By Debbi Kenote
Images that seem to be evoking specific narratives cover the walls of Kcirred Reswob’s studio as I sit across from him discussing his work. Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, a cow behind a fence, Seaworld, a littered landscape, among others. On the table, next to one of his cats, is a stack of sketchbooks. As Reswob describes growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania listening to Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, and the other conservative classics, I begin to understand the genesis for much of the narrative I am seeing.
Through his explorations of the coyote, borders, humans, animals and their environments, discrete or cartoonish narratives appear that seem to also reflect a deeper socio-political sensibility. The result is a world that can at times seem both comically mundane and deeply prophetic. The common image of a barbed wire fence begins to seem like something I’ve never really looked at before. As Reswob and I discuss the coyote and his research into the attempted removal of it from parts of the midwestern United States, I begin to wonder why I, like countless other children, took pleasure in watching the many creative deaths of the immortal Wile E. A simple act of looking, or re-looking at what we already know is there, transports Reswob’s narratives into symbols of humanity, that are both fascinating and disturbing.
“Do you have a gallery?” I ask, “I don’t do solo shows,” he answers, going on to explain his discomfort taking up space as a white cis male painter in México. He tells me other things I often think but don’t hear people say, like how he dropped out of art school because it didn’t seem like a good idea to start out by going into debt. Aha, I think, now that is the truth.
After my visit with Reswob, I followed up with some Q & A, revisiting much of our original discussion. Below you will find our conversation, where we further discussed Reswob’s paintings, research, and his diligent sketchbook practice.
Debbi Kenote: Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you got started making art? Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Mexico City?
Kcirred Reswob: Yeah, I grew up on a dairy farm in south central Pennsylvania. I started drawing kind of early on, like most kids. When I was eight I wanted to be in the art club and my submission to get in was a smiley I saw on plastic grocery bags that said “Have a nice day.” It was a good replica, but I didn’t get into art club. Haha.
I lived in Perú for several years because I have family there, and met my wife Gaby Cepeda, who’s Mexican, and after a year in Perú together we decided to move to México.
DK: Did you pursue art academically after high school?
KR: Barely. I dropped out because of how expensive art school was. It felt like an ineffective way to pursue art, by going into debt.
DK: Can you walk me through your painting process? You mentioned that recently you have been working on instructions for how to make a painting, can you tell me more about that?
KR: Um, yah. My friend Gannon McCarthy asked me back in February if I’d like to be involved in the final project for his painting class. He told me a little bit about the class and how it stressed the importance of process, and that he liked having some parameters to work around. I said sure, and sent him some instructions a week or so later. After that, I continued to work on them because it felt necessary and now it feels like a more genuine outline of how I approached making paintings like Along The Border With Wile E. Coyote (After Looney Tunes), The cow pasture wouldn’t have fences if it weren’t for cowboys wanting to own water., and a painting that I was about to finish titled Boundary Maintenance, which are all based on different texts and how I break them down to be translated into a painting or paintings.
I plan on curating an exhibition that will be based upon the instructions sometime in 2018.
DK: It seems like politics play an important role in the work. Have you always made political work? What specifically are the politics of your work and what makes them resonate with you?
KR: I drew political cartoons in high school, sort of on my own, but I never really tried to learn the style used by political cartoonists. I’ve been drawing political stuff for a while.
On the farm my dad would listen to talk radio all the time. Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Sean Hannity, and other local conservatives would become a cacophony that lasted most of the day amplified from the truck speakers. It made the cows go mad. It wasn’t until recently that I read something about how cows don’t like human utterance. It made me think about my childhood and all these loud voices bouncing off the barn, across the barnyard and how stressed out the cows must have been. Reading this information summoned the echoes of all those conservatives in a way that is different from how I heard them back then; and different from how I hear those voices now. This makes me wonder about the reasons I didn’t end up becoming a social conservative, why I choose not to be a very vocal person and it transforms my history into something more than what I experienced. We never gave the cows their due. Our thoughts were probably like, “they’re dumb” even though we were probably the dumb ones for thinking that. A simple solution to cows breaking through a fence could have been turning the radio off. Now I know!
