Shop talk, answers to your FAQs, and a peek behind the scenes of an artist-run fine art gallery in Park Slope
AW: Please tell us about how you interpreted the exhibition theme “light” and talk a bit about the work that was selected for the show.
GH: My grandfather was the publisher of a newspaper in San Antonio, Texas, called “The Light.” There was a huge neon sign on the side of his building that inspired me to love and work in neon.
When I saw the theme of this show was “light” I felt I had to be a part of the show. I’ve worked with neon since the early 1970s. At first I used only found pieces from old discarded neon signs but gradually started to design specific artworks using neon. Some of my work was of paintings and sculptures that incorporated neon images.
Eventually I started to use only neon in my work. Text and dark humor are important elements in my work and my piece “Satan is Happy with Your Progress” is one of my more popular artworks. I chose it for this show because it works on several levels. It is an actual physical piece of neon light. The piece also makes “light” of religion and/or religious people. I have a an observant brother who believes that I am evil or the devil because I work as an artist. In the past he threw out a lot of my art when I was away at grad school. When asked what happened to my stuff he replied with a laugh, “I gave you a retrospective at the city dump.” I eventually made that quote into a piece of neon using his own handwriting for the shapes of the letters.
AW: Is this work part of a series? How does this artwork fit in with the rest of the work you make?
GH: This work is not really a series but more of an on going body of work. A lot of my work comes from things I hear from family, friends and riding the subway. If I like something that I hear, I will make it into a poster. If I really like it then it will become a piece of neon. It’s a way of expressing the personal in a public way.
AW: How does your process and/or materials embody and convey your concerns?
GH: I work in several mediums and they are for the most part humble mediums. They are things that are not usually considered “high art” mediums: posters, neon, drum heads, Silly Putty, comic book pages, porn, plastics toy soldiers, for example. In this way I relate to the mid-century art movement Arte Povera, along with artists Marcel Duchamp, Piero Manzoni, Bruce Nauman, Mike Kelley, and Jean Dubuffet. I don’t work with oil paint but I make art that doesn’t look like “art.”
AW: I loved hearing your story about how you came upon the phrase “Satan is happy with your progress.” Did you consider that both believers and non-believers would find humor in that phrase?
GH: I have found that to be a bit surprising. In my personal experience, I find that people can have a different sense of humor from me. They can be sensitive and defensive when it comes to the subject of religion. I have had some of my posters defaced while being displayed at a community college in Pennsylvania. “Satan is Happy” was among them. I later pieced back the torn posters into surprising and humorous combinations, so in a way I’m glad that happened.
AW: What has most shaped the work you do?
GH: I suppose my desire to be recognized as a good artist whatever the hell that means.
AW: Do you have any projects coming up? Tell us about them!
GH: One project I have is getting some of my images enlarged and printed onto framed wood panels. I think they look fantastic and can’t wait to eventually exhibit them.
AW: Thanks so much for sharing all this great info, George! I really appreciate you taking the time to explain your process and to let our viewers have a glimpse into the inner workings of your mind.
Please stay tuned for the third post in this series, an interview with Valeria Divinorum, an artist working with glass and crystals to explore the intangible properties of light.