Inside the Studio

Tully Meehan Satre

Favorite material to work with?
Even though I’m a painter, I find paint to be a real bitch-and-a-half. I suppose the easiest and most obvious answer would be canvas. Give me a roll of fifteen-ounce cotton duck and I’m set for a while.

What is your medium?
Well, I select materials for their practicality and durability. I find reasons to use a range of painting materials in my work from traditional chalk gesso and egg tempera to acrylic dispersions or polymer colors. I’m a total nerd when it comes to materials.

I taught a class at the Anchorage Museum this past winter on painting materials alone. It was great; I got to geek out every weekend about things like the different properties of glue or the binding strength of beer. And I love Alaska, so there’s that.

What themes do you pursue?
If you had to put a name to it, I think you could start with geometric abstraction. I am fascinated with grid patterns. I use strips of canvas and fabric to create vertical and horizontal bands in a series of right angles, or a grid pattern, to build up the painting, with larger strips underneath smaller strips. Often these strips are from larger sheets of canvas that I’ve painted, such as the ones I’m working on in the studio shots. The strips are wrapped around the support and secured to the back. The result is a painting object.

I often speak about the construction of my work in terms of weaving, which has a lot of feminine and craft associations that I find funny. I’m fond of the opposites that are present in my work; for example, the grid, which is a hard edge abstract visualization, is formed by soft woven material. In the past couple of years, I’ve introduced imagery into my work and more recently I started using cotton American flags instead of canvas. Despite the variations, I’ve found a system that I find interesting and I am interested in pushing the limitations I’ve created to the extreme.

How many years as an artist?
How many people say their whole life? But really, it’s hard to divide my time as an artist into pockets. There was no defining moment—no baptism. The evolution into my career as an adult could not have happened any other way and is not at all separated from the rest of my life. I had an art teacher in the fourth grade that said when someone wants to buy your work that’s when you can call yourself an artist. I don’t believe that to be true, but if that’s what we’re going by, then I’ve only been an artist since I was nineteen. I’ll probably change this answer in the future.

Sketchbook? Do you use one? What type?
I think it’s funny that folks always gift me sketchbooks. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the gift, it’s just that I don’t use them as a means of creating work. I really have no excuse not to sketch.

A lot of people make a New Years resolution to go to the gym more often; I make a resolution to sketch more. No one follows through, myself included. I am hoping to get into sketching now that I am in London, but I’ve had trouble settling down.

Most important tool you use?
I don’t know. All of them? They work together. I can’t say one is more important than another…that’s not fair. There are some tools that have surely withstood the test of time. I have a pair of purple scissors that I have been using since the eighth grade. They’re pretty fabulous. Those are probably my favorite. I made a point to bring them with me to England from the States.

Where is your studio?
My studio is a very mental place, in every sense of the word. In the last year alone, I have had a crash course in setting up studio in different places from Chicago to Anchorage and finally in London. Physically, my studio is located within the Schools at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
Love the questions. And probably not to listen to anyone but myself, which is ironic because I am in a school again. It’s very self-indulgent, being an artist. Oh, and to be honest both in my work and in my relationships. An important part of my being an artist is about relationships. It is important to me that people can, somehow, relate to me and my work and I think that means being totally, unapologetically honest. I don’t want to succeed by being someone I’m not.

Process> Concept or Process<Concept
Am I supposed to choose? Neither. They work symbiotically. So, I would have to say that process is equal to concept and that concept is equal to process and so on.

Why do you make art?
Because I want to.

Art school or self-taught?
Both. You do not go to an art school to become an artist; you go to art school because you are an artist. What you do there is up to you. I received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and am in the process of receiving my MA from the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

The paper does not mean much to me; it’s the experiences that I have and the permissions that the environments allow that propel me professionally and personally. It’s easy to become dispirited by art school. A colleague of mine advised me that it’s important to filter what is thrown at you (from all sides) in art school. I like that.

