Feature: An Interview and Opening with FAILE

Juxtapoz // Tuesday, 09 Nov 2010


Interview and Photos by Brock Fetch

Last week I sat down and talked to Patrick Miller and Patrick McNeil of the Brooklyn based art duo Faile at the Perry Rubenstein Gallery before the opening their new show, Bedtime Stories.

Can you talk a bit about how this exhibit came about? You didn’t really have an idea of what space you were going to show in when you started, did you?

Patrick Miller: We were talking potentially about doing an alternative space when we started. Normally, we come in and determine the wall space and what size pieces we want to do, and then just build the body of work into this. As far as the work, though, we just produced and then when we were done we brought in everything and edited it. Normally there’s not a lot of editing that goes on in these shows. There’s a little bit perhaps in the studio, but you just pre-plan and stuff usually just fits in. In this case we did a lot of editing.

What exactly do you mean by “alternative space?”

Patrick Miller: A pop-up. We were gonna do a pop-up. But a pop-up just didn’t make sense.

Then this is almost like the alternative alternative?

Patrick McNeil:  Yeah right! We hadn’t really done whitewall gallery space. I think it does introduce it to a different crowd of people in a way.

Yes, it’s a completely different perspective.

Patrick McNeil:  Right. After seeing Shepherd’s show at Deitch on whitewalls, we thought, “there’s something nice and clean about this.”

Patrick Miller: I felt that the work would fit well in that space, so let’s just use it.

Patrick McNeil: It lets it stand out a little more. This show is so different in the sense that so often it’s about creating a set of images that are based around a theme or tied into something bigger on that level. With this show we just really wanted to get back to cut and paste, being loose, having fun. We were really inspired by a lot of old punk fliers and that kind of thing. So it gave us the opportunity on the image side to be loose. In “Lost Glimmering Shadows” it was amazing to have that bigger concept driving the whole thing, but this was really nice.

Patrick Miller: It’s more about the process.

Patrick McNeil:  Right.  And then so it led to the actual physical side of the pieces, and the paintings were really process oriented. The medium drove the message in a way. It was about playing in the studio and seeing how you could deconstruct the images in a new way and push and pull color.

Could you talk about that process a little bit? And the difference between the shows you’ve done in the past, where you did have a theme versus this one in which you were just trying to create? What do you think is the difference between the art you produced for this show compared to something else that is a little more structured?

Patrick McNeil:  The thing with the block pieces is they originally started as our first experiment. The inspiration for it was the puzzle boxes we made. We just started playing with those on our own.

Patrick Miller:  We would wash the blocks and then dump them out on the table after we were done treating them and then they’d be all jumbled and we’d look at them and think “wow, that abstraction of that image is great.”

Patrick McNeil:  It was kind of great in that way in the studio because we made so many blocks and we would edit them out, and then pull them back into other pieces so sometimes you just need to get them out of the way, and you set them together in a frame and all of a sudden they would make more sense.

Patrick Miller:  Or you would be organizing them while working on a piece and rather than looking at a pile of all these colored blocks, you would start seeing all the blues or all the purples and suddenly you’d have these organized color fields.

This is truly organic then.

Patrick Miller:  It’s very organic.

Patrick McNeil:  It kind of dances between being organic and then you can pull it back together or break it back apart.  It fit really well with going from the torn looking paintings and layering and deconstructing image that way to this sort of abstraction and deconstruction.  They have a lot of similarities in a way of using the FAILE library of images, and also really working the wood, which after doing a lot of the prayer wheels and the boxes and the wood palate kind of pieces.  It was about just being able to get really physical with the wood –

Patrick Miller: -- sand and paint and stain, and you just end up with all these different textures and surfaces happening.

Patrick McNeil:  Yeah.  Things you can’t do on canvas as well.  For those of us inspired by the street, seeing that weathering and the way things decay is a huge part of it.  Building up those layers, letting different colors show through...  These pieces really let us have that kind of experience.

What kind of wood is it that you guys are using?

Patrick Miller:  There are ones that are hollow palates and the blocks are solid.

How did it feel essentially having to edit in the studio?

Patrick McNeil: It felt great actually. In so many of the shows we go into we know the space and we’re building the show to that space. This whole thing is a bit of an experiment:  showing in a whitewall gallery. For this work I think it works really well. It gave us the freedom to just go, and when the show-date came just stop.

Are there pieces that got left out that you guys were disappointed about?

Patrick McNeil:  Totally.

Patrick Miller:   No it’s all good.  We spent a lot of time at the gallery moving things around the space to see what feels right.  There are pieces I would have liked to see hung, but some are displayed alone, hung in the office for example, and it’s nice to see them on their own too, and it’s nice to take some away.

Patrick McNeil:  It’s the same when you frame a print.  It comes to life in its own way and lighting it makes a difference.

Can we talk about music? What were you guys listening to growing up and what kinds of artists other than musicians sparked artistic interests for you guys when you were young?

Patrick Miller: First there was rap and Van Halen…. Motley Crue…

Patrick McNeil:  A lot of 80’s metal, but also like Prince, Kool and the Gang was all right. You at least hit Bob Marley somewhere in high school, then Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd…. You go through the classic rock stage. Now in the studio it’s this mass from blues to jazz to electronic.


Is that something you like to have present? Is music an important part of creating for you guys?

Patrick Miller: A lot of times, but then sometimes everybody just need quiet time. Its funny at the beginning getting ready for the show, there was always lot of music, but the last few weeks it was off.

