OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Bryan Schnelle

I Want to Believe X I Will Pour Out my Spirit, 2015. Hand-cut paper collage on wood. 36 x 24 inches.

Glossy printmedia tell us a lot about capitalism, consumerism and even religious fervor. BRYAN SCHNELLE cuts, collages and manipulates fashion magazines, gossip rags and posters in order to expose the emptiness of the promises of these dominant forces. He uses strategies of masking, selective erasure and juxtaposition—ordered and random—to create compositions that allow the biases of the viewer's brain to determine the meaningBryan has had solo exhibitions at Kana Manglapus Projects (2013) in Venice, California, Phone Booth Gallery (2009, 2011 and 2012) in Long Beach and the now defunct White Walls (2009) in San Francisco. His work has been featured on fecalface.com, on beautifuldecay.com and in Studio Visit Magazine. Bryan lives and works in Seattle, Washington.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve worked with glossy magazines for many years, mostly fashion magazines. What was your relationship to magazines in general before you started using them in your art practice?

Bryan Schnelle: Well, as a child, magazines like Transworld Skateboarding and Thrasher were important and exciting. I remember my dad would take me with him when he would go grocery shopping every Friday evening and I would just hang out in the magazine aisle the whole time. This was before the internet, so that's how I got information about skateboarding and the world outside of my safe and boring little suburb. And they were just simply always around. I was always drawing as a child, and then in high school I started getting into realism and would draw images I tore out of common pop culture magazines or National Geographic or skate magazines.

How To Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue), 2010-2013.

OPP: Please talk about erasure and masking in How to Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue) (2010-2013) and other Works on Print Ads.

BS: The sharpie and white out on print ads stuff is something I arrived at fairly organically, over a period of time. I was thinking about common art supplies and their cost, and I just grew bored of drawing and painting in general. I liked the idea of "correction" implicit in the use of office supply mediums like white out. Using them on print ads from common magazines was a way of exploring notions of identity, normalcy and complacency. 

How To Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue) was a response to the documentary film about the September 2007 issue of Vogue, but also to the insane amount of importance placed on the unimportant, meaningless and temporary in our society. It was sort of a visual cleanse, I guess. But also a bit of a meditative experience for me. It took four years to make, and I'm not a particularly patient type of person. So it was definitely a challenge for me, but as weird or corny as it sounds, I sort of feel like a stronger person, or like I gained something from going through that experience and sticking with it. It's definitely a piece I'm really proud of.

Fade Out, 2010. Permanent marker on paper and enamel on canvas. 76 x 72 inches.

OPP: In Sunday (2016) and Megachurch (2015), the psychedelic fractal imagery and recognizable movie posters mostly dominate the religious imagery—although Crown of Thorns X Spiral Mind Warp is an exception. Is this an accident of the process, a very intentional critique or a symptom of my own visual bias towards pop culture?

BS: That’s interesting. I would have to say it must be your own visual bias, because those works are all exactly 50 percent of one image and 50 percent of another image. When visual information is missing our eye tends to sort of try to fill in the blanks, so it would make sense that at first glance our eyes would kind of gravitate towards the more easily recognizable image, the one we have all seen a million times, possibly giving the illusion that that image is more dominant in the piece, but they are equal parts. 

Crown of Thorns X Spiral Mind Warp, 2016. Hand-cut paper collage on wood 36 x 24 inches.

OPP:Tell us more about the 50/50 works. How do you choose what two images go together? Is this more visual or conceptual?

BS: It's a little of both. Most of the 50/50 work I've made so far deals in some way with religion, so one image is some sort of religious imagery, and that's paired with an advertisement or some other kind of "pop culture" image, depending on which series you're looking at. I'm very picky and take my time figuring out which 2 images to combine. Of course the conceptual relationship comes first, then things like color and composition are considered afterwards. And I don't do any sort of computer generated mock-ups or anything, so there's still a fair amount of surprise involved. No matter how much you think you have it figured out in your head how it will look, it always ends up a little different. It's hard to predict, but I kind of like that. It keeps it exciting.

Untitled, 2014. Paper collage. 10 3/4 x 8 inches.

OPP:Your hand cut paper collages on wood evoke the blockiness of a plain weave structure. Have you considered literally weaving these images together? What is important/what do you like about the cut and paste method of mixing these images?

BS: I have considered weaving them, the squares would work with that, but if I want some of the pieces to use a different shape like a triangular grid then I'm back to the collage method. So it would have to be an entire series using just square grids. I like the idea, my only problem with it is that I'm aware of a couple of artists already using that weaving technique with photography, and I don't want my work to end up looking like anyone else's. That's important to me. However, I feel that the idea/concept should always dictate the medium and scale. So if I had an idea that I was really excited about and knew that it absolutely had to be woven, then I'm sure I would just go for it. 

Untitled Color Study (Pink), 2014. Hand-cut paper collage on wood. 20 x 20 inches.

OPP: The Color Studies (2014) seem to be a bit of an anomaly, despite using the exact same materials and processes as other bodies of work. They seem purely formal, while the fashion magazine work and collages using religious imagery have an implicit critique—although it is somewhat ambiguous—through juxtaposition. Agree or disagree?

BS: I can definitely see how they may look a bit out of place right now, but they're actually not an anomaly. They were the first step in the direction of the body of work I'm currently working on, and will probably make a lot more sense to visitors of my website once this new work is finished and on the site as well. It's an ongoing series/project/experiment that runs parallel with the 50/50 stuff. I have a lot of ideas and due to other responsibilities, I'm having kind of a hard time physically keeping up. So I kind of work in cycles, based on some sort of internal sense of urgency. I don't like to be doing the same thing all of the time. So once I've extended one arm in a certain direction, I'll go back and elaborate on or further push a parallel arm in another direction. I guess maybe it's a way of trying to give a sense of where I'm headed overall while also fulfilling my own need to keep things interesting/fun for myself.

Untitled works in progress, 2018

OPP: Well, you are certainly not the only artist pulled in a million directions! I relate to that. What can you tell us about the new project?

BS: I wanted to make some more work that was purely abstract, like the color studies, but a bit more involved, and limiting the palette to just black and white this time. No figure, nothing being depicted, they just are what they are. Some use squares, some use triangles, and some use rectangles in sort of a brick-like pattern. Some are all one solid color (either all black or all white), and some use both black and white. For the black and white pieces, I removed myself from the composition determining process by flipping a coin for each space. Heads meant it was going to be black, tails white. Additionally, I shuffled all of the pieces and glued them down in the order that I picked them. On the other hand, the single-color pieces are not random, I allowed myself to intervene in the picture building process a bit until they felt finished. So the works that at first glance may appear random are actually not, while the ones that may seem to have some direction in fact do not. I had become interested in Michael Shermer's idea of patternicity after reading his book The Believing Brain, and thought it might be funny to do kind of a literal visual interpretation. The result is these very simple and honest works that have sort of a digital quality to them, bringing to mind pixelation and QR codes. They exist somewhere in between a painting and an advertisement. 

To see more of Bryan's work, please visit bryanschnelle.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christi Birchfield

How To Remain Human, 2015. Installation view. MOCA Cleveland.

