OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Doug Russell

Upon all of their tomorrows... 04 (detail), 2016. Inktense Pencil, Prismacolor Pencil and Gesso on Mylar. 64" x 40"

DOUG RUSSELL piles ruins, both real and imagined, on top of one another in layered drawings and stereoscopic photographs. His practice rests firmly on a foundation of direct observational drawing of architectural forms. Combining this onsite experience with constructed and projected ruins in his studio results in work that explores the ever-changing, evolving nature of the world. Doug earned a BFA at Columbia College in Missouri, followed by an MA and MFA at The School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa in Iowa City. His work has been exhibited in solo shows at the Missoula Art Museum, the Helen E. Copeland Gallery in Bozeman, MT, the Leedy Voulkos Art Center in Kansas City, and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Kaybolan Suretler (Lost Forms), his upcoming two-person show with Gabrielle Reeves Oral, will open on October 17, 2017 at Istanbul Concept Gallery in Turkey. Two of Doug's drawings have recently been accepted into the permanent collection of the The Museum for Architectural Drawing at the Tchoban Foundation in Berlin. You can read his thoughts on travel drawing in Bali and Java in a recently-published guest post for Urban Sketchers. Doug lives and works in Laramie, Wyoming.

OtherPeoplePixels: In your statement, you say, “I build improvised and invented realities born out of my love of direct observational drawing and architectural form. The imagery and process express the perpetual cycle of human construction and natural decay in the tradition of the architectural capriccio.” Tell us about the “tradition of the architectural capriccio.”

Doug Russell: A capriccio was initially an architectural fantasy, in which buildings— archaeological ruins and other architectural forms—were composed in fictional and often fantastic situations. This interest in depicting ruins (whether real or imagined) was, as I understand it, a Baroque response to the Renaissance vision of resurrected, revered and perfected antiquity. Instead of a shining new version of soaring and complete Roman buildings,  the capriccio in all of its forms was an acknowledgement and romanticizing of the broken nature of the past. . . the past as it exists and persists in our present, fragmented and incomplete. 

Later the architectural fantasies of the capriccio become backdrops for incidental interactions between foregrounded human characters. The most famous of these is Goya’s series of 80 etchings entitled Los Caprichos. Related visually and conceptually to the capriccio is the architectural folly. Many wealthy European landowners had real ancient Roman ruins on their land : pieces of aqueducts, a few pillars from a temple, etc. These often became highly valued aesthetic moments on their estates, with gardens and other features eventually constructed around them. Wealthy landowners, who didn’t have any authentic ruins, began commissioning architects to design and construct fake ruins on their land. These fake ruins (made to look as real and old as possible) were called follies.

The Persistence of Ruin 06, 2017. Inktense Pencil, Prismacolor Pencil, Gesso on Mylar between multiple Plexiglas layers. 17" x 11"

OPP: How does your work participate in that tradition?

DR: Both my drawings and my explorations with the Styropolis model exist within this tradition of fake and fictional ruin compositions and constructions. Even if some of the elements depicted in my large Mylar drawings are pulled from real sources and locations, they are arranged together in a completely unreal and impossible ways. And Styropolis itself is a complete fantasy and folly. It is meant to both fool the viewer—if only for a moment—into believing that it really existed, and to be honestly what it is… a collection of discarded modern day debris.

Styropolis 3, 2015. Styrofoam and Acrylic Paint

OPP: Was Styropolis your first foray into sculpture? Do you think of it as a sculpture in its own right or merely a set on which to project photographs of real world ruins for your series of Stereoscopic Photographs?

DR: Styropolis is the first large scale three-dimensional work I’ve created. In the past I made small individual architectural elements out of foam core and cardboard to help observe and better understand the form. For now, the piece is a jumping off point for traditional photographs, stereoscopic photographs, projections and drawings from observation. I’m sure I will eventually exhibit part or all of it,  and so I can envision it as a sculpture in its own right. However, it really grew out of a need to play and manipulate architectural forms in a three-dimensional environment. Styropolis helped me bring a physical version of the ruined places I love exploring while traveling back into my studio. Ideally, I would build a working studio on the grounds of Angor Wat, so that I could go out every day and draw from the real thing. This is as close as I can get in reality.

Projecting images of imaginary (Tower of Babel) and real (Homs, Syria) places onto Styropolis continues the sedimentary process of layering, overlapping and obscuring that pervades much of my work. It confuses and conflates the real with the fake, the imaginary with the physically constructed and the important with the meaningless. As I stated above, Styropolis is meant to both fool the viewer and be honestly what it is. It is once again, a collection of discarded fragments coalescing for a period of time into a coherent whole before being broken and forgotten again.

Stereoscopic Styropolis 07, 2017. Stereo photograph. 4.3" x 7.5"

OPP: What role does travel play in your process? Tell us about the Travel Drawings you’ve been making since 1995.

DR: I first traveled abroad in 1995 to Venice as a graduate student at the University of Iowa. I returned the following summer as a teaching assistant. After Venice, I knew I needed to spend more time outside the United States. In 1997, I moved to Bursa, Turkey for two years to teach at Uludağ University. Living abroad changed my view of myself, the world and my place within it. As a professor at the University of Wyoming, I have led four study-abroad classes to Turkey. In addition to nine trips back to Turkey, I have spent a month traveling through Cambodia, another month in Indonesia and two weeks back in Venice (after twenty years). I am currently planning a four week trip to Peru for spring 2018.

Traveling and drawing on site in a new and unfamiliar place is a very powerful experience. It has a visceral quality, a sense of immediacy and being fully present. If you are drawing from a photograph or memory, you have all day. . . or all week. . . or all year. That infinite amount of time can sometimes lead to procrastination and/or boredom. . . or even overworking. In real time, the light is changing, the weather is changing and you are changing. There are bugs and people, wind or rain. It makes every choice more powerful, individual, unique, exciting, frustrating, challenging and scary because it is either going to succeed or fail in that moment. As opposed to other studio work that can take months, a drawing done on location is either going to work or not work. That drawing becomes a more complete and lasting memory of that new place for me.   

The combination of drawing from direct observation and drawing a new and wholly unfamiliar place heightens my sense of who and where I am. . . in this world, in time and space and in history. I carry that feeling back to my studio.

House Plant 01, 2017. Prismacolor pencil on gray Stonehenge paper. 30" x 22"

OPP: Can you talk about the interaction of architecture and plant life in your work?

DR: At the core, my work is about complex structure, growth and decay. I have explored this through organic forms in Entangled Worlds (2009), Medusa (2007), Another Nature (2007), Conglomerations (2009) and through architectural forms in Empire, Edifice (2005-2011), Ebb and Flow (2010-2011), Upon all of their Tomorrows… (2016), The Persistence of Ruin (2017). In Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino writes “…and after dismantling the city piece by piece, he reconstructed it in other ways, substituting components, shifting them, inverting them.” I enjoy the way Calvino playfully offers us a window into how broken elements can be rearranged or reoccupied for new and unexpected purposes. This of course is the true state of all things. Every thing is a coming together of parts into one form before eventually dissolving again into fragments, only to be reformed with other pieces into a new whole.

In my most current series, House Plants, I bring together the organic and architectural bodies of work. I depict the familiar architectural vernacular of American ranch and split level suburban houses in bright sunlight and strong colors. They look new and essentially “un-ruined,” but they are not fit for human occupancy due to the fantastically impossible explosion of plant life rooting in and emanating from them. As with all ancient ruins, the houses have moved on from their intended purpose. Like a fallen tree in a forest, host to numerous fungi and insects, these houses have become homes for other lifeforms. The houses represent the initial and narrow view of human intention and needs, now subverted and allowed to take on a new more expansive and non-human purpose.

Upon all of their tomorrows... 14, 2017. Inktense Pencil, Prismacolor Pencil on gray paper. 30" x 22"

OPP: In your recent series The Persistence of Ruin, you’ve begun using gesso on Mylar and multiple layers of Plexiglas. How does this support your conceptual interests in ruins?

DR: The layered Mylar and Plexiglas create an atmospheric effect of depth. There is also a conceptual aspect to the layering that echoes archeological and geological sedimentary strata. History is built in layers, with each new level partially or completely hiding those underneath – both physically and in our memories. The drawings are primarily done with Prismacolor pencil on the front side of the Mylar – with thin layers of white Prismacolor pencil or washes of gesso on the reverse side of the Mylar to create opacity. The series is meant to be evolving and ever changing.

As William Kentridge writes in his book Six Drawing Lessons, “The land is an unreliable witness. It is not that it effaces all history, but events must be excavated, sought after in traces, in half-hidden clues. There is a similarity to the land and what it does, and our unreliable memory. Things which seemed so clear and so embedded in us fade; a shock, an outrage that we should live by, becomes dull. We have to work to find that first, true impulse. We need the terrain of the half-solved, the half-solvable riddle, the distance between knowing and not knowing, and being aware of our own limits of understanding, the limits of our memory, but prodding the memory nonetheless.”

