Briefly describe the work you do.
I’m a drawing based, multi-media artist. My work has developed from an interest in drawing’s role in the observational history of astronomy. My most recent project involved a two week rotation aboard the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, and a two week solo Mars simulation in western Iowa. This project incorporated a lot of 2D works, video and sculpture. It focused on the cyclical nature of things and the parallels between the expansion of the American West and our current desires to colonize Mars. My current plans involve lunar paleontology and Martian Darwinism.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up on Army bases, and maybe an Air Force base or two. I was raised in a culture of discipline and had daily exposure to tanks, helicopters, cargo planes, armed soldiers and the like. There is probably some lineage between this background and my interest in astronomy and the space program. My work ethic is most likely a result of this, I’m fairly steadfast.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
All of my drawing takes place alone, behind a closed door. I do a lot of research and am constantly dreaming up practical methods to achieve goals that seem impossible when I begin them. Once the work leaves drawing it becomes a different beast entirely. I typically need assistance from other artists, sometimes this is done for pay and sometimes it ends up being collaborative. Most of the work from the MMMM project was created by sneaking into spaces I shouldn’t have been. I’d come into this space, build things, assemble them, break them down and then hide everything until the next weekend, hoping that no one would expose me.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I’ve done some performative work, which I never would have imagined myself doing a few years ago. Besides that there are no real surprises. I always had this idea that I’d begin to figure things out around 30 and everything up to that point would be confused, and that’s pretty much how it’s been. I had no expectations.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I can usually get a solid four hours of drawing in between 2-6 PM, I can’t work much before or after. Sculpture, video, print or any other medium is much more like work, like a job. I can begin at 10 AM and work late into the night. I typically work on projects that might take a year or more to complete. I’ll begin drawing early in the project and work on them for the year, and then usually cram everything else into the last few months.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Five years ago I had no idea what I was doing, but I drew a lot. The drawing has slowly progressed, about what you would expect of five years primarily in grad school. Working multi-media is new. Once I really began to tap into the subject matter I was interested in and do a little research, my practice exploded. I used to be satisfied with being able to make the thing look the way I wanted it to, now I’m primarily interested in chasing the most challenging idea I can come up with.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Yes, Jacques Cousteau and early astronomers.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I’m a fishmonger and have been for a long time. I like having a job where I can run around, throw things and yell. I might teach when I’m older. I think I could have been satisfied by being a marine biologist.
Ian Etter was born on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska and traveled the world as the son of a soldier. He earned his MFA in Drawing from the University of Iowa in 2013 and now resides in Queens, NY. He was awarded the A.I.R. at the Mars Desert Research Station over the 2013-2014 season and was recently awarded VAN Residency for his exhibition at CSPS in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.