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INTERVIEW

TRAVIS SOMERVILLE

PULSE PRIZE WINNER 2006 | MIAMI


Travis Somerville. Image courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

Travis Somerville. Image courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

Could you give us a bit of background about yourself and what brought you to art-making?

I was born and raised in different parts of the rural and urban South where my parents were active in the civil rights movement and social justice causes which I believe is why my work has always been political in nature. My parents will tell you that I became an artist at the age of three when I glued sticks and rocks all over the family Volkswagon Beetle.

Looking back to 2006, how would you describe the body of work that won you the PULSE Prize? How has your work evolved over the last 13 years?

The work at PULSE in 2006 was the first large scale installation piece I had made to date. I created an environment that spoke to my relationship with race and inequality in the South. One of the galleries I was working with at the time, Nathan Laramendy, took a chance with giving me the whole booth and letting me create my vision. Being recognized with the PULSE Prize gave me the confidence to go on and create many more and larger, more involved installations. It also gave me the opportunity to start working with my first New York gallery at the time. In 2006 my work was more Southern centric and very American but since I have been exhibiting in Europe the past few years the work has become more global content wise.

Travis Somerville. Image courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

Travis Somerville. Image courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

Travis Somerville. Image courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

Travis Somerville. Image courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

You mention that your work often complicates the sense of a collective memory and that when you “attempt to navigate the terrain between autobiography, history, and art, all sorts of collisions take place.” Could you expand on what you are trying to capture in your work and what artists have influenced you the most throughout your career?

At the core the theme of my work is simply that I want to expose the oppressors and hopefully give a voice to the oppressed. The pieces are created in a very organic way as the story really unfolds in the making of the work. By using historical imagery and vintage found items, ephemera, cotton picking sacks, flags, etc. I hope to open a doorway to the story by tapping into our collective memory which will begin a dialogue about these issues. People ask me a lot what artists I am influenced by and I always say that film and music have just as much influence on the work as visual art. Artists that come to mind are Robert Rauschenberg because I saw Monogram, the piece with the goat and tire, when I was ten and it made me realize that as an artist you can do anything. There are definitely influential painters for me like Kerry James Marshall, Anselm Keifer, Neo Rauch but I also find just as much inspiration in an old rocking chair I find at an estate sale.

How has the rise in access to the Internet and various social media channels affected that way that you create and view art?

Social media and the internet have definitely been a blessing and a curse. It obviously has helped me a great deal with my research and you can end up down a rabbit hole and sometimes there will be a real gem at the bottom, but it also can take up a lot of time. It is really great to be able to see what other artists are creating and you can make connections with these artists in a way you could not ten or fifteen years ago and it can be a really great way to share what you are doing.

Travis Somerville. Image courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

Travis Somerville. Image courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice I ever got was an unspoken one and that was that my parents never said or told me that I needed something to fall back on. They believed in me as an artist from day one.

What’s coming up next for you?

I am currently working on a commission for 21c Museums and The Southern Foodways Alliance to be presented in Oxford, Mississippi in October. It is still in the early stages but it involves video, sound, vinyl graphics and a grain silo.


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