New Establishment: Devin Troy Strother

Devin Troy Strother's mixed media work pulsates with sharply self-critical humour and references to contemporary art and media, as well as sports and entertainment stars. “Anything that’s funny I watch, so I get inspiration from tv and movies all the time,” he tells Charlotte Jansen.

Niggas and 7 Bananas in an Ikea Frame, 2015

It seems like you spend quite a lot of time looking at, and appreciating, other works of contemporary art. How important is it to you to know what’s happening?

Yeah, knowing what other artists are working on is always helpful, especially if you’re in the studio all of the time. It’s easy to get totally caught up in your own head, forgetting there’s a whole world of shit that you’re missing out on. Referencing other artists has always been a part of my work. Recently certain artists’ names have started to creep into my titles. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to know what’s going on and to go see shows. I would just like to be aware of everything and anything going on in the art world, but I don’t think that’s possible.

How does that come into your process in the studio?

The process of making a new work varies; it never stays the same. Recently the process has involved working on several different bodies of work all at once, spending a few days on one series or body of work and then changing gears to focus on something totally different for another few days and repeat with another body of work. I’ve been working like that for the last couple of months. The process of adding humour to the work I feel is unintentional at first, but whenever I reflect back on older pieces, I can see that it’s definitely intentional.

Your titles have drawn some attention and have a part to play in the humour aspect to the work. Do you get a kick out of making people say the word “nigga” in a gallery?

I did get a kick out of it in the beginning. Now they just say “the N word”, it’s such a let-down. Now when I use “nigga” in a title, I’m not thinking of a viewer’s relationship to the word as much as before. It’s taken a back seat to some of the other subjects that are present in the work.

2 Niggas on a Nana, 2015 Devin Troy Strother Banana painting
2 Niggas on a Nana, 2015

How should the viewer prepare to come and see a show of your work?

The viewer should come to the work with whatever they already have inside. I don’t want an altered viewer. I want them to come as they are. I don’t always read a press release before a show. I guess all I can really ask of a viewer is: Maybe read the press release? Maybe do a walk-through with the title list? Even that is a lot to ask. In the end, I just want the viewer to have some kind of emotional reaction to the work, good or bad.

“In the end, I just want the viewer to have some kind of emotional reaction to the work, good or bad.”

I read that you want to get past being seen as a black artist, and being asked that kind of question.

No, when did I say that?

I think it was an article I read on the Vice website entitled “Devin Troy Strother Doesn’t Want to Talk About Being Black“. But you deal with stereotyping issues with identity in the work itself. Does it piss you off that people come to it with an agenda of interpreting your position as a black male?

I’m black so I’m automatically down with identity. I’m going to quote Susan Jean Dowling on the definition of identity construction to answer this question: “Identity construction is an integral component of the human species. It has been researched and explored through many different venues. For centuries artists have expressed their personal or projected identity of self and society through the means of visual representation using a vast array of mediums and techniques.” The only thing embedded deeper could be dance moves or your diet if you don’t lie to yourself.

The Glitter Bitch Ceremony, 2012 Devin Troy Strother panel painting
The Glitter Bitch Ceremony, 2012

This feature originally appeared in issue 27