Yes. I have two at the moment: one on top of my right foot (a triquetra) and one that takes up the left side of my chest (a spiral.) The latter was done after the photographs were taken. They’re both symbols in solid black that I came across through research and during my travels over the past ten years. I could go into more detail, but it’s pretty personal and dull.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?
Depends on my mood; if I work with music I tend to listen to a shameless mix of pop. I make the most serious paintings to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” There’s something about the lack of concentration required and the expected and repeated formula for pop music that is almost the same thing as silence.

Succulents or cigarettes?
What? Sex? Are we talking about vices? I don’t smoke, but I am addicted to pasties at the moment…the British meat pies, not the things you put on your nipples. If you pop “pasties” into an image search you get both: pies and nipples. My favorite thing to do, recently, has been to get the biggest pasty I can find and sit in Victoria Station and people watch. It’s pretty great.

Everyone has a vice. Care to call yourself out?
I am pretty transparent, so it’s hard to call anything I do a vice. Maybe how much store I put in having a Twitter account that no one follows? There’s a whole conversation happening on Facebook and Twitter. I think every artist should be on there, but that’s just me. But if I had to choose I’d say it’s pasties. Again, the meat pies, not the nipple ornaments.

What’s around the corner from your place?
At the moment: a pub. In the future: a pub. Unless I move to Hackney Wick, in which case I’ll be by the Olympic Park and a bunch of warehouses. I’m in the middle of changing flats at the moment. Finding a place to live in London that isn’t outrageously expensive or total crap is like a bad reality show.

Favorite sound?
I am really not good when asked about favorites, but I can tell you likes: and one of them, surely, would have to be the drone of an airplane. My father is a pilot; he’s been a pilot my entire life. I grew up on U.S. Air Force bases and I spend a lot of time on airplanes throughout my travels. In the month of March alone I flew a total distance equal to circling the circumference of the world. Twice. What’s weird is that I’m terrified of flying.

Favorite smell?
Stuff that is burning, except rubber.

Where can we find you outside the studio?
In an airport or eating a pasty in Victoria Station. I will probably be frequenting Chicago these next several months.

Who are your favorite writers?
I really like Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, and Tennessee Williams. Harper Lee is a genius. David Foster Wallace did some permanent damage to me. Robert Thurman did, too. Daniel Quinn is totally blowing my mind right now. Amy Krouse Rosenthal is pretty awesome both as a writer and as a person. My friend Angelle Cook-Bascom is a beautiful writer, but hasn’t been published yet for some odd reason.

Likewise, my friend Becka Russell AKA “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” writes music and her lyrics are out of this world, but I totally get them. I love anything Tori Amos throws on the piano. I know this is beyond books, but I promise it all makes sense. I’m very fortunate to have people in my life who create things that are as significant and influential to me as the classics.

What could you not do without?
My passport and some floss.

Day job?
I’m fortunate not to need one at the moment, but that’s not to say that I haven’t had them and that I won’t need one in the future. I’m scraping by on my work for now. For being in my early twenties, I’ve had an interesting mix of day jobs; I was a barista in a flagship café for six months before I totally lost it and quit. I worked in a call center for a while, which was awful, aside from the fact that I worked with some pretty amazing people that I’m still close to. I got fired after about eight months. I think one of my favorite day jobs was working for an aquarium’s animal encounters division. It was a pretty sweet deal and I held that day job longer than any other. I had a professor tell me once that you do what you have to do to support the studio. For me, being an artist is not about being a romantic, tortured bohemian. It’s survival. It’s perseverance. It’s about the human experience.

Food or sleep?
Yes, please. Both. I think it’s important to take care of yourself, but I often stay up pretty late, which I shouldn’t do. I’ve done it ever since I was thirteen. I really like working through the night. It’s like the witching hour or something. I probably don’t eat as well as I should, but that’s out of laziness, not necessity.