CHRISTI BIRCHFIELD balances control and surrender by using various printmaking techniques and tools in unconventional ways. Whether she's running fresh flowers through an etching press or bleaching dyed canvas, her work points to the impermanence of nature and human mortality. Christi earned her BFA in Printmaking from The Cleveland Institute of Art and her MFA in Visual Art from Columbia University. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Skowhegan, Vermont Studio Center and SWAP Residency at SPACES Gallery. Solo shows include Above the Fold, Below the Surface (2014) at Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and From the Inside Out (2014) at William Busta Gallery in Cleveland. In 2017, Christi won an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council and the Cleveland Arts Prize, Emerging Artist Category. Christi lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work primarily in printmaking, including traditional techniques like lithograph and etching. But your toolkit of mark making is way more expansive. What other techniques do you use to make marks?

Christi Birchfield: Printmaking tends to be a starting point for my work. I have been immersed in the tradition of the medium for many years. I majored in printmaking in both undergrad and graduate school, and I’ve worked as a master printer at Zygote Press Inc. Somewhere along the line, it became interesting to not only use printmaking presses as a way to produce multiples but also as simply a method for creating marks. During graduate school, I began exploring monoprints, which do not originate from a reproducible matrix. The etching press began to function as a way to imbed materials (smash stuff) into paper. I started running bouquets of flowers and house plants through the press. The way the press would flatten while at the same time morph and stretch the plants became very interesting to me. I liked how the object that I was running though the press became an abstraction of itself. The single, directional push of the material held relationships to both the industrial and the digital world.  Additionally, the juices in the plant would squeeze out, staining the paper, resulting in a painting that I orchestrated but did not control. These chance operative techniques for making a mark challenged my previous approach to printmaking. Monoprinting is how I approach textile works as well. I use a sod roller to print bleach paste onto black canvas. 

Sagittal Plane, 2016. Bleach Paste on Canvas. Photo Credit: Jerry Birchfield.

OPP: Is the distinction between printmaking and drawing important to you as a maker?

CB: Yes, that distinction is important. For me, drawing is very much about a one-to-one relationship between the maker and the surface that is being marked. It’s also about intentional decision making and forethought. Printmaking can have the same attributes as drawing, but it is more about a distance between myself and the thing being created. I set up situations where I put materials into motion without fully controlling the shape, pattern or color those materials will make. It is a way to stay present in the process but also remain distant. My role hovers between the maker and the observer of my own work. I think about painters like Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler who developed approaches to stain painting where color was allowed to flow based on gravity and absorption and not based on how those artists moved the brush across the canvas. 


High Tide, 2014. Flowers and burning on paper. 39” x 27.5"

OPP: Does color in the flower works only come from the flowers themselves? Is this color fugitive? 

CB: My practice consists of various levels of control. Choosing how and when to apply color is one of the factors that I negotiate as I work. The color does come from the flower. When I first started working with the plants, it was important for me that the color only come from the flower with no additive pigment. It seemed conceptually necessary at the time that nothing contaminate what would naturally occur from the plant itself and the process I was administering. In more recent works, I’ve started exploring the application of watercolor.

Total Optimism, 2014. Flowers, graphite, ink, and enamel on paper. 78” x 60”

OPP: What role does symmetry play in your practice?

CB: Symmetry is a way to create a sense of order among marks that are otherwise chaotic. Symmetry has a very practical application for me. There was a time when I felt the work was just a gloopy-gloppy mess. It felt out of control. The symmetrical image was a way to create an automatic order while still staying true to the process and materials. The shapes immediately called to mind the human body and it’s interior. While the plant material references fluids that could perhaps come from the body, it only made sense that compositions also reference something bodily as well. 

Lord and Lady, 2014. Flowers and watercolor on paper. 31"x 28"

OPP: Pieces like SurgentBelvedere and Lord and Lady, all from 2014, at first appear to be symmetrical, but when I look closer, I realize that it isn’t pure symmetry. Is this simply a symptom of the process or an intentional part of the content?

CB: Yes, the symmetry is faulty. There is nothing exact about the process. The works are made by simply folding the paper in half to create a print on both sides simultaneously. I’ll often times shove flowers, inky plates, and some paint within a folded sheet of paper and crank it through the press. The result of how all these materials relate after the press has done it’s work is more interesting to me than whether or not both halves of the composition are identical. 

In fact, the slight differences between both sides of the print reveal a bit of the process that I rather enjoy. We as humans are thought of as more or less symmetrical. However, have you ever mirrored your own face in Photoshop to see what you would look like if you were actually symmetrical? The results are a bit unsettling and confirms that the differences between our two halves make us appear human and not as digital constructions. As my pieces are made by hand and very much about the process and materials, the slight variations that serve as the non-symmetrical indicators clue the viewer in on the fact that this work is a result of something outside of modern technology. 

Slab, 2015. Bleach Paste on Canvas. 65" x 20" x 8"

OPP: In recent work you’ve shifted away from the rectangle of paper and cut out the bleached marks in the works like Sagittal Plane (2016) and Reconfiguration (2015). These slumping sculptures read sometimes as hanging foliage and other times as collapsing skeletons. Can you talk about destruction in relation to the forms?

CB: Lately, I’ve been working a lot with textiles. The works are made by printing bleach onto canvas and then hand-cutting around the marks to produce complex shapes that have been cut out and through. Canvas is a common surface on which to create a painting, but I am very interested in the material of itself and its hefty qualities. 

I’ve always considered the posture different works of mine take on. Some pieces are tired, some casual, some doing backbends. The way the canvas sags and slumps seemed to suggest something very human. The works tend to mirror the scale of a person and the material of canvas is a versatile fiber that I can manipulate in various ways. 

There is a constant theme of time running through my practice. The pace of time and the fragility of the human existence underlie much of my work. My daughter is ten months old. In becoming a mom, I suddenly had a deeper connection to the generations of women that have come before me. My grandmother, my mom, myself and my daughter—we are all part of a continual line. Layering of fabric cut-outs, printed elements overlapping, collage pieces all serve as a way to see everything at once and also not quite be able to make sense of everything ever. I relate this to a constant sense of both temporality and permanence. Our bodies are material taking up space yet mortal, impermanent. The fabric cut outs look like skeletal fragments, like pelvises and ribcages, evoking the body and it’s transience. The first medical X-ray was of Wilhelm Rontgen’s wife’s hand. Her response—“I have seen my death”—suggests that seeing our inner selves, our material essence, confirms our own mortality.

To see more of Christi's work, please visit christibirchfield.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Felicita Norris

Ignorance Ain't Bliss When It Ends Up Like This, 2012. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 72 x 52 inches.

FELICITA NORRIS's large-scale, figurative paintings are disturbing, empathy-evoking and ambiguous. The intimacy of confined domestic spaces is the setting for power dynamics to play out. Physical bondage is mostly self-imposed, but hints at the possibility of violence. And yet, these haunting works are metaphors for emotional truths, not stories to be taken literally. Felicita earned her BFA at San Francisco Art Institute (2013) and her MFA at Stanford University in California. She has exhibited at Root Division (2014 and 2015), SOMArts (2014) and Glass Rice Gallery (2017), all in San Francisco. Felicita is currently Visiting Faculty at San Francisco Art Institute. She lives and works in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I can’t decide if I’m more concerned about the subjects’ bodies or their psychological well-being. How much of the visual signs of physical violence are intended to point to psychological violence?

Felicita Norris: This is an excellent question. When I give talks, I make sure to mention that the works are metaphors, or rather, dystopian fantasies. They are not literal; they’re paintings. The paradox in the work is that, at times, I choose to paint realistically and figuratively, which causes discomfort because it’s relatable and tangible. The works are interpretations of memories growing up in a tumultuous household and the effects of that, as well as my experience as a multi-racial woman, then and now. But again, they are not real. They are an altered reality, which is what painting is, in essence.

