The artist Anthony Cudahy works from found photographs to create work that is wholly original and emotionally complex. Below, we talk to Cudahy about paint, pixels and not wanting to be melodramatic. Text & video Sean Santiago. Photos courtesy the artist.
Do you see your work as iterative or interpretive—or is that an offensive dichotomy?
Image histories are what interest me. The transformation and degradation an image is subjected to through reproduction creates a language itself with codes and signifiers. This can be the pixelation of an image repeating itself online or a cast shadow of a photographic flash placed in a painting. When I appropriate an image and translate it into painting, it is both an iteration and an interpretation. The painting is another chain in this lineage. Another layer in an image's history. The translation is my brain working through the image; the painting is a record of thoughts.
When the same source image is painted more than once, like my DEADDOG paintings, that's where everything can really open up. It's not that the stakes are lower, but each painting doesn't have to say everything. I can follow one idea to an end result and then do the same with another idea.
Does your perception of the image from which you're working immediately queer it?
Yes, I think all of my work is created from a gay perspective. There's no part of me, and no idea of mine, that isn't influenced by my being gay. This is something I think is difficult to explain to the straight people and gay people. I don't mind a label like "gay artist." I hate when people say, "Being gay doesn't define me!" It does. It's not everything, but it influences everything. Does that make sense? There's "obvious" work like paintings and drawings of my partner, Ian, but I think a queer lens is apparent in my work everywhere: in my fixations on presentation and representation, and the transitory. So, yes, "gay artist." I think it's reductive to find that limiting.
Who is a sex symbol?
I'm tired of bodies, or at least in ranking them. The standards that feel natural to someone should be questioned more frequently, I believe.
Describe a mountain in three words.
"That's tall!" or "Mound, Ridge, Fold," or "Of the horizon."
What is your favorite color that you used to hate or that you love in spite of itself?
My color palette has truly widened its scope in the past few years. Earlier on, my painting was really dominated by alizarin crimson. I hated yellow, which seems comical now. Some friends and I had a critique group the first year out of college and I think there was an intervention moment where I got properly called out for limiting myself so much. Now I'm more interested in color groups and interactions like simultaneous contrast, than in one favorite color.
You told the Paris Review, "The things I make paintings about, I don’t want to make zines about. And the things I make zines about, I don’t want to make films about. It’s a different kind of energy." Can you elaborate? What do you want to make films about? Why do you make zines? Are you compartmentalizing?
Eric Wiley and I had at that point recently made the second of two short film collaborations. Eric's also my good friend and definitely the person [with whom] I am on the closest wavelength when it comes to painting and ideas about art. He was working on a feature-length film project at the time, with which I was assisting. Film ideas were in the air. Eventually he paused the project and film ideas also paused for me, personally. I think for a long while I was feeling limited by painting, when I needed to commit to studying and pushing the medium further. It's important to know you have the freedom to take any idea in the direction it calls for, but it's also good to hone in, sit down, and focus. I feel my best when I work. I don't know how healthy it is to ascribe worth to how much I work, but that's there.
If you weren't a painter, what would you be?
Can I still make any art? Not being able to paint would gut me, but I think I'd be able to live if I could continue to make other work. I don't want to be melodramatic about it, but at this point I've followed art so far and structured my life in such a way, that to do something else would be a huge recalibration.