I don’t know if that really answers your question, but I feel like I continue to learn more about my point of view and responsibility through history and my experiences, even if it’s 20 years later. I think what works better for me is paying attention to history and trying to find out more about how things happened. I like figuring out who I am, and I think history, politics and learning in general are useful tools to not only do that, but also to think about us now and who people were then as a whole. History.
DK: Earlier we discussed your depiction of fences, can you tell me more about your interest in them and what they evoke for you symbolically?
KR: I think it’s less about fences than it is about borders. I can like a nice fence, but I don’t think there’s such a thing as a nice border. I say that considering that I am interested in politics and history, and with that in mind I don’t think political borders can be good. Fences and borders are not mutually exclusive from one another because fences are used to mark borders. Borders aren’t used to mark fences. That sounds ridiculous and I think that I’m still figuring out what I really think about them because I know that there’s a problem, since I like a wall between me and my neighbors because I don’t trust every one of my neighbors, though I’d like to. It’s a problem, and I am guilty of being corrupted by the hegemony of private property and protectionism even when I’m a renter, but I also know that I feel comfortable in my small apartment. I like that privacy, but I also think privacy is different from borders drawn on a political map.
DK: Can you tell me more about the coyote?
KR: My main interests in representing the coyote was for me to learn more about “The Coyote” behind Wile E. because I didn’t know much more about the character other than his failed missions. I wanted to rewatch some episodes, find other animations with coyotes and learn more about them in general. I needed to learn more about coyotes to understand why they were being represented the way they were in cartoon animations. It turns out that they have been stigmatized by white settlers/colonizers like Mark Twain and ever since then their bad reputation has been sustained by ranchers and others who lobby congress for their eradication.
I was reading a Dan Flores article and he has a book I still would like to read about Coyotes and the relationship humans developed with them ever since U.S. Europeans colonized the west. Attempted erasure of the coyote out west merely made them migrate east. It’s an interesting analogy to the tactics the U.S. has used when meddling with México’s and Central America’s politics; with them resulting in the displacement and marginalization of large swathes of the population because of “American” interests abroad. It makes me think about the war on drugs and the installation of social and fiscal conservatives as dictators in countries like Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, —which I know is an entirely different subject. Nevertheless, the violence of humans on the coyotes effectively achieved nothing, other than the necessity to continue scheming on how to wipe them out.
Other reading included a philosophical paper written by a Finnish student named Timo Laine who I never met, but found something he wrote titled Sympathy For The Coyote where he writes about the Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner series’ humor. I don’t understand the philosophical theories very well, but it helped me understand a little more about why I laughed at the show and still do even if the coyote is depicted as a dummy despite his increasingly ingenious riggings to stop the Roadrunner. Wile E. is effectively a loser, though he is an immortal character, and while we might have some hope that he will succeed we also know that he will always fail. I wanted to make a painting where I saw Wile E. succeeding and in a positive light, even if ironically someone could see this painting and think otherwise. I didn’t mean to make an ironic painting like that, but it happens.
DK: You mentioned that drawing is also a strong component of your practice. How do you approach drawing?
KR: Yeah, I draw a lot more than I paint. All of my drawings are drawn in sketchbooks. I don’t draw as much as I’d like, but I have moments. Right now I’m digitally editing a scanned version of a sketchbook from 2011 and lots of new renditions of old drawings, and also entirely new ones have come out of it. I think about drawings as being a form of clipart that I can copy and paste in order to arrange a composition for a painting, or for a drawing outside of the sketchbook. It’s refreshing for me to see my drawings in this way, because before that my sketchbooks felt fallow, even when a lot of rambling and drawings are wedged between the pages.
In a way I’m using my own drawing history to produce more drawings, and this process of scanning and editing the old has been helpful for me to articulate what drawing has meant to me and also to cook up more of them. I edit old stuff and draw new things during my free time. Sometimes I’ll be reading during that free time and end up drawing instead or doing both kind of simultaneously. It’s definitely important for me to do it, I never really had a formula to approach drawing until maybe recently.
