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Drake Carr is definitely having a moment. The New York-based artist has opened not one but three exhibitions throughout the city this summer, all of which demonstrate a thrilling expansion of his already singular approach to artmaking. The first show, “Outlets and Turn-ons,” in South Williamsburg, brought together a series of small-scale, double-sided drawings wrapped in plastic to invite the viewer to examine each composition alongside painted wall outlet covers, with face holes filled with plugs. “Flip me over and see my other side,” he cheekily writes below drawings, inviting voyeurs to pick up each work on paper to reveal hidden compositions. Carr is able to capture a vibrancy of humanity and queer culture, not only through his approach to depicting figures and their likenesses, but in how he engages the onlooker experiencing his work in a gallery or a public space.
Carr’s current exhibition, “Service,” curated by FIERMAN Gallery director Tony Jackson, offers a concentrated shift in subject matter to focus on the complexities of the service industry. Bartenders, thirsty patrons, dancers, and people searching for connection commingle within the confines of the artist’s installation.
We sat down with the artist to discuss this dual exhibition, on view at FIERMAN and SITUATIONS through August 27.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about how your show came to be?
DRAKE CARR: I met Tony Jackson, the director of Fierman gallery, at Happyfun. He would DJ on Fridays when I was working. I liked his music, and he liked my art. Tony would come to the bar when we were still serving to-go drinks through the window, we weren’t fully re-opened yet. And he talked about us doing a show together. That was in between lockdowns, so this show has been a couple years in the making.
WW: I'm very intrigued by the title of the show. What is the role of service in relation to the exhibition?
DC: “Service” comes from service industry. I have worked in bars and restaurants for most of my adult life, so it’s affected how I interact with people and think of work and communicating. I’ve met most of my closest friends working in service jobs—whether it’s waiting tables or working retail. Often you can tell if someone has never worked in service. This show is partially about what it’s like to be served, what it’s like to try and feel glamorous while serving others. There’s the sexual connotation of “servicing” someone. Serving. The word “service” also connotes worship service, in the religious sense. Some of the paintings in this show depict people moving through heavenly rolling clouds, some illuminated by a fiery hellish orange. To me this is like the disorienting light of club lights through fog machines or judgment day.
WW: You are well known for your cut-out, large-scale paintings, and I know this is one of your first times painting on a four-sided surface. How did this impact your approach to artmaking and how you formed compositions?
DC: For a while, for some reason, I was resistant to painting on a rectangular canvas. Now it feels fun and freeing to give in. I like doing cut-outs because I can focus on my favorite part, which is making a body and dressing it up. I’m really a fashion designer, but I don’t know how to make clothes and I don’t want to learn how, so I paint and draw clothing designs and they just live there, in 2D. I didn’t want to paint on rectangles because for a while I didn’t want to care about the background and setting, I just wanted to make people. But now it’s interesting to me, and I’m trying to figure out why I am so attached to the bar as the setting.
WW: Who are the figures you are depicting? Are they people you know or anonymous individuals you've encountered in your life and through your work?
DC: I paint real and fictional people. I am in love with John, and so I find myself painting and drawing his face a lot. I am in love with my friend Rose and we collaborate all the time, and so I find myself painting and drawing her too. In the painting “Barscape” there are two Roses and two Johns. The other figures in this painting are imaginary characters based on bar patrons, people on the street, and people in photographs I’ve found in archives. I bartend Friday nights, so Saturdays are a fertile time to draw and paint—I’ll be sensitive from little sleep and maybe a hangover, and the faces of people at the bar are fresh in my mind.
WW: Can you talk about the clothing the figures are wearing?
DC: Picking out a person’s outfit is usually my favorite part of a painting. Unless they’re naked. But being clothed is much more erotic than being naked. In “Gay Bar Collage” I cut out hot guys from some of my porn magazines and painted clothing on them. In their naked state, despite pecs and erections, they weren’t that hot. Once I started adding clothes to their bodies they were way sexier. When I am painting clothing, I try to imagine things that could just almost exist. I think I actually often imagine my painting as an editorial photograph in a magazine.
WW: It's been really exciting to see this moment forming around you and your work in New York this summer. Are you thinking about what you might get up to after these shows close?
DC: After this I would like to do normal stuff and not freak out about an art show. Unless…