the multiple personalities of rob pruitt

Over the past 25 years, artist Rob Pruitt has made a 16-foot long line of cocaine, giant googly-eyed monsters crafted from collapsed cardboard, and filled giant tyres with hundreds of Oreos. So the biggest surprise of his new show at Gavin Brown’s...

by Emily Manning and Adam Fletcher
22 September 2014, 11:20pm

Photography Benedict Brink

Rob's work is known for exploring consumerism, youth, and larger pop cultural themes through hilarious and thought provoking takes on American life. Multiple Personalities, however, is about what goes on in Rob's own head, a slightly quieter place. The show features a series of "Suicide Paintings", large scale gradients that look like Mark Rothko designed Apple startup screens, and works based on the automatic, stream-of-consciousness drawings Rob produced during visits to his therapist.

What motivated Multiple Personalities' new direction?
I really hate the trauma that people express when a milestone birthday passes, that, "Oh my god, I'm turning 30." I really wanted to not participate in that discussion, but I just had a big milestone birthday, my 50th, and I have to say that this time, I was susceptible. I had been watching an episode of Louie in which he described turning 40 as having passed the middle point in his life, that he had used more time than he had left.

I realised that I'd been making and showing art for 25 years. A lot of it was visually chaotic. A lot of it was primarily about being a visual/social anthropologist, gathering and collecting visual facts to prove certain agendas and ideas that I was interested in and compelled by. All that work is fine. I wouldn't take it back and I'm relatively pleased it exists, but I was starting to feel that I wanted to speak about other things, what goes on in my head - feelings rather than facts. So that's how I devised this show.

Art is usually about the masterpiece and editing thing to perfection - my approach was totally the opposite. Anything that seemed profound to me on any given day ended up being exhibited without any filter or editing process. I was proud of that mentality and now it's not that I'm turning my back on that but I'm doing things with a little quieter. It's more insular, more meditative. 

Does technology inform your work, and if so, how?
Technology has become such a major part of day-to-day life over the past 15-20 years and I'm interested in day-to-day life, everything from what's going on politically across the globe to entertainment industry gossip to what's happening with my family and my personal life. Technology definitely allows me to make much of my work, however, if there's a part of technology that informs the work it would be how the web is able to disperse information immediately. 15 years ago no one thought about things going viral. As an artist that's a very interesting thing to think about, how pictures and ideas can contaminate a society and a culture. 

The couches your assistants coloured are amazing! Can you tell us a little more about them?
The couches started four years ago when I was making a big double show for Gavin Brown and his next-door neighbour Michele Maccarone. Leading up to the show I went from having one assistant to having many assistants and we suddenly needed a big lunch table, so we put plywood on sawhorses and very organically people started drawing and doodling on the plywood after lunch. I just watched it happen. By the time the show was up the plywood tabletops were completely covered and I had this realisation that they were more interesting and more beautiful than some of the works that were made for the show, so I fostered and nurtured the idea and brought in some inexpensive Ikea sofas upholstered in canvas for lounging/drawing on. Four years later we have a fleshed out body of work. I love it because it doesn't require anything from me per se. It just grows on its own. 

What is your favorite drawing on them?
It's Wally, from Where's Wally?, without pants on, sitting on a sofa masturbating with a speech bubble that says "I'm right here".

Can you tell us about your eBay store? You've got amazing feedback!
There's a chapter in my book 101 Art Ideas You Can Do Yourself about automatic autobiographies (framing all your credit card statements, taking a selfie every day for an extended period of time) and it occurred to me that if I eliminate one material thing from my life everyday and post it on eBay, it could become a very interesting autobiography, this river of things that I consumed, loved once, and no longer feel the need to keep. It might become a beautiful narrative, so I really saw the eBay store as an opportunity to make an autobiography.

Another thing I like about the eBay stores is how it's an act of commerce but it has these social media tentacles where I get comments from fans and followers and a cult of repeat buyers. And just like the plywoods we were talking about, I really like an ongoing, daily project like needlepoint or knitting. Something that you can just add to and it keeps growing without having to think too hard about it. 

Lena Dunham won your inaugural Rob Pruitt Award. Who would you give one to today and why?
Actually Lena was bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement Award. I thought it was funny to give it to someone who was 25 at the time. Albeit meritus. She was a bit of a workaholic 25-year-old and she actually had done quite a bit. Today I'd give one to Martha Stewart because I love her. I model myself after her. I like how industrious she is, how she never stops working and creating and building her empire and contributing. She's my favorite artist.


Text Emily Manning
Photography Benedict Brink

lena dunham
martha stewart
multiple personalities
Emily Manning