OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jessica Brandl

PBR and Coke (2018) Red clay, colored underglaze. L18"x W13"x H20"

JESSICA BRANDL's narrative ceramic works use the landscape of the American Midwest as a backdrop. Animated skeletons lounge on abandoned sofas and drink from crushed beer cans while farm houses burn. Her hand-built vessels and commemorative plates act as contemporary memento moris, while referring to the dark underbelly of American history. Jessica earned her BFA in Ceramics and Art History at Kansas City Art Institute and her MFA at Ohio State University (Columbus, OH). She was the 2018-2019 Taunt Fellow and the 2019-2020 Joan Lincoln Fellow at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts (Helena, MT). Jessica won the 2017 Zanesville Prize for Contemporary Ceramics and was a 2015 McKnight Fellow at Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, MN. Notable exhibitions include her solo show Hazard (2018) at  Belger Crane Yard Gallery in Kansas City, MO and the Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change, the NCECA Invitational at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, MO). In 2014, he created 500 plates for Salad Days, the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts fundraising celebration (Newcastle, ME). Jessica lives and works in Helena, Montana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Most people drink from glasses and eat off plates every day and never really think about these objects’ connection to human history. What would you like readers to know about about the vessel as a form? 

Jessica Brandl: This is so true. Common objects like a plate or cup typically do not illicit too much notice. However, it is exactly this safe familiarity that creates a recognizable bridge to human history and our desire for creature comforts. Whenever historic pottery is on view you can identify the relationship to use, comfort, and style, and this feels true of everything from Neolithic storage containers to today’s expertly crafted dishware. Our relationship to food and its conveying receptacles (vessels) presents an opportunity to subvert what is expected or maybe what is not expected of this type of serviceable object.  

Dead Ponies (2011) Terra Cotta. 26" x 4"

OPP: Another recurring ceramic genre is the commemorative plate, which is conventionally intended to be displayed on the wall. What are you commemorating in works like Dead Ponies (2011)? 

JB: I am 100% on board with the commemorative plate as a typical designation of a memorable event. I wanted to use the historic solidness ceramic provides to describe the history of these American places where I grew up. . . as they physically appear and how they emotionally relate to me. 

Dead Ponies is a visual pun on what Native Plaines Indians call their old cars parked out in the fields on the reservation. The central drawing of a horse with a 7th Calvary saddle is a portrait of a war horse named Comanche that survived the deadly Plaines Indian Battle that notably saw General George Armstrong Custer killed some 160 years ago. This battle gave the federal government justification for total confinement of Native Americans, while it proclaimed autonomy and strength to the Native American Nations in their victory. The background drawing of Dead Ponies depicts Crow Nation lands in Montana, USA 2010, desolate and forlorn by all appearances. 

By visualizing historic ugliness, I feel greater satisfaction in describing the unmentionable, ugly or sad parts of life that no one wants to talk about. I see the commemorative aversion to those historic truths as unequal and more importantly inaccurate. We shouldn’t minimize or omit people who are such a significant part of American History. 

Rime of the ancient mariner, Plight of Albatross (date?) Terracotta / Sgraffito / Sea Plastic. 28L" x 28w"x 4h"

OPP: What about Rime of the ancient mariner, Plight of Albatross (date?), which references a fictional poem?

JB: Rime of the ancient mariner, Plight of the Albatross operates from the same contemporary perspective. In referencing Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, I was paraphrasing 200 years of American history deduced from my experience growing up in dead Midwestern towns where there is little or no sign of what the place was before it was filled with the clutter of blind progress. I singled out the British Romanic poet for his strong symbolic narrative but also because his name was given to the town my foreign-born great grandparents worked to establish some 150 years ago but that today is nearly extinct. What remains of the poem is the symbol of the Albatross—the burden and guilt in taking or destroying what is not needed—and what remains of my working-class family is the burden of garbage detached from people that gave it meaning. My inclusion of the ghastly Albatross garbage attached to the platter’s back is like a charm bracelet and echoes the handing of the dead Albatross on the neck of the poem’s protagonist. History embodies a great deal of emotional weight for me. By drawing these commemorative visual narratives, I am actively trying to connect myself to history, enabling both comparative thought and the recognition of change over time. 

Your Problem (2018) Red clay, colored underglaze.

OPP: You explore “the path to American-ness” through a Midwestern lens. Do you mean an individual or a collective path? 