I often use myself as the character because, for one, I’m available, but even more so, I am given the opportunity to represent others like myself. Sometimes it’s hard to stomach, but I realize that I can be a voice for the past and the present. Is it my responsibility? I don’t know yet. I have looked to performance artists like Karen Finley for inspiration and use experiences of all kinds to examine the human psyche. I wonder, why do we do what we do? How do certain experiences affect certain people? My intention however, is not to advocate violence, but rather to allow room for introspection, if that’s what the viewer chooses to do.

Thank you for the worthless day. 2015. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 96 x 48 inches.

OPP: Plastic tarps or drop cloths show up in several paintings. In some cases, they seem mostly self-imposed, but no less disturbing. How do you think about these drop cloths in Thank you for a worthless day (2015) as opposed to About a Boy (2015) and Outlet (2015)?

FN: I appreciate the “self-imposed” comment. If you look closely, all of the actions in the works are self-imposed, yet escapable. The idea for Thank you for the worthless day started out as female body examination and ideas about shame with regard to youth versus age, mother and child, potentially, and how American media celebrates certain aspects of womanhood and not others. For me, the whole scenario is ridiculous because I know it is self-imposed, but the characters are faceless or “hooded” because it allows the viewer to enter the space without having to recognize the “who” - the viewer is left to decide whether they are the voyeur or the participant. The difference in the use of plastic from one painting to another is again, a metaphor for the act of painting itself. We don’t paint to document anymore, so the conversation remains, why is this so important? So I talk about the plasticity of the act of painting as well as the falseness of the content that at one time could have been “real.”

Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. 2014. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 84 x 56 inches.

OPP: Can you talk about other forms of confinement in your paintings? It’s not just in the drop cloths, but also in the tight spaces and the cropping.

FN: The idea of confinement is another contradiction. Of course it depends on how you view tight spaces. Some people are terrified and others feel a sense of security. It also depends on how you view life and death, in a way. For example, some cultures embrace death as part of life, so they celebrate it, not because they don’t feel loss, but because they hope for continuation; other cultures fear death and hide it or choose to prolong suffering. But this is all my opinion—I’m very in between how I feel about confinement; I like to be held by loving arms or blankets, but on the other hand, the idea of feeling trapped is terrifying to me. I’m still trying to figure out how to visually and mentally balance these two ideas…

OPP: Have you ever used trigger warnings in a show or been asked to?

FN: No, I have never used or been asked to use trigger warnings for a show. I think it’s implied that the works are not photographs, which could be taken as fact, but these are fantasies, not facts.

Untitled (hanging legs), 2015. Oil on linen. 50 x 24 inches.

OPP: How often does the content of your work lead viewers to tell you stories about their personal lives? Do they feel a permissiveness because of the intimacy? Or are they generally too shy to talk to you about the content?

FN: Early on, I noticed that many people enjoyed finding a way to relate to the content of my work. I think it makes people feel safer. I do get some personal stories, or “this reminds me of…” comments as well. I think what the viewer contributes to the work is just as important as the work itself. Artist Gregory Crewdson said as much about the content of his own work as well. And yes, the viewers who want to, will talk about how they feel about the work, and others, understandably, are too shy to talk about it. But I think any reaction is a good reaction, and for me, misinterpretation is expected.

Not White Enough, 2014. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 96 x 64 inches.

OPP: Not White Enough (2014) stands out for me from the other works in that it points to the collective psychological effects of white supremacy as opposed to the power dynamics within a domestic space among individuals. Is this a false distinction in your opinion? How does Not White Enough relate to other works painted in 2014?

FN: Not White Enough does stand alone because it represents a shift from the early melodramatic family portraits to something more subtle. I do like the drama of the previous works, but this type of work allows the viewer to enter because everything is not given at once. The viewer can easily place themselves into the scenario, and it allows for more questioning. The painting literally portrays a person who pulled a sheet over themselves and had their photo taken. But there is definitely something else going on. I chose to title this painting Not White Enough because for me, the concept of not being white enough comes from self-projected, self-critical, defensive and assumptive ideas based on observations that contribute to stereotypes about how white men view women of color. The persona of the white man functions as another important, yet undefined and even unseen character in my work, representing my personal desire and “his” perceived fetish for what is exotic or different: To him my “race” signifies ignorance, hyper-sexuality and disposability. Again, the viewer can see what they choose to see…

Folie à deux, 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 68 x 82 inches

OPP: That fetishization by the white male of the brown, female body is so clear in Folie à deux (2012), which is for me one of the most unsettling works. It's one of the most difficult to look at because my first read is one of sexual violation. I imagine that the woman is being held captive over a period of time, unable to escape. I want to help her escape. And yet, my eye keeps being drawn to the man's face, and I find myself wondering if he is feeling tenderness—which then infuriates me because he's holding this woman hostage! How do you see the relationship between these two figures? Do you see this painting differently 5 years later?

FN: Your read is correct in that the woman is being held captive; but again, it is not forced, instead, it is self-imposed. I purposely gave no real indication that the woman’s hands were bound, thus leaving her free to free herself… This painting is more of a reflection on "woman as martyr," much like the deposition and lamentation paintings of Christ by Baroque artists like Caravaggio and Rubens. Because she is a woman of color, the political implications to her potentially being a slave are heightened because of her white “partner.” And the man does look loving, because he is; the contradiction however, is that she is not his prisoner, but her own. As an artist, I find myself struggling to transcend the metaphorical and visual capacity that this painting embodies, but I do see it as having the same meaning as it did five years ago. I am in a different place now, mentally and emotionally, so sometimes I ruminate on the painting when I see it again, and sometimes I reflect on how much I have grown since then.

To see more of Felicita's work, please visit felicitanorris.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Anna Martine Whitehead

Treasure, 2016. Performance at Fresh Festival 2016. Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco, California. Image courtesy of Robbie Sweeney.

Energetic, empowered joy and overwrought exhaustion permeate ANNA MARTINE WHITEHEAD's performances and choreography. Their interdisciplinary practice—which includes writing, dance, choreography, video and collaboration— investigates Black queer experience through deeply embodied movement. Martine earned a BA in Fine Art, with a concentration Black Women’s Studies, at University of Maryland (2006), followed by an ​MFA in Social Practice at California College of the Arts (2010). She is a 2014 Critical Fierceness Grantee, a 2015 Sponsored Artist at High Concept Labs, a 2017 LinkUP Artist-in-Residence at Links Hall and will be a 2018 Difficult Dances Resident Artist at University of Michigan. In 2017, they performed selections at the Elevate Chicago Dance Festival, Ragdale, and JACK, as well as S P R E A D at Chicago's Links Hall and FRESH Festival in San Francisco. Her book TREASURE: My Black Rupture is available through Thread Makes Blanket Press. In 2018, they will present Notes on Territory at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Martine lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Have you always been so interdisciplinary? Do you see any one of these creative forms as most to your work?

Anna Martine Whitehead: When I was in college, I majored in Fine Art (there was no medium specification for the BA at the University of Maryland). I was painting and beginning to explore performance. But I did my minor in Black Women's Studies, which was a new program at the school then. So I was always thinking visually, textually, engaged in scholarly research but also material research. My thesis year, I ended up doing this series of large-scale acrylic paintings on wood panels that were all about the female body and sugar cane, which was directly related to what I was learning and thinking about around Black feminist geographies. That got me to start performing with sugar cane. All these things were always already integrated for me. I see this, also, as a reflection of my life, where teaching, moving, writing, making, being queer, being black and mixed race, etc, have always been all part of the same project. That project is me. When people find out I have a book called TREASURE, which is the same name as a piece I did at High Concept Labs in 2016 with Mlondi Zondi and Marie Alarcón, they are surprised. But this is how I've always operated: When I'm making, I'm writing, and writing makes me want to make.


