OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Garry Noland

The One Thing, 2016. polystyrene, corrugate with decollage. 21.250" x 19.250" x 3." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

Since beginning his career in 1978, GARRY NOLAND has explored so many materials: National Geographic magazines, corrugated cardboard, bubble wrap, wood, pvc pipes, marbles, duct tape, foam, just to name a handful. His studio practice is primarily driven by process and material. In sculptures and textile-like surfaces, he emphasizes pattern, surface and texture as the byproduct of actions like cutting, marking, taping and gluing. Garry earned his BA in Art History at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, but he’s always been a maker.  His long exhibition record began in 1980, with notable recent exhibitions at Haw Contemporary (2015), the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (2014), Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (2014) and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (2013). On April 16, 2017, his solo show Unorganized Territory will open at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Chicago, and, in the Fall of 2017, he will open a two-person show with Leigh Suggs at Artspace in Raleigh, North Carolina and a two-person show at Los Angeles Valley College Art Gallery in Van Nuys, California. Garry lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there an underlying thread that connects the materials you choose?

Garry Noland: One of the answers regarding materials relates to the non-human part of nature. We are part of the world around us, yet in a separate, contemplative position. Nature has many materials: gases, minerals, animals, plants and the breakdowns into smaller parts (water vapor, sand, insects and pine needles, for example). Nature's processes—evaporation/condensation, sedimentation, reproduction and seeding—are an incessantly-recycling pattern of life. They inform the "studio practice" that is Nature. Jackson Pollack's statement "I am Nature" gets at the artist's natural role in working with whatever material is at their hand. Nature teaches us to apply our energetic, creative impulse to solve problems that a set of materials poses to us. A new material simply presents new problems or challenges. A familiar material will present new challenges based on skills we've acquired in our subsequent actions. The underlying thread is what can I learn? and how gracefully can I solve the problem?

Close-Up USA, No. 7, 2016. Polystyrene, aluminum paint, sand, concrete mix. 22" x 41" x 8." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

OPP: You don’t seem to be drawn to Nature’s materials, but to human-made things: “found and reclaimed materials from alleys, side streets and urban dumps.”  What draws you to materials generally? Any new finds that you are excited about in your studio right now?

GN: Right now I am using corrugate, polystyrene, paper, wood and some mild adhesives. I am using simple verbs: Cut, tear, place, adjust, glue. Nearly all of the materials are found, free or very inexpensive. Part of the attraction is that these materials have been through another use. This other use, not to mention the process in which they were originally created imparts spirit to the material. . . it is the farthest thing from inert. The found marks in dock foam or the folds, scraps and abrasions add a layer of experience to cardboard. It is part of my job to augment it by leaving it alone or adding to it. I know that new materials will come along or that I will find new use for something I already thought I knew something about.

Ticket, 2012. Tape, Floor Debris on tape. 103" x 98." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

OPP: In your statement, you say “Sometimes I am the boss of the material but just as often the material, by virtue of a chance arrangement, for example, will tell me what needs to be done.” Could you say more about making in this way? What’s the process feel like for you? Will you tell us a story about a piece in which the material led you more than you led it?

GN: One might infer that I have a collaborative relationship with the material. Material is inseparable from the "artist". It is possible to see potential in every single thing. Metaphorically then, as well, there is potential in every single person. In general this brings me great joy. I am solving problems I could not have foreseen minutes or years before. Simultaneously new work explains often what was going on in an older piece....a kind of studio deja vu. I keep a lot of material in the studio precisely because I know that chance arrangements or views askance will reveal combinations I could not have rationally thought of. An example is the piece tilted Failed Axle. There was a spool of bubble wrap in the studio to use a packing for an outgoing work. Several feet beyond the spool lay a curved piece of orange PVC pipe. Out of the corner of my eye, it looked like that the pipe was coming out of the spool, like an axle. The piece made itself essentially. I am a grateful intermediary.

Pumpjack (Sergeant), 2015. polystyrene, tape, pvc pipe, marbles. 63" x 58" x 7." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

OPP: Your application of marks—as cuts, tape, paint or marbles—to the surface a variety of substrates, functions differently across your body of work. I’m thinking about the difference between works like Pumpjack (Sergeant) (2015), which have complete surface coverage and the wall-hung sculptures from the Handheld series (2014). When is it about hiding the underlying surface and when is it about highlighting it?

GN: Pumpjack (Sergeant) is a good piece but I know that, like every other piece, it is on the way to something else. Part of the impulse behind the complete coverage was to produce a design to supplement the object. . . to cover an object with images of objects. I love pattern and surface design. One of our jobs as artists is to find out "what goes with what.” Relationships between materials may be abrasive, copacetic or somewhere in between. In Pumpjack the tape presents a way for the eye to move around the object as does the application of marbles on the PVC armature. How do the marbles act with the tape pattern? How does the tape pattern work with the slabby foam block? How does the eye move around the whole thing? How does the slab act with the wall and floor. How does the painting/sculpture work with the viewer.

I hope, in the end, we ask how we relate to each other. The Handheld series (which were pieces cut off from the corners of Failed Monuments) used the gold tape (implying luxury) next to the "low-brow" foam and found marks. The exchange between tape and foam, gold and found marks was more direct and I think more honest.

Handheld 03, 2014. Foam, tape. 10" x 10" x 5." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

OPP: I think of your taped wall-hung works more as textiles than paintings. They have a textile logic to them, in the sense that the image appears to be part of the structure, as opposed to applied to the surface of another substrate. Thoughts?

GN:
I like and appreciate that reading! The image (if we agree to call "it" that) not only is part of the structure, but is/or represents the structure in full. That is, they are one in the same. The question becomes how can we merge image/object; form/content; female/male; figure/ground, among others, for example. This was written about by Lucy Lippard in OVERLAY and was at least a sub-topic in Cubism.

OPP: What role does balance—compositionally, physically and metaphorically—play in your work?

GN: The best question. Balance is a fluid, contextual situation. Balance is a how as much as it is a what. It's an easy tendency to find balance in a comfort zone. It’s imperative that any artist finds a way out of their comfort zone and into emerging, fighting off laziness and complacency. Balance comes from in-balance. Content comes from form. Form comes from content. Positive space comes from negative space.

To see more of Garry's work, please visit garrynolandart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Throughout March 2017, Stacia is working on an evolving, duration installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago). You can watch Witness change via live feed.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gina Hunt

It's Curtains for You (close-up view of inside), 2016. Hand dyed transnet, steel, aluminum. 96" x 96" x 48."

GINA HUNT explores the permeable and reflective qualities of screens in her paintings, sculptures and site-specific installations. She draws attention to the subjectivity of visual perception in painted surfaces, including the plain weave of canvas, window screens, scenery netting and scrim. Most recently, she has moved her work out of the gallery and into the outdoors, where her multicolored screens are both discrete objects within the landscape and mediators for viewing it. Gina earned a BFA in Painting, Printmaking, and Art History (2009) and an MA in Painting (2012) from Minnesota State University. In 2015, she completed her MFA in Painting at Illinois State University. Gina completed a  2015-2016 fellowship with Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. In 2016, she was Artist-in-Residence at Badlands National Park and at Hinge Arts in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Beginning February 1, 2017, you can view her work in a two-person, online exhibition titled In This Place at Pleat Gallery. Weight of Light, a group exhibition curated by Melissa Oresky, will open at DEMO Project in Springfield, Illinois on March 10, 2017. There will be a gallery talk on April 6, 2017. Gina currently lives in Bloomington, Illinois and teaches Drawing at Illinois State University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Screens are prominent in your work, both as a material and as a metaphor. Could you talk about the difference between looking through screens and looking at screens?

Gina Hunt: Fascinating question! I immediately think of how vision works and the similarities between our eyes and cameras when it comes to depth of field and the ability to focus. I am always getting pleasurably distracted by looking through window screens, fencing, and mesh barriers because of the ‘flit’ that happens between focusing on the screen and then focusing on what is beyond and behind the screen. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, and I think this experience is really common. Looking at the same physical objects with and without a screen is a completely different visual experience. That difference, or subjectivity, between these two visual experiences blows my mind.

Chromascope (RO), 2016. Acrylic on hand-dyed cut canvas. 24" x 24."

OPP: Please talk about your repeated strategy of slashing and twisting canvas in Feedback (2015), Colorblinds (2014) and Chromoscopes (2015).

GH: I can credit the development of that specific process to two people: my grandmother and Lucio Fontana! Fontana helped me realize that a painting is a very physical object. No aspect or component of a painting is a given; every physical bit of a painting is a material choice. Fontana cut his canvases in the most elegant of ways and showed us that paintings can depict space with actual space, not just implied illusive space.

A few years ago, I was suddenly having a battle with my paintings. It was a complicated mess that dealt with illusion—but instead of going into that whole story, I will explain how I got out of it, which lead to several subsequent bodies of work. I took a few weeks away from the studio and spent full days making a quilt with my grandmother. It was a highly complicated one that we designed. While working on this, we talked about history, politics, gender, modernist painting, and physical labor. This physical engagement with the materials—the measuring, pressing, folding, cutting, stitching, and piecing was so satisfying.

When I returned to the studio, I began cutting up piles of un-stretched, painted canvas. I developed a process of making pattern-based paintings that are incredibly physical and sculptural while also presenting optical experiences based in color. Around that point, it seemed to me that Fontana was taking apart paintings. I felt like I was putting paintings back together.

Flit, 2015. Acrylic on cut canvas over canvas. 47" x 61."

OPP: Any chance the quilt as a unique form will ever enter your practice?

GH: Yes, I am certain that it will.

OPP: Are all paintings screens? Why or why not?

GH: I love this question! Screen is such a complex word with multiple definitions. As a verb, a screen can divide, separate, and conceal.  A screening is an assessment or filtering of information. As a noun, a screen can be a flat panel displaying images and data, a thin object or material which separates spaces, and a surface which allows images and ideas to be projected onto it. Thinking through all of this—Yes. I am rather certain that all paintings are screens.