JB: The question initially began as an individual focus. As a young artist, I found it more comfortable to talk about my first-hand experience. My perception of American-ness broadened as my education progressed, and I began to understand myself and the culture I represented in a more sophisticated way. In other words, my story was my own, but it also looked and sounded like many other people from this place, region, and country. I know American-ness from the perspective I inhabit, that of a white female raised by working class parents in the Midwest. My chaffing desire to know other perspectives of American-ness stems from my need to connect with my family and to build a sense of kinship to those who share my beliefs in order to survive in this country. The need for a self-reliant attitude was born out of the absence of my parents' guidance; both were killed in an accident, making me an orphan at age 18. As time passed, I questioned ideas I was raised to respect because they seemed to limit what I should say and do with my life. I developed my own ideas and my own sense of autonomy.  

Homunculus (2017) Red clay, colored underglaze. H28" x W21" x L20"

OPP: What does being American mean to you?

JB: Being American to me is about the ability to self-determine. Even if it is not culturally practiced, it is historically evident and I look to those forbearers as my parental guides. My growth from adolescence to adulthood has been punctuated by the recognition of obstacles as well as privileges I have been endowed with as an educated, white woman. My quest to continue making art and fighting for my voice and now my students' voices is my way of pushing against fear as expressed by opposition.  

Liminal (2015) Terracotta. 22" x 20" x 3.5"

OPP: You expand the narrative possibilities of functional ceramics through sculptural adornments like the ropes, chains and snakes in Wishful Thinking: Narrative of a 21st Century Naturalist. Can you tell us about these often intertwined symbolic elements? 

JB: I love art history and human history, and those early artists created symbolic representations that formed the bases of what was to become written language. As I mentioned previously, my sculptural vessels are intended to build connections between the past and the present. From a design standpoint a rope or snake that coils provides a linear trail that leads the eye, pulling the viewer to investigate the composition. The ubiquity of ropes, snakes and chains in all human cultures throughout history serves ample symbolic meaning via a literal linkage or a cultural metaphor that I appreciate.  

Hazard (2019) Red clay, colored underglaze.

OPP: The functional ceramics from vessel (2018-2019) use memento mori imagery and jagged forms to address the human condition—that each of us will die and we know it. But can you talk about the specifics of the imagery you bring to the tradition of memento mori? I am thinking about the blue house, the crushed cans and burning General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard

JB: I use the art historic strategies of the memento mori but locate my work firmly in 20th century American culture. I have selected a lexicon of objects that speak to the used-up nature that death can often signal. In the piece titled Hazzard, I used the General Lee as a symbol of the hyper-masculine. I wanted to color it richly and then burn it all down. I was venting my own personal frustration and anger. At the time, I felt like I was hitting a professional glass ceiling. I noticed younger male colleagues' rise and heard other women experience male-biases when seeking technical advice, which all made me feel inadequate. On top of my personal frustration, I felt a national frustration when the American people supported the 2016 election of a sex-offender President, who minimized his indiscretions against women and his racist history as “locker room talk.” Everything relating to that time felt bigger than I could change, so I took my aggression out on the symbols of my oppression. By deconstructing American Pop culture symbols and the feeble homes that sheltered them, I abolished the nostalgic sentiment I felt and acknowledged them as true opponents perpetuating my own oppression as an intelligent, independent woman.  

To see more of Jessica's work, please visit jessicabrandl.com and follow her on Instagram @jessicabrandl.

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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Meltz

Robot Versus Labor: Labor's Revenge (2018) Screenprint. 23" x 37" on 26" x 40" sheet.

NATHAN MELTZ combines printmaking, animation and music to create narrative works about technology’s infiltration of every aspect of contemporary life. He tells stories that encourage empathy with robotic life forms collaged from industrial machine parts (i.e. nuts and bolts), which he views as stand-ins for newer technologies like nanotechnology and genetic modification. Nathan holds a BS in Art Education and an MA from University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as an MFA from State University of New York Albany. In 2020, his work was exhibited at the 6th Graphic Art Biennial of Szeklerland at Transylvanian Art Centre, Four Rivers Print Biennial (Carbondale, IL) and Multiple Ones: Contemporary Perspectives in PrintMedia at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Jacksonville, FL). In 2019, he was a Visiting Artist at the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University. In June 2021, several works will be included in the upcoming Biennale Internationale D’estampe Contemporaine de Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canada). Nathan lives and works in Troy, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work merges music, animation and printmaking into one practice. Tell us about how your artistic background led you to work across these media.

