Roger Clay Palmer

––In an artist’s statement, you’ve explained that a “drawing that works . . . cannot be used to protect oneself from one’s own sense of wit,” suggesting that a successful work lays bare our own mechanisms for understanding our world in ways we might not otherwise be attuned to. What about drawing makes this possible?

Wit is helpfully corrosive to the weight of established style. Like a rat trained to detect land mines by its sense of smell, it makes a path to a mark to start diffusing the deadly weight of repetition and the canned applause for it.

––How do text and image function alongside each other in your works? How do you conceive of the relationship between writing and drawing?

Do I open an obvious door to a more nuanced or unstable reading or drop the viewer into the drawing soup with a text life jacket? While working I am doing that as process to avoid premature illustrative closure. I learn by drawing-gardening, trying leave it live and planted but identified.  

––I understand your style of integrating text and image relates back to the Japanese tradition of haiga, which combines haiku with painted images. Do you consider the texts in your drawings to be a sort of poetry? What other visual or literary influences inform your work?

We dissolve in the pond of time, a neural weed bottom growing in the rich mud of used language. The muscularity of tree roots form the poetry wall that keep us in shade while we flicker into dissolution. We lose ourselves one firefly of memory at a time. I am not able to escape the well of narcissistic art process except through trying to draw a viewing place between the eye and ear to tempt a shared history. In Japan, Mernet Larsen, my brilliant partner, and I walked Kyoto, some of the ancient trails poets walked. The best of them could make a very mortal local moment held in the mind during a poetry slam before frogs and turtles travel complex cultural distances. Shared mortal voice is time travel, and art is the ship of fate.

––At times, you use humor and horror in your work to absurd effect, while still keeping one foot in a world recognizable as our own. What role do these subversive tones play when you’re making a work?

Visit trees in a cemetery that ate war dead and do standup before cannibal oak. A tough audience is practice. Find a humane way to get to horror and provide treats

––Many of the narratives in your work directly engage with contemporary political issues—climate change, racism, violence. What draws you to these topics? Is art-making political for you? What do you seek to convey in shedding light on the challenging and disturbing aspects of our reality?

Art is always political, artists who avoid the conflicts of their time neuter culturally and spiritually most everything in a museum. History speaks through teeth that eat us.
––Your drawings often situate animals in relation to humans or you portray animals anthropomorphically. How should we, as humans, understand animals—both as other beings in the world and thinking of us as animals ourselves?

I grew up inside a cattle ranch. Wild and tame, indentured cows, alligators, and predatory Southern history. I loved the body language of animals, learned to read fear, hunger, and desire in the movement of a herd. A church could contain in its congregation that same herd mentality. Dangerous bulls, cattle and men. Listening at night to bobcats killing rabbits, their screaming behind the tree line. I read about the Civil War, and thought perhaps death was a tree line, and the dead were read by worms who were more thoroughly literate than their generals.
Roger Clay Palmer was interviewed by Jake Brodsky, via email, in January 2022.


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