Footage from selected performances from 2010 to the present for which I served as director/choreographer. Videography courtesy Chicago Dancemakers Forum, FRESH Festival, AUNTS, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, California College of the Arts, Links Hall, Marie Alarcón, Wafaa Yasin, Mark McBeth, and Hanh Nguyen.

OPP: What does the word embodiment mean to you, in your creative practice and in your everyday life?

AMW: This is such a great question! I try to teach this to my students, and it's an extremely difficult concept! For me, embodiment has become totally about an awareness of one's physical reality that also allows for an awareness of the metaphysical. It is the opposite of self-denial. It's not necessarily hedonism. It’s not, my body wants to lay here and binge watch instead of working in my studio—although that is an extremely easy place to slip into. Rather it’s an awareness and an acknowledgment of the body. I’m in the studio, I have some movement I need to work out, and I'm exhausted, so this movement is going to look like a tired person moving.


S P R E A D, 2017. Performed at Links Hall for the Link Up Artist Showcase. Video by Curtis Matzke.

OPP: Is exhaustion a theme in your work?

AMW: The piece I have been engaged with for the last two years (S P R E A D) comes directly out of being exhausted and needing nourishment. I think some people in this political climate get really energized. I have moments of that, but mostly it's like this constant struggle to not just feel totally run down, and I know that my people and my community are with me in that struggle. So a large part of the piece is me lying on the ground while Black people, especially Black women, share food together. It just so happens that lying down could also look like being dead, and I don't think that's just a metaphor. For me, embodiment is about holding both those things. It's like saying, I don't have to resist this reality. I can make my work about resting. And it also then becomes about death and the giving into death, which could be a type of relief.

The kind of funny thing about that is that after lying on the floor for 30 or 40 minutes, I actually have to get up... it starts to hurt my back. So then it becomes this dialectical thing between giving into the death/exhaustion and resisting it. That's what my body feels, and that's what the work is conceptually, too.

S P R E A D, 2017. Performance still.

OPP: S P R E A D (2017) was recently performed at Links Hall in Chicago. Tell us about its development.

AMW: S P R E A D was being developed at the same time that I was in this intensive devising process with Rebecca Mwase, Ron Ragin, and an ensemble of Black women dancers, singers, comedians, and spiritual workers in New Orleans. We were making a piece about Black women's experience through the Middle Passage. I also was teaching dance at Stateville Prison, a maximum security men's facility in Joliette. So the sense of being haunted, blackness, survival, long term struggle, unending struggle, a struggle that only exists by the grace of whatever gods and spirits and things hang around you... this was like ever-present. S P R E A D was a way for me to syncretize all this highly-collaborative work with my own perspective and experiences.

S P R E A D, 2017. Performance still.

OPP: Do you also create the sound pieces that you dance and choreograph to?

AMW: Sometimes. Sound in my video work is usually me. S P R E A D was the first time I worked so closely with a sound artist. Damon Locks joined the project early on and really changed the shape of it, actually gave it shape and form and a container through sound. Damon is live in S P R E A D, and that whole piece is primarily improvisation.

It was also the first time I made work that felt so explicitly about Black woman-ness and sisterhood. It wasn't only about that, but all the performers are cis and trans Black women and one of the opening scenes is Trinity Bobo (a dancer in New York who is such a joy to work with) lying on a table draped in whites and decorated lovingly with delicious food prepared by a local chef (Chef Fresh, who has been making food for the queer and trans Black community in Chicago for a minute). I was really on some BLM stuff as I was making this—and I mean that exactly as it was first coined, as a Black Feminist project.

Falling Queens, Image: Marie Alarcon

OPP: I often ask about intended audience, even when interviewing sculptors and painters. But with performance, you can see your audience. How do you think about audience?

AMW: S P R E A D helped me change my relationship to my audience, which is almost always at least 50% white. When I first started performing, I was usually angry at them, and then at some point I became more disinterested—like, this is for me and fuck all ya’ll—but S P R E A D was a way to be in dialogue and community with the audience. With the Black people and the POC, we were breaking bread together, dueting at some moments, and generally being with one another. With the white folks, it was an offering: Can you allow us to be together and feel okay? Can you even feel joy that we feel joy, even though our joy has nothing to do with you—may even be in spite of you? Can you be that detached from your own whiteness? And the fact that the whole show is set up in one row in a circle means everyone sees each other at all times. It's really a piece about Yo, here we all are! For better or worse! I guess it's kind of utopic?

Since the Links Hall show, I continue to collab with Damon and Trinity, and we're looking forward to several residencies in 2018 to continue developing what this work is.


Notes on Territory, in-progress.

OPP: What are you working on right now?

AMW: Notes on Territory! I'm so excited about this project, which is a solo project. It’s essentially a movement-based PowerPoint presentation about the architectural and affective links between gothic cathedrals, colonial forts, prisons and public housing. It's definitely a PowerPoint presentation—there’s a lectern.

I'll be spending the next few months at the Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University to do some archival research. It's also a lot of language-play; it's a poem. And it's a sort of game between technology and me because there's all this video and audio stuff. It’s a solo, so there's a lot of logistics to figure out there. And of course, it has all these auxiliary elements. Territory has gotten me back to painting. As I've been doing the archive and movement research, I've also been working with these gouache pieces exploring architectures, military maps, color, shape, etc. I'll be showing works in progress of Territory throughout the spring of 2018, and then hope to really solidify the work at a residency in the summer and hopefully premiere in the fall. We'll see about this timeline, though....

To see more of Martine's work, please visit annamartine.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gabrielle Teschner

Reach Key, 2017. watercolor and acrylic, cotton fabric, thread. 9 inches x 10 inches

Sculptor GABRIELLE TESCHNER creates pieced, fabric images of architectural forms from her surrounding environment. She pairs clean, sharp seams with raw, jagged edges, rendering columns, two-by-fours and bricks flexible and foldable. Gabrielle received her BFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2003 and her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2007. In 2016 she was an Artist-in-Residence at Irving Street Projects (San Francisco) and in 2017 at the Studios of Key West. In February 2018, she will begin a residency at the Tappan Collective in Los Angeles. Her work is included in the permanent collection of the De Young Museum (San Francisco), and Gabrielle has exhibited throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Gabrielle lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your background as an artist. What came first in your practice, painting or sewing?

Gabrielle Teschner: Sewing fabric was an early part of my sculpture practice. It was just one way among many that I used to manifest an idea. Back then, I was combining textile elements with wood and welded parts on a large scale. The painting department was one floor above, in a heaven I could not touch. When I moved to the West Coast from Virginia, I stopped using those heavy materials in favor of portable ones but I never stopped loving the physicality of them. I gesture to architecture and monumentality in my work, but even the largest of my sculptures (up to 14 feet long and 8 feet high) will fit in a carry-on. Sewing helps me make sculpture that moves.

Favela, 2013. acrylic painted on cotton. 15 x 22 inches

OPP: You identify as a sculptor, yet your works are nearly, but not exactly, two-dimensional. How do you think about form and dimension in your work?