Nathan Meltz: I spent most of my twenties playing in pretty good bands, producing decent screenprinted posters, and making bad comics. I started a printmaking-heavy grad program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I started flirting with music and visual art happenings as part of an under-documented art/music/craft collective called the Wisconsin Pop Explosion. By my thirties, I had gotten better at printmaking and relocated to upstate New York with my wife, where we started a family. At that point, I definitely had distinct and separate bodies of creative work: a printmaking-heavy practice and a musical output. Feeling constrained by these limitations, I started another grad program at the University of New York at Albany, which heavily encouraged breaking down these creative silos, and I started merging elements of printmaking, sound, and bringing in video and animation. I really credit the SUNY Albany MFA program for promoting an anything-goes approach when it came to techniques and media. Ever since, I haven’t identified so much as a “printmaker,” or “musician,” or “animator,” but simply as an artist, using a variety of media to express myself.

Unknown Soldier (2017) Screenprint

OPP: I would describe your aesthetic as “retro-futuristic.” It looks like what people in the 1950s might have expected the future to look like. How does this aesthetic serve your conceptual agenda?

NM: I can definitely be accused of enjoying the nostalgia that comes from collage. When I create figures and environments out of collaged machine images, I am using those machines as metaphors for other technologies, whether it be nanotechnology, fossil fuel extraction technologies, or agricultural technologies. So for me, the machine images are stand-ins for something else. It just so happens that all of these contemporary technologies get filtered through my personal visual vocabulary before they become prints, animations, or sculptures.


Teddy Ruxpin Music Video (2020)

OPP: In your statement, you talk of the “not so subtle ways technology is sneaking into our lives and prepares them to resist this inevitable robot invasion.” But your work seems less a critique of the dangers of technology and more a critique of humanity. The problems the robots face seem to be very human problems. Your thoughts?

NM: It’s definitely both. Technologies are tools that have the potential to help, or harm, depending on how they are used. I hope my work gets the viewer to consider how we use these technologies, to be more critical of their applications. 

Many of my robot characters are stand-ins for us humans. All of my narrative work is about trying to foster some empathy for those impacted by malevolent technologies. Technology plays a clear role in some of the biggest challenges of the day, from war to inequality to climate change. We don’t have a chance of meeting these challenges unless we can engage with narratives that draw us closer to the actors involved and build some empathy for them.


quit job. press play (2013) Animation. Running time: 9:23 minutes.

OPP: I have to ask, are you a Battlestar Galactica fan? I’ve been thinking a lot about Cylons while looking at your work. Whatever the answer, what films, movies and texts have influenced the way you think about humans’ relationship to technology?

NM: I know a lot of people who are involved in critical discourse around science and technology. While no one cites Battlestar as an overt source or reference, we all dig it. Science fiction in general plays a big role in my art. I was lucky enough to be of the right age to work at a VHS video rental store in Madison, WI called Four Star Video Heaven, which was very much responsible for my film education. Early film depictions of robots—from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still—were really important. The droll made-for-tv movie The Day After (1983), which depicts nuclear holocaust in Lawrence, Kansas, continues to fascinate me. As do performers like DevoGary Numan and George Clinton. And then there is academic work, like David Noble’s Forces of Production, which identifies the role of technology in promoting inequality in labor. The Atari 2600 video games of my youth—particularly the atomic dystopia Missile Command—are also lasting influences because they display a combination of 8-bit design beauty and total technological-based destruction.

Collapse (2020) Screenprint on 36 feet of 1980s dot-matrix paper. Detail.

OPP: Tell us about Collapse (2020), a screenprint on 36 feet of 1980s dot-matrix paper.

NM: Collapse is a uniquely pandemic-influenced work. I started this hybrid work of printmaking and sculpture, which is essentially an accordion book-form, in April 2020. I very much had the itch to express how I was feeling during these early stages of the pandemic, as well as reflect the general global pandemic chaos. However, my regular work-flow was disrupted with the closure of my school/work-based facilities at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I was lucky enough to have a fairly well-stocked printmaking studio at my home, and I decided to take a stab at a project, limiting myself to whatever materials I happened to have in my studio at the time. I didn’t want to even have to order the delivery of supplies because at that early time of the pandemic, I worried about putting delivery drivers at risk. 

So, I started taking old screenprint-positives from previous projects, and exposing them to screens in a collage-like manner. Without any high-quality rag paper in stock, I decided to use the only paper I had in my studio: a ream of 1980’s dot-matrix paper. For those not raised on the early days of inkjet printing, this is the paper that has the perforated edge of punched-out dots to feed the paper through a 1980s printer. Of course, this paper in itself has meaning, as a manifestation of technological obsolesces. The paper is literally in a state of destruction, as it threatens to fall apart in your hands (its very materiality is held together by the layers and layers of acrylic screenprint ink, sizing the paper). Then, the paper is covered with images of conflict and images of destruction. I did my best to work up lots of color harmonies, essentially going for a balance of pretty destruction.

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanmeltz.com and follow him @nathan_meltz on Instagram.

