The True and the Beautiful: an Interview with Ted Kincaid

Ted KincaidTalley Dunn Galley recently held its first exhibition of new work by Dallas-based artist Ted Kincaid. Called The Terrible Truth/ The Beautiful Lie, the exhibition showcased five bodies of work in which Kincaid explores the veracity of the photographic image. I had the opportunity to interview the artist over email last week. My questions (in italics) and his answers follow.


Q: You received your MFA from the University of Kentucky and your BFA from Texas Tech University. Would you mind briefly discussing your experience at each school? With whom did you study, and how did they influence your subsequent pursuits?

A: I was fortunate to study with Rick Dingus, Lynwood Kreneck, Ken Dixon and James Hannah during my time at Tech. Since I was a photography major and printmaking minor, all four of these mentors influenced my direction, drive, work ethic and aesthetic development in different yet complementary ways.


Q: I’m interested in your creative process. Would you please divulge how you go about drawing a photograph? Are there source images? And if so, how do you choose them?

A: When I initially began this current body of work, I had just finished the CLOUD series, where I tried to take an actual photographic image as far from its original appearance without adding or taking anything away from it, essentially concocting an incredibly unreal image purely out of factual materials from a photographic image. My work has always concerned questioning the veracity of the photographic image, and that trajectory has eventually led me to pushing a photographic image to its most un-photographic edges.

LA Sky 8061

“LA Sky 8061”
digital photograph on canvas

With this recent body of work ,I tried approaching the same idea from the opposite angle; attempting to produce a plausibly photographic image completely from non-photographic sources. In the beginning, the images were digitally drawn from scratch using a mouse, stylus and pad. The scenes were never based on a specific place, but rather a mood. When needed, I referenced actual photographic images of trees, mountains, etc. to aid my drawing, but initially, no actual photograph ever made it into my photography.

I began adding photographic sources back into my work with the Moons, which were cobbled together from the pits and stains of the concrete floor of my studio. It was a challenge I made to myself, really, to see if I could replicate as closely as possible, the surface and features of the moon.

This all led to the current body of work in the exhibition at Talley Dunn Gallery. I was much more Machiavellian in my approach this time, and used both photographic and non-photographic sources I generated in a much more lyrical and fluid manner. The trees are constructed from about 150 different photographs of trees I took over the last two years, taking individual bits and pieces of branches, trunks and leaves and assembling them, Frankenstein-like, into a totally new tree. The ships were digitally drawn, directly from actual ships, and given a texture and patina that made them appear photographic.

Had I approached this work purely with paint, no one would have questioned the process, sources or motivation. But approaching this work with a photographic aesthetic – having the look of a photograph, printing the work as a photograph, presenting the work as a photograph without it being a true photograph, makes the viewer an active participant in questioning what is real and what is not.


Lunar 4231

“Lunar 4231”
digital photograph on Hahnemuhle photo paper, 20 x 16 inches


Q: The subject matter of your recent work—from ships at sea to landscapes to possible moons—appears more “photographic” than what came before, which had a lot in common with printmaking, placing a high emphasis on repetition and varied color combination. Of course these elements still feature in your work, but to a lesser extent. What instigated the transition?

A : I felt that I had pushed the concept with the clouds about as far as it could go. Conceptually, I wanted the work to move back more to a direct reference to photography, particularly to the earliest origins and aesthetics of the photographic image.


Q: In reference to your ships at sea series, you said, “To me this work is, in a very backwards way, incredibly optimistic. Because—this work demonstrates the moment in a situation when nature is in control, and you’re out of control.” Can you talk a little more about these feelings?

A: It might not be optimistic to some, but to me personally, nature reasserting itself over every attempt we have made to subjugate and control it is incredibly optimistic.


Open Sea 801

“Open Sea 801”
digital photography on Hanemuhle photo paper, 20 x 30 inches


Q: From your 2011 exhibition walk-through at the Arthur Roger Gallery: “I was influenced by the documentary photographers from the middle of the 1800s, particularly Carlton Watson, William Henry Jackson and Timothy O’Sullivan.” What about the works of these photographers originally appealed to you? And how would you say your photographs function in relation or contrast to theirs?

A: I have always been fascinated by the early history of photography. The aesthetics and imagery are what drew me to study it in the first place.


Q: You mentioned that Watson, Jackson and Sullivan did not view themselves as photographers. In your opinion, what is the difference between a photographer, an artist and an art photographer?