The Persistence of Ruin 05, 2017. Inktense Pencil, Prismacolor Pencil, Gesso on Mylar between multiple Plexiglas layers. 17" x 11"

OPP: How will this new work evolve and change?

DR: I have settled on ten compositions for the show in Istanbul. Each framed piece consists of two to four layers of Mylar and Plexiglas. After this show, I will add new elements and recombine the existing layers in new ways. The continuing evolution of this body of work mirrors the way in which historical moments and places are obscured, revealed and re-hidden over time. 

I see The Persistence of Ruin series as yet another version of the continual flux of forms coming together temporarily, just to fall apart and be rearranged again into other forms. In this way, it echoes Styropolis, but in a more dynamic and interactive way. Eventually The Persistence of Ruin series may include House Plant elements as well as portions of other previous drawings from my studio practice.

To circle back to travel and travel drawing, working on location around the world helps me to stay focused on the idea that I am just another momentary collection of fragmentary physical and psychological elements, searching for a place within it all to just be. At its best, it can be a profoundly humbling experience.

To see more of Doug's work, please visit russellfineart.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 Marnia Johnston

TENDr Pod, 2016. Ceramic, Electronics, Plants.

MARNIA JOHNSTON combines a very old technology—ceramics—with new technology—electronics and robotics—in interactive works that tend to exist outside the white cube. Her TE+ND Rovers and TENDr Pods roam through the landscape, engaging bystanders to help them find light and water in exchange for education about native and non-native plants in the area. Marnia earned her BFA from San Jose State University (2007) and her MFA from the California College of the Arts (2007). She has been an Artist-in-Residence at John Michael Kohler Center for the Arts (2016), Kala Arts Institute (2015), Anderson Ranch (2014). Her numerous exhibitions include shows at Paragon Gallery (2017) in Portland, OR, Portand Museum of Contemporary Craft (2016), Richmond Center for the Arts (2015) in Richmond, CA and The American Museum of Ceramic Art (2015) in Pomona, CA. Most recently, Marnia participated in a Disaster and Climate Risk Artathon over the summer with Stanford doctoral students to create artworks that illustrate ecological resiliency. The results from that event will be shown at the Stanford Blume Earthquake Engineering Center from October 4 - December 1, 2017. Marnia lives and works in Concord, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk generally about how you use technology in your work as an artist?

Marnia Johnston: I think that people forget what technology is. It’s the zipper on your jacket, your shoelaces (or Velcro/elastic for those of us who like slip-on shoes), a fishing net, very basic stuff that we no longer consider technology because it’s so ubiquitous. When we talk about technology today, we neglect our history, our long culture, our techne. That’s why I like to use ceramic techniques, some of the oldest surviving technologies we have, and mix them with rapid prototyping techniques, motors, Raspberry Pi, and various sensors.

I’m not an engineer, but for the TE+ND rovers I had to learn the iterative engineering design process. This meant learning how to design robot parts using a variety of CAD programs, learning CAM programs that transform my models into gcode and then learn how to use 3D printers, CNC mills and water jet cutters. It’s been a long process.

TE+ND Rover Ceramic Version, 2014. Ceramic, PLA, MDF, Electronics.

OPP: You mentioned the TE+ND rovers. “The rovers are robotic fostering environments that care for their own garden of native plants by interacting with participants and actively seeking out light and water.” How do they tend their own gardens? Where do they rove?

MJ: TE+ND Rovers, designed after space exploration vehicles, are intended to investigate a range of environments, from cityscapes to less urban locales. Locations for deployments have included Mt. Diablo, Joshua Tree, and Briones Park (all in California) and the Kohler factory in Wisconsin.

I refer to the audience as participants for this project. The participants are encouraged to assist the rovers by watering their plants and herding them (using their obstacle avoidance systems) toward the resources they need—light and water— to keep their garden healthy. In the future, rovers will use an optical sensor to locate water. In an urban setting, rovers will find water in sprinkler systems, drip irrigation, rain, fog, and from participants. In helping the rovers, participants learn about cultivating native California habitat and stretch the limits of human-robotic empathy and engagement.


Rover field test

OPP: Do you monitor them or just release them? How do other humans encounter the rovers?

MJ: The rovers are currently monitored during deployments. I would like to just let them roam but there are obvious complications to that. For example, how to inform participants of the project efficiently when a monitor is not present or how to keep people from just taking them home. The rovers are usually deployed along popular hiking routes and participants encounter them without previous knowledge of the project. TE+ND monitors are on hand to answer questions and to initiate dialog about what participants consider “native.”

Succulent Surrogate: Legs2010. cast porcelain, steel, plants.

OPP: What kinds of assumptions do participants make about the plants surrounding them? What do you hope participants will understand about “native” plants?

MJ: From my experiences, most participants don’t really have an opinion until they remember that the Eucalyptus trees they see are from Australia or that most of the grasses underfoot are brown during the summer because the majority of them come from Europe. The non-native grasses grow so quickly that they’ve crowded out the native grasses, making it hard for native grasses to compete. I’d hope that the experience leads participants to understand that when they try to go for a hike to get back to ‘nature,’ what they are experiencing is managed landscape; that their opinions and actions help shape that landscape. I hope their experience with the project enables participants to make conscious decisions about local habitat that will benefit future human and nonhuman populations.

Swarm. Robotics.

OPP: SWARM is another robotic project that you’ve been involved with since 2007. What is your role in this collaboration?

MJ: SWARM was the brain child of Michael Prados and is funded by the Black Rock Foundation. Many people have contributed to its design, construction and presentation. In the beginning, we needed lots of volunteers with specific skill sets to help with R&D. We needed every type of labor, from building electronics to designing control interfaces. I helped to weld the aluminum shells, helped design a performance laser perimeter, presented the project to the public, among other things. In 2010 we were lucky enough to be invited to India to perform and give a presentation to students at the Indian Institute of Technology. I’ve also helped perform at Coachella, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, at NASA Ames, and in New Orleans as part of the Multispecies Salon. I’ve been involved with the project for 10 years now.

TENDr Pod, 2016. Ceramic, Electronics, Plants. Detail.

OPP: Tell us about DIYbio and how it impacted your current practice.

MJ: DIYbio was established to create a vibrant, productive and safe community for people who wanted to work on their own biology projects. Projects range from creating cheaper equipment that could be used more efficiently and effectively in the field, to synthetic biologists working in community labs to develop medicines (the Open Insulin project), food (Real Vegan Cheese), and renewable energy (biofuels).

I’m currently looking at cultivating oyster mushrooms and how they can be used for soil remediation as part of an art project. The Bay Area, where I live, had an important ship-building industry in World War II. There were over 30 shipyards, and their supporting industries covered the bay shore and estuaries. This industry, along with the use of lead paint, contaminated the local soil with lead. I’ve been going to Counter Culture Labs, a wonderful community lab in Oakland, where Bay Area Applied Mycology (BAAM) meets and has begun the soil remediation project. It’s a valuable resource and the Bay Area is lucky to have such an amazing and giving group of DIY biologists.

Orchid: Cast Clone, 2014. Translucent porcelain, steel.

OPP: Most of your work seems to make more sense outside the white cube. Can you talk about the role the site plays in your projects?

MJ: Unfortunately, because the projects are so conceptually tied to the site, they can be difficult to present in a gallery. For example, many of the native plants on the TE+ND rover growing platform can’t tolerate being inside where they dry out or don’t have the correct light level to flourish. It also just doesn’t have the same impact. Rolling along the California hills, you have a little rover laboring over vast, sometimes difficult landscapes. The rover’s size is diminished in this environment, compared to being situated in a white room.

It’s also encouraging to interact with people who are not prepared for art, as they usually are in a gallery. I get a wholly genuine response when people interact with my projects outside. Besides, who doesn’t like going for a hike?

See more of Marnia's work at marniajohnston.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 Chicago-based artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennie Ottinger

It's Just For Fun, 2017. Oil on panel.

JENNIE OTTINGER's paintings explore power dynamics, hive mind and social belonging. Uniforms—both official and casual—indicate group belonging, while the faces of her figures point to the complex emotional experience that belonging entails. Their expressions range from stunned to disgusted, pleased to anxious, dumbly triumphant to horrified and grotesque. After earning a BA (1994) at University of the Pacific and a BFA (2000) at California College of the Arts, Jennie went on to earn her MFA at Mills College in 2008. Recent solo exhibitions include Spoilers (2016) at Conduit Gallery (Dallas, Texas) and Letters to the Predator (2015) at Johansson Projects (Oakland, California). Rabble Rousers (2017), a two-person show with Megan Reed, closed recently at Johansson Projects. Jennie is a 2017-18 Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts, which will host an Open House on October 15, 2017 (12-5). She lives and works in San Francisco, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What are the major themes in your paintings of cheerleaders, clubs and secret societies?