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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jackie Milad

It Means Desert, Desert (2020). Installation view. Photo credit: Vivian Doering

JACKIE MILAD thinks of her layered, mixed media works as time-based art. She employs layering as a strategy to protect, hide and transform recurring symbols like eye, snake, brick wall, and breast. She cuts and draws and paints and sews, cannibalizing previously-exhibited works to make new works. A part of one piece becomes the beginning of another. This ongoing, ever-evolving process of creation refuses the notion of artworks as static, archival objects. Jackie earned her BFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts and her MFA from Towson University. In 2019, she was named a Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize Finalist and a Robert W. Deutsch Foundation Ruby Grantee. Recent solo exhibitions include: Chaos Comes and Goes (2019) at C. Grimaldis Gallery (Baltimore), Portate Bien (2020) at Langer Over Dickie (Chicago) and It Means Desert, Desert (2020) at Julio Fine Arts Gallery (Loyola University, Maryland). Only three days left to see her work in Re-Materialize at Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). It closes on December 20, 2020. Jackie lives and works in Baltimore City, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When I say the word layers, where does your mind go?

Jackie Milad: History. Ancestors. Information. Hidden. Protected. Removable or changeable.

Nope, No Way (2019) Mixed Media Collage on Paper. Photo credit: Vivian Doering

OPP: Who are your artistic ancestors? 

JM: It was during undergrad at SMFA where I was first introduced to Performance Art and was really inspired by the work of women performance artists of the 60s and 70s and in particular: Yoko OnoAdrian PiperJoan Joanas and Valie Export. It was their fearlessness and vulnerability I was drawn to and how they used their bodies to examine and critique the politics of othering and to deconstruct power structures such as white supremacy and patriarchy. Other influences include Howardena Pindell and Jack Whitten for their textural mixed media works and their processes. 

I love maximalist audio and visual experiences, it's hard to narrow it down because there is so much out there from mainstream pop culture to experimental work—however, my absolute favorite movie is Dario Argento's 1977 Suspiria, for its garish lighting and beautiful compositions. I also really love the synchronized dance sequences in Busby Berkley films of the 1930s for the extravagance of it all.

Chaos Eyes Redux (2020) Mixed media. 72" x 72"

OPP: You use recurring formal strategies like transparency, overlapping and reusing parts of old work to make new work. How do these serve your conceptual interests?

JM: Layering is a vital element in my work. Every layer shows a new choice; it’s a record of my decisions. History is a complicated thing; it is almost always told from the perspective of the dominant power. Showing the history of my hand is a way to tell my own story, my own history. I also dig back into the layers or cut and paste older works to reveal the past. My work is personal, and some of the layerings are meant to reveal and later protect or hide information. 

Additionally, I think a lot about how works of art are read. There is a general expectation that the work will be broken down into basic and understandable codes, whether by the artist themselves a writer, or by a curator. I like to defy this expectation by stacking layers, mixing up multiple signals, codes, and even languages. I rarely give it away. I want people to understand and accept that not everything has to be for them, not all symbols have to be revealed and explained—and sometimes it can be confusing and left a mystery.

The Flood Six - Hyena (2018) Acrylic, flashe, marker and collage on paper. 50" x 42"

OPP: Do you think of your mixed media collage works as representing some kind of space, be it physical, mental or social?

JM: I think of them as representing all of the above, or more accurately a record of time within the physical, mental, and social-political spaces. It takes time for me to layer the works, the pieces do not have an endpoint or finish point—they are more of an ongoing ever-changing, malleable record of my hand, my decisions, and of my observations of those things outside of my control. Ideally, in my studio, I am cutting from one piece to add to another in a fluid ongoing intuitive process. I compare them to doing performance art or time-based work.

OPP: How do you think about the works that you’ve sold or gifted in terms of being ongoing?

JM: Once the works leave my studio, they become out of reach or off-limits for obvious reasons. In a way, the objects become something else, they become more of a document or remnant of the performance/process. It would be amazing to one day collaborate with a collector to have work returned to my studio so that a piece could have another life yet again... and again and so on.


Yallah Sim Sim (2020) Video. 4 minutes.

OPP: You use a pastiche of found and created imagery in Yallah Sim Sim (2020), a digital animation with the feel of a sacred dance party. Many symbols have been accumulating meaning for most of human history—pyramid, eye, snake, tear drop—and you use them in a way that is completely idiosyncratic. Tell us about the combinations of images and sound in this work.

