The show is no longer up at Greg Kucera Gallery, but when it was (for most of September), it included King of Israel, a plaster cast of Michelangelo's David holding an Uzi and perched on a pedestal draped with an American flag; Better You Than Me, a .45 caliber pistol painted Day-Glo orange like a toy and pointed at the viewer; and dog tags for a soldier whose name is "Texas, U.S.A." and whose blood type is "Petroleum."
They were by Seattle artist Jack Daws, whose best work pairs the cool facade of minimalism or pop with the anger of social activism. It's not an easy line to walk, and draws disapproval from both sides (too heavy-handed for formalists, too prissy for revolution). When he hits, he hits big: his black boxes embedded with illegal drugs, his commercial gumball machine full of prescription drugs gathered from the people in his life.
I've never met Daws, so I invited him to do a podcast. He said no. "If I were making some other kind of work, I would be happy to do one," he wrote in an e-mail. How about a nonpodcast, in which we only talk about why you don't want to talk? Still no—but yes to a noninterview, by phone.
His reasoning is stylistic, not political. Adding statements would clutter his signature gesture: economy. "The visual language operates in its own way," he says in his Kentucky twang. (He grew up in a town called Stab.) "It has this ability to convey a massive amount of information with a single image or a single object."
Daws began as a gestural painter. He loved painting, but didn't care whether anyone saw the results and would often paint over finished works before showing them. Now, he dislikes the process of turning an idea into an object, but he does want people to see them. His first idea-object was in 2000, when a pair of saw blades looked to him like the wheels of a tricycle. He attached them to one and titled it Manifest Destiny.
About the American political situation, he doesn't raise his voice. But his tone shifts and it sounds like his mouth is almost closed as he talks. This is a Kentucky version of fury. I ask him whether he sees his work as angry.
"Absolutely," he says. "I think about a lot of this stuff as being refined anger. Typically, anger gets expressed as a swirl of emotion that leaves all this wreckage behind, and I'm just trying to clean it up."
As for talking, he'll do it if it's live dialogue. "If somebody wants to buy the beer, I will talk about the work until they run out of money," he said. "It's true. Try me."
He's at firstname.lastname@example.org.