How did you get into art?
Jennifer Catron: I grew up out in the middle of nowhere, and there just wasn’t much around. I feel like I was always just doing these crazy things out in the woods. I had pet raccoons I was training. I was making dwellings everywhere. As I got older, I started to realize that what I was doing was art.
Paul Outlaw: You’ve been performing all your life.
JC: Right! I have been. So, you know, I went to college and started taking art classes and it just kind of went from there.
Can you remember the first time you understood what art meant?
PO: It takes so long to really understand artwork. It’s a lifelong process, I think.
JC: Yeah, we still don’t understand. I mean, we do, but we’re constantly learning more about what art is and what its function is. It’s constantly changing, too.
PO: There are certain realizations along the educational path. Like, I know I had a couple art history professors that really turned me onto what contemporary art was, and how that’s different from romantic style paintings, and classical art—
JC: For me, the real realization of what art could be today came from going to London and going to the Saatchi Sensation show. That was important for me, just to actually see contemporary art. It really struck me, and it seemed almost transcendent. That seems a little cheesy, but there was that moment of like, “Oh, I can apply this to my life.”
PO: Similarly, for me, it would be coming to New York and seeing contemporary artwork at the galleries and the museums as like a teenager. I’m from a small Alabama town. You don’t get the kind of exposure New York gets there or probably most of the country. Seeing artwork made in New York is so different than what you’re taught, especially in Alabama. A whole new world opened up, and realizing that we’re actually good at it helped us down the track.
What were you exposed to then?
PO: Initially, it was the Picassos, the van Goghs—
PO: Monets, which were different from traditional paintings. They were especially radical for their time. But that really got me exposed, really got me interested in pursuing these things because they were so different from a photo-realism painting or classical painting.
Is there a certain experience, professor, or lesson that you learned that has stuck with you throughout your career?
PO: Something that has really stuck with me has been a professor in my undergrad studies that said you should imitate everyone that you respect, everyone that you admire to a certain point, just to learn from them, and learn what they’ve done. After that, it’s much more important to be yourself and to go with what it is that makes you put yourself in the artwork and continue forward in that regard, instead of copying other people. Uniqueness is so important in this field. It’s about going against the grain and not doing what everyone tells you to; trying different things, and believing in them, and presenting them as if they were the next big thing—like this is the change, this is the push.
JC: For me it was during grad school, and I had this crazy idea where I wanted to taxidermy a hundred mice and hang them from ceiling. I was really overthinking it. I couldn’t figure out why I wanted to do it. I felt like I needed a really good reason to, and the teacher, the artist in residence was just like, “Just do it.” That really stuck with me. Realizing that some of the inclinations you’re having are meaningful, and just running with it. And then, as you progress, sometimes, in retrospect, it makes more sense why you are doing what you’re doing, and you can pull it all together.
There’s a huge risk in pursuing art as a career, in general.
JC: Oh, yeah. It’s not a smart decision. [Laughs.]
How did you convince yourself art was the career you wanted?
JC: It was a big struggle for me because I can be rather sensible at times. Art is not smart financially. It’s very very fulfilling, but not financially smart. For me, I kept on going back and forth on what to do, and art was too important to me. I just had to do it.
PO: I think, for certain people in the world, there’s not really a choice. There’s no way we couldn’t pursue what we are doing. The alternatives were so distasteful—working in an office, or being a doctor, or things that do make money. Reading law books—things like that are just so out of my element. I could imagine doing them, but the fulfillment and satisfaction would just not be there. It would be totally lackluster. This is what provides us the most excitement; this is why we do everything else we do, in order to make our artwork, to show our artwork, to share our artwork with people. That’s the greatest satisfaction I think both of us get in life.
JC: Yes. I live for that.
PO: It’s definitely our driving motivation.