GT: Space is very important to me. I think about the front and the back, and I think about the sides. I think of my artworks having relief and surroundings. I consider their environment.

In the beginning I was thinking about two things: flags used to stake territory and what it would mean to make a wall that could be folded and unfolded in different places. A lot of my artworks have traveled with me. It’s a little comical to me to continue to insist that these somewhat flat, painted things are sculptures, but it keeps me honest to my intuitions.

After Bacon's Freud (triptych), 2013. acrylic ink on muslin. each 10 inches x 7 inches

OPP: Tell us about your process of cutting, coloring, ironing and sewing. Are you a planner or an intuitive maker?

GT: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. The plans are intuitive. Sometimes I just use my scissors to draw out the work. There is a point when you get so accustomed to a process, that doing the individual techniques are the last thing on your mind. Now you can focus on other things. I get so anxious and excited about seeing the finished work because for all my planning, I will never ever be able to predict the end result. I like the planning and letting-go to be at odds with one another. Those seams in the fabric remove a large portion of my plan, especially in the smaller pieces. I can make pictures in my head, I can draw them out, I can fold them from paper to mock them up, but in the end, the work is completely foreign to me, a new thing that now exists in the world because of my urging.

Broken Law and The Builded (installation view), 2014

OPP: Geometric abstraction dominates your work. Sometimes that abstraction refers to existing symbolic forms in the world, as with The Fly Side Project, or architecture, as with the works that are based on the tile work of an Iranian mosque. More recent works seem way more open ended, with no clear material referents. Can you talk about this shift?

GT: Actually, my current works make reference to building materials: two-by-fours and bricks and concrete blocks. All the folding-under does abstract those forms, but they are still pointing to objects-in-the-world. I construct everything with straight lines. Even when I want to suggest curves, I just use more lines. This means that any form I depict will necessarily be a composition of polygons. If there are bends and multiple planes in the original image, there are more seams, and therefore more of the image is lost in the seams.

I think that true representation is abstraction. Our experience of the world is not confined to a single vantage point. Our relationship to objects is never fixed. I’m moving, it’s moving.

The Great Weight, 2016. Watercolor and acrylic, cotton fabric, thread. 12 inches x 27 inches.

OPP: You've just revealed the bias of my Fiber and Material Studies background! I was looking at works like The Course of the Early Shore (2016) and Dade County Pine (2016) through the lens of piecing and patchwork. I was thinking about the fold/join itself, the line it creates and the disruption of the surface. I also imagined each piece as one piece of fabric that was cut down and folded down, so I was thinking about the loss of space in relation to the seam allowance—that lost part of the fabric. But I didn't see the image, in the same way I saw it in West Chair (2016). Can you say more about the objects you choose to render through this process?

GT: You’re right, the loss of fabric in those smaller, more complex works create so much loss of space that the original drawing becomes nearly unrecognizable. Every sewn work contains that loss at a varying degree, like stages of ruin, so that a larger piece like West Chair is still distinctly a chair, even if the edges are not perfectly aligned.  

While I don’t have a specific criteria for the objects I choose, they tend to be parts of the buildings around me. They are architectural. Each brick and stair-step are parts of something larger, but are in themselves complete. I like to isolate these parts—to see what they do on their own.

Tile Floor Tile, in situ, 2016. acrylic painted on cotton. 44 x 44 inches

OPP: Do you think about your work in relation to quilting as a practice or quilts as textiles?

GT: I am making an effort to claim textiles as a building material. I relate to quilting only in as much as it is a method for joining together two pieces of fabric. I do use the language of quilting in my work but only as a woodworker uses joinery to push two boards together. The first time I made a “tile wall” out of fabric, I was so committed to the idea of building a soft mosaic wall that it wasn’t until I’d sewn 500 squares together and stepped back that I realized I was doing quilt-work.

The Path, 2016. watercolor on muslin. 92 inches x 168 inches.

OPP: In recent years, your works have been monochromatic. How do you make decisions about color in your studio?

GT: I used gray for a long time because it was the color of concrete and of shadows. It looked heavy sometimes, and immaterial at others. In thinking about three dimensional objects, I’m interested in the way they are suggested by the shade of their planes. Even the shadow suggests that the thing exists. When I walk past a lamppost, I think “lamppost,” and when I walk past the shadow of a lamppost, I also think “lamppost." In a way, that shadow contains the essence of the thing. I experiment now with a lot of different colors to see how they change my perception of material and dimension, temperature and weight.

To see more of Gabrielle's work, please visit gabrielleteschner.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Charles E. Roberts III

from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2017. Video still.

CHARLES E. ROBERTS III's videos, photographs and sculptures seem to be coated in a shimmery, metallic wet rainbow. A consistent range of colors and textures—from slick and slimey body fluids to sparkly and glittery, crinkly plastic surfaces—create the sensation that his looped vignettes and video portraits all exist in the same world. . . a world which is not quite ours. Charles earned his BFA at The Art Institute of Boston in 1997. In 2017, his first solo show Oracles and Remains was on view at Show Boat Gallery, in conjunction with the 2nd Floor Rear Festival, and group show End of the World Part VII just closed at the Learning Machine in Chicago. He has screened his work at the Palace Film Festival (2015-2017) and exhibited at Zhou B Art Center, Naomi Fine Art and la Fundación del Centro Cultural del México. Charles lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s start with the dominant aesthetic in your videos. How has your visual aesthetic evolved over the years?

Charles E. Roberts III: This aesthetic has its roots in my very first attempts at making video. I needed an inexpensive option to light some sets that I had built in my studio, and a friend suggested using floodlights and clamp fixtures. The hardware store’s selection of colored floodlights was a little too tempting as I had just watched a bunch of Mario Bava’s color films. I didn’t leave that store with a single standard bulb, just a bunch of red, yellow, blue and green. I experimented with this palette for a couple of years, eventually adding some purple, pink and amber along the way.

Wet and metallic surfaces seemed to have the most potential for harnessing all these colors, so I just tried to push it to an expressionistic extreme. Eventually everything and everyone was covered in some form of metallic paint or makeup. . . and lots of baby oil! Using a combination of silver, gold and bronze facilitated an even greater range of hues and temperatures within this very limited color palette.

still from The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, Act One, 2012.

OPP: How does your aesthetic serve your conceptual interests?

CER: I’ve always been more interested in using light to describe surface as opposed to space. There isn’t a lot of room for the viewer to enter my videos but I hope there is plenty to touch. The colors may be overtly ethereal and the subjects near-mystical, but I always try to anchor everything with an intense tactility. The Oracles videos are a good example of this. They are radiant and mystical beings but they are also grimy and encrusted with the materiality of their surroundings. We are a lot like them!

After that series I felt that I had exhausted the use of metallics, only returning to them briefly in order to shoot an Eighth Oracle this past year. More recently I have been using white light, the colored floodlights tend to be set in the periphery and used more as accents. Things have gotten slimier though!

The Sixth Oracle, 2013. still from video loop.

OPP: Are you influenced by 1980s fantasy cinema? I see Legend, Labyrinth, The Beastmaster and The Dark Crystal.

CER: All of those movies were released and consumed countless times in my formative years, so I suppose they are the filter through which all subsequent influences must pass. The filmmakers that probably have had the most direct visual influence on me are Sergei Parajanov, Carmelo Bene, Peter Greenaway, Ken Russell, Jan Svankmajer and some of Fellini’s earlier color films. The surrealist Czech films of the 60s and 70s are definitely a big influence. I also love a lot of the production design and special effects in silent films like Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan, Murnau’s Faust, Lang’s Die Nibelungen. . . and L’Inferno, an incredible adaptation of Dante’s Inferno from 1911!