Jennie Ottinger: I’m interested in that complexity and ambiguity of power dynamics. Each of us expresses power in the ways available to us and I try to depict some of these in my paintings. I’m also interested in the role clubs and organizations play in our society. We develop rituals and indicators to signify belonging. Where do we each belong and what is expected of us?

Whoooo!, 2017. Oil on canvas

OPP: The faces are all pretty equally grotesque. At some moments, these figures and the power dynamics they seem to stand for, are horrifying and I feel Schadenfreude at their suffering. Then, a second later, I feel pity and sadness for those cheerleaders and bros in neckties cause they are so desperate and trying so hard. Tell us why you paint the faces the way you do.

JO: I’m glad you experience that fluidity of reaction to the subjects. I love the variety of human faces and even though the ones I paint all look the same in a lot of ways, it demonstrates how with the slightest differences, people look different and expressions change. And when there is so much similar, you do notice the small differences between individuals. I guess it addresses that intersection of individuals and groups which is always on my mind.

I use uniforms (both formal—cheerleaders and causal—preppy) as short hand to signal a certain type. I like to play with the baggage that those preconceptions bring to the story. Preppy boys mean different things to different people, and it might be very different than how you feel about that one preppy boy you know personally. It’s like that “some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” phenomenon.  We can separate how we feel about a whole group from how we feel about one member of that group.

Are You Buying What We're Selling?, 2013.

OPP: Are you laughing at or empathizing with the figures you paint?

JO: Maybe a little of both. I use humor as a way to talk about issues I’m interested in. I present them as if I’m laughing at them but try to leave hints that I take their situation seriously. This ambiguity again is why I’m so interested in cheerleaders and sororities. Both are considered frivolous in certain circles. But though there is a case that they are outdated, they both relied on the relative feminists of their times.

On the one hand cheerleaders traditionally exists for the benefit of men—to help the men succeed in their endeavor—but cheerleaders have evolved to be mostly women and girls because at one time, only men and boys could participate in sports. Before Title IX, there wasn’t much girls could do in the way of extracurricular sports, so they flocked to cheerleading. It has further evolved into something that stands on its own. Cheerleaders are amazing and tough athletes who are not valued as much as they should be in the culture—or would be if they were men, I suspect. In fact, pop culture narrows them down to a few different types creating an almost virgin/whore dichotomy of the mean girl or the wholesome over-achiever.

Full disclosure, I tried out for my freshman cheerleading team but didn’t make it. I think you should know that. I was, however, in a sorority and although I do totally understand the criticisms of sororities, women started them because they weren’t allowed into the secret organizations that men were members of. After three years as a member, I still don’t understand exactly why they exist, but if fraternities exist, it seems feminist to start a club for women. And, for what it’s worth, I loved my time there.

Trustfall Among Taxidermy, 2015.

OPP: Many of your recent paintings refer to fictional stories, both novels and movies. What's your relationship to stories in general?

JO: I love books and almost always read fiction. A while ago I started to panic because there were so many books I wanted to read, but I felt like I would never get to them. So I started Read the Classics, a series where I painted new covers for books that were considered classics or modern classics and wrote summaries so that if you didn’t have the time or attention span for say Moby Dick, you could just read my summaries. They won’t get you through even a middle school class but they will get you through a cocktail party conversation. Which also ties into the themes of being in the club or not.

I learned a lot from this project (which is ongoing as I still do commissions of these). As you can guess, whenever you look at the western cannon of anything, it is obvious how white it is and to a lesser degree how male dominated the list is. It led me to seek out classics by women and people of color, and I read several amazing books I wouldn’t have gotten to. It also made me notice the way women were portrayed and their ultimate fates in the novels by men over the centuries.

Spoiler: He’s Already Married (Scene from Jane Eyre), 2016. Oil on panel. 16 × 20 in.

OPP: What about the Spoiler paintings? I love the reframing of the classics through the lens of contemporary television.

JO: I was looking to see if I could notice any patterns in the plots of classic novels and one thing that stood out was that many of them end either happily with a wedding or tragically with the female protagonist dying in torment. I made the Spoiler paintings as a way to take the summaries to the next level and just telling the viewer how the book ends. I also always think it’s funny when you get a book and the cover is so vague and has nothing to do with the actual story, but then the jacket summary gives the whole plot away.

There Must Be a Clover in the Atmosphere (Scene from Bring It On), 2016. Oil on panel. 18 × 14 in

OPP: What do texts like Bring it On have in common with Jane Austen, Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre?

JO: I love Bring It On because it is dealing with serious issues in the guise of a silly cheerleading movie. It doesn’t try too hard to broadcast that it is dealing with profound social issues like cultural appropriation, race and feminism. Jane Austen is similar in the way that she is interested in class and feminism but conceals these issues in a pretty, pleasant, intimate story. It’s interesting to me when something seems frivolous, but you discover it’s actually profound instead of just assuming something’s profound because that’s the way it’s presented.

I also see Bring It On as one of the very few films that presents cheerleaders as actual human beings. Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre, as different as they are from Bring It On's Torrance and from each other, were all treated a certain way because of who people thought they were from surface judgements. As I was saying in the earlier answer, I like to use stereotypes to challenge the viewer to reassess what biases come up for them. It might be easier to admit to ourselves that we're a little dismissive of cheerleaders than it is to admit we might also be a little dismissive of a marginalized group in society.

OPP: What are you working on right now in your studio? Any new directions?

JO: I’m still working on cheerleading and sororities. I’m planning on sewing some cheerleader uniforms and want to include a performative element mainly so people will have to let me do their hair and makeup.

To see more of Jennie's work, please visit jennieottinger.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Julio Cesar Rodarte

Be Still My Soul, 2013. Acrylic on Shaped Panel. 22.5 x 24 inches.

Both figurative and abstract threads run throughout JULIO RODARTE's colorful paintings and illustrations. In work that celebrates sex and pleasure, he counters prudish taboos by rendering the body in geometric abstraction. Other works explore balance, symmetry and the interconnectedness of natural systems through pure, geometrical pattern. Julio earned his Associate Fine Arts degree at Glendale Community College in 2007. He has had solo exhibitions at A.E. England Gallery, Practical Art and the defunct One Voice Community Center, all in Phoenix. Two paintings will be included in Present Tense, a group show that opens on September 1, 2017 at MonOrchid Gallery (Phoenix, Arizona). You can purchase prints of his work here. Julio lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona.

OtherPeoplesPixels: First let’s talk about the queer, sex positive works like Friends Forever (2015) and Sit On It (2014). There’s a lightness, fun and joy in these paintings. Can you talk about how the bodies seem to merge into one another through your use of geometric patterns?

Julio Rodarte: The idea behind this series was to express that sex is not something dirty and perverse. It should be talked about it, rather than kept quiet. I remember when I was taking art classes and going to the museums and looking at these beautiful paintings of couples kissing. Sometimes they were naked, but there were no paintings of sexual intercourse because obviously sex is still a taboo. So, in my life drawing classes I would draw the human body by using shapes. That helped me draw better. By using geometric patterns, shapes and color I made something “dirty” look fun. I want the viewer to engage with my artwork, to take a deep view of what is in front of them. Sometimes people don’t quite get it first until they analyze it deeper and that’s when I know I have succeeded. Friends Forever was quiet a challenge, sometimes colors and shapes don’t get along with others and I go back and change things. The funny part of these works is when people ask me, if I get an erection by working on these type of paintings. I just think to myself “If you only knew all the work I put on it” and laugh. People are funny!

You Really Are My Ecstasy, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 60 x 80 inches.

OPP: Symmetry plays an important role in many of your paintings. What are your visual influences in works like Encounter (2011), Be Still My Soul (2013), Invasion (2013), The Pyramid of Love (2015) and Anahera (2017)?

JR: Symmetry is balance and balance is harmony for me. My first experience with symmetry was when I was a kid. My mom would make these beautiful cross-stitched designs for tablecloths or handkerchiefs, mostly flowers. She was so meticulous about her work, she would make in one corner one design and then another. Her work was extremely symmetrical and very addictive. She would use vibrant colors, red, blues, greens, yellow. My mom was my first art teacher, now that I think about it. She taught me beauty and balance. So in college, you explore painting and get to go to museums. I went to the Phoenix Art Museum and there was an Al Held painting on the wall. This painting was gorgeous, more beautiful than any realistic painting there. So when I got home that day I looked online for more of his work and I discovered other artists working in geometric abstraction like Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland and artists from Argentina working with geometrics, among many others. Every time I discovered a new artist, I fell more in love with pattern and color and that’s when it hit me that’s what I wanted to do.

ANAHERA, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 20 X 24 inches.

OPP: I can totally see that connection to embroidered tablecloths, especially in When it Ends, It Starts Again (2014). I also see pinball machines, video games and sacred geometry. I was thinking a lot about the presence of sacredness in play and in the everyday. Is this something you are interested in?

