Vincent Fecteau, exhibition view, Secession 2016, Photo: Hannes Böck



American artist Vincent Fecteau has just inaugurated his solo show at Secession, Vienna. He spoke with Anna Maria Burgstaller about his recent works and his current exhibition.


Vincent Fecteau, exhibition view, Secession 2016, Photo: Hannes Böck

Vincent Fecteau, exhibition view, Secession 2016, Photo: Hannes Böck

You are no painter but best described as a sculptor – although you never took a sculptor class in school. You once said “I wish I could be a painter, but I don’t think that way.” What did you mean by saying that? 

Typically I’m more drawn to paintings than to sculptures but I process information spatially and always in three dimensions. I’m not sure why. I realized recently that much of my work could be seen as a way of negotiating this discrepancy. I think I often try to “flatten” space or forms or find the space behind or around two dimensional images. 

When did you start making sculptures? How do you ultimately come to decisions on shape, color and material? 

Although I majored in painting and never actually took a sculpture class, I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t a painter. For my senior thesis I ended up making a series of hanging, sewn sculptural reliefs. I like constructing things and physically working through ideas. I’m increasingly interested in intuitive decision making. I don’t make drawings or plan things. I prefer to dive right in and proceed by responding to the results of a previous idea. 

Most of the time you are working at several sculptures simultaneously. Why do you like to work on a group of pieces all at the same time? 

After I work on one piece the papier mâché has to dry, so I work on the next one and so on. I am not really working on all of them at the same time. I rotate and spend half a day on one and then work on the next one. 

Vincent Fecteau, exhibition view, Secession 2016, Photo: Hannes Böck

Vincent Fecteau, exhibition view, Secession 2016, Photo: Hannes Böck

You were thinking of becoming an architect at one time. How would you describe the relationship between painting, sculpture and interior design? 

I’ve been interested in architecture since I was a kid. I considered going to architecture school but it felt to rigid for me and was too much of a commitment. I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do. It took be a long time, even after several years of making work and showing work that I thought I could be or wanted to be an artist. I’m very drawn to interior design and decoration. I don’t think art is a higher form than design but I don’t think they are the same thing. Unfortunately I think the confusion or resistance to accept their differences has led to much art that is “designed”. I can’t remember where I read this but basically I think that design solves problems and art creates them. 

Last year you revisited your early collages in a series of three­dimensional wall­mounted boxes that reflects your fascination with architecture and home decoration. Why did you go back to making collages? Can you describe these works in some words? 

As I was starting to work on my show for the Kunsthalle Basel, there was a flood in my studio and I had to move. It was a huge mess. But it forced me to go through everything and I came across a folder of clipped out throw pillows that I had saved from my collage work years before. I had already decided to try something much different from the labor intensive papier maché sculptures I had been making for several years and these images of throw pillows seemed so alive to me. They were of course, just images of throw pillows. But they were also these incredible abstracted forms that despite their superficiality or maybe because of it had so much potential to convey emotional, psychological and formal complexity. The “black box” of the diorama became the form with which these “characters” or “set pieces” could interact. 

How did the local art scene respond to your exhibitions in Europe so far? Do you see big differences compared to the USA? 

No, I don’t really see any major differences. 

For your first exhibition in Austria at Secession you will be showing a new series of works. What is the exhibition going to be about? Can you tell us something about the new works? 

I often find myself going back to some idea of “flatness”. For the Secession show I’m making, what are for me, large sculptures. They will be longer than they are deep and shown on pedestals. After making the dioramas I was wondering if I could find that kind of space in a larger form without the representational elements. So I had this idea of long narrow sculptures and remembered, from my years working as a florist, the boxes that flowers were shipped in. 

I went back to the florist I had worked for, got some of these boxes and started from there. I’m just starting to paint the pieces and think about colors and usually color and form changes dramatically over time. My process is one of continual change and alteration. The process often feels like watching a Polaroid photo develop. At first the alterations are large and dramatic but over time they get smaller and more refined. I think I’m “finished” when I don’t have an impulse to change anything anymore. 

Vincent Fecteau, exhibition view, Secession 2016, Photo: Hannes Böck

Vincent Fecteau, exhibition view, Secession 2016, Photo: Hannes Böck

How was your first impression of the exhibition space? Are there any specifications by the Secession? 

Last summer, on my way to Basel, I visited Vienna for the first time. Initially I thought I would not want to do a show so soon after Basel but after meeting Annette Sudbeck and some of the artists of the Secession I couldn’t refuse. A truly artist­run institution is very rare and extremely special. I felt like I could really try something new and challenge myself. There were no real specifications other than to organize a publication with the show. This was not something that I’d normally do but I decided to take it on as another challenge. I taught myself some rudimentary photoshop and made a series of “collages”. I think of the book as part of the exhibition. In Basel, representational images were incorporated into sculptures and at the Secession the images will be in the book with only the “abstract forms” of the sculptures in the exhibition space. 

Your articulation of sculptural space is informed by the potential of multiple viewpoints. How important is the exhibition space to you? Is it hard to decide about the placement of an object? 

To be honest, other than the fact that I’m often making work with knowledge that it will be shown in a specific space, I don’t really think about installation all that much. I don’t make models of spaces or plan anything. I concentrate on the work in the studio and then see how it feels in the space when I install. That said, I really enjoy the installation as it allows me to engage the work on another level. They are finished and I feel a bit removed from them so I can deal with them on a different level. 

In general, how do you feel about the development of your works over the years? I am curious about the process that took you from collage to the highly abstract, non­referential 3D objects and back

I’m not sure I think of the work as “developing”. I have come to accept that I have limited interests and abilities. Over time I have become more and more convinced that the best way for me to continue is to try to connect as completely as I can with my intuition. I’m not interested in strategies or theories as such. I think meaning arises from the making; it can be prescribed. I’m not sure what will come next but I’m less interested in it “getting better” than becoming clearer and more truthful. 

You have a small studio. How did your studio change compared to the evolution of your works? 

I had the same studio for about eighteen years; I lived and worked there. Recently I moved to another house where I have a studio downstairs. It’s about the same size as my old studio but it seems big enough to make the work that I’m interested in making. 

Although there are some elemental forms of early twentieth­century art in your works, there are no specific references – but there must be some kind of inspiration! What personally inspires you? 

Recently I’ve been very inspired by the idea of free fall. 

Thank you! 

Anna Maria Burgstaller


Vincent Fecteau

on view at Secession Vienna 01/07 – 28/08/2016