Window Screen (GR), 2016. Acrylic on cut window screen mesh over painted wooden frame. 16 inches x 20 inches.

OPP: What does site-specificity mean to you?

GH: My work is dependent on where I am in the world. It is site-specific in every sense of the term.

In 2015-2016, I lived in the Middle East as a Practicing Artist Fellow. I believe that the decisions we make are dependent on context and circumstance, and this opportunity made it so clear to me. The research and work I was producing quickly became reactive to the specific place I was a part of. Unfamiliarity can be a great asset—one is able to notice details and characteristics of situations which can become worn and unnoticeable with time and exposure. 

Through that experience, in addition to following residencies I’ve been to, I have prioritized an engagement with locality and hope for my work to be responsive to where I am. My work is site-specific because I am cultivating knowledge of place (local culture, history, visual culture, aesthetics, and identity) through context-based research. I don’t want to just insert myself and my ideas; I want to collaborate with the place where I am making work. 

It's Curtains for You v2, 2016. Hand dyed transient installed in the windows of an abandoned gazebo outside of the Kirkbride buildings (formerly the Fergus Falls State Hospital) in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Approximately 60 inches x 144 inches

OPP: You were the 2016 Artist-in-Residence at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Please tell us about this unique residency.

GH: Yes, I just finished that residency and am still reflecting on it. I was completely surprised and thrilled to get it, as I have not seen artists physically place work within the landscape of the Badlands like I wanted to.

The Artist in Residence program at the Badlands National Park supports two artists each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. And so, I wasn't working alongside other creative practitioners, I was working alongside paleontologists, archivists, park rangers, etc. I learned a lot about the landscape and its history from each person I met. The park staff was wonderful support when I needed them but also didn't encroach on me in any way or question my concepts. Their support really impressed me. Since the projects were going to live outdoors, I decided to set up a simple shop outside of my apartment, in the park, and that is where I built most of the work.

I spent a lot of my time exploring the landscape and problem-solving how to install projects without physically interrupting the landscape in any way. Everything was paired down in terms of process, materials, and installation. I worked within limited means. I thrive when thrown into a challenge like that. The weather is entirely unpredictable there, too, which had to be factored into my material and installation decisions. I asked myself, With the materials I have available, how do I make a large-scale installation outdoors that could withstand high winds, rain, and snow, but cannot be staked into the ground or attached with most things one would typically use?

Suncatcher for the Badlands, 2016. Nylon, window screen mesh, and theater scrim stretched on four painted wooden frames, attached with metal hinges. Installed at Badlands National Park. 48” (h) x 36” (w) x 36” (d).

OPP: Aside from having to navigate the physical conditions of the landscape, how was your work there informed by your research into the region?

GH: I spent time researching the visual aesthetic traditions of Lakota culture. The challenge was then creating a bridge between this “field study” research and the physical work I created. Color and geometry were the major aspects of my research. Specifically, I was reading about Lakota star knowledge/astronomy/stellar theology and its interdependence with the landscape. There is a beautifully poetic yet literal concept called mirroring. The earth and the stars “are the same, because what is on the earth is in the stars, and what is in the stars is on the earth” (quoted from Mr. Stanley Looking Horse, father of the Keeper of the original Sacred Pipe, in Lakota Star Knowledge). One example of this is how the earth map and star map are interdependent on one another; this is described in an abstract, geometric drawing. The visual description, which has been recorded in star maps, has an inverted triangle above a reflected triangle, and these triangles meet at their apexes. They are mirrored. The inverted triangle on top symbolizes the sky, or a star, and the drawings of it look like a pointed cone that channels light.  The mirrored triangular cone on the bottom is the same but inverted. This component symbolizes the tipi (which is loaded with geometric symbolism) and earth sites. Thus, the combination of the two triangle cones is called Kapemni in Lakota, or twisting

One of the sculptural works I created drew from this knowledge and employment of geometry to channel light from the sky.  I created a triangular, three-sided form as a conduit for the sunlight and a place for the light from the sky to integrate with the ground and rocks and landscape.

Mirroring, 2016. Theater scrim, PVC mesh, and window screen mesh over (3) wooden frames, attached with metal hinges. Installed at Badlands National Park. 48 inches x 36 inches x 36 inches.

OPP: And your piece Suncatcher for the Badlands was based on research into the Medicine Wheel?

GH: Abstraction is everywhere in Lakota visual culture and is very symbolic. Another important symbol is the Medicine Wheel, which is a complete circle divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant is assigned a color (white, yellow, red, and black). All knowledge is embedded within the Medicine Wheel and the four colors are the symbolic primaries. I used the colors of the medicine wheel in the Suncatcher for the Badlands because they are the primary colors of Lakota knowledge of the universe. Color is always embedded as a conceptual component in my work. I have been working with various systems of primary colors for several years and working in the Badlands allowed me to learn more about color through a very specific cultural and regional context.

OPP: How did being immersed in this natural environment for an extended period of time affect your work?

GH: The work I created was a documentation of a sensitive awareness of and engagement with locality and landscape. I created site-specific installations during the residency, which I photographed throughout the day and in varying weather conditions. During the five week residency, I experienced nearly every possible weather scenario! The installations lived in the bright sun, dense fog, two snowfalls, and a blizzard. The projects were akin to a scientific experiment—the installations were the stable “control variable” and the weather was the “independent variable.”The prehistoric landscape was an ideal setting for light and color experiments. The landscape served as a laboratory. I was able to spend time exploring and hiking nearly every day. This led to a familiarity with the land and the light and allowed me to develop a sensitivity to the elements. I was truly collaborating with the sky, the rocks, and the sun.

To see more of Gina's work, please visit gina-hunt.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Throughout March 2017, Stacia is working on an evolving, duration installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago). You can watch Witness change via live feed.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jen Graham

Health Care, 2012. Embroidery and acrylic on fabric. 36 1/2" x 35"

JEN GRAHAM's hand-embroidered portraits of American presidents and divisive, media "loudmouths" ask us to slow down and consider the information we receive and how we receive it. In Trajectory Patterns, Jen offers us an embodied way to comprehend gun violence by quantifying the numbers of victims of mass shootings during 2016 in a tangible fabric timeline. And her mash-ups of Civil War imagery culled from the Library of Congress Archive with contemporary text remind us to bring knowledge of American History to our understanding of current events. Jen earned her BA in Art at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Truckee Meadows Community College (2015) and McNamara Gallery (2012), both in Reno, Nevada. Her work was recently included in the group exhibition Tilting the Basin: Contemporary Art of Nevada at the Nevada Museum of Art in 2016. The show will travel to Las Vegas and be on view from March 17-May 14, 2017 at 920 Commerce Street. Jen’s project At War With Ourselves will be on view at the Carson City Legislative Building in Nevada from March 20- April 7, 2017. Jen currently resides in Reno, Nevada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your most recent work Trajectory Patterns is a textile timeline of mass shootings in the U.S. in 2016. Can you talk about the value of visualizing the data that represents violence in this way?

Jen Graham: Gun violence has become something that we mostly overlook or accept as a part of American life. When confronted with a visual depiction of the sheer volume of mass shootings that have taken place, the scale and atrocity of the statistics are undeniable and have more of a lasting impact than reading a number or a headline.

I chose to represent each mass shooting individually, while still focusing on depicting the immense quantity of the shootings as they accumulated. Each panel represents one mass shooting. One inch of length in the panel represents one person who was shot in that incident (not including the shooter). For each panel, I hand embroidered a label with the street address of the location of the mass shooting the panel represented, intentionally omitting the city and state from the address. The street address alone feels more personal and familiar, and it leaves the viewer with a sense of ambiguity as to where exactly each shooting took place. They could have happened anywhere, and they do happen everywhere.

As mass shootings occurred and I added them to the piece, the previous panels would need to be pushed back to make room for the new ones, just as these tragedies get pushed back in our minds or in the news to make room for new tragedies. The pile that amassed at the back of the piece was particularly haunting to me.  I felt it quietly mirrored the number of human bodies that were piling up as the year went on. 

Trajectory Patterns, 2016. Embroidery and fabric. 24"w x 167"h.

OPP: How has making this piece affected you?

JG: Creating this piece has been emotionally draining for me. I struggled to keep up with the amount of work that was needed to represent each shooting as they occurred, and I was overwhelmed with the sadness of it all. I only just completed the piece last week, which now measures 167 feet in length, representing 385 mass shootings that took place last year in the United States. 

Because Tilting the Basin was on view for three months last August through October, I had decided to continue to add panels to Trajectory Patterns as mass shootings took place while it was on display. I added to the piece outside of visitor hours, but if someone visited the exhibit multiple times, they would have noticed the growth of the piece.

OPP: When did you first start working with embroidery, the dominant medium in your practice?

JG: I began to experiment with embroidery around 2009, and at the time I wasn’t aware of much contemporary work being created in the medium, which freed me to develop my own style outside of influence from other contemporary artists. At the time I wasn’t interested in learning the formal techniques of the medium. I just jumped right in and tried to figure out what I wanted this new hand-sewn work to look like.

Margaret Sanger (detail), 2013. Embroidery and fabric. 29" x 22"

OPP: Your embroidered drawings are visually simple, made primarily of outline stitches. Nothing is filled in. Can you speak about this formal choice as it relates to your content?

JG: Embroidery is incredibly time-consuming, and the end result is usually quite ornate. My intention was to find a way to embrace this medium while abandoning the ‘precious’ quality it often exudes. This led me to the more straightforward style that I began using in my initial embroidery series My Presidents. I created portraits of every past president of the United States that are less formal than we are used to seeing. Using only straight stitches and chain stitches helped steer the portraits away from the tradition of regal oil paintings and marble sculptures. 