A: I said that these photographers never viewed themselves as artists. These men were documenters, and there work served a very different purpose when it was created than how it is currently held in esteem. The lines that you are asking about between photographer, artist and art photographer are so blurry that figures flow from one classification to another as history progresses, much as a painter creating a work for a cathedral alter or commissioned portrait. Watkins, Jackson, O’Sullivan, as well as Karl Blossfeldt and Eugene Atget all produced bodies of work that served to classify and to document, however the aesthetic and style they employed influenced greatly the development of photography as an art form, whether subsequent figures embraced these elements or fought against them. These works remain relevant aesthetically for very different reasons than those for which they were originally intended.

Erasure: Zach Nader’s Useful Pictures

Zach Nader

Zach Nader

Lately I can’t get away from ads. I turn on Pandora and preceding every track—I’m hardly exaggerating—is a commercial promoting Viagra or some such product I haven’t the minutest interest in hearing about, let alone buying. And then, of course, peppered in are Pandora’s own ads, which try to sell me on an ad-free version of Pandora. And here all I wanted was a little music to accompany my short drive to campus. Some Radiohead to mask the monotony that is Lubbock after four—make that five—years of communal distaste. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so.

Zach Nader, founding editor of this blog and now a Brooklyn-based artist, works with ads. Frequently. In fact, much of his ongoing work concerns, in one way or another, advertisement. Take his video series Public Viewing, for which cameras were erected and left rolling in front of street-level billboards in New York City, each of which was behind a glass pane, meaning any traffic or passer-by was captured as a ghostly reflection. That smudge of yellow? if you watch long enough, and look close enough, reveals itself to be a taxicab. And the bat spreading its wings is really just an umbrella opening. City life as apparition, that’s Public Viewing. And to make it even spookier, Nader focuses the camera on the eyes of the models featured in each billboard. Thus the models appear more substantial—more real—than what they look upon.

Then there’s Parts. A friend of mine keeps a print from this series framed on the wall behind his dinner table. Whenever I have a meal at his house it’s this image that drabs—er, grabs—me. I always find myself staring, studying: a hotel room voided of its occupant; a brown silhouette sitting with one leg draped over the other on an orange bed. The images in Parts remind me of a time at home when shuffling through some of my old magazines I found pages where the figure had been cut out, replaced by imagery from the page immediately following. I saw an ocean where a rainforest grew hidden in a hole of a wave. I saw a highway with an enormous silver watch blocking traffic. Somebody with a golden M growing out of their neck. (Later I found out my younger brother, who was in desperate need of images for a collage he was compiling for school, was the scissor-wielding culprit.) But I digress.

"parts/0004," 48 x 23.5 inches, inkjet print

“parts/0004,” 48 x 23.5 inches, inkjet print

Parts wonders: what happens to an image when the impetus for its creation is replaced? The print hanging in my friend’s dining room is from a hotel chain ad, presumably (presumably, because the artist is unsure of the source image). The figure has been blotted out by the most prominent color of his physique—brown. What we’re left with is a frame, framing emptiness. Or rather, framing a blank slate. After all, what is advertisement but an enticement to project? Look at me, the boy in the commercial says. Look at the women that clad my arms and rustle my hair. This could be you if you use my deodorant. God save us. No, Nader save us.

Counterweight is a logical extension of Nader’s approach to images. As with much of his work, it’s all about erasure: families replaced in portraits by sporadic combinations and distortions of the surrounding scenery. If you think this work sounds personal, you’re not alone. Nader is commenting on the modern family. What is it, he’s asking, that we capture in a posed photograph? Certainly it is not a reality that ever existed. No—it is a fabrication. A memory constructed, that we can look back on happily through the years, as if the captured smiles were actually shaped by happiness.

Maybe that’s what it comes down to—happiness. Happiness and entertainment.

Indeed, entertainment is called into question in Nader’s Caught Stealing, which asks: how does performance factor in—does winning or losing, in other words, matter in sports anymore, or are we just wrapped up in the spectacle of the game’s presentation? The video begins under a skin of alternating color, at first minimal and un-obscuring—misty, you might say. But as the baseball game progresses, the veil thickens, and the intermittent claps lose their foundation in the process—they may as well be Ping-Pong balls dropped down a wooden staircase by the end of the video, when all that remains is a variegated mirage, like a bouquet abstracted behind a rain-fogged window.

I suppose you can look at Caught Stealing as something of a response to the tricks employed in a lot of popular entertainment today: play a laugh track in a sitcom, for instance, and someone in the audience is bound to laugh, even when the humor is at its slightest; cue a somber song at a somber moment in a melodrama, no matter how underdeveloped the characters it involves, and tears will flow. Make no mistake about it, though—these are not earned but stolen reactions. The product of test-audiences, formulas, graphs and boardrooms. Emotions measured out in coffee spoons…so to speak… And Nader is helping us to see it by clouding our vision.


You can find more of his work at

He also manages the website Useful Pictures.