JM: I did this video in collaboration with my spouse, Tom Boram. We worked on this video after a research trip to my father’s homeland of Egypt in January. Going from ancient site to ancient site, and seeing a repetition of pharaonic symbols, but more importantly, the confluence of many cultures and epochs on one surface was very inspiring. The video recreates the experience of seeing the layers of Egyptian history competing with wayward touristic signs, a far-off Pizza Hut sign, or a booming car stereo playing mahraganat (Egyptian electronic dance music). This is really on point with what I’m getting at in my own 2D works In this video piece— information collapses onto itself in a chaotic pop kind of way. The writing is literally on the wall of tombs built for ancient pharaohs, turned Coptic monasteries, turned mosques, turned touristic sites. One fascinating architectural example is the pharaonic Luxor Temple which the Romans converted and renovated to be a church, and then later Arabs literally built a mosque (still in use) on top of the ruins of both the church and temple.

Untitled (2019) from Chaos Comes and Goes

OPP: Can you talk about the untitled golden necklaces works from 2019? The composition and palette in these predominately black works is so paired down compared to most of your recent work.

JM: This piece and the other work in this series were done as a counter to the larger collage works. I have several works in which I single out one pattern or theme. I like the idea that a viewer can get a very unfiltered view of a symbol that is repeated and layered throughout my larger dense pieces. I think of the series as a map key to the other work.

Quarantine One-a-Day Drawings (2020) 7" x 7." Photo credit: Vivian Doering

OPP: Tell us about your quarantine experience. It included making a drawing a day. How were these works generated by the early days of the pandemic.

JM: Ah, quarantine. Well, I live with my husband, two dogs, and my nine-year-old son. At the start of the lockdown with schools closing and our jobs going entirely online, there was no time or energy to work in the ways I did pre-Covid. Going to my studio seemed impossible, so to maintain momentum and some mental stability I cut up some small 7” square paper and started drawing, but of course, was regularly interrupted, so what I thought would be these quick simple sketches turned out to take all day to make. This slowing down of my process was important to do at the time. I needed to slow down and be okay with it. I’m not actively doing the quarantine drawings anymore, I’m back in my studio, but I do have plans to go back to making them at some point.    

Gold Bars (2020) Mixed Media Collage on Hand-Dyed Canvas.

OPP: What are you currently most excited about in your studio?

JM: These days in my studio, I've been using the time to think and experiment with materials. Just yesterday I cut up a canvas piece that I've shown in an exhibition recently and started to reconfigure it by sewing other remnants and painting over it with a palette of colors I rarely use. The pandemic and the general stress of this year have made it hard to be consistently productive, so I am taking small steps to find a way forward—and sometimes that means a dance break in my studio or lying on the floor for a different perspective. 

To see more of Jackie's work, please visit www.jackiemilad.com and follow her on Instagram @_jackie_milad_.

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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Annie Bissett

ACTIVATE (Gay Liberation Front). White Line Woodcut with Toner Transfer. 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

Printmaker ANNIE BISSETT explores the visual symbols and verbal cliches associated with various belief systems: from the religious to the political to the economic to the prophetic. Working primarily in moku hanga, she has tackled religious relics and spiritual cliche, the historical struggle for gay liberation and the idiomatic expressions associated with wealth and poverty in capitalist America. Annie's numerous solo exhibitions include: Playing with Fire (2018) at Oxbow Gallery (Northampton MA), Past/Present/Now (2016) at Charles Krause Reporting (Washington DC) and I Was a 20th Century Lesbian at Hosmer Gallery (Northampton MA.) Her work is in the permanent collections of notable institutions like New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, Portland Museum of Art, and Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. You can purchase Annie's four self-published books here. Annie lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.

Other Peoples Pixels: Can you explain moku hanga for the non-printmakers among us?

Annie Bissett: Moku hanga, which means “wood print,” is a centuries-old Japanese way of printing that uses waterborne pigments, brushes instead of rollers, and a hand-held printing device called a baren instead of a mechanical press. Woodblock printing was brought to Japan in the 8th century by Buddhists from China and was first used to reproduce religious texts. After a time colors began to be added by hand and then, as woodblock printing became the primary form of commercial printing in Japan, printers began to carve blocks for each color. Japanese woodblock prints, also called ukiyo-e, are known especially for their intense use of color. 

CLASS PICTURE. Japanese woodblock (mokuhanga). 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: How long have you been using this method?

AB: In the early 2000s, after spending about 20 years working digitally as a commercial artist/illustrator, I found myself longing to make work for myself instead of clients and to work with my hands instead of on the computer. I tried painting and failed, tried collage but didn’t enjoy the search for source materials, and then I tried making drawings that I scanned and colored in Photoshop. That felt right, except that I was still at the computer. A friend noted that my drawings looked like Japanese woodblock prints and, serendipitously, I heard of a workshop being offered near my home by a New Hampshire printmaker named Matt Brown. I took that three-day workshop and fell in love with the method.

