Interview: Abby Portner's Visual Experience at House of Vans

Feb 23, 2018House of Vans Brooklyn, New York City

To anyone who grew up in the last 20 years, there is a huge chance that you've been consciously or unconsciously exposed to Abby Portner's work. Whether it was her cover art for Animal Collective's iconic album Sung Tongs, her visual direction for all their other projects, her drawings in the landmark Alien Workshop video Mindfield,  her stage designs at FYF and Coachella, or her production design for Velvet Underground's John Cale, Tegan and Sara, and her brother and Animal Collective founding member, Avey Tare, she has certainly left a substantial footprint on the worlds of music, art, and skateboarding. Accolades aside, Portner has been working on a rad project with Vans, called PARADOX, that's opening tonight in Brooklyn at the House of Vans, featuring music collaborators Zola Jesus and Yves Tumor. In between building this whole thing, Portner took the time to chat with us about her path to getting where she is. 

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Where did you grow up? and how did you get involved with making visual art?
I grew up in Baltimore, and I guess i always have really. Drawing and making things was always a big part of my childhood. I used to steal paper from my Montessori school in kindergarten, becuse I was obsessed with drawing. I went to Parsons for college and started making posters for Animal Collective when I was still in high school.

You've had numerous collaborations within the skate industry, and now one with Vans. How did your involvement with skateboarding come about? What are some things you like about collaborating with skate companies?
I guess i started working for Alien Workshop when i still lived in NYC. Greg Hunt and Jason Dill asked me to make some drawings for Mindfield. That led to me doing some series of pro decks for workshop. did a bunch for Dill, Dylan (Redider,) Heath (Kirchart,) which led to working for Altamont and Habitat

Not sure really, I work in music a lot, so it’s a good change of pace to work in skateboarding.

It seems like a lot of your work now are elaborate installations, but looking back there seems to be more painting and illustration. What do you prefer about making larger scale work?
I think it’s still a mix of both. To me, these installations are just larger scale drawings. I like the idea of people being able to walk into a drawing or a fake world. I’m really into amusement parks and having the feeling that you did when you were a child. When things seemed so large and overwhelming, sometimes scary, sometimes pretty .

When did your work start taking on psychedelic traits, and who were some of your influences in this style? Do you consider it psychedelic?
I guess working with Animal Collective doing stage designs made it a bit more psychedelic. Their music inspired the stage designs. I like optical art, and I like fantasy, so I feel it’s a mix of both?

What's the focus of your more recent work? What's the concept behind your new show PARADOX at House of Vans?
I think the focus is optical art, and having the sort-of confusing funhouse vibe in a space. I wanted it to be a surface for projections, but make those surfaces optical and confusing. Does that makes sense?

What are some plans you have for the future that you're looking forward to?
I think continuing to make new work, nothing specific at the momen . I still tour and work for bands but would love to continue to take over spaces. Doing some shows at the Barbican in London in two weeks. Excited about that... I love that venue.

Be sure to check out PARADOX, and check out the Juxtapoz Instgram for videos of the event. Thank you Abby!