I love that phrase that you used, “existential line-making.” The artists in Degree Zero worked in the ’50s, when Existentialism was on deck. Jean Dubuffet is in this exhibition and was interested in graffiti. I wonder if you could speak a bit about whether graffiti played a role in a sketchbook like this.
My previous relationship to sketchbooks really came from my time as a graffiti artist. When I picked up a sketchbook again over the course of the pandemic, some of that 16-year-old me popped in and said, Well, what did I do with this previously? In the case of someone like Dubuffet, there's always the suggestion of naiveté that comes into play and the way that we think about both his skilling, or deskilling if you will, and to whom and how he conjures these images. Dubuffet deals a lot with the city and has this incredible investment in how you conjure images that represent the city or urbanity.
For me, where I grew up in Chicago, there were two parallel worlds in urban street mark-making: the folks who consider themselves to be artists and were using the city as a backdrop or canvas for their work, and then there were folks who were associated with gangs and whose mark-making intentionally located where and how you were to understand the space that you were in. This neighborhood has been marked by that gang which means that that gang controls this street, etc.
As I got older and started thinking about what marks mean, how they function, how they become signifiers, I oftentimes went back to the gang work; although it wasn’t often recognized as skilled work or didn’t have the intention to please, it did have the intention to deliver a message very specifically. As I started thinking, What does my project mean? What are my intentions? What are the signifiers? What are the concepts and philosophies and concerns of my work? It almost had as much to do with that deskilled work and the gang graffito than other aspects that were more aesthetically inclined.