Patrick McNeil: Our work is definitely this cultural combine. It takes so much together and fumbles it up and edits it down and filters it.

Patrick Miller: It’s a lot like music composing and song and collaboration for the "Deluxx Fluxx" show. We really got to work with music and sound. It was about how could you turn FAILE into some kind of music and vast experience and fit the art well. The games really let us do that. That was a really great experience.


Do you two find inspiration from living here in New York? And what impact do you feel that has on your work?

Patrick McNeil:  That’s a huge part of the work. At the end of the day when you’re going to bed at night and you have all those bits and pieces of sound and image mixed in your brain, like a crazy montage. These pieces really reflected that. It’s fragments built in creating one cohesive image, but all these bits and pieces from the day.

I also heard it compared to dreams which I thought was interesting.

Patrick McNeil:  Yes, like the bedtime stories. You wake up from a dream, and you can never really put it all quite together. You just have these random moments. Another thing that was really inspiring to us was quilt-making. About 2 years ago, we were really focusing a lot on quilts, and I think a lot of the research I did on these pieces is there really is something about taking that quilting:  the pattern and busting it apart. I think it’s this weird mix of electronic meets a very handmade soft touch. It’s just all those pieces together.

Could we talk a bit about the 1990s versus now? I am wondering what is the difference in Faile, not just street art. What’s different now in terms of what you were doing then and the way you are going about things now, what with families, etc.

Patrick McNeil: Back then there was total freedom. No responsibility. You could just get out there and have a lot of fun with it.

Patrick Miller:  And travel.

Was traveling a bigger part of it?

Patrick Miller:  It was everything. It was part of the FAILE lifestyle. Get the exhibition. Get them to pay for your flight and your accommodations. Then go do the show.  hen get a bunch of work up on the street.

Has it become more challenging now?

Patrick Miller: A lot of that revolved around street work and it has transitioned to the studio.

Patrick McNeil: There was a change or a shift from putting up a hundred or two hundred posters in a couple days to doing some really great stencil pieces.

Patrick Miller: I think the market of it pushed us away from it as well. You’d get to the point where you’d put stuff up and people would take it. Why would you want to go out and do it when it’s just become so commoditized?

Patrick McNeil: The worst was the point at which the auction houses were getting involved. You’d have Sotheby’s taking a door from the street. That is really defeating on a very mass level.  Back in the day you didn’t really worry about it. A lot of work went on wood, and those were great surfaces to work on . . .

Patrick Miller:  … on doors or cinder block walls…

Patrick McNeil:  . . . and now you have to be really careful if you are putting something up on wood that can be taken away off the street. Today you have to think about how this stuff is obviously very easy to take. So, yes, we do have more responsibilities, but we are also able to do more things then we were ever able to do before. We’ve got a little more money, so if we want to make bigger pieces:  something like the Temple, we at least have the resources to explore these much bigger ideas. We don’t ever want to lose the street side. It’s such an inspiration for the work. It’s just shifting a little bit the way we do public work and public projects. Deluxx Fluxx had the same feeling.  You catch people randomly walking by unexpected to it, and they’d come in and be totally confused and they left with something, and that’s how the stencils and the posters work, maybe not on such a comprehensive level. But it worked the same with the Temple. People would walk up to it totally confused.

What’s that like for you guys?

Patrick McNeil: For us that’s the ultimate goal of it all: to trick people into wondering “what is this?  What kind of strange artifact is this?”

You guys have always stayed away from explaining the “meanings” of your work. How important to you is it for  people to find their own meanings in your work and interact with your art in their own way?

Patrick Miller: There are so many narratives. You may have an association of one narrative with one image and it is tied to into something else, and you have to think what make a connection to that.

Patrick McNeil: Right. It gives the viewer those points of entry and then lets them explore and take it where they want. It’s a good thing for us to deliver them to the work, and then say “enjoy the ride.”  A lot of it is tied to memories for certain images and it reminds you of moments in life. It’s a good sharing of those things.


Do you ever think about getting arrested?  Do you think “is this gonna catch up to me?”

Patrick Miller: No. The work we do is not “in your face.” We’re pretty sensitive about where we put it. You’re always still worried about getting caught. There is always that repercussion… I have quarters in my pocket and a Nutri-grain bar just in case.

What about the two perspectives of FAILE the artist versus FAILE the fathers?  Does that put a little fear into you or does it inspire you?

Patrick McNeil: I would say it’s much more motivating. You’re leaving something behind for your kids and you want them to look back on that and think “my dad did something cool.” It’s very motivating.

Patrick Miller: The kids like the work. My kid is only 4 but he kind of gets it.

Future projects? Collaborations? Is there anything on the horizon that you guys can talk about or that you want to talk about?

Patrick McNeil: This year was so crazy in a way that we hadn’t set out for at the end of last year.  We knew we were working on the Temple, but I still think we didn’t really think it was going to actually happen and materialize. Even our Arcade show came about super fast.

Patrick Miller: We’ve been talking about going back to canvas for a bit and messing with that for a bit. This is still an exciting process, though.

Patrick McNeil: We keep talking about heading out west. We haven’t been out there in a while, so I think it would be fun to do something out there.

Patrick Miller: We’ve been thinking about going to Detroit. Maybe Detroit…

Patrick McNeil: It’s been such a great year.  I think we’re looking forward to taking the holidays to relax a little bit.

Special thank you to Angle Davila (photography) and Andrea Serbonich of Perry Rubenstein Gallery.

Bedtime Stories
November 4th—December 23rd, 2010
Perry Rubenstein Gallery
New York, New York


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