Selections from Secret Codewords of the NSA, each 6" x 6." Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What keeps you returning to moku hanga? What do you love about the process?

AB: Although I’m a great admirer of Japanese art and aesthetics, I didn’t start working with moku hanga because of an interest traditional Japanese art. I took up moku hanga because it’s an artistic medium that is neither toxic nor messy, and it’s compact and portable enough to do on the side in my small home-based studio while I continue to serve my freelance digital commercial illustration clients. It’s also a beautiful method—wood, water, natural pigments, brushes, hand-held carving tools and handmade paper are the simple materials that make the method a pleasure to work with. And after my long career as a commercial artist working with four-color offset print technology, the transparent color overlays inherent in woodblock printing make intuitive sense to me.

Because the Japanese brought this art form to unimaginable heights of perfection, working with moku hanga can be a difficult burden to bear. Not many 21st-century western artists could hope to achieve the degree of perfection attained by the great 17th- and 18th-century ukiyo-e masters, but unfortunately that type of work is what many people think of when you say "Japanese woodblock.” I try to avoid this silent standard in people’s minds by calling what I do moku hanga or watercolor woodblock print—a term I especially like. Even though the method does come with a lot of cultural weight, I try to take the support of the beauty and elegance and history of the method without letting go of my own voice and my American concerns and identity. 

I LOVE YOU. Japanese woodblock (mokuhanga). 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What role does text play in your work?

AB: My major in college was English literature. That, plus my decades as an illustrator, where my job was essentially to read a document and then make pictures to go with it, predisposes me to work with words and text. 

Language is totally weird. It’s a mystery that we rarely treat with the awe and respect it deserves. If we were to spend just five minutes watching ourselves speak we would know this. Where do our words come from? Do we really know what we’re about to say before we say it, or do the ideas form simultaneously with the words? Are the movements of our tongue and lips conscious or unconscious? When I look at these questions I find language to be a strange fluid blending of conscious and unconscious, of mental and emotional, of controlled and uncontrollable. And I believe that we reveal ourselves and our innermost states in a brutally honest way through our speech.

MIXED FEELINGS (full set). Japanese Woodblock Print with transfer drawing. Each print is 12.5" x 19." Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: Printmaking—the origins of reproducibility of image and text—is the perfect media to address cliche. I’m thinking of the spiritual cliches on the banners from Relics (2016) and the economic cliches in Loaded (2012). Do you use cliche with sincerity or irony?

AB: To me, cliches appear to be ossified or “frozen” bits of language that we use either as shorthand or as meaningless filler in our speech. I guess the question I’m asking when I work with cliche is, what happens if you soften or “melt” a cliche? Does meaning return? Is there something to discover there? I think yes. 

So to answer your question, I’m 100% sincere in my use of cliches, although the results are often very humorous and/or full of irony, because people are funny.

A REAL FAKE: THIS IS NOT MUHAMMED. Watercolor woodblock print with gold mica, rubber stamp, and removable printed veil. Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: I also see a scholarly interest in the iconography and stories from all the major world spiritual traditions. Is this purely scholarly interest?

AB: I’ve always been a seeker—it seems to be a baked-in part of my personality. As a young child I was interested in my friends’ beliefs, religions and traditions and was invited to their churches, temples, mosques and celebrations. I was raised mainstream Protestant, I got “born again” in high school, and then, accompanied by a lot of pain, I lost my religion when I realized I was gay in my freshman year of college. But even in my post-Christianity period I continued to study various spiritual traditions, and I’ve practiced a number of them. 

Religion, as is true of all human constructs, can be a force for good or for evil. Religious power can easily be warped and manipulated to rationalize all manner of cruelty and bigotry. But at their best, the various religions are repositories of human wisdom, aspiration and spiritual technology that come to us from our ancestors, through centuries of history, and sometimes at great cost. I think there’s much of value to be found there.

DEFY (ACT UP). White Line Woodcut and Rubber Stamping. 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm) Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: Tell us about the prints from the ongoing series I Was a 20th Century Lesbian that I’m reading as “flags” for various activist organizations that played a role in the history of gay liberation. Are these flag prints based on real flags from these groups?

AB: That group of prints, which I call Counterspells, uses a printmaking method called “white line woodcut” that was developed in the early 20th century in the gay mecca of Provincetown, Massachusetts. As in moku hanga, white line woodcut uses watercolor as ink, but instead of multiple blocks a single block (matrix) is incised with a line drawing and colors are painted by hand, one small area at a time. Although the matrix can be re-used, each white line print is a monoprint (one of a kind). 

