As the month of May drew to a close, I spoke with Malcolm Colvin, a visual artist graduating from the Baltimore School for the Arts to conduct a senior exit interview. If you’ve ever wandered through the sixth floor hallway at school, you may have run into one of Malcolm’s life-sized oil paintings. Impressed, you may have wondered about the intriguing work, the concepts behind it, and the creator himself. Malcolm is never too loud, or overbearing, and is probably rather mysterious to those who don’t know him well. However, he is also a man of immense knowledge and keen articulation and even on the last week of school, Malcolm was able to fully express himself.
Ruby: After studying your paintings, the viewer can notice that you’re often the main subject. With that in mind, what role do you think identity should or does play in art?
Malcolm: Well I think the very substratum of any cultural production is an act of identity. The individual and the facets of that individual are going to come across in any production. So in a way, I would say that identity and the art form, in many ways, are almost seamlessly bound.
R: Often artists can express an identity in the representations they are able to create of themselves or in the concepts they lend to the art itself. Of course there is overlap between the two, but when it comes to self expression, do you find that one enhances communication over the other?
M: On the topic of identity, I would have to discuss the very nature of our art as what I think it to be. I definitely think art should be constructional and I think it should be titular only. I think it’s kind of just a matter of applying that title to an act or a form and with that I would say the delineations between identity versus concept in terms of artistic emphasis is irrelevant mostly because I would say that art is irrelevant because of the fact that I think it’s constructional and titular.
R: In an piece you wrote on your understanding of art, you explained that the constant over analysis of art has led you to despise it. It seems that such a mindset would create a dichotomy between the artist, yourself, and product, your work.
With that in mind, how do you feel about the role of an artist? Particularly when it becomes
problematic that after you’ve worked hard and spent time on a piece, you continue to have such a distaste towards the concept of art and it’s creation.
M: I would say that the role of the artist is contrived and much of my understanding of the art form stems from my readings on Realism and my own practice of this certain kind of Nihilism. Within Nihilism, there’s a philosophical idea called the Death of God. Nietzsche proclaimed that “God is Dead” but in that death of God we see an absence of the absolute. It results in what Nihilism understands as the becoming of a notion of creativity. Creativity is essentially the fabrication of absolutes and where my idea of contriveness comes from. I think the role of the artist is devised by the human to exist within our own paradigms and to meet our own criteria, that of which we’ve constructed.
R: Throughout the rest the essay, you speak in first person when accounting for what you do and do not completely believe. This tends to create a more personal connection with your reader. Given the self awareness you possess as a young artist, where do you find challenges in communicating your personal content when there are often boundaries to either follow or break.
M: Most of what you’re asking could be addressed by saying that I try to make myself literate. To me being literate means making myself aware and teaching myself or at least observing the specificities of certain lexicons. By lexicons, what I’m really talking about are cultural idiosyncrasies and nuances of my environment. With observations, I’m left to communicate what I know and what I know is a lot about what it means to be a homosexual where I live, and the culture of where I live, and if I’m not sure about something I’ll just read about it. So that covers how I often decide on my content but in terms of boundaries and where I feel I should put most of my efforts, it really is a personal thing. I read lots of art journals and so I try to keep myself aware of what’s being done and what’s not being done in addition to what the conversations are curatorially or sculpturally or scripturally, just what people are doing and then I can decide where to plug myself in to add my own opinions through the work and through the presentation of the work.
Boundaries, I don’t see them. But like I said, I do try to keep myself aware of lexicons. For example, the lexicon of the Baltimore School for the Arts would proclaim that there are sexual boundaries and lots of things that would be considered explicit, so I can’t really indulge in a lot of those and I can’t really explore such things. Language is another aspect I have to be careful of around here. There are boundaries here in high school but next year in college, they will definitely change.
R: How do you feel about the role of school as it affects an artist? What kind of balance do you find between art and academic studies? Are you drawn more so to academic, philosophical research or physical, artistic practice when finding inspiration for your work?
