Shooter: An Interview With Walton Creel

The terms gun and weapon are practically interchangeable. From hunting to war, self defense to target practice, the gun has been a symbol of power and destruction. Art and entertainment have both taken the same approach to he gun. Birmingham, Alabama artist Walton Creel is using the gun to deweaponize it. Check out our interview with Creel below.
Art Nouveau Magazine: Your series of work “Deaweapoinzing the gun,” tell about the meaning behind it.

Walton Creel: One of the things that I am most pleased with about Deweaponizing is the fact that the works touch on deep issues without being preachy. I believe that people with views from across the spectrum can look at these works and take their own meaning from them.

ANM: Why do you use a .22 caliber to create the pieces? Is it symbolic in anyway?

WC: No symbolism, just practicality. I have several reasons why I use .22. In some of my initial experiments I tried out a much higher caliber gun that could be used for deer hunting. The power from the blast blew the piece of metal I was testing about 15 feet back and bent it in half. The larger caliber also creates a larger hole, basically resulting in a lower “resolution”, in order to make an image with the same detail I would have to increase the size of the image by several times. Also, larger caliber bullets are just too expensive to be used in the numbers I need.

ANM: When will you know you work has success into taking the destructive power away from the gun?

WC: Taking power away from the gun was never a goal of this project. Early in refining the process I observed that using the gun in the way I was using it was the act of deweaponizing it. The gun’s power is constant, but if that power is applied to a creative process, then the gun is not being used as a weapon, at least not for that moment.

ANM: Who are artists you’re inspired by?

WC: Chris Burden, he is probably best known for his breakthrough performances. I really enjoy his later works like the Two Minute Airplane Factory in which a machine took sheets of balsa wood, cut the wood into parts, assembled the parts into airplanes and then launched them. The only human interaction was feeding the sheets of balsa into the machine and then gathering the airplanes once they landed. Others include Tom Friedman, Chuck Close, Trenton Hancock, The Rural Studio, Tim Hawkinson, Warhol and many more. He is not a visual artist, but I have recently become a huge fan of Fela Kuti, what a badass.

ANM: Tell me the process of creating a picture?

WC: I have to lay out the image on a large piece of paper which is then laminated and laid over a 6×4’ sheet of reinforced, painted aluminum. I then place the barrel against each point and shoot. I have had some people express their disappointment in the fact that I am not standing back and taking aim, but marksmanship was never the point. Once I have shot each point, I then remove the pattern and the image is revealed, this is hands-down the most nerve-racking moment. The blast from the gun takes a little paint off the metal around each bullet hole, if the surface was not prepared correctly, too much paint will come off and the image is ruined.

ANM: Doing you think that by having to buy guns and bullets to create your work you are actually supporting and not deweaponizing the gun?

WC: Bullets and guns are the materials I use to do my work. My only stated goal is to use the gun in my art in a manner other than as a weapon, by using the gun creatively I have accomplished that goal. People tend to project a pro or anti gun spin onto me based on my work. I have never expressed my views on the matter publicly and don’t intend to. Individuals can come to my work with their own convictions and see the work how they want to.

ANM: Tell me about your other work?

WC: I spent a couple of years with a video camera going to as many unusual places in Alabama as I could. Heart of Nowhere was the result. It is a 30-minute video montage that consists of hundreds of seconds long clips that are presented in random order. Favorite moments are a drunken Christian singer songwriter screaming at an audience and a guy on a burning couch being dragged behind a truck. I wanted to give small, unexplained glimpses into the most interesting moments I had seen during that time.
ANM: What’s next for you?

WC: More deweaponizing. I will be using the same technique, but I will be moving on to a different theme. I have designed a couple of different groups of works; I just have to decide which direction I want to go in. I don’t want to give too much away, it’s a surprise!

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