By J. Wilson
Free Press Editor
Seoul-based artist William M. Boot arrived at the Corning Center for the Fine Arts on Sept. 6 to begin a residency, which will run through the end of November.
“Sometimes you just get saturated and you’ve got to get out,” said Boot of the heavily populated capital of South Korea that he calls home. An experienced traveler, Boot has gotten out a lot, and his three-month stay in Corning is but the second leg of a multi-residency exploration that will last at least through 2015. Boot discovered the CCFA on a website that matches artists with available residencies all over the world.
In search of a new life-route last year, Boot submitted 12 residency applications to places of interest around the world. He was accepted to six, and while they won’t all work out, he has plans to explore as many as possible. Operating roughly on three-month cycles, Boot began this chapter of life at a residency in Denmark, a place he was always keen to visit. His next planned stop, Holland, wasn’t going to work financially, so he returned to Korea before arriving in Corning this week.
“Coming to Corning is a deliberate action,” said Boot. “I don’t consider a large world metropolis as being any more significant than the small country town. To me, it’s a place where you go, and you can get a different perception on life and get a different perception on how people live, and the best of all is you can get a different perception on what you’re doing. It allows you time to stand back and have a good look and a good think in the peace and the quiet, and that is one of the deliberate actions for coming here—for peace and quiet.”
Traveling extensively since he left his native Canada at the age of 17 for Australia, where he has lived most of his life, Boot came to focus on art at the age of 37. That was 20 years ago. He spent seven years studying art at four different art schools in search of “a wider understanding of how art is taught, in order to meet different groups of people, in order to contact with different types of teachers.”
After receiving his Master’s Degree in 2002, Boot moved to Korea, which has become his headquarters. There he teaches English, paints and carves out a plan for his life and his art. Though he has traveled extensively for decades, Boot has never been to the Midwest. The idea always appealed to him and when the residency surfaced, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
“Outside of the US, the American Midwest has some kind of mythological status—don’t ask me why,” Boot said. “It has something to do with the news you get every year with the tornadoes whizzing through and smashing the place up. It’s something to do with the wide-open flatlands,” he said.
Inspired by artists such as Agnes Martin, Maxine Cole, Barnett Newman, Frank Stella and Saul Lewitt, Boot prefers abstract work, believing that it “opens out the possibilities of the infinite and the inevitable, the things that we don’t know, the mysterious, the things that are beyond what we know,” he said. “[Abstraction] holds more hope of revealing that or showing that or instigating a sublime moment where we might feel that, whereas with figurative work you don’t get that because the motif immediately centers your attention on something that is recognizable, which instantly takes away any mystery out of what the work is meant to do.”
Boot settled in on his preferred medium in 2000, and to this day practices his craft in a way that is unique among artists. There’s a deliberate strategy to everything Boot does, he said, except when it comes to painting. “There’s a lot of freefall there,” he said. “But within a framework.”
With an eye to the modern, Boot works in encaustics (derived from the Greek enkaustikos, meaning “to burn in”), painting with a blend of beeswax, resin and oil paints. Boot applies the hot liquid wax solution to his preferred Korean linen stretched over birch panels. “Wax needs a rigid surface, plus the linen gives a particular tooth,” he said of the setup, which helps him achieve a particular optical effect.
“What I’m doing is singular,” he said. “It’s very idiosyncratic. It’s distinct, unique. And that’s what keeps me doing it.”
Utilizing modernist techniques juxtaposed against a long historical tradition brought from his choice of encaustics, Boot’s work, which he describes as “geometric styles, open variation, geometric-styled art that is infinite,” possesses an archival quality that he says will last for centuries.
Never at a loose end for what is coming next, Boot’s time here will be spent adding on to his previous work, rather that approaching a new series of paintings. “There’s this continual opening out of a particular methodology,” he said.
In addition to settling into his studio space with his wife, Boot has spent time exploring Corning, looking for the ways in which this setting will influence his work. “[The paintings] are influenced by environment, and specific moods and feelings, but there’s a logical progression to what I’m doing,” said Boot.
Teaching helps to fund this lifestyle, and though living in southwest Iowa, Boot can be found awake at 5 a.m. teaching online classes to his students in Korea. Following his stint in Corning, Boot will return to Korea, then depart to Finland for three months before a trip to Canada, where he’s working on a collaboration with a friend with plans of an exhibition in New York City.
From there, the possibilities are infinite, as Boot has a new round of residency applications in the works.
For more information about Boot’s work, visit williambootartist.com.