In his well-crafted photographs, Anthony Goicolea explores the concepts of youth, homoeroticism, and identity. He serves as his own model, playing multiple characters who all appear in the same photograph. Goicolea uses digital manipulation in a way that does not call attention to itself but rather reflects his aesthetic and conceptual vision. In his art he has also explored the themes of environmental destruction and displacement. A retrospective of his work, titled “Alter Ego,” is now at the North Carolina Museum of Art, in Raleigh. Beside photographs, it also features his paintings, video, and mixed-media installations. Goicolea lives and works in New York City.
Is procrastination a friend or an enemy?
I guess it’s a "frenemy." I feel like I shoot myself in the foot sometimes because I don't leave myself enough time. But I feel like a lot of times that pressure keeps me from being too precious so then I am forced to take risks that maybe I wouldn't normally take.
Do you listen to others opinions or criticism?
I think I would ask them what it is they do not like about it, if I actually cared about their opinion. . . I think when you are working and you have something in mind and that's not coming across, somebody says, "Oh I didn't get that at all from this," you need to figure out what it is that you are doing that is not communicating what it is that you want to communicate.
Are saying you care more about the communication of your work than you do about the aesthetic?
They are both integral to me. I wouldn't weigh one more than the other. But let's say somebody said that they didn't like it because they didn't like the way that it looked, but my intention was to make it look like that; well then, fine, that's just their own opinion. . . If they are pointing out something that I was trying to do and did it unsuccessfully, and they are recommending a better way to do it, then yeah, I will listen to them and sort of take that in to account the next time around.
Would you recommend grad school for people?
The advantages are that you get a concentrated amount of time to work on things in a very focused way. The disadvantage is the cost. I mean it just is exorbitant, and sometimes I wonder if it is not more beneficial to take the 40 or 50 thousand dollars that grad school costs and give yourself some time off or do an artist residency or something. But I think residencies are an excellent way to get around it, and so I don't think it is necessarily crucial but it does offer you like this really condensed, concentrated period in which you get to work. There are some programs, like the Bart Graduate program, that seem like a nice halfway step where it's just in the summer it's really concentrated for about two months and the tuition is not as expensive and then you have the rest of the year to work on your work.
What do you think is the smartest thing you have ever done for your career?
I guess take it seriously, because initially when I first started working I didn't really treat it like a job, and I think once I started treating it like a job, that's when other people started taking me seriously and things started to happen. The not taking it seriously part didn't last too long. I got out of school and there was a year where I was just sort of flopping around doing whatever. It wasn't a mistake, just sort of a learning curve.
Are there any collections, museums, or galleries you aspire to be in?
The minute you complete one goal, there's another goal that is on the horizon. I'm sure that people who get the McArthur Foundation Genius grant or who have a solo show at the Whitney or MoMA, it's not like that's it and there is nothing left to aspire to.
What's one of the things you aspire to?
I would love to have a solo museum show in the northeast. I have one going on right now in the south. It would be nice to have one where I live.
So besides time, what do you think gets you started: inspiration or fear?
It's usually inspiration. I enjoy the idea of a challenge and learning how to do something and trying to figure it out; that I think is a motivational factor. But I don't feel like I have the luxury of having fear because I'm usually a little bit over scheduled. I can't think about being scared.
You don't think any of your work in particular comes from any of your fears?
Sure I think there are things in my work aesthetically that I find uncomfortable in real life. The idea of chaos and disorder and things being really cluttered and falling apart and this idea of loss or transition and things being dislocated; those are all things that make me really uncomfortable in real life. I don't want to experience them, but somehow I gravitated towards representing that in my work.
Your early work was about more of a performance. How has it evolved?
I think I just naturally change my work. When I was doing those self portraits, that's when people began to recognized me and my work; but previous to that I had been doing other stuff. To me it seems like it fits very snuggly on this whole continuum. I could see how from the outside, if that's you're starting point, it seems as if it kind of radically shifted or changed or stopped doing one particular thing . . . but that's not necessarily the case.
Since then, do you feel that your influences on your work have changed?
I am constantly exposed to different things, so with that exposure comes new influences. When I was doing self portraiture (Cindy Sherman) was a natural influence, and a lot of painters were also influential. I think in doing landscapes there were a lot of early American (like the Hudson valley school of landscape painters). But then also the fact that I moved to the country full-time for like a year and half; that was really inspiring. I remember the first time I had seen Disney films was as a young adult, I never really saw them growing up, we didn't go and see cartoon movies the way landscape was portrayed, or nature in general, was really inspiring to me. And the show that I have up now is called Pathetic Fallacy. I went through a big phase where I was reading a lot of Victorian novels and a lot of gothic novels; and this idea or the environment and nature kind of emulating the mood of the characters and almost foreshadowing events is called pathetic fallacy. So depending on what I am reading, I become inspired by that, or new friends that I make their interests naturally become part of my interests.
What do you want your art to achieve?
I guess I want it to have an impact. I want people to have an emotional response. But I think I have said it before: I don't want it to be really didactic, so I like the fact that there is an open-ended, ambiguous aspect to my work.