M: Because of what we understand art to be and the contemporary art world right now, schooling is absolutely necessary in terms of engaging in the discussions being had, in terms of really making or doing anything entirely relevant. In terms of high school though, I remember Mr. Ventimiglia once said it really only skims the surface of what we’ll get into. Even as I’ve attempted to dive deeper into some of the things I’ve been introduced to, I am only beginning to understand the breath of a lot of these subjects and even in my extra time, I’m only touching the tip of the iceberg. I would say schooling is entirely important in order to get as much as possible.
To address the idea of finding balance, I am a little bias because from what I understand the concept is really all that matters. I’m not very interested in the physical manifestation, although I do understand the communicational capacities it can have. I would say that the academic side is far more important than any physical praxis or any medium. But it is completely a matter of preference. Though I would argue that the physical act of painting can be just as intellectual as any research. The only thing that separates the two is the actual conduct. I happen to prefer reading and studying and finding inspiration in philosophy.
R: That being said are there any philosophers in particular that have inspired you?
Well there’s John Dewey. He was a writer and a theorist who influenced Allan Kaprow, who was an artist, a painter, sculptor, also writer. He introduced this idea of performance art called “The Happenings” which was directly influenced by John Dewey and his writings on art. Both of those people really changed the way I think about the art form in general. There’s also Guy Debord, who is what you could call a political theorist. And I’d say the entire conceptual art movement has inspired me but and especially the work of John Beuys.
R: Next year will you continue your education in the arts?
M: I’m going to an art school, The Rhode Island School of Design, but I’m going to be majoring in animation.
R: Why animation?
M: Well the animation industry and the culture of animation for film, that’s most traditional, is very different from the art world and I am very, very, very eager to get out of the art world. It drives me crazy. Even just talking about art makes my blood pressure rise a bit.
R: Do you know what’s triggered such a reaction to something you’ve been devoted to?
M: Teachers have presented themselves as obstacles when they attempt to tell me what the art form is and what I can or cannot qualify something as it. I feel like art is an invention and humans get to define art, so in that way I should be able to wield that same power and define art the way I need to define it.
R: Do you think you will continue to be presented with more obstacles as you begin at another institution?
M: Of course, but I think they may be a little more open because as an art school they’re trying to be “artsy” and whatnot. There will be obstacles, just like there would be in anyone’s life, but I am hesitant to take routes that are going to present me with more than I want.
R: You only have one day left at BSA. Do you have any final thoughts on the time you’ve spent here?
M: My time here was really, really lovely. Everybody really opened my mind and I wouldn’t think the way that I do, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, had it not been for the teachers that taught me, in the way that they taught me, at the time that they taught me. So it was really important that I had that figural drawing class before I had Mr. Petr’s sculpture class.
R: How would you reflect on some of the classes like Physics or Math that don’t particularly pertain to what you want to persue? Do you find value in doing work
M: There is very little that I find value in. To find value in something, actually scares me a little bit and the idea of value itself is pretty terrifying. In terms of value, there’s nothing that I would apply it to, but like I said I try to make myself aware of lexicons and paradigms to become literate in them and so I do understand that to be, and to exist in this society and culture that I do, requires me to be functional and to do a couple things like doing well in school, and making art. But to answer your question, when I’m confronted with physics class or chemistry class, for whatever reason, in some ways it kind of guides or inspires what I’m actually going to do. Some of my sculpture work is based off of scientific concepts. Right now it’s actually for what I’m going to be doing later in animation. I’m trying to create a kind of empirical magic system based off of what I’ve learned in chemistry and what I know about physics. So the things that I’ve learned in those classes can immediately be applied to what you might consider my artistic practice.
R: When you find so little value in art, what drives you to pursue animation, a field that is remotely artistic or creative?
M: Well I’m aware that I need a kind of plan, something that can provide me with a job and a house to live in. So as much as it pains me, and tires me, and sucks all of the life out of me, I am adhering to these paradigms in order to function, remain, and exist here.
I would technically consider all things to be art because I would also consider nothing to be art. But with that, there is a complacency that I feel is present. That complacency results in many things remaining subconsciously present in the human mind and I think one of those things is the understanding of creativity as I described it as a Nihilist concept. I feel as though within art, there is the most awareness and I have the most freedom to play around with and to really address the fact that I do believe that creativity constructs all that we observe. Essentially because it’s easiest for me.