With the series At War With Ourselves, I was primarily using imagery from the Civil War, many of which were photographs of Union and Confederate soldiers I found in the Library of Congress Archives. Some of these photographs were hand-tinted, a technique that has always intrigued me. Hand-tinted photographs represent the photographic medium’s early struggle to be accepted as an art form or even as realistic depictions of the world. The addition of color was intended to bring the image to life, though it often arguably had the opposite effect. With this series I began incorporating a similar hand-tint to some of the embroidered elements in my work.

I have recently begun to utilize more decorative, complex stitches into my work, but I will likely continue working with primarily straight stitches and chain stitches.  I like the humble quality this type of stitching brings to my work.  Everything is little un-refined, not quite perfect, a little frayed. There is never a question that this work may have been produced by machine.  My hand is always evident.

Wealth and Privilege (Jay Gould), 2011. Embroidery and acrylic on fabric. 22" x 14."

OPP: You mentioned At War with Ourselves, which draws together images and text from the Civil War Era. But this work isn’t about the Civil War. It’s about American politics now. Why is this imagery from the 1800s relevant today?

JG: As I was doing research for the My Presidents series, I became fascinated with the years leading up to the American Civil War. I began to see so many parallels with the disputes that led to the Civil War and the arguments within contemporary politics at the time (in 2011), and I think these conflicts are even more prevalent today. I also feel that imagery from the Civil War is still very impactful and emotional in American memory. 

The most prominent example of this is the continuing discussion about the offensive nature of the Confederate battle flag and what place it should serve in the American public and in history. In many ways our society has progressed, yet these same arguments and tensions are still threaded within American society today, they have just transformed and evolved. 

I initially exclusively paired up contemporary text with imagery from the Civil War to draw a comparison to the two, but I quickly expanded to sometimes using 19th century text with contemporary imagery instead. By framing contemporary ideas in the context of the Civil War, I am challenging the meaning and motives of the concepts and questioning how far we have really come as a society since the Civil War.

Loudmouth (Donald Trump), 2013. Embroidery and acrylic on canvas. 27" x 20."

OPP: My Presidents (2011) has new resonance in light of the protest rally cry “Not My President.” Can you talk about the research that went into this series, how you settled on the banner titles for each former president?

JG: I knew very little about the U.S. presidents before beginning the My Presidents series. The goal of this series was to change that, to indulge in the biographies and presidencies of all 43 of the past presidents of the United States, and to embrace their history as a part of my own history, whether I agree with their policies and decisions or not. I individually researched every past president, and I then re-framed their legacy with my own personal interpretation of who they were as men and as presidents by giving each a nickname.

#12 Zachary Taylor, 2010. Embroidery on canvas. 11" x 8 1/2."

OPP: Can you highlight a few of your favorites?

JG: Zachary Taylor was one president I knew nothing about before I began this project, but his portrait is one of my favorites. Taylor spent his career in the military, and he was admired nationally as a war hero. But he admittedly knew nothing about politics, and he had never even voted. He also had no regard for formal attire, military or otherwise, and was known to dress in tattered clothes with a big floppy hat, even as president. He was often mistaken as a farmer.

His presidency was largely absorbed by the arguments over whether California should be admitted to the union as a free state, thus he accomplished very little before dying in office. At the time he was known as “Old Rough and Ready,” but I nicknamed him “The Slovenly Celebrity” as I felt this better summed up what kind of man he was as president.

Another president known for his unsophisticated persona was Lyndon Johnson. I think he is one of the most interesting men to have served as our president. He was a career politician who was first elected to congress in 1937 when he was just 29. By the time he was sworn in as president in 1963, he was a master legislator and manipulator of Congress, which is how he succeeded to pass a heap of legislation aimed at lifting up the disenfranchised, including the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Though ideologically he was closely aligned with his predecessor, Kennedy, their personalities were polar opposites. Johnson was unapologetically foul-mouthed, obscene, and unrefined. I gave him the nickname “The Foul-mouthed Schmoozer.”

#36 Lyndon B. Johnson, 2010. Embroidery on canvas. 11" x 8 1/2."

OPP: Why no Barack Obama?

JG: This series does not currently include a portrait of Barack Obama, because I only included every past president, and I completed the series in 2011 while Obama was still in office. I could not accurately give him a nickname until his presidency was over. Just imagine the difference in perspective you would have of the presidency of Richard Nixon if you only looked at his first two years in office.

I considered this series to have been completed in 2011, and I did not plan to continue it. But Barack Obama was the first President who I truly felt was my president, so I am now considering adding his portrait to the series.

OPP: Any ideas for his nickname?

JG: I have put a lot of thought into this, and I am currently leaning towards the nickname "My President." My mom has always had great love and admiration for John F. Kennedy. He seemed to inspire and define her generation. He will always be her president. I think Obama is that president for me and my generation, and it would be fitting for me to end this series with Obama as "My President."

OPP: How has the recent presidential election and the first few weeks of the Trump administration affected your practice, both in terms of potential new projects and your ability to work?

JG: I have been deeply saddened, ashamed, and distressed by every action taken and word spoken by Donald Trump and his administration. To see our society slide so far backwards is disheartening, and it does make it difficult for me to feel motivated to make work. It’s hard not to feel completely defeated. But I just need to move past this sense of defeat, and when I do, I find a greater sense of urgency, a greater need to be making artwork right now.

I do think that the kind of work I make will need to change. The majority of my work has been focused on confronting and combating underlying issues in American society and politics, but now all of these issues are shamelessly out in the open. This is an entirely new political landscape. As I move forward, my work will likely need to be more pointed and confrontational than it has been in the past. We now have to speak louder to be heard over the incessant roar of this disgraceful administration.

To see more of Jen's work, please visit jengrahamart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Throughout March 2017, Stacia is working on an evolving, duration installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago). You can watch Witness change via live feed.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Bobby English Jr.

I Am Mountain, 2015. Performance Still.

In performance, installation, drawing and welded steel sculpture, BOBBY ENGLISH, JR. explores the immediate and inherited trauma of racism, as well as the capacity for catharsis and forgiveness. His numerous performances include elements that are also part of religious services—symbolic objects and garments; music; language in the form of chanting, singing and the rhetoric of preachers and an audience/congregation. Using his own body, handmade artifacts and repetitive, ritual gestures, Bobby offers viewers a spiritual lens through which to look at the personal experience of social and political injustice. Bobby holds a BFA in Drawing with a concentration in Sculpture from The Maryland Institute College of Art. His solo exhibitions include I AM YOU ARE (2016) at Gallery CA in Baltimore, Presence, Soul, Existence (2016) at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art in Petersburg, Virginia and History, Experience, Revelation (2015) at Terrault Contemporary in Baltimore. He has performed at School 33 (Baltimore, 2016) and the Queens Museum (New York, 2015 and 2016), as well as at numerous performance festivals. Bobby is based in Oakland, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels:  When and why did performance first enter your art practice?

Bobby English Jr: My father was also a Broadway performer and Italian Opera singer, so it had to come out eventually. Not to mention I have performed for my mother hundreds, maybe thousands of times to this day. Performing has always been natural for me, but it entered my art practice as soon as I began creating metal sculpture. It was an instant marriage; not really inspired by anything except my desire to push the idea of sculpture and installation into theatre and film. I’m striving for the truth and emotion that can’t simply come from object; the kind of connection that comes from human to human energetic dialogue.

Entropy II, 2015. Fabricated Steel. Variable Dimensions

OPP: Do you conceive of the welded steel works as sculptures first that are then activated by performance? Or are they props created specifically for use in the performances? Does the distinction matter?

BEJ: The distinction doesn’t matter at all, actually. Sometimes I am simply intrigued by a geometric shape or symbol; sometimes even an idea that I then transcribe into shape. Often times I create the sculptures and simply live with them in my everyday space until their meaning becomes clear. Other times I add the sculptures to my performances without knowing what they mean at all; but then their relationships to the many other sculptures I’ve created within the space informs the piece in question. It’s a very organic process, almost like a constant improv dialogue between myself and my creations; sometimes risky in some aspects.

The Eye and I, 2016. Performance still.

OPP: Please tell us about how you employ costume and ritual in your performance series Blossoming Black Power, which includes individual works titled Message I and Message II, Madness, , Property, and Fear and Control (Brothers! Sisters! Where are you?).

BEJ: Costume allows me to step fully into different “beings,” roles or characters, and the costumes themselves sometimes represent time. For example, in Message I, a performance centered in ritual and history; I felt more like a shaman while in that costume. Then in Becoming, the costumes are both representations of time, feeling, passage and signal my stepping into different archetypes; the hero, the stranger, the villain, the leader, the meek, the wise one, etc. So much of my performance is acting, and the costumes certainly allow me to step deeper into feeling a role. My nudity allows me to both feel more meek and more powerful. My staff makes me feel more wise; the spears and shields make me feel more aggressive, like a warrior. I draw whichever energy I need from the costumes and props.

OPP: And sometimes those change over the course of a single performance...

BEJ: I just recently became comfortable with more than one costume change in my performances. In doing so, I realized how much deeper narratives become when I both step into a character psychologically AND physically. In Becoming, I knew that each cage represented a different point in time in my life, and in planning the performance I knew that I would enter and/or use certain sculptures to enable myself to dive deeper into emotion and break more psychological and physical barriers.


Becoming, 2016. Performance, Installation.

OPP: You mentioned Becoming, which is simultaneously performance, installation and healing ritual. Your relationship to the “cage” changes over the course of the performance. How does that particular prop/costume speak to catharsis?

BEJ: I’m happy you picked up on all three of those! The healing aspect of my art is very important to me right now. One can almost see the trauma healing through the sequence of performances. As I’ve stepped into new healing on my journey, I want others to come along as well, welcoming them into my world as I always have.

