the Suprematist manifesto? I can’t. But to use painting as a service—for design, for depiction, for communication. There’s so much there. It’s not about making a good painting, but a construction of a total belief system. I want that.