Gilbert Hsiao, Quad Band, 2011
Purple and orange cut paper on purple and orange paper
9 x 9 inches
Brent: We met in the afternoon outside the Apple store, downtown San Francisco. It was March, coolish… and we wandered back to Telegraph Hill. On the way we talked.
It came as a bit of a surprise that you were not really aware of or interested in op/perceptual painting when you first began painting. What, then, prompted you to start making art that way? Or, is ‘that way’ a misnomer?
Gilbert: I was aware of op as a historical movement of course; I was an art history major at Columbia before deciding to move into fine art. And op is one of the most distinguishable styles out there. Even if it wasn’t around to be seen first hand (which it certainly wasn’t in the 1960s in the town of Terre Haute, Indiana where I grew up) its influence was everywhere; you didn’t have to go to a gallery or museum to experience it. I bought record albums (a habit which lasted for four decades and resulted in thousands of LPs from all over the world) and studied the covers and the posters in the head shops that were full of op influences. My mother even gave me a fascinating Richard Annuskiewicz puzzle when I was a kid. However; I never intended to make art related to op; what I’m making is just where I ended up.
At the same time, in the last quarter of the 20th century op was pretty much invisible in the New York arts scene, where I had moved in 1974. When Phillip Taffe was appropriating Bridget Riley in the eighties, Riley herself was nowhere to be seen. After the Responsive Eye show at MOMA in 1965, she did not have a solo show in New York until her retrospective at DIA in 2000. One could see an occasional Vasarely here and there, though rarely his best work, and I was totally unaware of the work of figures like Julian Stanczak, the members of the Anonima Group (Ernst Benkert, Ed Miezkowski, and Francis Hewitt), Edna Andrade, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Francis Celentano, Tadasky and Jesus Raphael Soto. And of course there are the many Europeans, who seemed to have had a comparatively more receptive audience on the other side of the ocean, but who remain pretty much unknown here. My introduction to these people came through the Internet, and later, in person at the Optic Nerve exhibition in 2007 in Columbus, that was the first major museum exhibition in America that focused on the movement in decades, and through an excellent ongoing series of exhibitions at Dee Wigmore’s gallery in New York, which continues to this day.
When I was studying art history, I became interested in what I saw as musical elements in the work of artists as diverse as Uccello, Cezanne, Mondrian, Stuart Davis and Pollock, and I wanted to find a way to make work that incorporated similar elements. I also had a radio show at WKCR, Columbia’s radio station, and was exposed to a wide array of music including, most influentially for me, the minimalist music that Philip Glass and Steve Reich were writing at the time. The basic structural motif of this music seemed simple enough, but the simplicity was deceptive, and from these simple structures emerged a complicated music that was mesmerizing, but not overwhelming or overdone. For me, it was an aural counterpart of what I call perceptual abstraction, which is how I refer to my work.