OPP: Any other visual influences?

CER: My background is actually in painting and drawing. I spent a lot of time as a young, and not so young, adult immersed in the tomes of art history. Gustav Moreau, William Blake, Francisco Goya, El Greco, Caravaggio, Albrecht Durer and probably the whole of the northern Renaissance probably loom more profoundly in my imagination than motion pictures. Children’s book illustrators like Arthur Rackham and Maurice Sendak are some other early but unshakable influences on my visual vocabulary. Folklore, fairytales and mythology have also been a constant inspiration.


The Garden, 2014. Sound by Omar Padrón

OPP: Recent short videos like Last Kiss, Heal me, my darling and pink nail polish (I Can Never Go Home Again), all from 2016, seem to be vignettes that might be part of a larger narrative. Is this case? What’s the relationship between these individual works?

CER: These three videos actually have the most direct link to any fantasy films of the 1980s though they are a more recent influence. There was a genre of Hong Kong and Southeast Asian horror films around that decade dealing in a lot witchcraft and black magic. The gore and special effects in those films was by no means realistic, but it was highly imaginative, colorful and often truly repulsive. I thought it would be interesting to apply these outrageous aesthetics to some very intimate human scenarios. Maybe a kiss, a massage and a comedown could take on more mythical proportions and suggest a multitude of fantastical narratives. I also really wanted to play with scale. All three videos are shot in close-up and are incredibly claustrophobic in their framing, but the detailed makeup and prosthetics potentially suggest an epic landscape in motion.

The response to these videos is often “I can’t wait to see the finished piece!” Initially I was a little embarrassed and disheartened by these reactions but in the end I have to see this as some kind of success. If the viewer anticipates something beyond what I’ve given them, I’m probably doing something right.


pink nail polish (I Can Never Go Home Again), 2016. Music by Michael Perkins. Featuring April Lynn.

OPP: I’ve only seen your videos on the internet. What’s the ideal viewing space for your videos? What about scale?

CER: I definitely prefer most of my video to be viewed as loops on monitors, installed in a gallery or some public space. I’m not that interested in the captive audience of a screening or the inclination to continually move on to the next thing that occurs when we watch things via the internet.

Last Kiss, Heal me, my darling and pink nail polish are all intended to be viewed as continuous loops. When viewed online or at a screening the “second half” of the video is actually just the first half in reverse. This edit allows for the video to be seamlessly looped when displayed in its preferred context. I like to think of them as infinite moments that a potential viewer could walk away from, return to over and over again. . . or even just ignore if they weren’t interested. Maybe they are a little more like painting or illustration in that way.

Though I've been impressed with seeing a number of my videos projected on a larger scale I still prefer them to be viewed on monitors. I love that quality of the illumination coming from within, like stained glass in reverse. The Oracles especially benefit from this format, in fact it’s really the only way to experience them. They were all shot in such a way that the monitor that they are displayed on needs to be installed vertically.

from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2017. Video still.

OPP: You have a section of video stills from an in-progress project that you’ve been working on since 2011. When will In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There be complete? What’s the overarching narrative? Has it changed over the years?

CER: I started this project in 2011, and it was initially intended to be a very short piece. After shooting the bulk of the live action material I started experimenting with some stop motion sequences. I was having too much fun composing and animating all these muddy landscapes with various branches, twigs, leaves, bones and skulls. I amassed an almost unmanageable amount of material and eventually put it aside to work on some projects that might have more immediate results. I didn’t return to In the Heart of the Wood until the spring of 2016. I edited continuously and even shot some more stop motion sequences over the course of about nine months. Again, I do not have any specific narrative in mind. The whole thing seems to be shaping up to be a sort of ambiguous folkloric fantasia that takes place in the haunted forests of my youth. I’ve yet again had to set this project aside to prepare for some shows and attend to some other muses. I’m not sure when it will be finished but there is definitely some thematic and aesthetic crossover with the piece that I am working on now. In fact, one might even consider my current project a more sexually charged Dark Crystal!

from Garbage Forests, 2014.

OPP: Well, now you have to tell us about that!

CER: A couple of years ago I was working on a series of photos under the working title of the Garbage Forests. I used a lot of repurposed latex Halloween masks, ratty wigs, plastci flowers, holiday decorations encrusted with mud, glitter and foraged urban flora. This is basically going to be a series of short videos with performers bringing all this stuff to life. Right now I'm building the costumes and prosthetics for a masturbating mushroom goblin and a woodwose murdering witch. It's sort of a confrontation between childhood and adolescence.

To see more of Charles' work, please visit charleseroberts3.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?


We'll be back next week. . .

. . .with another Featured Artist interview.

At OPP, we're artists, just like you. Sometimes you just need some focused, uninterupted time alone in the studio. So we're taking a break this week to work on our own work.

But have no fear! We'll back back next Wednesday with another interview with an excellent Featured Artist. In the meantime, follow us on Instagram @otherpeoplespixels, where we post new art everyday by OPP artists. We just hit 1000 followers!

These OPP Featured Artists are prolific Instagram posters

Need some good art in your Instagram feed? These Featured Artists are constantly gracing my Instagram feed with new and GOOD work. How do they do it?

If you don't follow them, you should. Oh, and you should also follow OPP @otherpeoplespixels. We post a new work of art everyday by an artist who uses an OPP website. And we seek to boost the signals of OPP artists by reposting when they share new work, exhibitions and work-in-progress. Don't forget to tag us, so we can see what you are up to.

HADLEY RADT@hadleyradtLink to interview


GARRY NOLAND@garry.noland Link to interview


ERIN M. RILEY@erinmrileyLink to interview


CHARLES E. ROBERTS III@charleseroberts3—Soon to be interviewed


SELINA TREPP@selinatreppLink to interview


JENNIFER LING DATCHUK@jenniferlingdatchukLink to interview


JOHANA MOSCOSO@johanamoscosoLink to interview


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ellen Greene

Something Hiding in There, 2016. Oil on canvas. 30" x 32"

ELLEN GREENE's hand-painted, white gloves and tattoo tearsheets augment the visual vocabulary of vintage tattoos—which often objectify the female body—with empowering, female-centric imagery. Her hybrid creatures, like the many breasted jaguar-mermaid and the tiger-headed lady with a gaping, heart-shaped vagina, confront and complicate the objectified female body with new symbols of what it's like to have a female body. She has recently returned to her first love—oil painting—to explore the expectations surrounding the myth of the Ideal Mother. Ellen earned her BFA in Painting at Kansas City Art Institute in 1998. In 2016, her work was included in the group show Spiritual Garb—Collars at Aron Packer Projects (Evanston, IL). Her solo show Murder Ballads was first shown at the former Packer Schopf Gallery (Chicago) in 2014 and then traveled to Lindenwood University in Saint Louis in 2015. Other solo shows include Invisible Mother’s Milk (2012) at Packer Schopf and Ballad of the Tattooed Lady (2011) at Firecat Projects, both in Chicago. Her gloves have been featured in Bust magazine, Skin Deep tattoo magazine, Raw Vision magazine and online features at Mother-Musing, Lost at E Minor and the Jealous Curator. Ellen lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The aesthetics of vintage tattoos dominated your work from 2011-2013. What first drew you to tattoos?

