Rob Pruitt, Exquisite Self-Portrait: The Artist, 2010, silk screen on canvas, 84 3/4 x 63 3/4 inches.
Vice: Hi Rob, guess what? You’re our employee of the month!
] I’m so honored. I haven’t the slightest idea how it happened. I thought my enormous number of coffee breaks might have disqualified me.
Well, you made the lovely painting on our cover. Could you tell us something about it?
It’s based on a traditional Amish quilt pattern called “windowpane,” which I think is really funny because they’re just describing the optical effect that makes it look like a series of 3-D windows, and I don’t think they have any idea that it’s also a name for acid tabs. It reminds me of this thrift shop in North Fork, Long Island, where Jonathan [Horowitz, artist and Rob’s boyfriend] and I used to live. It’s in the basement of a church and it’s called the Glory Hole.
We could never drive by there without laughing and thinking about how these little old ladies have no idea what they’ve really named their shop. Of course they’re just innocently thinking of the “glory of God” and how the shop is so small that it’s hole-size. And it’s been called that for like ten years.
I can’t believe no one’s ever told them.
I know. You would think they’d get an anonymous letter or something, like, “Dear ladies, you might want to rethink this.”
Is the painting on our cover based on one specific Amish quilt?
Yes, but when I made this series, I played with all the proportions, and for this one I made the grid pattern a lot smaller. I thought it was interesting to make it look like a computer keyboard.
And you use colors that are a lot brighter than the originals.
Right. I used this kind of spray paint called Montana Gold that’s manufactured for graffiti artists and comes in a wide range of amazing colors. The Amish quilts are made from their recycled clothing, so they’re mostly just earth tones.
Your recent exhibit, shown jointly at Gavin Brown and Maccarone, was loosely based on Rumspringa, the coming-of-age period in which Amish teens are allowed to leave the community and go party their asses off. They either choose their new crazy Western lifestyle or come back to the fold.
It’s something that’s been in the air for me from a few years back, when I saw
, the documentary about Rumspringa. It made perfect sense in my own personal history too. About 25 years ago I started making a body of work called
Artworks for Teenage Boys
, and I’ve thought about issues of teenage rebellion for a long time. With these quilt paintings, you know, they’re all made by grandmothers sitting around in quilting circles, so it was a fun fantasy for me to think about handing that material over to the wild kids on crystal meth and seeing what they would do with that part of their rich tradition, what kind of quilts they would make during their period of recklessness and abandon.
And this is what one might look like, really bright and colorful.
Yeah, and supercharged, with the proportions altered, and instead of taking a year to make one, this is what it would be like if it was made with stencils and spray paint in a 24-hour period.
Is that how you made these? They’re huge, almost eight feet high.
It takes a really long time to cut out 1,000 little cardboard shapes, but once you’re done with the stencil preparation, then it goes really fast.
I read an interview with you where you said that being an artist is like being in permanent Rumspringa.
Yes, I do think that, especially for myself. I can’t believe what a great decision I made 28 years ago to not have a desk job.
That is an excellent decision.
Every day is a brand-new opportunity to do whatever the hell it is I want to do. I don’t have to answer to anyone, and it’s like permanent experimentation. I mean, it’s not about drug taking and sexual abandon…
Well, yes and no. [
] But I was thinking more about creative experimentation. You know, I can throw away everything from yesterday and start something entirely new, if that’s what I want to do. It’s so amazing to have that.
If you had been raised Amish and gone through Rumspringa, do you think you would have come back?
I’m surprised no one’s asked you that yet.
That’s a great question, but I’m embarrassed to answer truthfully because I think I may have gone back. I really love a kind of masochistic structure that I have to work within. You know what I mean? Which is funny because I’m talking about how my life is this total freedom. Plus, Amish boys are really hot. I love those beards and those high-riding workpants.
INTERVIEW BY AMY KELLNER