JR: I have never been a spiritual person. But I like to listen to a lot of vocal trance music, which in a way is spiritual and very uplifting. I like the progressive beats of this music, the melodic parts which combine vocals from mostly female singers. The title for the painting When It Ends, It Starts Again was actually a title by the DJ ATB from his album Contact released in 2014. My latest painting Miracle Moment was inspired by Andy Duguid's song "Miracle Moments" featuring the vocals of Leah. Parts of the lyrics are in the painting. so I guess vocal trance music is a source of inspiration for me. Some other paintings are also titled after vocal trance songs such as Higher.

TOGETHER AS ONE, 2016. Acrylic on Canvas.

OPP: Can you talk about balance in non-symmetrical works like Together as One (2016), Where Life Begins (2016) and Overenthusiastic (2016)?

JR: These paintings are so different from the rest. They don’t have symmetry but they have balance. Overenthusiastic was a really hard painting. I was adding pattern on one side but then I would do something on the other side, and it quite didn’t get along. I was going back and forth. Sometimes color helps to balance everything; sometimes it just ruins everything. I didn’t start with a sketch like I did with Together as One and Where Life Begins. Together as One I had a simple linear sketch with no color. So when I was painting it some colors were not getting along. The blue background was initially lighter and it looked awful. I went back and changed that and I decided that it was done. Where life Begins was an interesting process because it went by so fast. I knew how the outcome was going to look because I did my preparatory work. I didn’t go on an adventure like with Overenthusiastic.

OPP: Can you talk a bit about the imagery in Together as One and Where Life Begins? These aren’t entirely abstract.

JR: Together as One is a painting inspired by connectivity. The first sketch I did was very similar to the final result. It was a very spontaneous drawing on a sunny day in Phoenix by the pool. I used to go tanning by swimming pool and take my sketchbook. I would draw nonsense drawings. Some never survived, but others like this one did. I guess I tend to relate how all things in this world all connected somehow. As for Where LIfe Begins is a painting that deals with nature and how it hangs on to survive in a very busy world full of human construction. I have a geometrical-looking star that represents the sun, a cloud watering three plants that represents nature and life. An empty building that symbolizes the darkness in humans and how we destroy natural beauty with the things we make and expand.

ELECTRIFY, 2016. Acrylic on shaped panel.

OPP: When and why did you first begin painting on shaped canvases? What makes you choose the conventional rectangle for some pieces and a shaped canvas for others?

JR: My first shaped painting was This or That Way? created in 2008 after discovering Elizabeth Murray, who’s artwork deeply impacted me. She inspired me a lot to be wild and adventurous. So I went to the woodworkers store bought my self some big pieces of MDF. I drew shapes, cut them carefully, assembled and gessoed them, and started to draw. It was a very spontaneous process but very detail-oriented. In 2010, I had my first show at Practical Art. The show was titled Shapes and it included all these shaped paintings. It was quite an experience and a very successful. Overenthusiastic was the last shaped painting I did, and the reason why is because I have not bought anymore MDF and cut new shapes. But I have a sketchbook full of shaped paintings I want to do, I just need a day or two to fully do all of these. If I don’t do it at once, I just not gonna do it because it’s time consuming just to prepare the surface.

1937-PINK TRIANGLE, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas.

OPP: One of your newest works is 1937—Pink Triangle (2017), referencing the pink triangles homosexuals were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps. Why paint this right now? Do any contemporary viewers not get the reference and simply see this as abstraction?

JR: You know, I was invited to participate in a show about the LGBTQ history organized by the Phoenix Public Library back in March. The show was titled LGBTQ: Rights and Justice. Looking at what the other artists were putting together, I realized that we were omitting gays that were put in concentration camps, humiliated, raped, starved and murdered. I needed to paint that Pink Triangle that identified them from the rest. People were taking pictures of it. I think most people know what that symbol means, even young generations. But my painting was meant to be more educational than artistic. Somebody offered me money for it, but I didn’t sell it. I won’t make money from the pain of others.

To see more of Julio's work, please visit juliorodarte.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ryan Pierce

Revisionist History, 2016. Flashe and spray paint on canvas over panel. 72 x 96 inches.

RYAN PIERCE's large-scale paintings operate more like pictoral diagrams of the interconnectedness of nature and culture than representations of the physical appearance of our world. In his most recent solo exhibition, Dusk is the Mouth of Night at Elizabeth Leach Gallery (Portland, Oregon), he continues his ongoing investigation of the "the historical links between natural history exploration and conquest." Ryan earned his BFA in Drawing at Oregon College of Art & Craft in 2003 and his MFA in Painting at California College of the Arts in 2007. In 2016 he was the Keynote Speaker at the Thin Green Line Conference (Oregon State University) and an Artist-in-Residence at the invitational Crow’s Shadow Institute for the Arts (Pendleton, Oregon). He also had two shows with artist Wendy Given: Nocturne at Whitespace Gallery (Atlanta) and Eyeshine at Portland State University. Ryan is a cofounder of Signal Fire, a non-profit that "builds the cultural value of the natural world by connecting artists to our remaining wild places." Ryan's home-base is Portland, Oregon.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The relationship of nature and culture is a primary theme in your work. How do you see this relationship?

Ryan Pierce: Dominant society tells us that nature and culture are separate and perhaps even mutually exclusive. It may sound simplistic, but I think this is at the root of so much injustice in our world. Judeo-Christian creation myths teach us about being cast out from The Garden, and capitalism builds on that binary to encourage the plundering of the Earth. Everything the European settlers of this continent associated with wildness (Native Americans, women’s bodies, predators, intact ecosystems) was simultaneously romanticized and denigrated to allow for its exploitation. Now climate change, in the form of more extreme and unpredictable weather events, is forcing the messiness of nature right into our lives and living spaces, breaking down our walls against the outside in very literal ways.

Retrospective, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 72 x 96 inches.

OPP: In paintings like Retrospective and The Free Museum, tree branches seem to have grown through the walls and floors. Is nature reclaiming cultural spaces, returning them to the wild? (Or do the trees just want to see the art?)

RP: In these paintings, the floods and fallen tree branches have ruined the gallery’s climate control, but they’ve also possibly liberated these stuffy spaces. I often think about Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 novel Housekeeping, in which the eclectic aunt Sylvie allows weather and animals to move through the open doors and windows of the home, the sort of radical embrace of natural systems that eventually compels CPS to intervene. The Free Museum addresses an additional idea: What if all the sacred objects that were never intended to be “art” in a Western sense— objects stolen from their cultures of origin and housed in museums— what if they are all just sleeping, and the storm that destroys the museum walls and floods the galleries allows these things to become re-enchanted and primed for magic in the present day?

The Free Museum, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 72 x 72 inches.

OPP: It often seems that your compositions move back and forth between depth and flatness within a single work. Can you talk about that perspective shift?

RP: That shifting perspective is probably related more to my stylistic impulses. I’m no minimalist, and ideally a viewer would look at my work for awhile and experience multiple levels of visual interest. Like many artists of my generation, I’m influenced by a panoply of picture-makers, including self-taught Balkan painters, comic books and probably the video games of my youth. In a sense, approaching a painting more as a diagram than an illusionistic space allows one to try to impart the essence of an aspect of nature, as opposed to its appearance. I jump back and forth between those approaches, or both in the same composition.

Mask for the Venomist, 2016. Flashe and collage on canvas over panel. 24 x 24 inches.

OPP: Masks show up in works like The Free Museum and Stanley Falls, where I take them to be literal masks, as exhibited in museums. But what about the series of paintings from 2016 with “mask” in the title? Mask for the Venomist, Mask for the Bandit Queen and Mask for Night Farming are just a few.

RP: I had a transformative art viewing experience some years ago, at the mask collection of the Museo Rafael Coronel in Zacatecas, in Mexico. The collection exceeds 13,000 masks from different Indigenous groups of Mexico, with maybe a third of that on display at any time. They often include imagery from animistic spiritual traditions, cloaked in biblical guises to survive the Spanish laws, and they're innovative and debaucherous and meticulous and funny.

I fixated on the mask as a formal starting point for the paintings where they're singular in the composition, piecing together objects that, along with the title, suggest a loose narrative. In the larger works like The Free Museum, the masks are stand-ins for looted archeological relics but I invented them all without source material because I didn't feel that it was my right to recreate any culture's holy objects.

Mask for the Welfare Rancher is a direct jab at the bozos who orchestrated the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a couple years ago. The degree of entitlement necessary to seize Federal land for any reason other than to return it to its original Paiute caretakers, let alone to claim it for a bunch of ultra-rightwing Mormon militiamen. . . ugh! I hope they're just a plastic bag hanging on the cruel barbed wire fence of this decade, soon to degrade and blow away.

Casta, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 46 x 42 inches.

OPP: Tell us about Signal Fire, which you co-founded in 2008.

RP: Signal Fire’s mission is to “build the cultural value of the natural world by connecting artists to our remaining wild places.” Public lands activist Amy Harwood and I started Signal Fire as an attempt to merge our respective communities, to get artists outdoors for inspiration and to fall in love with public land, as well as to provide activists with new, open-ended strategies for their campaigns.