The cage has been a piece I’ve been growing with since the very first performance with it a year and a half ago. In Becoming, the cage begins as a safe place; a womb; a place of birth, rest, comfort, the mother in its highest form. Mid-way through the performance, the cage becomes the enemy, representing a body, the oppressor. I both harm and then come to love the “body.” At the end of the performance I re-enter the cage; as it becomes my place of death, eternal rest, transformation, and total healing after a life journey that is performed throughout Becoming.

Blossoming Black Power: Message I (Video), September 05, 2015. 2 Hour Performance.

OPP: I have to ask about the little girl in the red dress, who followed you for a while during your outdoor performance Blossoming Black Power: Message I, which had a background audio track composed of numerous speeches from Civil Rights activists through the years. She was both just herself, a human audience member of live performance, experiencing it in an idiosyncratic way. But in watching her follow you, I thought about the uncontrollable parts of live performance, the introduction of joy and levity into a narrative of struggle and how one generation communicates with the next about the racist history of America. Did you know she was following you and did it change your performance in the moment? What do you think of how she reacted to and interacted with your performance?

BEJ: I did know that she was following, and I didn’t let it change anything about my performance in that. I often do react to the happenings around me while performing; comments from the audience, a sculpture being knocked over, my invading the space of the audience and vice-versa, etc etc. I enjoy these moments of complete improvisation because I feel they are the most real. Honestly, I haven’t really felt any way about it until this moment. Right now I feel a great sense of disappointment that she was oblivious to the weight of what was happening around her. On the other hand, part of me wonders that maybe ignorance truly is bliss and the way forward.

Contemplation #39, 2016

OPP: What does it mean to conflate spiritual or religious practice with performance art? Can artists be spiritual leaders?

BEJ: For me, conflating spiritual and/or religious practice with performance art is simply creating my own personal mythology that steps away from the patriarchal interpretation of spiritual texts that has and is still occurring worldwide. It’s simply another way of me reclaiming myself from internal and external colonization. It’s also a way to show worldwide similarities in myth and culture. My hope is that audience members make connections between their ancestry and the ancestry of others around them. Ultimately creating solidarity, respect, and love. I believe anyone has the capacity to become a spiritual leader. However, artists certainly have an edge on interpreting and being drawn to symbols and turning them into forms that can be more easily understood.

To see more of Bobby's work, please visit subverse-vision.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

Artists Answer: Are you struggling with your practice in light of recent political events?

I've been hearing from every artist around me, and am also feeling myself, that the recent election and all the following actions by the current administration are majorly impacting how they view their art practices. Some of us are floundering, asking whether what we do is really important and others are finding renewed value in the creative process and creative communities.


Whatever your practice is and whatever your political beliefs are, I'd like to hear how this political moment is affecting your practice. Are you changing the way you work? Are you taking refuge in your studio? Are you using your creative skills to make protest banners and/or support activist work? Are you totally stymied ad stuck? Are you reevaluating everything you do as an artist?

Geoffry Smalley | Read the Interview

"Yes!!! I have had many discussions around this topic as well, and the range of ways artists are coping and processing is myriad. Personally, I have dipped into my deep past, to my early illustration training and have been making political cartoons. I find art making to be the only real outlet for me to process the torrent of madness in the news these days. To slow it, focus energies and establish opinion. And when I can, I support fellow artists who are fundraising through sales of art or t-shirts, etc. Individuals are taking on the task of fundraising for great organizations who fight the good fight, but I have been thinking about centralizing that idea, maybe into an online rolling exhibition of sorts that would be very accessible. I haven't formed the idea yet but our community is filled with great thinkers and entrepreneurs and brilliant makers who could be a loud voice together."

Michael Pajon | Read the Interview

Sisters of Fate, Daughters of Night, 2016. Mixed Media Collage on Antique Book Cover. 10 x 13in

I have a renewed interest in printmaking as a way to make flyers and handbills to distribute during protests and for writing postcards to congress, senate and our local elected officials.  Not yet sure how it will effect my main practice, but I have no doubt it will creep in at some point. I am asking my local arts organizations to divest from any relationships they have with organizations that have ties to NDAPL and the BBPL (bayou bridge pipeline, the tail of the serpent). In New Orleans, that organization is the Helis Foundation. I'm looking forward to using digital print as a way to fundraise for vulnerable organizations by making small editions at an accessible low cost. As artists we have to keep in mind that this has been done in the past, the National Endowment for the Arts was gutted a long time ago. Other organizations stepped up to fill the void left behind. I'm hoping the same will occur over the next four years, that the Cheeto in Chief will bring us all closer together in his attempts to drive us apart. Best of luck to all of my fellow artists and humans out there fighting the good fight. Your work is needed now more than ever, get in our out there and make beautiful, thoughtful things!!

(Note: Michael is selling 14" x 18" archival inkjet prints of the above collage to raise money for NODAPL. $50 + 12 for shipping. 20 left. $1500 raised so far.)

Tory Wright Lee | Read the Interview

"Motherhood was the first big change in how I work, but in a way that was less disruptive than this election. There is now a weight pushing down on my mind that was not there before. Especially with the regressive agenda against women's reproductive rights and so much more. My work has always been about the woman's body and editing fashion photography down into a more powerful image by cutting away as much if the surface as possible. Now, after a period of mourning and work reflecting that emotion, I find myself looking at finished work and asking myself if I made the image about strength. Does this woman look strong?"

Michael Salter | Read the Interview

"I stand firmly in resistance to the current administration and keep a steady stream of anti-trump images flowing out into the world. I always share the work in hopes it will help the resistance, for use as signs or posts. Otherwise, yes, I am struggling to maintain a regular creative output. For the moment I keep my resistance work and my personal work separate but have no inhibitions about them, or my, connections to them. My work is already subversive so if I can just get to a functional level of anger, despair and disillusionment, I can channel my energies back into my work. One thing I do know is that the underground can thrive in a dictatorship. I cling to that idea, that my career is rooted in collectives and alternative spaces and I know the energy and power and effect that a group of like minded people can project. We will all keep making work, and it will matter. And people will see it and experience it, and it will make a difference. I personally just have to get my lean returned to forward and not just flat out on my heels in shock."

Yikui Gu | Read the Interview

Golden Shower/ Holdin' Power, 2017. Acrylic, marker, silicone, yarn, & pen on panel.

"Like many artists, my head has been swimming since the election, and each passing day brings another turn of events. It seems like the first month of this administration has been more eventful than the entirety of many past administrations. Below are some general thoughts, in no particular order of importance.

  •  As a Bernie supporter, I'd actually been resigned to a Trump presidency since Hillary's coronation here in Philly back in July. During the final night of the DNC convention, I turned to my wife and stated that I felt Trump would beat Hillary in the general election. She rolled her eyes as most people did, but a failure of imagination doesn't mean something can't happen. Progressives had warned corporate Democrats of this since the beginning, and the very fact that the DNC had to rig the primaries for the "stronger" candidate spoke volumes. 
  • When I do flounder in my practice, it is almost never due to worldly events. Whatever artistic crisis I may be having is usually internal, almost never external. The self doubt is ever present, and I've seriously considered giving up being an artist on a number of occasions. But doubt is a good thing; it causes you to be introspective and honest with yourself, which usually leads to better art. Shitty artists are always confident, the good ones usually don't have so much certainty.
  • The general turn of events has actually provided a lot of food for thought as an artist, so that there is much more material to work with. An analogous situation can be seen on Saturday Night Live, where the sketches are better precisely because there's more inspiration and source material to work with.
  • As most reasonable people are, I'm fairly disgusted by recent events, and it has made me even more of a nihilist than I used to be. This is by no means a negative; it is actually quite liberating. I often find that when I have no fucks left to give is when I produce the best work, since there is nothing to lose.
  • I've refrained from making any artwork that directly references current events, with one exception. I did produce the small piece above as a donation to a local Philly gallery for their auction to benefit free youth art classes."

Erin M. Riley | Read the Interview

Head On, 2016. Wool and cotton.100" x 50."

"I have been working on a very personal and emotional exhibition for the last five months. It opens in March, but as the time approaches, it feels like advertising an art show is just silly. I support myself with my art and am struggling with how to continue on this path as arts funding seems to be getting cut everywhere and collectors aren't as adventurous. It feels ridiculous pushing art when so many other causes are matters of life and death. I know art is important, and I will not stop making it. But it's going to be much harder to survive with 45; that seems like a truth for the majority of folks in and out of the art world. I am looking for work outside of my studio practice so that I can have income to donate and support causes that I can't currently on my non-existent budget. I am also doing more research into artists who are women of color, trans, immigrant, Muslim, Mexican— those who are what 45 is explicitly against—and supporting their work when I can. I am also going to way more art openings, it seems like an obvious thing but especially artists who are opening shows lately I know how much work goes into them and no one expected the climate to be so toxic. We have to support each other physically, hugs are great."

Katie Vota | Read the Interview

"Recent events have caused a crisis in my mind in relation to my practice. I feel derailed, like the work I was making isn’t important enough to deserve my time when there are so many things to be done. The outwardly activist portions of my practice have stolen all my focus and attention as a way of coping. However, this feels disingenuous. All that work about queer opulence and visibility and our body politic is more relevant than ever. However it’s also dangerous (maybe it was always dangerous). We are under attack. It’s an attack against beauty, queerness, opulence, and everything my work stands for. What is beautiful is that we will continue to resist the toxic, fragile masculinity that is currently destroying the earth. As a bi queer femme, I shine bright, constantly proclaiming myself as “out” and counted amongst the many who cannot blend into the crowd. I am ready for this fight, even though I’m frightened. And yet, convincing myself to make the work I want to make is hard when I keep spiraling back to the idea that it’s not enough.

In light of recent political events, I am rethinking the context of my art practice. It’s taken months coming to this realization, that instead of having a collection of disparate bits that are the ruins of my practice strewn around my feet, that these things I want to be doing—making protest banners and punk patches for resistance—are not so unrelated to the sculpture and installation work. My work is still about touch, interactivity, play, the creation of experience through the occupation of space via the multiple, queer experience (the femme perspective), and the creation of community through skill sharing….. However, instead of trying to talk about these things individually, I think I want to talk about activism and the roll it has in shaping the way these congruent narratives are interrelated. I’m hoping by reframing the discussion in my mind, I’ll be able to get back to making the work."

