Back in November, Tim Hans stopped by Known Gallery just as Dennis McNett was setting up for a show there. As part of our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim, we’re finally publishing those photos and I emailed a few questions over to McNett. My bad on the delay, but I’m glad we finally have a chance to share these images and chat with one of my favorite block printers.
RJ: How has teaching printmaking at Pratt affected your own art?
Dennis McNett: I’m not teaching currently. When I have the last year or two, it’s usually only one class. I could go on a long tangent about the whole art school thing.
I wouldn’t say it has effected my own work. I’ve been making what I make and doing what I do since I was a kid. What I do walk away with from teaching would be passing on a medium, meeting some great students and being able to cheerlead for their ideas the way Richard Mock did for me. That makes it worth doing.
RJ: Your work seems to have such a focus on nature, or at least some version of nature. Do you get enough exposure to nature while living in the city?
McNett: Fortunately I get to leave the city quite often. My folks live in Virginia on a mountain and I’m able to go there at least 3 times a year. When I am able to be by the ocean (especially by the ocean), in the forest, in the desert, etc… I feel clarity, like my batteries are charged and truly inspired. I feel humbled by how perfect, beautiful, diverse, micro/macro and complex the whole damn place is. But, to answer you directly, No, I do not get to be in nature as much as I’d like to be and I’m planning to leave NYC for that and several other reasons.
RJ: Are you trying to do something largely different with your various static artworks and your performances, or are those two sets of work extensions of each other?
McNett: I feel like it’s all coming from the same place. The performance/happenings are a lot of fun. They are more about doing something anyone can participate in, contribute to and usually tell a story stemming from a “mythology” I started in 2006 about the Wolfbat. The 2D work I do alone in the studio, but sometimes that work pertains to the mythology. They could be artifacts like shields or characters from the stories. Sometimes the 2D stuff is just what ever comes to mind like a Leopardsnake (half Leo half snake) which I just daydreamed about and seemed fun to draw/create. Really I just do whatever I am feeling or thinking about at the moment and use what ever medium makes sense for the idea.
RJ: What is it about printmaking that appeals to you?
McNett: I’ve done sculptures, masks, performances, installations, graphics and woodcarvings. I think above all else, I just love the carved mark. I’ve been making carvings for over 20 years now. I can build and use a lot of other mediums but still just love that mark. I use prints of that mark on pretty much everything I make from 30ft ships, temples or just prints. With printmaking you can also make multiples and I use this to generate my own collage material/drawing material of my carved patterns and images. Once I have the drawing material I can cover large areas pretty quickly. It all just has the flavor I like to work with.
RJ: What have you got coming up next?
McNett: I’m working with the Philadelphia Mural Arts program in February. I’ll be building a sculpture, doing a mural and working with community kids the entire month. Then potentially Austin to do a project around SXSW, which may be another performative event. I a show in Houston in May. I’m considering moving out west after that.
Photos by Tim Hans