Eight years and 350 artists later, we have a real community of people who are sharing critical dialogue about wildlands and ecology, and our role as culture-makers is catalyzing social change. We offer a residency in wall tents, backpacking and canoe retreats, and an immersive arts and ecology field program called Wide Open Studios. Our Tinderbox Residency sponsors artists to work as temporary staff among environmental groups and our Reading In Place series offers a day hike book club in the Portland area. We highlight the work of our alumni in exhibitions and events, such as a film festival this coming fall.

Amy and I share the administrative work with our Co-Director Ka'ila Farrell-Smith, a splendid painter and activist, who brings her work in support of Indigenous survivance into everything she does. Amy and Ka'ila's leadership has helped our organization to evolve from a mix of arts, ecology and recreation, to highlighting the social justice issues that should be integral to any conversation about public lands in the American West.

The Mountain That Devours Us, 2016. Flashe and spray paint on canvas over panel. 42 x 46 inches.

OPP: It took a while to get in touch with you to do this interview because you were actually out in the wilderness, with no reception for long stretches of time. I think many contemporary artists believe they need to stay connected to social media all the time, posting on Instagram and checking Facebook. Why is disconnecting a good idea for all humans? What about for artists specifically?

RP: I’m actually writing these answers in a tent in Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, on week one of a four-week trip. The stars are brilliant tonight and I can hear a rushing, glacier-fed creek, about fifty feet away. Some of the students on our Wide Open Studios trips are young enough that they've never gone a week without a cell phone before.

I'm not a technophobe, but I believe solitude is healthy and increasingly hard to find. Disconnecting is good for building one's attention span and patience to work through a challenge without clicking away. It's reassuring to feel a lasting sense of surprise and the profound smallness that comes with living outside, away from the built environment. It cultivates wonder.

The friendships forged while backpacking through bugs and storms are precious and enduring. The internet is the gold rush of our day: sure, a few artists’ work goes viral, but most of those people are either a flash in the pan or they were damn good to begin with. For the rest of us, myself included, it's a mildly unfulfilling time suck. Every time I hear the little voice encouraging me to scan around for obscure things to apply to, or to sign up for new ways to network online, I try to redirect that energy back into the work itself, or else go do something IRL.

To see more of Ryan's work, please visit ryanpierce.net.

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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kristen Sanders

One Million and Six Hundred Thousand Years Ago, 2016. Acrylic and Oil on Canvas. 47 x 60."

KRISTEN SANDERS describes her paintings as "prehistoric science fiction." In a satured pallette of pinks and greens, she explores the origins of human existence, mark-making and self-awareness. Her work is populated by both female hominids and female AI robots, both of which call into question our contemporary understanding of what it means to be human.  Kristen earned her BFA in 2012 at the University of California Davis and her MFA in 2016 at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her work has been included in exhibitions at Present Company (Brooklyn), Pro Arts (Oakland) and Basement Gallery (Davis, California). In 2017, she collaborated with artist Devin Harclerode for Maternity Leave: Para-Natural Pregnancies at Sediment Arts in Richmond, Virginia and mounted her solo show Soft Origin at Sadie Halie Projects, an artist-run space in Minneapolis. Kristen lives and works in Minneapolis.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the recurring pink hominids that show up in paintings, ceramics and costumes. Who are they and why do you keep telling their story?

Kristen Sanders: The pink hominids are all ambiguous human ancestors (or perhaps future human descendants). They are fluid characters who fluctuate between the prehistoric and the futuristic, and sometimes they appear as green or red in addition to pink. They are nonhuman discoverers and inventors, and they allow me to explore ideas of origin, consciousness, gender and ultimately, humanness.

It all started when I became curious about the origins of image making—what kinds of images were made before cave paintings and petroglyphs? What was the first image? I imagined that the first image, unpreserved in the fossil record and therefore unknowable, must have been a line in the dirt drawn with a finger. I designated the hominid as the maker of this first mark, and I have explored and expanded upon this narrative in my work ever since.

Painters in the Grotto, 2015. Acrylic on Canvas. 48 x 64."

OPP: Your palette is distinctly pink/red and green. Why do you choose these colors for this subject matter?

KS: I want to keep the images I paint within the realm of fiction (a "prehistoric science fiction" as I like to call it) so I knew I didn't want to use any naturalistic colors. I chose pink/red and green as color compliments. The green initially came about as a mysterious, sci-fi glow, which confounds the timeframe in which my painted imaged might exist. Pink is an interesting color because it feels strangely plastic and uncanny when used to depict something in nature or something prehistoric. I am also interested in examining pink's initial connotations of the feminine and what happens as it shifts into red.

Prehistoric Posthuman, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 22 x 30."

OPP: How do you balance research and myth in your practice?

KS: Research is typically a starting point in my work. I read books and essays, watch movies, conduct google image searches and check in on current anthropological findings. I will pick out an idea as a jumping off point, whether for a single piece or a series of works, and I will then imagine scenarios or invent narratives surrounding the idea. The latter is the myth. However, sometimes myth comes first and then I use research to clarify or expand the narrative. If I consider my larger body of work over the past several years, then I can see that research and myth are continuously bouncing off one another—this is the process by which I conceptualize the images and objects I make.

The First Self Portrait, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 30 x 40."

OPP: Why is it important to challenge the patriarchal bias of Anthropology?

KS: It’s important to address the history of patriarchal bias in Anthropology because it has shaped our understanding of our evolutionary history. If biases influence how anthropologists have pieced together the lives of our ancestors, these biases can then reinforce the gender stereotypes that initially generated them, and it becomes a cycle. For example, say an anthropologist theorizes that male hominids were aggressive hunters while female hominids focused on mothering offspring. The theory then gets published, and perhaps a museum installs a diorama that illustrates this scene. The public can then conclude that the stereotype that women are nurturing and men are aggressive must be true because it has an evolutionary basis. However, the ways in which a particular hominid species might have conceptualized gender (if at all) are simply unknowable. It's important to remember that any reconstruction of the day to day lives of our ancestors is based on our own human projections.

OPP: What books should we read if we want to know more?

KS: A great book that addresses this history is called Women in Human Evolution, edited by Lori D. Hager. It's a collection of essays by women anthropologists, and one essay in particular, The Paleolithic Glass Ceiling: Women in Human Evolution by Adrienne Zihlman has been very influential for my work.

What Happens When I Turn Around and Tell You I'm Real 2, 2016. Oil on Wood Panel. 16 x 20."

OPP: What Happens When I Turn Around and Tell You I'm Real 1 and 2 (2016) hint at AI instead of our prehistoric ancestors. What’s the connection between robots and early hominids?

KS: For me the AI robot is a futuristic mirror of the hominid. One is pre-human and the other is post-human, and I merge these two figures into one within my paintings. That is why the hominids sometimes have mask-like faces or peeling skin. One anthropologist once asserted that female hominids were incapable of inventing anything useful, and therefore incapable of crossing that threshold into ‘human.' I am interested in drawing parallels between this de-emphasis of women in prehistory and the tropes of sexualized female robots in film.

Maternity Leave: Para-Natural Pregnancies, 2017. Installation view.

OPP: You’ve recently collaborated with artist Devin Harclerode to create Maternity Leave: Para-Natural Pregnancies (2017) at Sediment in Richmond, Virginia. Tell us about the show. How did the collaboration come about?

KS: Devin and I are friends and colleagues from Virginia Commonwealth University's MFA program. We became interested in future collaborations after seeing our work exhibited together for our first year candidacy review. Devin, who is currently based in Richmond, approached me last summer when Sediment had an open call out for proposals. We both had been thinking about different ideas surrounding pregnancy and birth. We decided to make outfits and suits because that is where our practices overlap formally, and each suit addresses a myth or narrative surrounding birth or anti-birth. Some examples are the dated idea that maternity was incompatible with invention for female hominids and the historic ritual of placing an onion in the vagina to test for fertility. We made objects and accessories corresponding to each suit that were sold to raise money for Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, where Devin has also been working.

OPP: Can you explain what you mean by the term anti-birth?

KS: Anti-birth can refer to the opposite of a birth or an obstruction of birth, such as Devin's use of the abortifacient tansy in Heretic Suit. It can also refer to an alternative birth, such as my Future Suit, which considered robot birth as an assembly of parts rather than a gestation and a delivery.

Soft Origin, 2017. Installation view.

OPP: Soft Origin just closed at Sadie Halie. What new explorations do you tackle in this show that you haven't addressed before? And new directions for the next body of work?

KS: Sadie Halie is a small space so I got to play around with smaller scale paintings. I also wanted to make some paintings that don't feature a figure, and instead focus more on the objects and tools that the hominid characters might have made. Moving forward, I am beginning to research some of the robots that exist today, such as Sophia the robot, and I want to further explore the connections between the hominid and the AI robot.

