Robert Ryman - Crazy 1 (1962-1964)

I remember watching this episode of a PBS series called Art:21 with my mom when I was younger where they would do these little segments on various artists working in the 21st century, and this guy came on and he was just quiet and simple in his speech. He said things like, “The painting should just be what it’s about, not about other things,” and “I don’t think what I’m doing is abstraction because I’m not abstracting from anything.” And they start showing him putting white paint onto these already white panels on the walls, and my mom must have seen this big grin go across my face. I think it made sense to me right away. You have this art about not a whole lot more than the canvas, the paint, the wood, the tape, the nails holding the whole thing on the wall. All the emphasis was on the materials used without the requirement of any knowledge of a historical or ideological connection.I’ve always had this fascination for things like soap bars and erasers before they’ve been put to use, or boxes of camera film or cigarettes before they’ve been opened, so I suppose that appreciation for materials and objects and for the way things just naturally present themselves to you has always sort of been there, but I think Ryman reinforced that in a very important way.

Antoni Tàpies - Creu I R (1975)

Antoni Tàpies is someone who I’ve only become aware of in the last few years. Despite having mostly experienced his work through the small window of the internet with little in the way of real-life exposure, I can easily say he’s had a huge influence on me. Looking at the work, at the colors and textures, at the way the materials seem to sometimes be dumped, thrown, smashed onto the canvas, it’s hard for me not feel that what I’m really looking at is excrement, blood, bile, the whole internal, gurgling mess of a human person deposited and immortalized into the space between the four sides of a frame. And his crosses… No one will ever make crosses the way he did. I’ve tried. It works sometimes, but there was something in his hand that just made them float. At the same time, I suppose it’s a bit of a toss-up between him and someone like Alberto Burri who learned how to stitch wounds as an army medic before he became a painter. Even Hermann Nitsch produced results with the “paintings” that were left after his Actionist performances that affect me in a similar way. But I think Tàpies’ way of using text and symbols in his work is something that really lines up with the way I try to do things.

Franz Kline - Le Gros (1961)

Franz Kline is someone I don’t think I would have developed any appreciation or understanding for had I not physically stood in front of his work. I remember being in the Philadelphia Museum of Art a few years back with my girlfriend. There was an exhibition of Cy Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam series that made me cry and a few other really arresting pieces that still haunt me, but then I came upon this Kline that just hit like a brick. I just remember it being displayed in this very unimpressive location next to a gift shop or cafe or something where it was easy to walk past and made to feel slightly less important than the other paintings. I think I got in a lot of people’s way standing there looking at it.

The painting’s inclusion in the sort of low-brow, ugly, consumerist side of the museum seemed oddly fitting at the time. I later read somewhere about how a gallerist once tried to replace all the cheap house paints Kline would use with higher quality art grade paints. Kline arriving at his studio supposedly discovered the new paints, casually removed them, and went to buy more house paint from a hardware store. Whether all of that is true or not, I’m not sure, but that concept of insisting on using cheap materials is one that I’ve bound myself to as if it were a commandment, and whenever I’m smearing BIC Wite Out fluid onto a collage or getting glue under my fingernails from an Elmer’s gluestick bought at a drugstore, I tend to smile and think of Kline.

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Birth of Earth (Date Unknown)

I guess for me Jean-Michel Basquiat is who I look to when I think about 'process'. It’s strange because his name seems to have become synonymous with a lot of things I can’t help but feel repulsed by like excess and money and status. I don’t think it’s really him or his art as much as it is the way people talk about it and gawk over it in ways that seem to miss the point. It’s sort of hard to look him up without finding mention of how much his paintings are selling or have sold for, even if none of that shit is in your search query. None of that is really important to me when I think about him, though. I like to focus on his process, or at least what I’ve heard about his process.

He seems to have had this method of immersing himself in stimuli when he worked. He’d have the radio going and the television on and the window open letting in sounds from the street. He’d have canvases or rubber tires or whole doors or whatever it was he was painting on lying around on the floor or propped up against the wall, and he’d be stepping on everything and smoking and just moving around a lot. I naturally tend to work in a similar way. I used to do all my work on the floor in this small walk-in closet at my girlfriend’s place before we moved to Portland, and there’d be dog hair in the glue and termite droppings from these little holes in the ceiling. I still work on the floor at our new place, and it’s usually a process of having some documentary on mute playing in the background while I’m listening to Bill Evans and eating toast and getting crumbs everywhere. The whole thing is a mess, but it works.

Chris Marker - Sans Soleil (1983)

I really know very little about Chris Marker outside of Sans Soleil , which is to me is an absolute masterpiece, something I don’t think anyone will ever replicate. It’s a film I’ll watch once every few months, if not more frequently, and every time I watch it, I become a little more perplexed about what it is I’ve just seen and a little more in love with the idea of images. I’m still not sure if it’s a documentary or a work of fiction or a moving painting.

The whole thing starts with this shot of these kids walking along this road somewhere in Iceland in the ‘60s while this female narrator explains how it’s “the image of happiness” according to some nameless “he” she continues to refer to throughout the film. She then goes on to explain how this “he” character, who it’s fairly obvious is Marker himself, wrote to her that he’d made multiple unsuccessful attempts to connect the image to others and would one day have “put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader.” And thus begins this strange, self-referential meditation on images, their meanings, and the way they play in our memories. It’s also something I’ll watch pretty regularly while collaging, and I think it’s really helped teach me how to find connections between seemingly disparate elements.

Hailaker's self-titled debut album is out now. Listen to 'Coma / Smoke' below.