Wax Dripping & Arab Drifting: J. Patrick Walsh III

Mar 20, 2013 / by YANYAN HUANG / Opening Ceremony

Wax-laden tires (prime for Arab Drifting, apparently) and engines transplanted with the care of a heart surgeon: J. Patrick Walsh’s studio could either be a teenager’s dream playroom or a car-centric torture chamber. J. Patrick has exhibited his mixed-media installations in New York, Los Angeles, and Italy. While in LA, I dropped by his studio for a tour.

Yanyan Huang: How long have you had this studio space?

J. Patrick Walsh III: I have been here for almost two years. I moved to this space because the University of Southern California studios are built more for office activities than for actually making anything. I kept giving everyone in the business office (down the hall) headaches with my paint odors so I began splitting my time between USC and this space where I can actually work. I share the building with Sayre Gomez, Owen Schmit, Paul Wadell, and Dirk Knibbe.

Why did you decide to leave New York and move to LA?
I’m from Pennsylvania, originally. After school in Chicago and living in New York, I moved out here to accept USC’s MFA offer. But honestly, I was ready for a break from the intensity of New York.

Your work deals with oppressive insulation and privacy, how did you come to work with these themes?
I wanted to create a site that was also a recording device. I was interested in the visual noise created by recording studio foam and anechoic chambers. While you are in an anechoic chamber, your equilibrium stops vibrating and you can become nauseous and dizzy. You physically lose your place in the world but on the other hand you start to hear your nervous system at work. I created a performance with a wax sculpture at an anechoic chamber in USC’s electrical engineering department. It was an anti-noise show where viewers entered the chamber one at a time and listened to the sculpture for as long as they could.

Do you see silence as a potential hazard or threat?
Silence is death. Silence is peace. Silence is a weapon against progress. Progress needs vibration. In my view, silence is a place where sound can start. That’s how the universe started: it was really quiet… then, bang!

What draws you to car engines and wax? When did you begin using these materials?
I have a few early memories of making wax sculptures as a kid and its mutability has stuck with me. My fascination with cars began only recently: After watching Arab Drift videos online, I started to consider my car as a performative and sculptural object. I wanted to do 0mph drifts so I made wax wheels for my car. The weight of the car with the wax wheels allows for a very slow drift.

Tell us about your Ferrari engine project. What are the origins of this performance/sculpture?
This project started from a nickname for my car, which I call Scirrari. I thought, why not make a real Scirrari by putting a Ferrari engine in a 1984 VW Scirocco? Giorgetto Giugiaro, the designer of the Scirocco, has the same birthday as me so it seemed like a fateful opportunity to create a new full-breed Italian machine. Since then, I have been making books, sculptures, and paintings about the Scirrari.

Just looking at a 12-valve Ferrari engine will knock your socks off—Enzo Ferrari thought they had the most beautiful song. Sound engineers are actually hired to “compose” a trademark sound for such high-performance cars. There is this great McLaren documentary where they interview a sound engineer and he compares different engine sounds to Dizzee Rascal and Kanye West. They see the engine as a tunable instrument.

And finally, which artists are you currently interested in?
I feel very lucky to have lived in Chicago because that’s where I have met some of the best artists and musicians around today. I took Ashland Mines’ (aka Total Freedom) room when he moved to the Southside and lived with Daniel Pineda (one half of NGUZUNGUZU), Math Bass, Robert Beecraft, Wu Tsang, Cayatano Ferrer, Justin Schaefer, Sayre Gomez, Gabe Wallace, MPA, and Dylan Mira. Somehow, we were all in the same building and there was a good flow. It’s crazy that most of us live in LA now.