We caught up with Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller of the Brooklyn-based art group FAILE to talk about their recent book Works on Wood, published by Gestalten. The ideas of form, temporality and appropriation have been a part of FAILE’s work since their early wheatpaste work. Needless to say, we were intrigued to see how the age old medium of wood plays into their ever evolving art.
You guys are well known for working with a wide range of materials and media: prints, paintings, salvaged materials, large-scale installations. Why did you decide to focus on wood for your latest book?
Our work tends to incorporate several different materials. I think we’ve always loved the physicality of different materials, especially when you find them in the city and they are being used for purposes other than what you would expect. Working on wood has been such a love over the years, from the street then into the studio, that it seemed something to celebrate. There is a clear lineage from our early street works to the studio paintings and sculptures on wood. Also we feel it’s some of our most original and unique work. The wood paintings and sculptural works developed more fully in our practice over time; they’re not something that was there from the beginning, so it’s a nice visual story of process and exploration to share.
What qualities and caveats does wood possess as an artistic medium?
The allure of wood is the surface and the durability of it. It’s a medium that you can really work with. You can beat it up. You can stand on it. You can sand it down. You can build with it. It has a living history. I think that’s the romance. The way we work with wood, it sort of becomes a part of the studio, physically and artistically over a period of time – and there’s a record of that through the work. The only real caveat, so far, is its weight. But we’re that much stronger because of it.
What has been your most challenging project to date?
For the FAILE Temple in Lisbon we created a 16ft x 30ft x 14ft ceramic, steel, marble, bronze and stone temple in decay, over the course of two years. We were the artists, architects, engineers and fabricators for that project, which tested us on many levels. But it came together nicely in the end. For the New York City Ballet we built a 40ft x 15ft x 15ft tower in four months. That was just painful. It was an all-out creative sprint to make that happen in the time it needed to. Which of course we did, but it was one of the hardest times on a physical level.
How has your work and creative process evolved over the last decade?
The foundation of how we create images is still the same. Which is really focused on looking at the past to find bits and pieces of that history and to create new narratives from that. The mediums have changed, the content has grown, the work (paintings and sculpture) has evolved visually, we’ve grown as people and family men – but I don’t know that the process has changed that much. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. Images and painting are distinct things in the studio, so that makes it two paths and processes.
Who and what influences you from outside the art world (music, science, travel, theater, film etc)?
Radiohead, Joseph Campbell, NYC, the Midwest, religious structures, malls, quilts, Stanley Kubrick.
Who is your favorite fictional hero?
Clark W. Griswold and Inspector Clouseau.
Where are you most inspired, the studio or the street?
It’s a symbiotic relationship. Something on the street inspires something in the studio; something in the studio makes us see things on the street that we never saw before.
What has been your greatest failure?
If you could have one super-power, what would it be?
What is your motto?
Faile to succeed.
Earlier this month FAILE joined Swizz Beatz at NeueHouse for a discussion on art, music and creativity.