Ellen Greene: Yes, tattoo imagery really began to dominate my psyche and my body much earlier than when it showed up in my work. It all began in the late 90s. I began to get tattooed in art school as a means of self expression and rebellion. I was determined not be just some girl. I wanted to be THAT girl—the one with the tattoos. There were several women in Kansas City who were heavily tattooed at that time, but it was still a rare thing to see. Tattoo parlors then were still part of underground culture. This was before reality TV shows and any sort of mainstream acceptance of tattoos. It was a real act of bravery to walk into a parlor let alone get tattooed especially as a woman.

Light Bringer, 2016. Acrylic on vintage collar, wood and steel frame.

OPP: What other aesthetic influences do you connect with the tattoos?

EG: I loved early Northern Renaissance painting and the way that symbolic imagery was used to tell biblical stories without words. The themes in the paintings covered everything from redemption, love, victory and grace to the depths of evil, pain, loss and suffering. When I looked on the walls of the tattoo parlor, I saw all these little drawings—glyphs—that covered a similar range of meaning and emotion. It’s a visual language rife with subconscious meaning. When you see a snake, a pretty pin-up, a rose, a heart a dagger you intuitively know the emotional equivalence to those images.

Girls Girls Girls, 2015. Painted gloves.

OPP: How did you merge your own content with existing designs?

EG: Beyond being just an Western Christian visual vocabulary, traditional American tattoo revolves around a vocabulary of the sailor/hero. I was interested in Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey. I was fascinated by the hero, who it is and how he/she functions in society. In looking at my own hero’s journey, I realized that there was little imagery in our Western culture for women to take as their own. Sailors and biker outlaws had ways to mark their victories in their skin but when a woman put those images in her skin she was not a hero; she was a whore.

So I took the sailor tattoos and refocused them as female-centered. For example, I turned the pin-up into a she-beast with a multiple breasts all leaking milk in order to shift the narrative away from the male gaze to an embodiment of the mysteries of female life-giving powers. Giving birth to my two daughters was one of the most gnarly and exhilarating experiences of my life. I had to create images that reflected my personal journey.

Little Omie Little Omie, 2014. Acrylic on gloves. Approx 15"x 23"

OPP: Did you do a lot of research?

EG: I just drew and looked at and drew tattoo images until I could draw in that American tattoo style with my eyes closed. I wanted to have the technical skills of a skilled tattoo artist to really upend the vocabulary. It mattered to me that my friends who were tattoo artists really respected my work. I wanted to reframe the symbols while at the same time respecting the art form.

OPP: Why are tattoos conceptually ideal for exploring stories about and societal expectations placed on women?

EG: In many indigenous, non-Western cultures, women were the main wearers of tattoos, but they were symbols of status not rebellion. In Western culture tattoos are just understood as masculine. It was only recently that women began wearing them. But even today, a woman who is heavily tattooed is viewed as sexually deviant or rebellious by more conservative peers. A man is assumed to have his masculinity enhanced and to have “earned” his tattoos.

I put the tattoo imagery on white gloves initially as a fluke experiment. I just though of a glove as another white canvas to work on. But because the glove is such a symbol of pure, white femininity, the tattoo combined with the glove really had an interesting effect. It became an object that is somewhere between masculine and feminine. It felt like an accurate reflection of who I am and of my experience in my own body. Something unconventional.

Snake Girls, 2011. Acrylic on paper. Approx 11"x14"

OPP: Have you ever designed actual tattoos? Does anyone wear your drawings on their body?

EG: So. I am going to take you to task about the word actual. I am not a tattoo artist, but the designs I make are just as actual as any design hanging on the wall of the tattoo parlor. They have the same potential to be worn as any other tattoo design. But I get what you mean. :)

I have a tattoo of my own design on my body and, yes, several people have tattoos of mine. It’s incredibly cool to see people take these designs that I am using as this theoretical and make them “real” on their body. Maybe thats what you were getting at.

OPP: Point taken. I meant, have you drawn imagery with the intention that it was for skin instead of fabric? I’m curious about the possible difference between drawing for a shaped and moving canvas—the body—as opposed to a static, flat one.

EG: I appreciate your being generous with me on that. Yes, I think that there is a freedom in that I don’t need to consider the body in my designs. So you are right, there is something different about designing on a flat object versus a curved form. But because my designs are based on already existing formulas- i.e. traditional tattoo-they follow certain rules that look inherently look good or function well on a human body. Its why I am so drawn to this particular style of tattoo. There are a lot of trends in tattoo. I’ve been around long enough to see them come and go, but the traditional looks classic, it always will “read” properly. They transcend a certain time or trend, and that is the core component of why I use them in my work.

The Mother's Body, 2015. Painted gloves.

OPP: Tell us about the recurring visual motif of the droplet. It is alternatively a teardrop and a drop of breast milk.

EG: Yes, again, I was/am fascinated by early Renaissance paintings. There is a very famous painting by Dieric Bouts called Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowing Virgin). The way he painted those tears—holy cow! It just blew me away. They are so real looking. His painting skill with those tears allows the viewer to empathize with her suffering. I wanted to be able to use something so small and make it have an impact.

So in the context of my personal symbology the teardrop stands for: tears, milk and blood. These are the fluids of life. In my experience of being a new mother, I remember being so overwhelmed by the degree to which all of these fluids were coming out of me. It was comic and tragic but also amazing.

So I use the teardrop to remember that life-giving power of a woman’s body. Also within our consumer culture “wetness” is somehow related to something shameful. Different products (deodorants, pads, etc.) are always being marketed to us as a solution to “wetness.” These products can only be marketed to us if we buy into the shame of our natural bodies. So to give female bodies constant droplets is part of our heroic symbology. I own all that messy stuff and try to elevate it.

Painted Lady, 2017. Oil on board. 16"x 20"

OPP: You’ve recently shifted away from painting and embroidering on clothing and accessories. Past, Present and Future (2017) seems to be the bridge between the paintings on gloves and the new oil paintings on canvas. What led you to embrace the convention of the canvas?

EG: I began in art school as a painter, but when I had children it was increasingly difficult to have a home studio and oil paint around. I shifted to the gloves and acrylic and mixed media so that I could be efficient and less toxic. During the time that I wasn’t painting, I missed it so much. I dreamt about it; it felt like an essential part of me I wasn’t using.

What led me back to painting was a personal tragedy. In the simplest terms I had a massive emotional and mental breakdown the spring of 2015. My life and family was falling apart, and I was deteriorating mentally and physically to a point where I needed help. Without being too esoteric or spiritually “out there,” it was nothing short of divine intervention that started the healing process for me. So as I have gained a new life perspective I had to finally give myself permission to do my paintings again. And now that I am painting, I feel so healthy and whole. It’s really a testament to the old saying “its never to late to begin again.”

Mom, 2017. Oil on board. 18" x 24"

OPP: The thread of the painted body and motherhood connect these new oil paintings to the older work. How are the painted bodies in Mom and Painted Lady, both 2017, different from and similar to the “tattooed” gloves?

EG: So before I had formulated this elaborate tattoo vocabulary, I painted figuratively and mostly self portraits. When I started painting again, I began where I left off. It had been some 16 years since I had last oil painted. I found that I was not really who I was when I last lifted that brush. It was both exciting and terrifying to get in touch with myself and with the canvas as a creative space.

