In the Studio with Joe Bochynski

Joe Bochynski Sculpture

Permission Figures, 2014. Ceramic tile on panel, each 96” x 12”

Joe Bochynski is a contemporary artist working in a variety of mediums including sculpture, mosaic, video, installation, and web-based projects.  He received a BA in Mathematics and Studio Art from Hobart College in 2008 and an MFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013.  He has lived throughout the northeast and currently lives and works in Brooklyn.

You divide your work into three distinct, but overlapping, groups; relationships, labor and community. Why is it important for this distinction if they all interrelate?

Well, I’ve got a math background, and it was always so appealing to me when writing a proof to just make-up some structure out of thin air for your own ends.  It’s like saying “suppose we have a set of things, now place all the odd numbered things in this subset because I said so.”  Dividing up my own work into these categories made sense at a structural level, and it’s a way to enter the work as a whole.  Plus, I like Venn Diagrams.

Joe Bochynski Sculpture

Permission Figures, 2014. Ceramic tile on panel, each 96” x 12”

How important is your personal background beginning point in your work?

It hasn’t been direct.  I’ve always filtered art history and contemporary art through my own background.  For example, the 20th century’s arch towards utopia always made sense to me through the handyman aesthetic.  We are attempting self-improvement through DIY craft projects on an individual level, just as Le Corbusier saw societal improvement via fine art and urban planning.

You appear to be focusing more and more on craftsmanship, especially with the tile. Does this come into play with more than just the labor element of the work?

My artistic life began in the Unmonumental Age, or whatever you’d like to define post-September 11th contemporary sculpture.  However, the more I think about the great work of Rachel Harrison or Isa Genzken or Paul Chan, the more it doesn’t fit my personality.  Craftsmanship is a way out of uncertainty and the precarious nature of today.  Labor is in there as well, but I’m more mixed about labors’ meaning since there is no longer a one-to-one relationship between labor and success.

Joe Bochynski Sculpture

Middle School Dance (Convention Center), 2013 Mixed media, Dimensions vary

Ceramic tile has become important in the last couple of years and especially with your newest bodies of work in all three categories. What is it about the medium that is significant and what is it about the process?

The tiles have all these personal associations, but it really began with a stupid question;  “What can this 4” x 4” glazed mud square do for me?”  It began as a healthy restriction in the studio but now has grown into deeper connections.  I see tile as the poor man’s stone.  I see it as skin on the walls.  I see it having this very long life into the deep future.  I see it as tacky, cheap, and classy at the same time.  I see it’s seductive shine.  Lately as I’m shipping these things, I see tile as really heavy and surpassingly delicate.

The “Permission Figure” sculptures become even more totemic and monumental than previous work. In addition to this, you installed the sculptures in different locations around New York City and the audience becomes obviously less voluntary than a gallery participant. What is your idea behind this direct engagement?

It’s very important that these cultural objects are now placed in the real world. The gallery setting is so hermetically sealed from actual lived experiences that by placing the work out in the “real world”, people react differently with art. People approach the sculptures with a higher degree of sincerity that is important to me.

Part of this comes from my previous work as a museum guard and watching people interact with art within the defined parameters of the gallery and the gallery as a performance space in some sense. It really comes down to making art about humans and not art about art. The work also becomes a proxy that allows me to engage with anyone on the street without being there.

Joe Bochynski Sculpture

Patty Hearst’s Beret, 2013. Glass tile on form, 6” x 7” x 3”

In your most recent series “Civics (Lessons?)“ what imagery are you using?

I’m mining my own personal history with civic engagement for this work and how I’ve been a good citizen in the past. So I’m going through the places I’ve lived chronologically to determine what kind of civic engagement I’ve been involved in. There are three panels for each location including a local government building, a civic group and another direct action, usually a protest that I was involved with. It’s an attempt to determine what worked and what didn’t and remain optimistic.

You have two exhibits coming up. What do you plan to show?

I’m excited to be invited back to my undergraduate college for a show up this fall.  It is a collection of work from the past seven years since graduating.  It’s very satisfying to look at the bric-a-brac you’ve made over time and realize you unconsciously return to a few themes.  Often in the studio, I’m following these strange impulses which seem discontinuous in the moment.  This show, Everybody is Everybody, has evolved to include themes of personal relations between lovers, bosses, peers, family members, as well as self-reflexive navel gazing.  Which I do a lot…

And for next spring?

That will be more polemical: it begins with a questions posed to me from my wife.  How can a solipsistic artist improve other people’s lives in a concrete, measurable way?  My answer is through civic art.  More specifically, making work which leaves the studio and acts as a good citizen-proxy in the world for me, since I’d prefer never to leave the studio.  The catch is that it’s all theoretical and hence a failure.  The show is a large research project into possible solutions to this question, but does not actually follow through with any of the recommendations.  It’s a lot of lip service.  Maybe I’ll take my own advice afterwards.

Joe Bochynski Sculpture

V. b. Grad School (Providence), 2015. Ceramic tile on panel, 36” x 36”

So what are the answers to this question; how to be a good person, and still be a self-centered artist who just sits in a room by themselves and indulges?

I’ll give you a few possibilities.  One, Fan Art; create art so richly layered that other people build communities around extending this vision.  Two, Artist Book as Manual; make a printed collection of things, which also serve some didactic function, like how to change a tire.  Three, Shinto Shrine; make art which, over a period of time, is required to be remade by other people.  I have others, but you’ll need to wait for the show.

Anything else you would like to add?

You can’t push a rope.

Upcoming solo shows include Everybody is Everybody at the Davis Gallery in Geneva, NY from Oct. 16th to Nov. 13th, 2015.  Next spring, Civics (Lessons?) will be shown at Big Orbit Gallery in Buffalo, NY from April 14th to May 13th, 2016.

More info can be found at

By Jake Weigel

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