To see more of Kristen's work, please visit kristensanders.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Samantha Sethi

Object Impermanence, 2016. 12 drawings on plexiglass, gouache, ice, camcorder, MDF, led lights, HD Monitor with live feed. Dimensions variable.

SAMANTHA SETHI is a multi-media artist working primarily in drawing, installation, sculpture, and video. Freezing and melting both play a significant role in her practice, which explores deterioration, entropy and emphemerality. Her process-based sculptures investigate both the human impact on the environment and nature's impact on cultural sites. Samantha earned her BFA at The School of Visual Arts (New York) in 2006 and just completed her MFA at American University (Washington D.C.) in 2016. In 2017, she attended a residency at the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Virginia) was a Fellow at Baltimore’s Coldstream Homestead Montebello Sculpture Park and just began a residency at Creative Alliance, also in Baltimore. Samantha moved there a few weeks ago and is happy to call the city her home.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What interests you about the processes of freezing and melting, generally speaking?

Samantha Sethi: My work comes from an interest in the interplay and reciprocal effects between the natural and built environments. Freezing and melting is a way for me to think about the myriad ways in which the world as we know it was formed and how it continues to change, at rates both perceivable and unimaginable to us. Depending on scale, ice melts very slowly and is barely visible, though we are able to perceive the action of melting in a way that we are unable to observe many larger changes occurring in our environment.

Meltscape, 2015. Frozen and melted pigment and mixed media on handmade paper. 22" x 30"

OPP: When did you first engage them as tools for art-making?

SS: Prior to graduate school, my work was mostly painting. I worked often with media like gouache and watercolor, which both involve actively manipulating how liquids and solids interact. What I love most about watercolor is how the pigment and water move over the surface of the page. Sometimes the end result is not as interesting to me after the work has dried.

Early in grad school, I had the opportunity to do a collaborative performance for a project investigating the idea of “water treatment” in various ways. I resisted the performance aspect initially because I have terrible stage fright but ended up making a piece that changed my practice completely.

OPP: Can you describe the action of the performance?

SS: I stood in a very dark room, holding a ball of ice in one hand while using my other to strike and light a match that illuminates the ice and warms it. As the ice melts, water drips onto the match and extinguishes the fire. I continuously repeated this action for the duration of the opening. This live performance has now been reproduced as a video called Fire and Ice, which is meant to be played on repeat indefinitely.

Landscape Formation, 2015. Water, sand, pigment, garbage. Dimensions variable.

OPP: You mentioned that this changed your practice completely. How so?

SS: I began working in way that attended more to process than final product. Monitoring the melting ice was a slow and meditative experience for me. I couldn’t rush the process, and it gave me time to think and focus on what was happening. I also couldn’t control what happened with the melting ice in the way I previously controlled paint with my own hand. I began melting ice on various surfaces: paper, mylar, the floor. The works on paper, Sedimentation Drawings I, II, and III,  are really documentation of an event or a residue. Landscape Formation in a Room was my first installation. I staged an event in which I allowed pigmented ice to melt on the studio floor to find and mark the topography of the space; the water would pool at lower elevations and avoid otherwise invisible raised points. I then built around the these forms with sand. The work exists now as documentation that plays with landscape photography and models and shifts our understanding of what is real.

Entropic Irrigation System II, 2015. Latex, wood, plastic tubing, ice, plant.

OPP: Melting ice plays a key role in Object Impermanence (2016) and Entropic Irrigation System (2015). But the ice plays a destructive role—erasing the paintings—in one and a constructive role—watering the plant—in the other. Can you talk about this distinction?

SS: Something was missing for the viewer in Landscape Formation—the visible action of the ice melting. I experienced it in making my work, but it was only visible to the audience as a remnant. So I began developing systems to manage the melting ice and to create a stage for the process to be observed. In the first of these systems, Entropic Irrigation System, I cast ice in the forms of the Parthenon, a pyramid, an Aztec temple, the Taj Mahal, and the Colosseum. As the forms melt off the table, a gutter system catches the runoff and channels it into a potted plant. The melting ice is an active process that functions as a stand-in for irrigation, deterioration and other slower forms of change. This piece was exhibited for three weeks, during which I replaced the ice at the start of each day, which became a kind of performance in itself.

Entropic Irrigation System II (detail), 2015

OPP: And Object Impermanence?

SS: That work explores the more destructive nature of melting ice, as well as the ways in which we experience both direct and mediated events. In the first iteration, I placed a new painting on a stand every other day for the duration of the exhibition (twelve paintings total) with a piece of ice melting on top of the image that eroded or washed away part of each painting. A larger tray below collects the runoff from the deteriorating paintings. In this version, the paintings directly reference the floor tiles of the San Marco Basilica in Venice, which is where I first began to form ideas for the piece as I considered the constant struggle against nature and time embodied by that location. A video camera installed above the stand simultaneously records and displays a live feed of the melting ice and its effect on the painting on a large monitor in a separate room. After each painting goes through this process, it is displayed with it predecessors as remnants on a large pedestal.

Object Impermanence, 2016. 12 drawings on plexiglass, gouache, ice, camcorder, MDF, led lights, HD Monitor with live feed. Dimensions variable.

OPP: We've discussed works in which melting is an active process. But in Paver I and Paver II (2016),  the charcoal and resin works and Everywhere is Nowhere (2016), the process of melting is “frozen” as a form. Tell us about these works.

SS: The active-melting pieces are real-time events—performances even—and function as models and metaphors for larger, slower, less visible forms of change. The static pieces are also ways of rendering the natural and built environment that are both empirical and analytical.

Pavers I and II miniaturize a glacial world within a block of faux landscaping material, attempting to be reasonable objects both in their own scale and in the one they model. Both Pavers are primarily made of blue polystyrene insulation foam, which is revealed in the glacial lake carved into the center of each artificial stone. The polystyrene mimics frozen forms of ice, but it’s original function is an insulating material that takes hundreds of years to break down. The charcoal and resin works bring to mind erosion and dissolution at their literal scale, while also referencing diminutive topographies, even galaxies.

Everywhere is Nowhere also captures a sense of place and manipulates scale, though with an approach that is more cartographic than visually representational. The individual topographical forms in the piece each have their source in objects whose change is evident at radically different scales, from clouds to glaciers to continents. The forms appear interchangeable and are produced by layering delicate sheets of hand cut silicone. Each one rests on its own glowing blue shelf installed at various heights. 

Untitled, 2016. Charcoal and resin. Approximately 4" x 6"

OPP: In 2012, your series of gouache paintings called Syncretism looks very different from your current work. Does your recent work grow out of these paintings?

SS: This series—as well as most work I produced prior to graduate school—was drawing and painting. The Syncretism paintings were an early exploration of shifting space and scale, scientific and cultural research, the perception of artificial versus natural, as well as examination of my own identity. I grew up in the U.S. like my mother, but my father and his family are from India. After I completed my BFA, I began studying miniature painting and eastern mythology as both personal and artistic research. 

The behavior of water also is an important theme in this series that continues to influence my present work. Our relationship to water is complicated. We need water to survive, but water can destroy us and everything we have.

Dancers, 2012. Gouache on paper. 16" x 20."

OPP: White tigers show up repeatedly. What's significant about this animal?

SS: White tigers are culturally significant throughout the world and are referenced in several myths. We perceive them as natural and commonly see them on display in zoos and at the circus, but white tigers don’t actually exist in the wild. They are bred and inbred for the recessive gene that produces their stunning black and white markings, however this type of breeding often leads to health problems for the animals. In hindsight, the white tiger paintings were probably the earliest representations of “artificial perceived as natural” in my work. This was also my first use of patterning to reference a culture or a place, which I revisited later in the paintings produced for the Object Impermanence installation.

OPP: You are just about to start a residency at Creative Alliance in Baltimore. How long will you be there? Any plans on what you’ll be working on?

SS: The residency includes a one to three year-long live/work space and a solo exhibition in Creative Alliance’s beautiful gallery. I will be working to produce new work for the show that continues to explore our perception of permanence and change. I am currently in the early stages of a new project that involves physical recording of places and objects in a book of rubbings as well as time-based recording of these same places and objects in the form of video. I began the project while in Berlin this summer and plan to continue here in Baltimore and other places I travel to this year. This is my first proper studio and live/work space since I graduated, and I am excited to have access to this resource and time to continue to develop my practice.

To See more of Samantha's work, please visit samanthasethi.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christos Pantieras

Am I Worth It?, 2017. Detail of installation.

CHRISTOS PANTIERAS transforms digital communication—emails, text messages, and chat conversations from gay hook-up apps—into tangible sculpture through the very slow processes of casting, carving and embossing. He gives weight  to these words, often typed casually and quickly, and forces the viewer to slow down in considering the lasting effects of all communication on the receiver. Christos earned his BFA at University of Ottawa in 1996 and went on to earn his MFA at York University, Toronto in 2015. Christos has exhibited widely throughout Quebec and Ontario and recently received a Municipal Grant from the City of Ottawa. His solo show Am I Worth It? is on view at Circa-Art Actuel in Montreal through September 9, 2017 and will be shown again at the Ottawa School of Art in January 2018. He has upcoming solo exhibitions in October 2017 at Art-Cite in Windsor, Ontario and at La Madison de la Culture, Gatineau, Quebec in Summer 2018. Christos lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do your material and process choices—cast concrete letters, carved wax and embossed text on various surfaces—support your conceptual interests?