Mom and Painted Lady are part of a larger body of work still in progress. It’s a slow process, but I am working on weaving together the old imagery with the self portraits in a way that makes a conceptual continuous arc. The older work was more theoretical and based on these glyphs that were trying to gain a new meaning. They were autobiographical but also removed enough that I did not really have to identify too closely. But now, I’m painting my face and my daughters’ faces. It’s us unfiltered—well, filtered through my brain :)

With what I have been through, I am no longer afraid to be direct in expressing and owning my own experience. So with these new paintings I am searching for a kind of truth about myself and my life journey. Very similar in the way the tattoo imagery looked to upend the conventions of the form and to create a new dialog about power symbols, this on-going series of paintings looks to tear apart conventional forms of the ideal mother.

To see more of Ellen's work, please visit artbyellengreene.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Skiles

Am I Born to Die: Hadrian #7 (pink), 2016. Acrylic & Cloth on Paper. 15.75 x 13.75 inches, framed.

NATHAN SKILES' constructions—both sculptural and two-dimensional—are simutaneously silly and dead serious. In acrylic diptyches that reference target practice and the game of darts, he highlights duality. In foam rubber cuckoo clocks and reconstructions made from chopped-up foam rubber cuckoo clocks, he emphasizes synthesis. In collages that mash up familiar textile patterns like camoflage and plaid with the folk art form of the Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, he traffics in the abstract languages embedded in material culture. Nathan earned his BFA (2002) at Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida and his MFA (2006) at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He has had solo exhibitions at Green Contemporary (New York, NY), Hunterdon Art Museum (Clinton, NJ) and the Center for Arts and Culture at University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN). In 2017, his work was included in group shows at Tampa Museum of Art, Centre Gallery at University of South Florida and Highlands Museum of the Arts (Sebring, Florida). He is an is an instructor at the Ringling College of and Design. Nathan lives and works in Sarasota, Florida.

OPP: Can you talk generally about how think about and work with collage? This process also seems to be a metaphor in your work.

NS: There’s a lot to disentangle in this question. Growing up in a German Baptist home in rural Indiana, making was an integral part of my early experience. A connection was born out of a dichotomy of a pride found in self-sufficiency and the embarrassment of standing apart from culture at large, in ill-fitting handmade and secondhand clothes.

As an object, nothing quite exemplifies this like a patchwork quilt made of recycled scraps. These specific quilts, like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, are a strange, imperfect hybrid born from the remnants of whole beings. Previously intact, leftovers now lashed together to find a new life.

Seamless integration is often a noble idea fraught with rough edges and pushback. As artists, I think we need to embrace that collage might not improve upon the original, that corruption and contamination might be collage’s most effective and evocative qualities.

“Siphoning Sinew and Slippage” cuckoo clock, construction fence, dreamcatcher, spider’s web, and Dutch hex sign, 2010. Corrugated plastic and foam rubber. 38" x 21" x 19"

OPP: Up until recently, your dominant material was foam rubber. You used it in various early sculptures, in the Birdhouses, in the Cuckoo Clocks, and in The Clockmaker’s Apprentice (2011). What drew you to this material?

NS: I gravitate towards wry and knowing gestures. The earliest sculptural work started out as rather unconvincing ersatz replicas of overly aggressive props; swords, arrows, traps. As I became more familiar with the materials I began to drop the more problematic and fugitive elements and eventually landed on foam as a ubiquitous, malleable and convincing material. 

Golem #5; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011. Foam rubber. 16 x 12 x 12 inches.

OPP:  The Clockmaker's Apprentice (2011) included 68 Golems, 5 Shoggoths and 25 Frankenstein’s monsters. All of these creations combine cuckoo clocks with building tools—scissors, protractors, levels, painter’s tape and other measuring devices. What’s different about the golems, the shoggoths and the monsters?

NS: As the work became more refined, I began to feel it lose its contrarian edge. Instead of exploring materiality I chose to focus on developing the imagery. I decided to make images of objects aware of their lowly position, made of generic and common stuff and stuck in whatever idiotic gesture I, as a capricious creator, willed them in to.

(As a side note, I realize now that I find the weeping tragedy mask the more honest and acceptable of the twined comedy/tragedy images. The comedy version, stuck forever with its painful, gaping smile is an unnerving reflection on contradiction.) 

I separated the series in to three groups to delineate the structural differences of how the parts came together. First, the golems were created as one-off experiences. Simple, crude faces created as caricatures of facial gestures. Frankenstein’s Monsters were the golems taken one step further; each one is made from the pieces of former golems, cut up and recombined to create a three-dimensional version of a Surrealist’s exquisite corpse drawing. Like the eponymous coagulate in an H.P. Lovecraft story, the shoggoths were the mishmash of several sculptures fused together with little regard for structure or appearance.

Frankenstein's Monster #12; cuckoo clocks and birdhouse with tools, 2011. Foam rubber. 31 x 12 x 11 inches

OPP: How does this series speak to the relationship between the creation and the creator?

NS: I know a number of artists who are terrible stewards of their own work, and at that time I might have been the worst. As a pragmatist storage is always an issue; it didn’t hurt that the objects were lightweight and flexible. As an indifferent parent to the completed objects I have to contend with both the physical mountain of objects I create and the complex nature of mass proliferation. As much as I feel compelled to make, I also think it’s equally important to question the hubris of creating permanent gestures.

Eye of Providence cw, 2013. Acrylic on paper, with bullet holes. 33.5” x 25.5” each, framed diptych.

OPP: Will the Circle Be Unbroken is a series of collages made with acrylic, paper and fabric that refer to Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs. What do the hex signs mean to you and why do you render them as fabric and paint collages?

NS: The Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, a form of folk art and magic, are emblems and motifs painted on barns and homes to promote fertility and prosperity. I think of them as a container for intentionality.

I combined the standard motifs with patterns of pride— tartans, plaids, familial patterns—and protection—fencing and camouflage. As I continued to work on these pieces, it struck me how significant images of power are, not to the weak, but to those who are insecure.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken #22, 2014. Acrylic Collage on Paper and Cloth. 24" x 24", framed.

OPP: Were you thinking more about the possibility of secret symbols or pure abstraction in referencing the hex signs?

NS: Not to be too evasive, but I’m not sure I make much of a difference between pure abstraction and secret symbolism. Both are imbued with a creator’s will and, regardless of how succinct they are, it can be damn difficult to decode them without pre-knowledge.

Am I Born to Die Trammel #1 (violet), 2017. Acrylic & Cloth on Paper. 23 x 20.5 inches, framed.

OPP: Your newest series Am I Born to Die initially brought to mind the divided lunch trays I used to eat from at public schools. Is this an intentional reference?

NS: Not an intended reference, but I think the logic is sound and gets to the secret heart of the work—the maturity of a holistic meal shouted down by an impetuous child demanding to keep the peas out of their mashed potatoes.

OPP: What does this series do with pattern and its pride and protection connotations that the hex signs didn’t? 

NS: I have a strong belief that effective works of art avoid the need to decipher what the artist intends for it to be about and instead tend to wear their tone of voice on their sleeve.

Forcing myself to continue to cultivate the metaphor of the hex sign began to feel insincere, the constraints of the metaphor were overbearing, and in my mind its symbolic power had started to wane. 

It’s my hope that the new works, in their state of tenuous integration, more openly complicate the relationship between individuality and collectivism, pride and prejudice, protection and insecurity. Unmoored from the restraints of the hex signs, the new work can evoke a broader range of contradictions of compartmentalization inherent in rubble masonry, stained glass, malignant cell walls, and even lunch trays.   

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanskiles.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?