Greatest achievement?
Realizing what it’s all about. (And I can tell you that it’s not the hokey pokey.) I don’t know. I think I’m too young to decide, but I did cry when I got into the Royal Academy.

Finish the sentence: “I would never be caught dead….” Voting for Romney.

Would you rather be able to make a living as an artist now or become famous after you die? I’d rather make a living as an artist now; I’m not very interested in a legacy that I can’t witness.

Were you popular in high school? Infamous at the very least. If by popular you mean that everyone at school knew me, then yes, but I wasn’t exactly popular for normal high school reasons. I went to a small Catholic high school in rural Virginia and when I was sixteen I founded and ran a non-profit gay rights advocacy organization, which garnered a lot of press. It really exploded when I confronted former Senator George Allen, who is actually now running for the seat he lost in that election. But youth activism would probably be a separate interview.

Would you rather see your art on a t-shirt or on a billboard?
It’d be too big for a t-shirt and too small for a billboard.

Would you ever figure model naked?
I’ve done it, so that’s a yes. My parents have a nude painting I did of myself (with an erection) hanging in their living room. I know that sounds weird, but it’s somehow surprisingly tasteful. Oh, and I think my colleague, Brett Layne, has an exhibit going up in Chicago this fall with photographs I posed nude for. So, yes all around!

Religion or pop culture?
What? They’re both equally interesting and completely ruining me.

What do you collect?
Experiences. When I was little I collected erasers. I still have my eraser collection and I am still working on collecting experiences.

Favorite contemporary artist?
Mondrian. I know he’s dead, but he’s totally contemporary. Robert Ryman is fun, too. Josef Albers and I have had a fling for a while. I’m also totally in love with Peter Halley and Jim Isermann and would love to meet them and make a fool of myself.

A piece of art you love?
Pretty much anything with red. There’s so much, really.

Which living or dead artist would you most like to meet?
Probably Cher. I would freak out if I met her. Have you seen her tweets? They’re brilliant.

Favorite brush? Kremer makes the sexiest brushes. My favorite is their P-62 flat varnish/gesso brush and it’s totally affordable. I swear I’m not getting paid to say that.

Palette knifes? Trowel shaped, not a single sharp edge and at least three inches long.

What do you wear while you paint? Not much, as you can see. Pretty much some super comfortable workout shorts and latex gloves. And a hat, because I’m fancy.

Painting Inside or Outside? Inside. Always. Actually, I constructed one of my objects as a cube in the Nevada desert a couple months ago. I’m not anxious to return to an outdoor studio.

Monet or Manet? Is this a trick question? They’re two different artists. They each have moments in their paintings that I’m fond of. When I was in the third grade, our school took a trip to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. where we saw Monet’s water lilies. We had studied them in our art class and made our own versions on pieces of cardboard. Seeing them in person was a pretty exciting moment for me as a kid.

Power-tools? Up until five years ago I was terrified of power tools. I still look quite funny and awkward when I use them. My favorite power tool moment ever was when my friend Drew used a power drill to install one of my paintings. She was standing on the top of a ladder in high heels. It was amazing.

Ever get hurt ‘on the job’? Yes, but mostly emotionally. I can be very hard on myself. There’s nothing like a bad day in the studio. Every artist can relate to that. It’s pretty much the worst feeling in the world and it can linger, dangerously.

Outsourcing or handmade? Handmade, but I do outsource certain things. I have had to grow accustom to outsourcing my fixed stretchers, and the skeleton of my cube in the desert was fabricated by a lovely gentleman in Chicago.

Smooth or textured? Both. Actually, I really like a flat surface that withholds the texture of a heavy ounce canvas…so it’s kind of a smooth/textured surface. I judge my like for a painting by whether or not I want to lick it. If I want to lick it, I like it.

Feelings on taxidermy? Oh, taxidermy is hilarious and I saw some amazing taxidermy in the airport in Anchorage. If you’re ever there, don’t miss it.