Chris Pantieras: Each choice enhances what I'm communicating in my work. For example, the carved wax bricks of I miss talking to you feature a letter of regret that I received six months after a former partner of mine took off. I used wax recycled from candles people lit in my local church and that are never left to fully burn. I melt down these candle fragments and cure them into new forms, in this case the cast bricks. These bricks, if not physically heavy, doubtless carry the psychic weight of their earlier life as containers of hopes, dreams and contemplation. The final installation took the form of a wall which represents the barrier that was built between myself and my former partner.

Concrete, on the other hand, is bland and references the city. How often does one stop to admire a concrete building? We're surrounded by it, and it is just part of the every day. This plays into how language used on gay hook-up apps has become a non-event. The coded words, abbreviations and statements are a very normal and familiar method of communicating with each other. Additionally, bringing online text offline and making it tangible addresses the materiality of words. To make my letters, I need an aggregate—silica sand in this instance—to to bind the cement together. As a parallel, the individual cast letters represent the aggregate. When they're placed next to each other, they bind together and form a word.

I miss talking to you, 2012-2013. 1024 bricks cast in wax procured from a local church, carved text sourced from an email. 533cm x 3 cm x 243 cm

OPP: What about the processes?

CP: My processes are slow and time consuming on purpose, and I thoroughly enjoy the physicality involved in creating most of my work. For me, it's very important to record my presence, and I do this through repetitive acts and accumulation. The text is sourced from a screen; it lacks warmth. Through my methods, I add the human presence. A great example of this is the embossed text in the work Impress Me. Each piece of paper features one email that has been hammered into the surface using old fashioned, metal printing rods. As the viewer reads the papers from left to right, the text becomes more and more illegible as the embossing rips the paper. The viewer focuses less on what is written and more on the transformed material

Impress Me (Detail) 2005-2009. Email text hammered on to paper, six custom reading tables. 11 x 15 in (each paper)

OPP: Most of the text you render through these slow processes relates to dating and lost relationships. Is this work more about the value of slowing down the process of communicating or about the slowness of processing what’s been said after it’s been said?

CP: This is a great question. Firstly, it's important to know a little about the source of the various narratives and where the digital communication comes from. The text I use is either from emails, text messages or interactions on dating/hook-up apps. It is taken directly from my own experiences, encounters and lost/potential relationships. I'm also old enough to remember a time when online dating was very new, perceived as very risky, but was also extremely exciting. Going home to log-in, get online, and check my email was a rush. What people wrote had weight since communicating wasn't as fast and immediate as it is today. Now there's no offline; we're always online. Connecting and interacting with new people is extremely easy, and perhaps that interaction holds less value than it used to.

So, to answer your question, it can be both. My use of analog tools and repetitive processes highlights the contrast between the lack of effort required in my online relationships with the huge amount of commitment and investment it requires of me to make the work. The more recent work uses the language of immediacy from gay hook-up apps, but most of the other pieces were created from emails or text messages that I catalogued and held on to for years. This is an example of how I am processing what's been said, however the way the text will be used manifests later. I kept one email almost ten years before it took physical form. I still have several samples of communication archived in my sketchbooks that may or may not become new work.

GLEN, 2009. Lightjet Print. 26 x 47 inches

OPP: Your work isn’t just about communication between romantically-engaged individuals. Who Sits Here? (2009) explores the way adolescents communicated via writing inside desk drawers before the ubiquity of handheld digital devices. What does this series reveal about communal communication spaces?

CP: It reveals that individuals can be as candid as they want to be without much concern for accountability. The school desk drawer of yesterday mirrors the forums of today. We contribute, we take it in, we respond. Except for the fact that an identity, whether fictional or real, is attached to the author in today's communication spaces, they are no different in terms of what we communicate and how we respond today. The language is still honest, bare and risky. I love the focus on human presence in the doodles, the various penmanship styles and the carved surfaces. The desk drawers are amazing objects.

Tread Lightly, 2015. Concrete, sourced text message. Dimensions variable.

OPP: The cast concrete letter works—HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. (2015), Tread Lightly (2015) and Say What You Mean (2014)—reference alphabet soup and colored alphabet fridge magnets. Each installation uses these letters in a different way, but in each the experience of reading is slowed down for the viewer. How does the viewer’s experience of the various installation of these letters relate to dating in the digital era?

CP: Although my work specifically references my own encounters, I want it to be accessible and relatable to everyone. Yes, they're about my experiences as a gay male, but there's something universal about online dating that goes beyond any limits of sexual preference and orientation. You'll interact with someone who will be kind, respectful and genuine just as easily as someone who is direct, dismissive and crass. I enjoy engaging with people about my work and taking the time to explain where it comes from because it's great to hear them make connections to their own lives and their own experiences. They begin to tell me their stories about dating in the digital era, and I value that vulnerability.

HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. was featured in the Installation Zone at the Artist Project in Toronto in 2015. There were thousands of people there on opening night. It was amazing to see who related to the piece right away and who needed some time. Any gay male that walked by knew exactly what this was and where the language came from. They were not fazed in the least and felt that they were reading their own messages. The complete opposite reaction came from everyone else. They had no idea what they were reading until I explained it to them. Reactions ranged from disbelief about the direct or rude language to, once again, making personal connections and having conversations with me about their own online interactions.

HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. 2015. Concrete, buckets, sourced text from hook-up apps. Detail.

OPP: Your most recent installation Am I Worth It? (2017) is currently on view through September 9, 2017 at Circa Art-Actuel in Montreal, Quebec. I believe this is the first installations in which visitors can walk on the letters. Is that correct?

CP: That is correct. I wanted visitors to have a more direct engagement with my work. By putting them in a position where they have to walk on the art in order to take it in, I get to offer a different experience for each visitor.

Am I Worth It? 2017. Sourced text message, letters cast in concrete, silica sand, subfloor. Dimensions Variable

OPP: How does the title relate to the raised text in this floor of letters?

CP: The title Am I Worth It? is answered by the raised text that spells out the statement: I'm not willing to make the effort. Like many of my pieces before, the text is sourced from a relationship that had a lot of potential. But he wasn't willing to invest in it since it was long-distance, and I was moving even further away to complete my MFA. The sentence plays off the fact that this installation took a lot of personal commitment to complete. The floor is tiled with thousands of cast-concrete letters laid out like a giant word search. I chose to reveal the statement intermittently, pushing up from the jumble of letters, almost like they're trying to make themselves be noticed, or conversely, about to be buried.

To see more of Christos' work, please visit christospantieras.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matthew Mazzotta

Open House, 2013. York, Alabama. Watch video here.

Artist, activist and designer MATTHEW MAZZOTTA makes use of local materials, plants and existing architectural environments to create third spaces for community members to congregate, talk and question their own assumptions about the local and global world they live in. For both Open House (2013) in York, Alabama and The Storefront Theater (2015) in Lyons, Nebraska, Matthew solicited input from the local community and transformed an existing abandoned space into fold-out seating for communal entertainment and gathering. After earning his BFA The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001, Matthew went on to study at Skowhegan School of Painting and Scupture and to earn his MS in Visual Studies from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture and Planning in 2009.  Matthew’s team has just signed on for six new projects in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Portland, Maine; Cambridge, Massachussetts; Bronx, New York;  Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Kentucky. Matthew has been traveling and working with different communities in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia for the last seven years, but he will be moving to Cambridge for a full year to be a 2017-18 Loeb Fellow at Harvard University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the intersection of art, design and activism in your work?

Matthew Mazzotta: With my practice—"The architecture of social space, creating spaces of critique within the places we live"—I create both permanent and temporary, public interventions that open new social spaces inside the built environment. I often feel that I am an activist using artistic sensibilities to bring real world issues into social discourse and to lead public imagining. My work addresses pressing environmental issues, but always with a strong focus on community and public participation. I try to make these issues accessible on many levels to as many people as I can throughout the world.

I believe that inherent in every moment is the potential to ignite profound change. As a catalyst, art affords us a compelling perspective to act upon this possibility.

Looking For A Landscape, 2009. City Certified Utility Box, Binoculars, Pillows, Hardware, Paint and Stickers. 3.5’ x 5’ x 2.5'

OPP: How do you approach public space? What do you hope to introduce to these spaces?

MM: For me, public space is political. My work focuses on the power of the pre-existing, built environment to shape our relationships and experiences and invites a critical perspective and a sense of openness to the places we live in. I dissect the everyday and rearrange it to reveal the potential that surrounds us and to shape these spaces to develop new platforms for conversation. If the only spaces community members have to meet one another other are the transitional spaces of the streetscape or commercial institutions, only certain types of dialogues are produced.


