Checking in with Tate Pray

What were you doing when we called?

I was getting off the phone with someone else. Before that I was mixing slurry. It’s a mixture of cement and water that I use to make a paste for filling holes.

Tate Pray most recently showed his work in town at Chroma Projects. He writes that his work explores “the unease within beauty, embracing classicism elementally and with a free-play twist.”

What are you working on right now?

I just started a series of paintings. They’re shape paintings based on the negative space shapes of Sol LeWitt’s sculptures—they’re just shapes. Conceptually, I think I started cutting them out and putting them in my notebook maybe about a year ago. I’m basically just living with it to see if I want to move forward. I think it’s in keeping with what I’ve been doing, basically trying to find an avenue into painting through sculpture.

How do you prepare to work on something?

I just start making stuff. I just came off my major show, which was at Chroma Projects in January, and for that I made a very large sculpture out of 3,000 pounds of concrete. It took a while to convince myself to make that, because it was comprised of 178 6" cubes of all different values. It took about two years from conception to completion, and a lot of that time was just convincing myself to do it, because it takes up a whole lot of time and there’s a lot of material involved, and it’s expensive. And of course, what do you do with a 3,000 pound sculpture? Because it won’t sell, and in the end it didn’t sell. Now it’s disassembled in my studio space.

Tell us about your day job.

I do concrete work, things like sinks and countertops and planters. And I’m also a carpenter. When the market fell apart and I was navigating that, I picked up anything I could get for work. So I diversified, and I’m still in that state where I’m sort of doing everything at once.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood?

I don’t know if it’s a fabricated memory, but I want to say I remember seeing a billboard with the banana that Andy Warhol did for The Velvet Underground in Milwaukee. The image is really distinct, just driving down the highway in Milwaukee and seeing that banana. 

Which of your works are you most proud of?

Nothing really stands out as far as one piece. I think it would be my show at Chroma Projects. As a whole I think it worked really well for me, conceptually, and it was both physically and mentally challenging. It was a pretty fun show to do, and I like all of the work that was in it.

Tell us about a recent concert, exhibit or show that has inspired you.

LOOK3, man—it was amazing! I loved Massimo Vitali’s work, and his class was enlightening, the perspective of an older artist. For someone who’s been in it as long as he has to find success at an international level at the age of 50 is pretty cool. A lot of artists think that if you haven’t found success by 20, it’s over, what’s the point. But it was cool that he found success, and he’s doing it really well. 

Who is your favorite artist outside your medium?

What would be my medium? I’m not a photographer. If I can just say my favorite artist, it’s Martin Puryear, no question, but actually he works in wood, which would be outside my medium. He makes primitive looking sculptures out of wood and wire and tar, and does it on a very large scale, and they become kind of playful and whimsical. I think he’s one of the great living American sculptors.

Do you have any superstitions about your art?

No. But I think every artist should own an incinerator, and if a piece is bad, just get rid of it.

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