Ian Davis | Read the Interview

Broadcast, 2014. Acrylic and spray paint on linen. 75 x 80"

"I feel particularly well equipped to answer this, considering the fact that my work has dealt with politics and power for a long time. However, I don't claim that my work is topical, and I've always made an attempt to be vague about what's really going on in the narrative situations I describe. The day after the election I found suddenly that reality had crept much closer to the somewhat surreal situations I paint. In the last week and a half, it almost feels as if the strangeness of the political climate has surpassed anything I've described in my paintings. Now my concern is that these look like political cartoons. I'm trying to figure out how to respond and let what's happening permeate the imagery, but at the same time I'm trying to retain a poetic quality in which everything isn't all explained and spelled out. Its a weird balance and I feel that it will take some time to really let everything marinate. Everything has flipped so quickly. It's too early to tell what's going on. I think it was George Orwell who said that scared people don't write good books. At the moment, I'm trying to determine whether scared people can make good paintings. Its been tricky so far. I've made signs for protests, but I have given them to people who don't have signs of their own. when you leave, leave your sign for somebody else to use!"

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matthew Hilshorst

Pretty Average Blowout, 2015. Acrylic paint on canvas. 18" x 25" x 4."

MATTHEW HILSHORST's "sincerely pessimistic" work includes painting, sculpture and a plethora of hobby craft techniques—latch-hook rugs, bottle cap murals, and electrical wire "paintings"—that sit right on the boundary between painting and sculpture. He conflates the grid of gingham tablecloths and latch-hook rug canvases with the grid of Modernist Abstract painting. His sculptural shrouds, towels and cakes made entirely of paint explore themes of gravity, decay and longevity. Matt earned his BFA in Painting from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul. He went on to earn both a Post Baccalaureate Certificate and an MFA in Painting from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been including in exhibitions at Sidecar Gallery (Hammond, Indiana, 2016), Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (2015) and Peregrine Program (Chicago, 2013). Matt lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does mimicry play in your work?

Matthew Hilshorst: I don't know if mimicry would be the right word. I am definitely trying to copy something or copy a technique in the way I make a thing though. It is more a form of flattery or reverence for the object and the way in which it is made. Real admiration led me to carve two egg beaters out of wood and then spray painted them chrome. I made them as realistic as possible so that they really represent nothing more than egg beaters. I love banal objects that someone painstakingly designed. I had Egg Beaters up on display at an office building downtown for almost a year. When I finally removed them people told me they had been trying to wrap their heads around why I simply put egg beaters up on a shelf. When I told them they were super delicate wood carvings, they were shocked. It immediately and completely changed their view of what they had been trying to understand.

Egg Beaters, 2003. Carved wood and spray paint. 7" x 1.5" x 1.5."

OPP: Are these works ironic or sincere? Is that question even relevant anymore in the way it was at the time they were made?

MH: It is still a relevant question. Those past works are completely sincere, although it may be read as ironic when the sarcasm or pessimism represented is misunderstood. I spend months and sometimes years creating individual pieces, so putting all that time and effort into creating something, it can't help but be sincere. I love making work that is task-oriented. Making a work that's too simplistic can feel unrewarding, while making a work without a preconceived notion leaves me overwhelmed and unable to begin. I try to give myself a new challenge with every piece, but I always know there is an end point before I start. I recently completed an 8'11" long stained and worn red carpet made of latch-hooked paint. It took me nearly two years to complete.  8'11" is an odd length, but it is as long as the tallest man to have lived was tall. The other measurements of the carpet are in relation to my own body. How it hangs partially on a wall and partially on the floor is also important. I consider every aspect of a work before I make it; little to nothing is arbitrary. But that doesn't always mean I get exactly what I intended. There are always challenges, set backs, and aspects I could have never anticipated.

Much of my work will have a craft look to it because the methods I use to create it are a main component of it. In other words, the process I use to make something is definitely part of the content. The carpets, rugs, towels, and welcome mats are my way of painting a thing where each latch-hooked piece is also a brush stroke, and each brush stroke represents a thread. I do paint very realistically with oil paint too, but I rarely get excited about doing it. I prefer to not represent something in two dimensions. The physical object is so much more satisfying than a representation of it. As I say that though, I'm working on a new group of oil paintings. Ha. 

The Red Carpet, 2016. acrylic paint and flocking fibers. 8'11."

OPP: What’s the new work about?

MH: The oil paintings? Bingo. Seriously. The new acrylic work is more about hostile hospitality. Lots of different takes on welcome mats and entry rugs. In the same way that throw-away gingham tablecloths physically display "Americana," so do welcome mats.  Thinking about the United States being so unwelcoming to refugees and immigrants has really permeated my new work, it would seem.

Worn Out Hand Towel, 2014. Acrylic paint on towel bar. 16" x 20" as displayed.

OPP: Captured Unicorn (2013) and Snake in the Grass (2013) are latch hook rugs in the conventional sense of the word. They are cut yarn attached to a gridded canvas, creating a shaggy surface. What’s different about Welcome Mat (2014) and Worn Out Hand Towel (2014)?

MH: I originally created Captured Unicorn for a medieval themed show at Bureau in New York and Snake in the Grass was made for a show here in Chicago at Peregrine Program. Both rugs were a new direction for me that ultimately greatly influenced most of my future work and methods of production. My work has been described to me as "basement art,” and I think that gets back to sincerity and irony so I decided to go full-on basement craft for my first latch hooked rugs. Both shows had a dedicated theme, so I was able to get away from traditional painting or sculpture and have some fun with fibers for those two shows.

I switched to latch hooking paint because I wanted to work with a larger color palette. I was going to start hand-dyeing and spinning my own yarn, but that started to seem like more of a drag as far as tasks go and made something simple like a latch hook rug way too complicated. Figuring out what ratio of paint to medium I needed, making endless tests, and learning that acrylic paint does not like getting colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit presented challenges, but I knew I could easily manipulate color using paint which was my ultimate concern. I like making objects out of 100% paint because of its plastic perfection. It's also a great way to represent a functional object that only functions as art. Using only paint makes me contemplate gravity, time, and longevity, which have been underlying themes in all of my work. I make my own grid out of paint that I latch-hook into, removing a canvas or a separate support system for my paintings. Many of my paintings have to be viewed from above and can be displayed in many different, irreverent ways; they don't just hang on a wall.

Red Gradation, 2011. Acrylic paint on vinyl tablecloth on stretched canvas. 40" diameter.

OPP: What does the grid mean to you in works like Sagging Tablecloth (2010), Red Gradation and Green Gradation (2011) and Access (2013)? How do the shrouds and Thrown Paint, all from 2014, and Smear (2015) add to this conversation?

MH: I was shopping at an Ace Hardware store that was going out of business (probably late 2003) when I first started at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There was a bin full of gingham patterned vinyl tablecloths, and I bought the whole pile of them. I hung them up in my studio and was mesmerized by the colors and the pattern. I sat staring and contemplating them off and on for a solid semester. They seemed to incorporate all the ideas that were in my head. They were mathematical and perfectly measured. Time and space were involved in their flatness and their infinite pattern. And they contained patterns within patterns. The tablecloths were bright and in basic colors, equally straddling ideas associated with Op Art, Pop Art, and Minimalism. The gingham pattern also has embedded cultural associations like American idealism, gatherings, mass production, eating, our throw-away culture, and classic picnics.

Originally, I painted pointillist landscapes on them by only using the squares in between the red checks and white checks. I wanted to create imagery that was ghostly and barely visible by hiding it within the pattern of the tablecloth, but in no way disrupting the grid. Those works aren't up on my website because I did the ghostly thing too well—they don't photograph well, or really at all, ha. I then started to create more pattern-based work like the two circular gradations, because it was more visually impactful than the landscapes. The grid continues to play a major role in all my other work including the bottle cap murals, the gridded structure of a latch-hook work, the layers to my graph paper cut outs, smear, the shrouds. I wish I could wrap my head around the fascination with grids, but it seems like some sort of micro/macro truth in organization that verges on spiritual. Basically, it seems to hold some sort very deep secret that I can't understand, so I’m constantly coming back to it and exploring it.

Checkered Drawing 1, 2008. Color pencil on paper. 18" x 24."

OPP: Talk to us about cake and about your cake sculptures and paintings.

MH: The cake paintings bring me back to craft and the method of making things. They came about while I was making my first all paint works. I use a piping bag to create my paint latch hook rugs and towels as well as Caught, Smear, and the Shrouds. I decided that since I was using a technique used for decorating cakes, a cake with a phrase or appropriate decoration could be powerful as a painting.

The cakes have messages about time, aging, gender, and gender roles in their construction. I grew up always being encouraged to be creative, but I was discouraged from being in the kitchen. I would have much preferred to watch and help my mom cook, but my place was in my dad’s wood shop. I made Con to bring up questions of gender roles, gender assignment and gender restrictions. Much like the tablecloth paintings straddle different art movements, I also wanted Con to be a yin and yang of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. The Pieces of cake that seem to have been cut from Con are all in some way ruined. Maybe someone has run their finger through the frosting, a fly has landed on it, or a cigarette has been put out in it. Gender is brought up again in Pretty Average Blowout where 80 flaccid candles have been extinguished. This cake refers to the 80 years an average adult male in the United States can look forward to living. Once time and gravity take their toll, your celebrations are over.

I'm generally an optimistic person but my work has become sentimental and sometimes literally drips sarcasm. I guess it is sincerely pessimistic! That seems to be even more prevalent in recent work, especially since the election.

Con, 2015. Acrylic paint on canvas mounted on cardboard. 20" x 25" x 5."

OPP: What’s happening in your studio right now? How are current political events affecting your practice?