Harm to Table, 2016. Boulder, Colorado.

OPP: What do you hope viewers/users will experience when engaging with your work?

MM: As much as my work uses whimsy, humor, spectacle and aesthetics to draw people in, it is also meant to unsettle them. My work puts viewers in a position of contradiction with what they have known and the knowledge and experience they are now privy to. It is designed to confront people with something that uniquely challenges what they think they know about the world and their community. It puts them in contact with something that they must grapple with directly without the help of their habitual camps of knowledge, reasoning and inertia.

When considering the possibility of change, I believe in the basic premise that “if people can sit together, they can dream together.” My work generates an opportunity for people to come together and view their situations from a new perspective while having time and space to interact. Some people might not feel comfortable at meetings and official events, and others may only have time to have brief conversations in the checkout line. I seek to dissolve the social hierarchies inherent in so much of our world and to create spaces where people are able to be together and have a collective exchange of ideas, which in turn, eventually, resonates throughout the social fabric.


The Storefront Theater, 2015.

OPP: I think of your work as being about enjoying the good life, in the sense that it provides space for humans to slow down, engage directly with their environments, the people around them and their local resources. How do you define the good life?

MM: The 13th century mystic poet Rumi said, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there.”

I remember being immediately attracted to the concept of going to Rumi’s field, where ideas have not been judged and swamped in words and attitudes. It’s a place where there is time to think and act human again towards each other. In my work, I aim to create spaces like the one Rumi writes about. . . spaces devoid of overt political themes. . . third spaces for dialogue. I try to make sure the invitation into a space surrounding an issue is not polarizing but becomes engaging from as many different points of view as possible. It is important that the space does not provoke anger or cause people to be fearful and instinctively protective of their cultural and personal histories. It should rather be a place that people enter into out of curiosity and childlike interest on their own terms.

Cloud House, Springfield, Missouri. Watch video here.

OPP: How do the aesthetics of your structures serve people and the earth?

MM: I employ design as a vehicle—not for common ends of comfort or convenience, but to challenge people. I use its seductiveness and familiarity to draw people in. But my work is about piercing through the public roles we play and breaking up the narratives of specific public spaces and the types of conversations and actions we usually have within them. I try to find compelling social and contextual components of a specific location and use them to integrate peoples’ daily lives into their surroundings. I aim to generate a space of synergy and potency as we explore the issues right under the surface that have not previously had time and focus brought to them.

OPP: How do the local and the global meet in your work?

MM: I love working with people and the public spaces they live in to try to figure out how to make interventions that engage directly with their local situations. At the same time, I hope each project has a universal appeal to provoke conversations in other cities and towns around the world. As access to the internet has spread so wide, I receive feedback about my work from people all over the world. It has transformed the old mantra of Think Globally, Act Locally to the new paradigm that I work under: Act Locally, Engage Globally.

To learn more about Matthew's work, please visit matthewmazzotta.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Paul Kenneth

Reva Lucille Wood (great-aunt), 2016. Acrylic and pencil on canvas. 10" x 10"

PAUL KENNETH paints portraits, but he isn't a portrait painter. His works are based on a variety of sources from photographs of his distant ancestors to the first bloodcurdling screams in horror movies. He uses gestural paint application, line drawing and a collapsing of foreground and background to express his interpretation of how these unknowable people and characters might feel about being painted. Paul earned his BFA in Painting at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2010. Since then he has exhibited throughout Chicago, including shows at Mana Contemporary, LVL3 Gallery, Ebersmoore Gallery, Heaven Gallery and the stARTup Art Fair. Paul had his first solo exhibition One Wall: Curious Kin (2016) at Jackson Junge Gallery in the  fall of 2016. He will be featured in the 2017 summer edition of Studio Visit Magazine. Paul lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: All the works currently on your website are portraits, but your style of rendering the human face isn’t exactly realistic. How do you approach the age-old form of the portrait? What’s changed about your approach over the years?

Paul Kenneth: I approach my portraits not as a depiction of a person, but rather a portrayal of a personality through a defined set of mark making. This idea is the fundamental foundation of my practice.

When I began painting twelve years ago, I wanted to pay homage to the history of the portrait genre while investigating the relationship between the human body and paint. My first breakthrough was while attending The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During my final years of earning my BFA, I constructed a complete series which was entirely based on babies. Until that point, I had approached the portrait in a straightforward manner by attempting to create a literal representation of the subject matter. While creating this series, I discovered that the paintings were more unnerving when the subject was rendered in a half completed state. The most recent change in my approach came with my last series of work Curious Kin, where I depicted portraits of my ancestors. In this series I incorporated drawing elements over and under the paint. This latest exploration has allowed me to fuse my drawing and painting practices while also highlighting to the slighted underdrawing.

Franklin DuBois Sidell (grandfather), 2016. Acrylic paint and pencil on canvas. 10" x 10"

OPP: Have you always only painted the human face? Tell us a bit about earlier work.

PK: I have investigated many subject matters in my painting practice but I always find myself returning to the human face. Some of my earlier work focused on portraits of sad cats, dead owls, and fast food. In these paintings, I emphasized the traditional tropes of kitsch, the grotesque and pop art.

OPP: Tell us more about Curious Kin. How is the way you chose to render them connected to the distance between you?

PK: Curious Kin was sourced from images that were taken from family photo albums from the late 1800s to the early 1980s. I invested a considerable amount research to trace the exact relation of each individual as this information was not recorded in many of the albums. The title of each piece is the name of the person followed by their exact relation to me. Some of the portraits are rather direct relations like great-grandparents while others are extremely far removed with a few completely unknown. With the exception of my grandparents, I did not have the privilege to know any of these people even though we are connected by blood and family bonds. As each portrait was made I strived to maintain a sense of respect to the ancestor while imposing my creative aesthetic in the mark making. In a way, each of these paintings is a loose self-portrait.

Mary Marquis (great-grandmother), 2016. Acrylic and pencil on canvas. 10" x 10"

OPP: What about works like Augusta Hulda Verch (second great-grandmother) and Mary Marquis (great-grandmother), both from 2016, in which they faces are partly covered over? It’s almost like these women are silenced by your paint. It makes their eyes look panicked to me.

PK: These two paintings in particular demonstrate the idea of myself, the creator, giving consciousness to his subjects the way Frankenstein gave consciousness to his monster. During this creation process I ask myself, what is he thinking? and how does she feel about what I am doing to her? At times, their gaze suggests a state of unease with the way that I have depicted them.

Garrett Wood (fourth great-grandfather), 2016. Acrylic paint and pencil on canvas. 10" x 10"

OPP: I’m really interested in the way the backgrounds—whether stripes, ovals, halos or horizon lines—intersect the line-drawn faces, which highlights parts of the faces, often the eyes. Talk about this choice.

PK: Throughout my practice, the background holds as much importance as the painterly and drawn elements on the surface. I highlight the process and materiality in each piece by leaving much of the ground visible. The stripes, ovals and blocks of gesso ground are formal additions that level the subject matter. This flattening of the portrait removes it from a representational space forcing the image to hover in a state of flux. The cropping and placement of the face on the canvas in relation to the background shapes is critical to achieve the most active visual balance. This balancing act tends to revolve around the subject’s eyes. Thus, the eyes anchor the painting preventing the portrait from drifting into complete abstraction.

Penny Appleby, 2017. Acrylic and pencil on paper. 5" x 7"

OPP: Tell us about the Scream Queens, which is a new direction. So far, these are all from the 60s. Why did you start here? Where do you see the series going?

PK: Scream Queens is a new series of works that delves into the horror films of my youth. Each piece investigates the cinematic moment when the heroine reacts to the monster with a bloodcurdling scream. By removing these women from the context of the source, their fear becomes a direct reaction to the manner in which I have depicted them. These women are afraid of the monsters they have become. The subjects of these portraits are sourced from various films that range from the 1960s through the 1980s. I am drawn mostly to this thirty-year period of cinematography as I consider it the golden era for the horror film genre. The trajectory of this series holds many possibilities, and I plan to continue exploring the use of paper as a substrate as well as further developing the cut and pasted acrylic paint technique.

OPP: You've said you are interested in the grotesque and your new series demonstrates an interest in terror. What in the world or in your life makes your own face turn to a grimace?

PK: I am rather immune to gooey gore and the average creepy crawly. But there are a few specific specimens that come to mind when contemplating my own terrors. Here is my filthy five from gross to wretched:

5. The story The Red Spot from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
4. The lumps on the old dog Dutch, that frequents The Corner Bar.
3. The stench of rotting meat.
2. Earwigs. Not afraid? Watch the episode "The Caterpillar” from the TV series Night Gallery.
1. The removal of a Guinea Worm from a foot. If you are fortunate enough not to know what this is DO NOT LOOK IT UP!

To see more of Paul's work, please visit paulkenneth.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.