Using the white line method allowed me to use a single matrix—a simple grid of equilateral triangles—for all the prints. I chose the triangle to reference the downward-pointing pink triangle that was sewn on the uniforms of imprisoned gay men and other sexual offenders in Nazi concentration camps. In the 1970s, the gay community reclaimed the pink triangle as an international symbol of gay pride.

Many of the gay liberation organizations I depicted were short lived, but they built on one another, so to use the same matrix for all of them let me express this in a tangible way. On the other hand, it was quite a limiting format, having to express the essence of each organization through this grid of triangles. I think you’re right that they do read as flags, but I invented them.

Selected images from Woodblock Dreams Tarot (in progress), 2018-2020. Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What’s cooking in your studio right now?

AB: I’ve been working on a woodblock tarot deck for 2 years. For the four tarot suits (56 cards) I created woodblock backgrounds, textures, and illustrated elements which I then scanned and collaged in Photoshop. Thus, those digitally-collaged woodblock prints only exist digitally. There are 21 additional cards in the tarot called the Major Arcana, and I’m creating those as fully developed woodblock prints in very small editions (four of each). Each of those prints is scanned, reduced in size, and type is added digitally. For the sake of time, treasure and sanity, it’s the only way I could imagine making an affordable tarot deck that I could complete in my lifetime.The deck is called Woodblock Dreams Tarot, and I expect to have it ready for the printer by the spring 2021. It’s been a good project for the Time of COVID.

To see more of Annie's work, please visit www.anniebissett.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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Szu-Wei Ho

The Maze (2019) Graphite, color pencil, watercolor, gouache on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

Bodies become landscapes in the surreal drawings and prints of SZU-WEI HO. Braided hair weaves in between and around figures—human, animal and mannequin—engaged in fantastical and lively rituals. Szu-Wei earned her M.F.A. in Printmaking at Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, New York) after receiving her B.A. in English Language and Literature at the National Taiwan Normal University (Taipei, Taiwan). She has exhibited at International Print Center (Chelsea, NY), A.I.R. Gallery, (Dumbo, NY) and Gallery 456 at the Chinese American Arts Council (NY, NY), where she had two solo exhibitions in 2014 and 2019. Szu-Wei recently relocated to Taichung, Taiwan, where she and her husband are currently setting up an art studio and printmaking workshop.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the surreal qualities of your work?

Szu-Wei Ho: I come from a background of literature and love of storybooks. So when I started to create art, stories naturally came first. In my images there are a lot of natural elements, animals, fairytale motifs, human events, and everyday objects. These are glued together by rearranging and reinterpreting my daily encounters. This is the most fun and intriguing creative process I could enjoy for now, so I stick with it. But I also think my work is deeply rooted in reality, which is always more surreal than what I could imagine, especially the year 2020!

Reins (2019) Graphite on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP: The braid is a recurring form in your drawings and prints. It shows up in The Braided Island (2011), Braid (2014) and Reins (2019) to name a few. What does it mean to you? What keeps you coming back to this visual motif?

SH: Human hair is like an extension of us, which grows but without senses. It plays such an important role in our appearances, sometimes even defines our look. Braided hair especially aroused me not only because of it’s woven and lush texture, but the action of braiding and the reason behind it could carry many sexual, social and cultural connotations. Braids can have different colors, which could imply race and point to beauty standards. As a girl, I had a popular doll with ankle-length, blond hair. I brushed and braided her hair everyday. It was like a rule of thumb that to be pretty and to be a princess, long blond hair is the standard.

Hair Salon No.4- Braid Me A Spring, Spider Man (2011) Etching. 9" x 12"

OPP: And your braids move beyond the human head. . . 

SH: Yes, braids show up in my work as tentacles, tails, ropes, fiddleheads, and question marks. Whichever shapes they take, they imply female existence and cultural restraints. From the Brothers Grimm, the image of Rapunzel letting her hair down from the tower bewitched me. The captive woman connects herself to her mother-like figure and her lover with the long braid, which was like an umbilical cord. And then she was pregnant with twins. 

Where It Is Damp and Foggy (2019) Graphite on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP:Landscapes and bodies are often conflated in your drawings, prints and ceramics. Is the landscape a way to talk about the body or vice versa?

SH: Landscapes are just like bodies; they breathe and grow. I like to magnify the body to the scale of landscape so it becomes a giant or an island. And to minimize landscape, they just look like creatures lying there. I’ve lived on islands all my life, whether in Taiwan or New York. I love the idea of being surrounded by water, and the unique quality of being isolated but open at the same time.

Blue Egg I (2012) Ink, watercolor, and Gouache on paper. 44" x 30"

OPP: Please tell us about the relationship between color and graphite in Blue Egg I (2011) and Ripe (2019).