MH: These current and pressing concerns have affected my newest work for sure. Overall, it’s becoming darker and almost nasty. . .  but in a good way. These last few months, it has been really hard to concentrate and get to work in my studio. For at least a month after the election, every time I set foot in there, I struggled with the question, why is this important? Then I went to D.C. to protest the Trump inauguration and to walk with my sister and many friends in the Women's March. It sounds cheesy, but it was such a powerful and positive experience that when I came back to Chicago, I felt I needed to try to do something more.

It's only been a week since I've returned, but I contacted two other artist friends who had also been in D.C. and asked if they were in a resistance group. If they were, I wanted to join, and if they weren't, I wanted us to start one. There are now five of us dedicated to inviting people to create a group that will encourage and promote creativity, accountability, information sharing, and a way to make more of a visual impact around the city and at protests. As much as we kind of cringed at the look of the pussy hats, we all loved that people came together and each created a handmade pink hat which was worn as a unified front. We hope to invite many and become a group that channels the creativity of the Chicago artist community for good against evil.

To see more of Matthew's work, please visit matthewhilshorst.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erika Roth

Carb face (detail), 2016. Mixed media; Food diaries, asorted ribbon. yarn, pipe cleaners, Christmas tinsel, silk cord, sequins, various hair accessories. brownie pan on plywood. 41'' x 36'' x 41'' dimensions variable

ERIKA ROTH's intimately personal work speaks to several interconnected and widespread experiences—food addiction, body image and celebrity worship. In collages and assemblage sculpture, she combines her daily food diaries and images from celebrity gossip magazines with “female vernacular” materials like hair accessories, braids and ribbons. Following in the lineage of the feminist artists of the 1970s, she calls attention to pervasive cultural attitudes, reminding us that "the personal is political." Erika received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. In 2016 she completed a year and a half long residency at Brooklyn Art Space. Her many group shows in New York include Trestle Project's recent A Symptom of the Universe, which highlighted artists as seers whose artworks "reflect shifts and departures in the collective unconscious." In December 2016, she was included in Project Gallery's exhibition at Aqua Art Miami, part of Art Basel Miami. In October 2016, Hyperallergic commented on “the popping textile assemblages of Erika Roth," shown at Gowanus Open Studios 2016. Erika lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you think about excess, in your life, in contemporary culture and in your art practice?

Erika Roth: I am always interested in exploration, process, investigation, and discovery when making my work. I always make sure I have plenty of my supplies around me to make my work. I love to get my materials from the 99 cent store, where I can buy as much as I need. It takes a lot of material to make my work. I love craft materials because there is no scarcity—I can have as much as I want. The accumulation of materials gives my work a richness, a feeling that the work is alive, that it has vitality.

In my life there is no such thing as excess! I stockpile food, toiletries, gym clothes, even studio space and counter space in my kitchen. I always make sure I have enough of these things or spaces in my day to day life, which offers a kind of safety and security.

Anxiety, 2014. Mixed media; Food diaries, crimped curling ribbon, organza ribbon, sequins, small jewels, picture from magazine, gloss medium, pen, on canvas. 36" x 36"

OPP: What led you to shift away from rectangular, (more or less) two-dimensional work towards sculpture? It seems like Devoted to Suffering might have been the turning point.

ER: Yes, Devoted to Suffering was a kind of transition in my work. With most of my 2D work, I was trying to depict remnants or fragments that make up a landscape of thoughts from a woman who is obsessed with body image and food. The rectangle was a kind of snapshot into this world, for just a moment.

Then the 3D works became more of an evoking of an experience, really dramatizing the story of a woman who is obsessed with food and body image. The sculptural works let me invite the viewer in to experience her world.

There was also a practical part of my evolution from 2D to 3D work.  Before I got a studio I had very limited space to work in. When I found studio space I started thinking differently about the work, imagining it in a gallery setting. So I started to have the mental and physical space for the work to grow.

Sheet Cake, 2010. Mixed media; Food diaries, crimped curling ribbon, holographic curling ribbon, cut out picture from magazine, gloss medium, pen on canvas. 30" x 30"

OPP: Can you talk about the legibility (or illegibility) of the text in pieces like Skinny (2011), Creamsicle (2010) and Pink Frosting (2009) from the series food diaries? How important is it that viewers read this early work?

ER: When making my early work it was not that important to me that the text was legible. I was satisfied if a viewer could read or recognize a few words here and there. I was mainly interested in using and making my own materials at that time to depict some feelings and thoughts I had about food addiction. My own food diaries, where I write down what I eat each day, became the ground color for these works. I incorporated into my art a very personal part of my own story.

bonesunderneath, 2015. Mixed media; Magazine pictures, notebook paper, sticker, fake nails, googly eyes on baking sheet. 18.5" x 15"

OPP: Tell us about your recurring materials: curling ribbon, pipe cleaners, beads, hair accessories. What attracts you?

ER: I love my spools of ribbon for their colors and surfaces, and I use them as paint. I can do volumes of exploration with ribbon, as opposed to paint, which is more precious and costly. These materials are readily available and inexpensive, so that I can transform them into my own art materials without even going to an art supply store. Like the pages from one of my spiral bound food diaries, these are ordinary things that I mold into something more precious.

My materials are domestic. I use them to create the fabric of an ordinary woman's life. I use hair accessories partly because they hold things together. But these items also evoke gender and are very recognizable. I juxtapose the hand-made braids and the drugstore bought hair accessories to create a context where people can connect to my work, and they can find their own meaning.

Never ending Narrative, 2016. Mixed media; Food diaries, polyppylene film, ribbon, pipe cleaners, beads, glitter, rhinestones, pony tail holders scrunchy, barrettes, silk cord, sequins, journal, on canvas. 36'' x 84'' dimensions variable.

OPP: How do these materials relate to “the psychological landscape of food addiction, that gorgeous nightmare of attraction and resistance?”

ER: My work is autobiographical. It is my own story in my own voice regarding my relationship with food. In some of my work I have created cakes and brownies that I cannot eat. I make them beautiful and appealing but at the same time they are inedible. They evoke the nightmare of attraction and resistance.

OPP: Do you ever receive the critique that your work is “art therapy” because of its psychological and emotional content? How do you respond?

ER: I have never received that critique, but trust me. . . I am working out something, consciously or unconsciously, in my studio.

I cherish all my misery, 2016. From A Symptom of The Universe, Trestle Projects, Brooklyn, NY.

OPP: You employ chains, braids, twisted cord and yarn in your recent sculptures and installations. How does this visual motif—the form as opposed to the material—underscore the content of your work?

ER: The visual motifs in my work come from my love of glamorous fashion accessories, female memories, and domestic rituals. The chains are inspired by my love for Chanel handbags and accessories from the 80s and 90s. They also speak about being held down, in bondage to something that is outside of you. Braids are one of the first hairstyles we may learn for ourselves in early adolescence. We may have memories of a mother braiding our hair. The hair accessories are nostalgic to me and are part of a female vernacular. The twisted cords and yarns remind me of childhood art projects in school or at summer camp.

People have told me that my work looks alive, that my sculptures come across as creatures, that they have a kind of vitality. I think the visual motifs contribute to this feeling.

Surrendered, 2016. Mixed Media. 7' x 5.5' x 3.5' variable

OPP: Since food addiction is a common and often misunderstood issue, what do you want your viewers to understand about it? Do you feel a sense of responsibility that viewers learn something?

ER: For viewers who can identify personally, I want them to realize that they are not alone, that their struggles with food addiction are real, and that there is help and support out there, that they need to reach out and ask for it. 

But my work also appeals to people who don't have a personal connection to this theme.  They respond to my aesthetic, or love the materials I use, or just think the works are beautiful or interesting. I welcome these viewers too. 

To see more of Erika's work, please visit erikajroth.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews R. Mertens

Set it up and load it and you can walk away, 2015

R. MERTENS investigates the rising and passing away of technology and the human relationship to obsolescence. His installations combine the materials of recent predigital technologies—VHS tape, electrical cords, old TVs and computers—with the much older technologies of weaving and crochet, evoking monuments, shrines and ritual sites. Rob earned his BFA in Sound Art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA in Fiber Art from The University of Oregon. In 2016, his work was included in the group exhibitions CARPA at the Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland, Oregon), Extreme Fibers at the Dennos Museum Center (Traverse City, Michigan) and New Waves at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Virginia Beach, Virginia). His exhibition Paradoxical Acousmetres opened as part of Spring Solos 2016 at Arlington Arts Center in Virginia. Rob is currently an Assistant Professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What are the conceptual connections between the pre-digital technologies you use as materials and the fiber techniques of weaving and crochet?

R. Mertens: My initial interest in fibers came from my experience in Sound Art actually. In Chicago I worked as an intern for the Experimental Sound Studio during a period of transition for the studio. They were moving to a custom facility and I helped move equipment. Along with this I was backing up old cassette tapes to computer hard drives, this was in 2006, and home pc recording was really about to take off. ESS has an amazing collection of audio called the Creative Audio Archive which includes home recordings of Sun Ra, anyway it was this time period in which I was starting to think about how technology changes and how fibers/spun-string is often considered one of the earliest forms of technology. Thus, I’m interested in the evolution and progression of technology and record keeping.

Schematic Tapestry, 2013

OPP: It’s pretty common nowadays to think of all of our online, digital activities as being in opposition to our pre-digital lives. It often gets casually referred to as a distinct break, i.e. before and after the World Wide Web, but there are a lot of early technological precursors, as you acknowledge. Can you say more about the evolution and progression of technology?

RM: Part of my interest in technology is the moment when society shifts away from a progression, i.e. when laser disc was abandoned and VHS became the medium of choice. Those dead ends have a parallel in the natural world; species die out and leave fractions of biodiversity behind. Specifically, I find the long-coming extinction of VHS tape, 9-track tape, and the true hold out—cassette tape—to be fascinated and connected to larger notions of loss in culture.