Do you think you are a good curator for your own work or do you think someone else has a better eye for it?
Usually I start out curating it and then I will get advice sometimes from the director, and so it's sort of like a two person job; and I'll take in to consideration what other people have to say. If I feel really, really strongly about something then I'll just stick to my guns. If somebody can present a clearer case as to why they feel something else works better than what I have done then I will listen to it and take that advice. I tend to be over-controlling and micromanage everything, so there are instances where my hand is not involved where it's kind of nice to see what other people do. I just had a survey exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art and they did a catalogue which is really nice: all of the essays and that kind of thing, so it was really sort of surprising to go through it and see how somebody else curated it, and it was kind of nice and felt very stress-free and felt interesting to see my work through somebody elses eyes in that way.
How do you think your work has improved over the years and in what way?
I think it depends on the medium. In photography, I feel like I am a little bit more confident in what it is I am able to render or do and I feel like also I am a little bit more loose in a way that I am not terribly concerned with things lining up in terms of perspective or scale; and that kind of thing when I am digitally compositing something, it doesn't necessarily have to be true to life; it just has to work. I think I have given myself more leeway than I had in the past. I think probably the main thing is a greater level of confidence. I feel like when I do things, it's a self-taught way of doing things. It's not the way that probably is the most technically appropriate way, but it works for me. I used to be embarrassed by that, but I'm not anymore.
How important is travel to you and to your work and to an artist, and do you think you will keep traveling?
I love it, minus the plane flight. I like being exposed to new things and new places. I mean that's how I get new ideas, just through exposure of newness.
Who has been the most helpful to you in your career?
My friends. I mentioned earlier that I have a group of friends, and we have like a crit group and they all work in very diverse ways: there's a sculptor, there's another photographer, there's a painter. We all approach it just with the idea of what it is you want to communicate and kind of bringing sort of an outside eye into things. I really trust their opinion.
What's the best advice you could give someone who is starting their career in art?
One: to take it seriously. The other: be aware of what's going on, like go to shows and galleries and that sort of thing; and do not just approach a gallery could do your research. You don't want to go to a painting gallery and submit work that is all photography. It doesn't make sense and people don't appreciate that.
Should emerging photographers approach galleries?
You usually don't. You should have a body or work, something to actually show. The best way to approach a gallery is through word of mouth. I think it kind of behooves you to try to be part of group shows, if possible, just things curated even by friends or whatever, and kind of work your way up. Have your own website. I mean even when I was starting out there wasn't this social networking, there weren't even really websites. I think that kind of thing helps. My approach was to have as many people come to my studio as possible to see work and to see what I was working on to create this sort of word-of-mouth type of thing. Online magazines like this are a great way to gain exposure. And then maintain some sort of contact list of people who have expressed interest. As you are doing projects in the future keep them posted of what you are doing.
Do you have advice on what NOT to do?
Don't be obnoxious. And that goes back to cold calling or just assuming your work is amazing because you just got out of grad school. When I went to school, I guess I was part of a generation that thought I'm going to be an artist, which means I am going to be poor, starving, and work at a restaurant my entire life. I think there is a sense of entitlement that is pervasive now: Well, I am going to art school and such and such is going to buy my whole thesis exhibition and I am going to be an art star. My friends and I never had this idea. There was no concept of art star. I think you can be motivated and driven and ambitious, but you can also have some humbleness.
As far as the pricing of your work: Is that solely up to the gallery or do you have a say?
It's something that we do together, but they kind of have the last say as far as that's concerned. They know the business. When you look at something and you look at the amount of time that you have put into it and its selling for such a small amount, you're like Ughhh, it almost hurts. But you know that's kind of part of the whole process and you can incrementally increase you prices in a zone that feels comfortable and makes sense; you don't want to increase them too much all at once, because even if there is a demand, when that demand starts to wane or dry up, then you are stuck with these exorbitantly high prices or when the economy fails, then you've got these prices that if you try to lower them then your previous collectors will get mad because they bought a piece for 15 thousand dollars that is now ten thousand; that doesn't make sense. It is important to do things incrementally and to have patience.
How important is your image?
I don't think it's that important. I think a lot people put a lot of energy into this idea of the artist as a persona, but I think when it comes down to it, what's important is the art. It's important to know how to talk about your work. I think a lot of artists fall under this misconception that they are a visual artist and as such they don't need to know how to talk about their work and that their work speaks for itself. Even if your work does speak for itself, you don't always have it with you. You might meet somebody who is expressing interest in your work and wants to know what it's about and it's important to be able to succinctly say my work is concerned with this and that, and this is my process just in two or three sentences.
Briefly talk about your photo series Pathetic Fallacy.
The photographs, conceptually they don't exist. They are cobbled together from a variety of different places. They are digitally composted and they are these kinds of large scale mural images that portray this idea of transition or migration or loss. A lot of them have these kinds of boarded up homes or shelters and that sort of thing. They communicate this idea of transition, in a way.