DK: I’m fascinated by your sketchbooks. Can you discuss your physical-to-digital transfer process of the books, and your use of white out, digital drawings, etc?
KR: Thanks. Yeah, I don’t think I mentioned anything about the use of white out and how the sketchbooks are edited digitally in your last question. Um, like I said old sketchbooks have been scanned and then I go into editing them. I end up digitally painting over a lot of the original stuff. Especially the writing. In the edited versions there is barely any writing and a lot of the drawings change. I use photoshop on the computer and Art Set Pro (an app) on an iPad to draw new things and cover old things up. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t like, and when I don’t like it I cover it up. Since I’ve started this process, I’ve become a lot more active in whiting out and covering stuff up in my new sketchbook that I don’t like, and have really learned to enjoy what painting over something feels like and what it looks like too. If it weren’t for me editing my old self and ruminating on my history, I’d know less about what I’m doing and what I’ve done. I don’t want that.
DK: How does the writing or poetry come to you?
KR: I used to write a lot in my sketchbooks before I started editing them and now I don’t like to unless it’s short. I don’t like talking that much either because I easily drift into rambling even when I’d like to think I’m aiming for something. I generally don’t like talking in groups of people and when I do I try to keep my output to a bare minimum. I’d rather listen and avoid saying something I don’t like in retrospect.
I don’t really know how writing comes to me. Maybe it’s because I don’t like to go out or party unless it’s at home. I think any writing I do is me just talking to myself, and I like to pick myself apart and words are good for that. I was also introduced to writing at an early age in school and my grandmother (Maria Elena Jiménez, also a painter) reinforced the idea because she said that her brother wrote a lot. I met him when I was a little kid and don’t really remember that, but I must have thought writing was something I wanted to do too. I also have a terrible memory and I think writing helps me with that.
DK: At times, the work overall has some language in common with comics. Are you interested or associated with the comic world at all?
KR: I’m interested in comics, but moreso from a distance. There’s a volcano not so far away from where I live right now and when I see it from the road I want to climb it, but I don’t climb it. I think that’s how my relationship is with comics.
DK: Looking at the paintings specifically, some of them, the small square ones in particular, seem to have a thickness and shine to the surface, it’s nice. Do you spend a lot of time building up the surface?
KR: Yeah, I spent a lot of time layering paint, scraping, sanding and painting over it again and again until I find the right background.
You mentioned the role of narrative in your work before, specifically the use of text in the creation of the work, can you tell me more about that? Is it important to you that some of the original narrative content be present in the finished paintings, through the use of symbols, etc?
Yeah, narrative is important to me. One part of the instructions that I wrote emphasizes how useful taking notes of my thoughts and feelings are, and the different ways I should approach the narrative I’m referencing. The step after insists that it’s not just about following instructions to make a painting, but documenting the process of why I am even doing it. I think it’s through this process that I find ways to symbolize the content in the text.
DK: Can you talk more about the mixing of politics and art? Is this something that you see happening around you, or do politics and art feel pretty separate amongst your art peers?
I try to be sincere throughout my process to make honest paintings and I try not to take up space as a white cis male painter in México or in Perú, where I used to live, because there are enough white men taking up space in these majority brown countries. When it comes to guys like me taking up space I believe that most, if not all, intentionally separate their art from politics, because they all continue to have solo exhibitions and seem to have no problem showing in places where black and brown artists (local and foreign) get little to no representation or exposure. I don’t do solo shows, though I do think about them when I consider my work as a whole.
DK: What do you think of the art scene in Mexico City currently? Is there a DIY scene here that you are aware of? Any specific galleries or artists we should be looking at?
DK: Do you have any shows coming up, anything on the horizon that you are working on, currently?
KR: Nothing yet. I’m working on something with Talia Shulze for sometime in the future and I’m planning on curating a show based upon my instructions somewhere sometime in 2018.