While I was living out on the West Coast I became interested in two distinct but similar things. I learned about The Museum of Jurassic Technology in California and about Pre-Columbian Andean Khipu. The Museum of Jurassic Technology is an experimental archive founded by David Hildebrand Wilson and Diana Drake Wilson "The museum's collection includes a mixture of artistic, scientific, ethnographic, and historic, as well as some unclassifiable exhibits" (Wikipedia). It approaches those subjects from a more flexible understanding of historicity and creativity with the understanding that narratives grow and change through time. Khipu is Quechua for "knot" and is/was a record-keeping, tied cord. It’s a system of knots used to represent language and numeric values. Both the museum and Khipu influence my work in how I think about lost or eschewed narratives found in works of art. Khipu were largely destroyed by the Spanish during invasion of South America. Roughly 600 hundred from 1500 and before still exist today, and though there has been a great deal of scholarship focused on deciphering the cords, the idea that these objects carry lost meaning is potent and meaningful in itself. This connected with the construction of "true" and "flourished" archives led me to the construction of my past work.

Angelas, 2014. VHS tape, cotton, plastic, large Transducers. 15 x 9 x 1'

OPP: What does obsolescence mean to you and how do you employ it (or ignore it) in your work?

RM: The idea of obsolescence is at the core of much of my work. Working in Fibers, which is typically characterized as a craft medium, I am often confronted with the roll of function in my art, and the idea of obsolescence in regards to function seems very direct. What happens when things lose function or are made disregarding function? Does it expedite the process of becoming obsolete? Can new functions emerge out of obsolescence?

OPP: I’m gonna turn that one around on you because I think, in your practice, the answer is clearly yes. What new functions can emerge out of obsolescence? Both in general in our contemporary world and specifically in your practice?

RM: In my practice specifically I think the new function is related to identifying cultural belief structures and developing a visual understanding of why our contemporary culture is obsessed with Apocalyptic or Post-Apocalyptic narratives. The work is a sign post for discovering what we already know but aren't critical of, i.e. our impending endings. So the work is symbolic in function.

I see more specific functions emerging out of technological obsolescence in up-cycling, recycling, and a focus on sustainable systems. This is generally the conversation most people want to have around my work, taking broken and old things and recycling them as art.

Untitled Mask, 2013. Electronic components, VHS tapes, ethernet cable, electrical wire, 4-harness twill weave, crochet, macramé, needle weaving; 8’ x 8’ x 5’

OPP: Many works reference shrines, rituals and monuments. In your project statement for More Something from Nothing (2014), you state: "The line between art and spirituality in contemporary art is an often tenuous one. Spiritual Art or art about religion is generally characterized as either polemic or naive. In other words, it is didactically critical or unabashedly uncritical. I often wonder if art and spirituality can be sincerely and critically united." Have you discovered any answers since then?

RM: I’ve read some of James Elkins’ writing on this topic and that statement is speaking directly to what you’ve said. My interest stems from a Psychology of Death class I took at SAIC taught by Tim O’Donnell. In that class we discussed the ways in which humans have coped with the idea of their demise. There are common strategies people use: believing in life after death, i.e. religion; returning to nature; living on and transcending through Art; and living to create a legacy for the next generation. This has affected the way I approach my art making.

I’m an atheist making work about spirituality that is neither uncritical nor critical of religion. I am simply looking at the creative capacity of humans to develop belief structures and noticing the similarities of modernism and religion. Minimalism is often seen as the purest form of modernist principles, and I think there are some very clear parallels between Greenbergian theory and religious Fundamentalism.

Monument to Repetition, 2015

OPP: I 100% agree. I’m curious and interested in how Greenberg experiences midcentury abstraction and minimalism. I appreciate his first-person experience. It even fits with some of my own art-viewing experiences. The problem enters when he turns that personal experience of art into Dogma, i.e. defining “good” art as only the kind that fits his experience and his unexamined bias. So why do you think the opinion of this one man held so much weight and had such a deep and long-lasting effect on how we evaluate “good” art?

RM: Timing mostly, his philosophy was coming in at the end of modernism in a way- as art was boiling down further and further to be about itself and reduced to its essential elements, it’s no surprise that postmodernism emerged. Thus the generations of people who had devoted a life time of practice and study to modernism held on for dear life to the hard-edged box of Greenberg's ideas. Also the visual language had a lineage of 30+ years, so the historian could confidently talk about it, and humans, being the way they are, are happy if they can assuredly have something concrete to say and feel "right" about it.

OPP: Tell us about Nothing from Something, your new series “influenced by minimal and post-minimal art from the 60s-70s.” How is this influence showing up in your formal decisions?

RM: In moving to Virginia, I wanted to develop a series of pieces I could send to exhibits across the country. My starting point was looking to my art heroes: Robert Morris, Claire Zeisler, Sheila Hicks, Marina Abakanowicz and Eva Hesse. I was hoping there is an understood reference to “Making Something from Nothing” by Lucy Lippard. The sound components to these pieces reference the condition of feminism in our current culture and the confusion around what feminism means, noting the continued importance of the original text and relevance to Fiber Art education.

Paradoxical Acousmetres, 2016. Installation.

OPP: Tell us about your recent show Paradoxical Acousmetre.

RM: Paradoxical Acousmetres, as defined by Michel Chion, signifies “those deprived of some powers that are usually accorded to the acousmetre.” The Acousmetre is “the very voice of what is called the primary identification with the camera.” In cinema it is the omnipresent acousmatic voice of the narrator. Therefore, the Paradoxical Acousmetre is a narrator-creator identity, which is uninformed of the divergent path the “visual narrative” has taken from their “spoken narrative.”

In a sense it’s a continued investigation into failure and was part of the Spring Solo Series at the Arlington Art Center. I was interested in finding areas around the Center to do street performance/installations, which are linked to various laser cut Felt pieces housed in the gallery with an immersive sound installation. 

To see more work, please visit robertmertensartist.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled  Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Cara Lynch

Inheritance: In Memory of American Glass, 2016, Ditmas Avenue stop, F subway line, Brooklyn

Inspired by craft objects and folk art, CARA LYNCH is staunchly opposed to aesthetic elitism. She embraces surface embellishment and pattern in sculpture, print and public works. She taps into the devotional power of heavily-encrusted talismans, while celebrating the visual pleasure of rhinestones, feathers, beads and glitter. In 2012, Cara earned her BFA in Studio Art with a Minor Art History at Adelphi University (Garden City, New York). Since then, she has studied Printmaking at Columbia University, Papermaking at the Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York and Advanced Sculpture at Hunter College. Cara recently closed her solo show Love Tokens and Talismans, supported by Queens Arts Council Grant, at Local Project (Long Island City, Queens). In spring 2016, she installed her first permanent, public work for the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority at Ditmas Avenue stop of F subway line in Brooklyn. Cara lives in New York, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your research into the “sailor’s valentines, mourning jewelry, memoryware, kitschy trinkets, and historical amulets or talismans” that informed your recent body of work called Love Tokens and Talismans.

Cara Lynch: I have an interest in those things that are not traditionally included in the fine art world: craft objects and processes and folk art. I am interested in why we make things and the purposes and power of these objects. I see the embrace of these traditional crafts as a political statement when included in a fine art context or conceptualized in this way.
 
While my research for this particular body of work initially began viewing images online, I also spent time at the New York Public Library looking through books of reliquaries and walking through the Met looking at various ceremonial and talismanic objects. I spent time at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, pouring over their incredible collection of books on mourning jewelry and love tokens. Many of the forms I created are directly influenced by these objects, but my main interest is in the traditions and functions of these objects: to memorialize experiences, express devotion or provide protection or good luck.

You're Tacky & I Hate You, 2016. Cast hydrocal, rhinestones, feathers, paint, wood, hardware. 12.5 x 15 x 3 inches

OPP: How do these influence manifest in your sculptures? What are you loving, mourning, remembering or warding off in this work?

CL: I grew up very Catholic, and I am very interested in how objects become symbolic or get their power. For Catholics, the Eucharist, rosaries and other sacred objects are given their power by the beliefs of the faithful. In some other religions, this is not the case; the power becomes inherent in the object itself. As artists, we are granted a certain power through our making of objects. In many ways, making becomes our faith.

The sculptures are very much about my own experience, mourning the passage of time and struggling with the reality that we can’t always attain our desires, whether for physical objects or for abstract experiences, like equality or affirmation or holding on to the present. The pieces combine casts replicating a number of objects I’ve saved from my childhood or collected from trim stores along my walk to work through the garment district in New York. I am memorializing my own experience through these pieces, as well as empowering the “non-elite” in some way.

There is tension expressed in these objects: between high and low, art and craft, class and taste, sentiment and spectacle. By embracing the decorative and the domestic—newer pieces sometimes include casts from copper cake pans—I hope to grant power to myself and to all women. By embracing “low,” craft materials, and elevating them in some way, I am making a political statement for the working class and challenging “high art” and academic aversions to the decorative. By creating beautiful objects, I make my fantasies attainable in some sense.

Fetter Better, 2016. Detail. Cast hydrocal, found ornament, chain, glitter, paint, iridescent pigment, wood, hardware. 10 x 20 x 5 inches

OPP: Your talismans are cast hydrocal, embellished with automotive paint, spray paint, glitter, faux pearls, rhinestones, chains, and tassels. It’s visually hard to separate the solid, cast object from it’s surface embellishment. Can you talk about these two distinct parts of the process: casting a solid substrate versus embellishing it?

CL: I am very interested in embellishment and the decorative. I think this stems from my interest in both thinking about desire and devotional objects. The solid cast objects are kind of funny, because they really are embellishments themselves, made more concrete and solid through a transformation of material. Embellishing the transformed embellishment seemed to be really aggressively decorative or feminine—a little like overkill and kind of funny to me.

