Art Is Work: Grover Hogan Talks With Drew Maude-Griffin

For our January 2024 issue, Minnesota Women’s Press asked four artists to choose another artist they know and have a conversation. We offered them a set of questions about art, work, and the creative life, and asked them to record themselves and send us the audio file. The following story is an edited transcript of an hour-long conversation. Find more stories from the “Artists on Artists” issue here.

Grover Hogan (they/ them) is a visual and performance artist and an art teacher. Drew Maude-Griffin (they/them) is a visual artist, writer, and educator. They curated CURRENTS: Adaptation, Brilliance, and Joy, a group exhibition of work by disabled artists at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, on view through February 25.

Grover: I show your work to my students, especially when they make work about disability, or are bringing kitschy aesthetics into their work or combining fiber arts with painting. The two pieces that I always look towards are the one of you and Mitch McConnell and the one of you and your grandma holding hands. How do you come up with these ideas?

Drew Maude-Griffin. Photo Grover Hogan

Drew: A lot of it comes to me when I’m lying in bed. For the Mitch McConnell piece, I was looking at Kehinde Wiley’s work and thinking about referencing “old master” paintings. I was really pissed off about health care and I wanted to portray Mitch McConnell as a demon that I could defeat. That came from feeling weak and sick, and not knowing if I was going to be able to access health care. I wanted to take power into my own hands. I think a lot of my ideas come from my physical and emotional experiences and wanting to share those.

Whatever medium you end up working in, whether it’s performance, comics, or painting, I feel like you have a way of creating an emotional and visceral reaction in your audience using visual cues that are readily accessible to all viewers. How do you both use a visual language and make these pieces that are readable to somebody who doesn’t necessarily have an arts background?

Grover: I love trivia and learning fun facts. I got that sensibility from my parents, who are culture chow hounds; they loved to watch every movie, every TV show, and were constantly looking, observing, and consuming.

I’ve been interested in how much iconography there is in the world and how we associate certain feelings, events, or social dynamics with these different icons. I try to think about something I see every day and ask how it impacts my emotions and my experiences. I usually double check with my parents or my partner and ask, “What do you think this means?” I see if they can start analyzing — for example — what a bar sign means or what angel wings mean, and then explore how that association might have layers.

Drew: Do you make art for a particular community?

Grover: I always say that I make art for my mom. Her cultural knowledge is so influential on me. I usually make work that she can either relate to or understand. I also make a lot of work geared towards the Latine community, towards queer communities, trans communities. Right now I’m invested in making work that talks about queerness and its intersection with labor and how you might have to suppress or overperform your queerness to get by in the world.

Drew: Sometimes I make work that is explaining my illness and disability to people who are not yet sick or disabled, or to the people I love, because it’s an internal experience I want others to understand. I think I’ve moved away from that in recent years; I’m more focused on what I want to communicate to other disabled folks, who are an ever-growing community because we’re still in a pandemic.

Grover: Sometimes when I show my work to people who do not share a common identity, they try to completely ignore the identity being presented, even though my work is so focused on identity. If someone is not of Latine descent or has never been the person who doesn’t know the language, I see them shut down and actively choose not to engage with the work. That also happens with work about queerness or about Blackness or transness. If a viewer is on the oppressing side of a dynamic, they get extremely uncomfortable, they don’t want to talk about the subject matter, they want to talk about the aesthetics and the technique. I think you have to be okay with looking at identity to even approach my work.

Grover Hogan. Photo Ash Nichols

Drew: I’ve encountered that in my work too. When somebody is a healthy, able-bodied person, there’s a reluctance to want to consider that a work is about feeling excluded from spaces because of disability.

Grover: I saw that in critiques in art school with you — people will do anything they can to not talk about the fact that there’s mobility aid or prescription medication in an image.

Drew: How does money impact your creative life?

Grover: There are so many ways to make visual art for no money at all. Growing up lower class, I would buy tons of those fifty-cent craft paints. That impacted the way my paintings ended up looking — super flat and inspired by comics. It also forced me to find art materials anywhere I could.

So honestly, money doesn’t really impact my creative life. But it does impact my regular life.

Drew: I think for me, it’s more about balancing my energy capacities for going to work and then making artwork, which may or may not earn me money. Because of my illnesses, the energy I have is a huge limiting factor. I’m constantly balancing this economy of energy spent, and most times my energy is spent at work.

Grover: I feel like I haven’t been able to make much art because of how in pain and exhausted I am after work. Any instance of me making art is usually because I have to do so for work. In those cases, art is less healing and more of a survival tactic, which sucks.

Do you feel supported as an artist? What do you wish were different?

Drew: I feel really supported through the communities I work in right now at Fresh Eye Arts and Fresh Eye Gallery; I feel really lucky to be in community with other disabled artists there. I’m currently finishing my fellowship with Emerging Curators Institute, and I feel really lucky to be supported by that program within Minneapolis.

I can’t go to a lot of openings right now because most art spaces don’t require masking anymore. A lot of the best shows are in smaller galleries where there is no ventilation, it’s crowded. And for me, getting Covid could be a really big deal. So I have to avoid a lot of these networking and community events. That sucks, but I think that might be a problem anywhere I go. How about you?

Grover: When I was in Houston the art scene was a lot more cutthroat and competitive. Here there’s a lot more support. But I also feel like the spaces here are very white and focused on the more privileged people in the art world. I wish that there were more celebration of people who don’t have access to higher institutions. I’ve seen artists who do incredible work not have the same level of clout because they don’t have those college connections.

Drew: How do you rest?

Grover: I’ll be so real with you, I don’t think I do. I think it is actively killing me, my lack of rest. I think I’m burnt out and I don’t really know what to do. Right now, especially with everything that’s going on both in my personal life and globally, it feels like there’s so much to take on. It’s a depressing question. I feel like I should get rest from my art.

Drew: Art is work. There can be a healing property to it, but it’s still a form of work.

What is inspiring you lately?

Grover: I think the thing about inspiration is that it’s not really inspiration until you implement it; otherwise it’s just something that brings you excitement. I want to actually try implementing the things that I find exciting, which requires research. I am trying to remember who I am and what I love, and not just make things that I think people will think look good, which is such a difficult thing to balance. My childhood self, the fanboy part of me who is super obnoxious about all of my interests, is what’s inspiring me right now — my cringiest self.

Drew: That’s something I learned from you, drawing on joy. In art school there was this pushing us into more “serious work” or topics that seemed more respectable. When you get inspiration and joy from these things that you loved when you were a child, movies, or pop culture, that can be a tool for serious artwork. Who cares what serious artwork is? What does that even mean?