January 7, 2014 | by Justin Alvarez
I was first introduced to artist Anthony Cudahy in 2011, when I interviewed him for Guernica. I was moved by his fleeting scenes of silence—a woman pinning a boutonniere on an unseen man’s tuxedo jacket, two girls hugging in a bedroom while one stares at herself in the mirror—and amazed by the wide range of work from an artist so young (he was only twenty-two). When Adrian West pitched his translations of Josef Winkler’s novel Graveyard of Bitter Oranges for the Daily, I immediately knew Cudahy’s work would best accompany Winkler’s tales of death and phantoms in an unfamiliar country. Both invoke the Flemish hells of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel the Elder—lively, complex, symbolic, the best kind of fever dream.
I met with Anthony at his studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he is an artist-in-residence for the Artha Project. Amid the stacks of wood planks from the neighboring furniture studio and the incessant clanking of pipes, we discussed the benefits of the Internet for the art world, growing up in Florida, and his hatred of the color yellow.
I prefer to wake up early and have a full day to paint. It’s hard for me to paint at night after my day job because I’m so tired—but then again, a lot of good stuff happens when I’m tired.
I think less while painting than I used to. I had this really good painting teacher in school, and she would make you say the color that you were going to use. You’d think about how to mix it, and it was really effective because once you think about it so much you don’t have to think about it. Before, I would think, I need to do this first, then wipe this, then add that. Now it’s more reactionary. I’m not thinking on that level. I’m more confident with my work.
You should be able to see a conflict in every painting. A lot of times, I’ll think I’m done with a work, but when I stand back, it looks so rendered and tight. If I realize that I didn’t learn anything from it, I’ll wipe the whole thing.
I don’t keep a sketchbook. I always thought there was something wrong, that I wasn’t a real artist because I didn’t like sketching. But the idea behind sketching is to experiment, and I like to experiment on the canvas itself. I also try to limit the color palette. I hate yellow as a color, but that’s not a good reason not to use it. Limiting color expands what you can do with the colors you’re using.
The hospital in Florida where I was born shared the same parking lot as my high school, and that stressed me out a lot when I was younger. I was like, I have to get out of here. My family is super creative. My mom went to school for studio art, and my dad would write sometimes. My aunt is an art teacher, and my other aunt went to school for film. So there was always art around. It was always a thing I wanted to be, to be an artist. When teachers asked me what I wanted to be, that’s what I would say.
My concept to be an artist has changed a lot over the years. Now it’s about whether you produce work or not. Obviously, there’s a lot of baggage around the term artist. But when people ask, I say I am a painter. I do think sometimes, What is their perception of me? Am I crazy, unstable? Not that I’m saying I’m not. Now it’s about staying inspired. I have a lot of close friends that are doing amazing things. We all support one another. My roommate, Chris Nosenzo, produces a magazine called Packet. We all make projects for it. I’ll help curate it and bring in artists and photographers. That’s a way for all of us to keep in touch and keep going, our way to talk to one another through art.
I love art history and am always looking at art, but it’s not the only source of my inspiration. The wider your scope, the more informed your work will be. It’s weird because you feel you should be talking about people who are doing what you do, but it’s other fields that inspire me most. Film is where I look to first. I’d like to do more with film. I also produce a lot of zines with my friends. But 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.
It’s important to see a painting in person, but I love the Internet in that I’m able to share my work with all these people. Obviously, there are bad aspects to what the Internet does to art and how you see art, but the benefit of anyone showing work is fantastic. You shouldn’t have to have an M.F.A for people consider your work. And you also shouldn’t have to live in New York City. Everyone that lives in New York hates and loves it at the same time. But, really, I don’t know where else I would live.