Casts are also reminiscent of memories. They are a replication, an attempt to reproduce. The embellishment allows me to put this sentiment in tension with other interests. I am able to temper the feminine quality with a little bit of masculinity, for example, through the application of automotive paint.

Sex and the City, 2014. Archival handmade paper (pulp painting). 20 x 30 inches

OPP: Your pulp paintings appear to be speaking the same language as painting, drawing or print, but these designs are actually part of the substrate, not added to the substrate. Can you briefly explain the process for those not in the know about paper-making techniques?

CL: Paper-making is a really amazing process. Plant based fibers are beaten into a wet pulp, then suspended in water and caught on a screen to form a sheet. Pulp can also be pigmented and “painted” with. Essentially, you are creating an image with a very physical material itself in various colors, rather than with paint, ink or pencil. It has a temperament of its own.

To create the colors and patterns in this series, I pigmented the actual pulp in separate batches. The various hues of pulp were stenciled and layered onto wet sheets of freshly pulled paper, building up in some areas more than others. After working on a wet piece for some time, It would be pressed, combining layers of material into one flat sheet. In this way, the patterns are part of the actual paper, not applied to the surface.

Pennants for the Working Class, 2016. Screenprint on felt flags, brass grommets, craft materials. Variable, each measuring 10 x 16 inches

OPP: In Pennants for the Working Class (2016), you’ve transplanted the “patterns derived from American household glass objects, including depression glass, carnival glass, and early American pressed glass,” from utilitarian, three-dimensional objects onto the flat surface of the flag, which has a more symbolic function. Can you talk about the functions of pattern in general and how you use it in your work?

CL: Pattern can draw attention to an object, create a tensions between surface and object, or refer to something beyond itself. In my work, pattern often symbolizes something beyond my initial interest in surface and decoration. In many works, I am referring to histories behind the patterns. In this case specifically, I see the patterns from these glass objects as symbols of the American dream. These patterns were found on glass objects that were highly affordable, widely available and also really beautiful. This is in contrast to their predecessor, cut crystal, which was only available to the wealthy. For this piece in general, I was really thinking of the pennant flag as a symbol of prestige and pride, borrowed from the vernacular of yacht clubs and ivy-league universities.

Pretty Bomb, 2016. Lithograph. 22 x 15 inches

OPP: Earlier, you mentioned “academic aversions to the decorative.” Why do you think this aversion exists? Have you noticed a sea change in the last 5 years?

CL: I think this academic aversion to decoration and beauty is tied to a classist and sexist system. Higher education in the arts was sought partially to professionalize art making. The way artists did this was to become very "serious" about their work, substantiating it with theory and criticism. View points other than the dominant, historically-male—rooted in theory, science, knowledge—were left out of the picture. As Duchamp said, "artistic delectation is the danger to be avoided." This kind of thinking was perpetuated through the discourse, banishing beauty (and consequently, a slew of other things) from the presiding conversation. To some extent, beauty itself is a social construct, defined by social class, taste, gender, and a number of other factors. But this is all really interesting! I feel like we should be embracing it, instead of shutting it out. 

I have noticed a change in the last few years. The Pattern and Decoration Movement artists really began this years ago. I think a number of artists are really embracing and playing with decoration and beauty today. I immediately think of people like Polly Apfelbaum, Jim Hodges, Grayson Perry, and younger artists like Jen Stark and Evie Falci. The embrace of contemporary art by the mainstream I think, in part, has encouraged this. 

However, I think some very highbrow academic circles continue to resist decoration and beauty. This may be because they have the most invested in the dominant discourse. . . Beauty isn't serious enough for them.

To see more of Cara's work, please visit www.caralynchart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

Artists Answer: Whether you have one or not, in your experience, what is the value of an MFA?

We've invited former Featured Artists to answer a series of questions about being an artist and to highlight a new work made since the time of their interviews. Some questions are practical; some are philosophical. These compilations will be interspersed with new Featured Artist interviews every month and will include links back to older interviews. And don't forget to sign up for the monthly blog digest if you prefer to get all your Featured Artist action in your inbox once a month.

Sara Holwerda | Read the Interview

Chair Dance (Adagio) at RP13 from Sara Holwerda on Vimeo.

Chair Dance (Adagio) at Rapid Pulse '13, 2013. Performance. Viola accompaniment by Johanna Weisbrock

As an artist living in Chicago that did not go to graduate school in Chicago, I feel that the value of an MFA, at least in the city, is directly linked to the art community that it was obtained in. There are many artists who have developed a strong community here out of local MFA programs, and as a result it is often difficult as an "outsider" to have the same access to opportunities as someone who got their MFA from a local program. I have had great experiences with several local performance and video venues, and have found that this subset of the local artistic community very warm and welcoming. In a bigger city with a deluge of MFA's, maybe it becomes more about finding your niche and making a few great connections within that.

Coy Gu | Read the Interview

Just Not With A White Girl, 2016. Oil, acrylic, charcoal on bristol board, half smoked joint, silicone, Wonder Bread plastic bag on canvas. 30 x 35 inches

In practical terms, an MFA allows for teaching, which is the most stable form of income for an artist. If that MFA is a name brand one, it'll open doors and provide access you otherwise wouldn't be privy to. Of course, one will meet a network of artists through an MFA program and learn new things from professors and peers. However, one could join an artist community and/or studio building and experience similar things.

Anna Jensen | Read the Interview

Was A Supply; Now A Return, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 16"x12"

I dropped out of college six times. There is something about the smell of an institution that is very inspiring at first and then ultimately sends me into a panic of feeling trapped.  It’s not that I lack discipline or the respect of learning from those with more experience.  I’m sure art school benefits many people when it comes to learning technique and making future professional connections among other things. But, I think self-motivation and  development via the school of hard knocks are just as key.  Also for me it felt like a waste of time to pack up all my supplies and strap a 5ft x 6ft painting to the top of my car several times a week just to go in and discuss my work with bored, unfocused kids who brought in their projects on sheets of notebook paper.  Not that they were ALL that way, but I was in my twenties and the other students were fresh out of high school. I had a gut instinct that I knew what I wanted to do and could do it without a traditional school environment.  So I ended up using my public library card a lot!  And I'm proud of the career I've had on my own terms.

Jacinda Russell | Read the Interview

Room 107, Boise State University, 2015. Archival Inkjet Print. 20" x 30"

Obtaining an MFA was a life-changing event in my career. I did not attend graduate school with the intention of teaching. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my relatives who had acquired a terminal degree, and it was an important goal in my early twenties to achieve the highest level of education in my field. Its worth is greatly contested today due to the debt that many students accumulate. I fully realize that my circumstances may not be warrant the price that many people pay now, but I would not have exchanged the experience for anything. I learned how to speak about my work and how to research and defend every aesthetic and conceptual decision. These are skills I use daily as a professor of art and lecturing artist. My peers at the University of Arizona—twenty years later—continue to be the ones that I turn to for advice. I took advantage of every opportunity with visiting artists and scholars (as a research assistant to A.D. Coleman in the archives at the Center for Creative Photography and as a studio assistant to both Barbara Kasten and Judith Golden). I have never found a comparable community in the art world since graduate school. It is also providing background for many of the stories that I photograph for my current series tentatively named Art Department. I would not hesitate to say to the MFA is a gift that keeps on giving.

Megan Stroech | Read the Interview

Catch and Release, 2016. Digital print. 24 x 36 inches

For me, getting an MFA was integral to my further development as an artist and gave me the confidence and motivation to continue pursuing my work. It really forced me out of my comfort zone in terms of making the work and most of all talking and writing about the work which becomes incredibly important in the evolution and progression of the work. I attended a smaller state school with a program that came with a tuition waiver, modest stipend and allowed for us to gain a good amount of teaching experience over the course of three years. However, MFAs from those very notable institutions often come with an incredible amount of debt that is seemingly impossible to ever pay off especially in the beginning stages of an art career. Because those programs do have so much stature and clout, they have the power to propel some artists to the next level of their career path, and can often seem like the most lucrative option even with shouldering all of that debt. In many ways I'm grateful for the path I chose, and feel that more emphasis should be placed on the actual work that artists are making versus their pedigree.

Travis Townsend | Read the Interview

Painted Boatstack, 2016. Wood and mixed media.

I don’t think that an artist with a degree is automatically a better artist than someone without a degree.   And I find it frustrating that the MFA degree is considered “expected”.  With that said, I do have an MFA, and my experience was quite positive.  I feel confident that I would have found a way to be an artist without the MFA, but in my two years of graduate school I progressed quickly, learned lots of theory, looked at and considered a wide range of challenging work, and expanded my circle of artist friends.   And met my wife!
 
However, there are some crappy MFA programs out there that don’t seem to do much for their students. And some that are far too expensive. Crippling debt is no way to begin your career!  Young artists should not be convinced that the MFA degree is some sort of golden ticket to artistic success. 

Molly Springfield | Read the Interview

Chapter IX, pages 246-247, 2015. graphite on paper. 16.5 x 25.5 inches

I have an MFA and I can't imagine being where I am now without one. The graduate programs I attended (I also have a post-bacc certificate) gave me the time, space, and resources to become a professional artist. And, most importantly, a cohort of artist friends who know and understand my trajectory as an artist in a way no one else can.

I don't think you can talk about the value of an MFA program without talking about how much they cost. My advice for anyone thinking about applying to MFA programs: Go to the best program you can get into that costs you the least amount of money. Like anything else in life, what you get out of something is determined by what you put in. Getting an MFA from a trendy, highly-ranked, expensive program isn't a guarantee of art-world success. But, unless you have a full-fellowship, it is a guarantee of burdensome student loan debt.

In my experience working with MFA students, I've come across people who probably should have waited before starting their program. They aren't used to working independently. They haven't had the life experiences that fuel productive art-making. So they spend too much of their time catching-up rather than moving their practice forward. Don't be in a rush. The experiences and opportunities of your MFA program will be all the more valuable if you're prepared to take full-advantage of them.