SH: I think color and grayscale talk to each other when they are in the same picture. In these two pieces both the focal points have bright and colorful appearances. The others with only grayscale would fall to the background. But with the impression of the colors that first meet the eye, the grey scale then opens to more air and possibilities. 

In Blue Egg I, the colorful part is at the center: a number of figurines danced around a blue egg. The figurines were like mannequins but only with the lower body, and they were decorated with different objects on top of narrow sticks. They were running, walking or dancing, as if a celebration was going on. Colors could emphasize the liveliness of the event.

In Ripe, the only bird in bright colors was the one that held an egg. One can tell the bird head was a costume as the eyes were hollow. This colorful bird confronted the viewer with no facial expression, making the viewer wonder who was hiding behind and what kind of emotion there should be. I applied so many bright colors on this bird to create a theatrical event.

Ripe (2019) Graphite and color pencil on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP: Ripe and The Maze, both from 2019, feature a colorful parakeet costume hiding an egg protected by human arms. What is the egg being protected from?

SH: The idea of a colorful parakeet came from the sun conure I met at the place I used to work. She lost her mate a long time ago, but still laid infertile eggs from time to time. It was a natural habit, but I felt sorry for her, as if she would be lost by us taking those eggs away. Thus the sun conure became a character I used to talk about reproduction and motherhood. The human arms topped with a bird costume would hold a huge egg like a pregnant woman holding her belly. 

I do not intend to have the egg being protected from specific things, but to just present the way a mother would be protective and cherish her prize by holding it in her arms. But ironically, what is in the egg is another question. . .  it could be just another infertile egg the sun conure bears.

The Braided Island (2011) Etching, aquatint, spitbite, drypoint. 22 1/2" x 31" 

OPP: How does the egg in these new drawings from 2019 relate to the Blue Egg I (2011) and Blue Egg II (2012)?

SH: In the earlier drawings Blue Egg I II, the egg symbolizes life and happiness, in a naive way. Robin's Egg Blue is a color I am not very familiar with when I grew up in Taiwan, but it is so popular in the United States. It is a very bright and eye-catching color, which I think is a bit superficial when applied to objects and merchandise. That is the feeling I want on the egg: a bit too happy, too good to be true.

In Ripe and The Maze, the eggs held by human hands are only in grayscale, because I want some more uncertainty, and more of a feeling of the past. 

I would say eggs in these earlier and later drawings relate to each other while the environment changes- eggs are still eggs, but what happens through time would possibly affect what was inside the eggs. 

Blue Egg II (2012) Ink, Gouache and color pencil on paper. 88" x 30"

OPP: You mentioned the crazy year that has been 2020 at the beginning of the interview. How has the pandemic and other world events impacted your studio practice? Working on anything new?

SH: This February my husband and I moved back to Taiwan after almost 12 years in NYC. At that time Asia was the center of the pandemic, but we still made the move because we were 7 month pregnant and wanted to raise the baby with more family support. Because of Covid, everything we packed and cargo shipped from Brooklyn took more than 6 months to arrive. We are now setting up a new art studio and printmaking workshop in Taichung, where we live. Luckily Taiwan has been a very safe place to stay, so hopefully everything will be on track next year to make some new work.

To see more of Szu-Wei's work, please visit www.szuweiho.com and follow her @szuweiho.

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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alex Schechter

How Intentions Differ (2020) Pine, OSB, Latex Paint, Carving Foam. 63” x 16” x 19”

ALEX SCHECHTER traffics heavily in material symbolism. His sculptures combine traditional woodworking methods, digital fabrication and found objects with video and animation to explore the myths of the Manifest Destiny and the Wild West. Alex holds a BA in Studio Art/Religious Studies from Grinnell College and an MFA in Sculpture from Rinehart School of Sculpture, MICA. Recent exhibitions include: Cowboys and Carpentry: Alex Schechter and Sutton Demlong at Sykes Gallery (Millersville, PA) and Its Construction Conceals:  Iren Tete and Alex Schechter at Ghost (Omaha, NE). He just completed a residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts in Georgia. Alex lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Before going to MICA for your MFA, you got a BA in Religious Studies from Grinnell College. How does that early focus on religion inform your art practice?

Alex Schechter: In so many ways! Religious studies has been the major heuristic for study for me for most of my career. One of the basic definitions of religion begins with identifying the “three c’s;" cultus, cosmology, and community. I find myself drawn to those frameworks as a space for most of my projects. What are the actions or rituals of this system? What does it explain? Who is involved? 

Myth Of The West (Genesis 32:22-31) (2018) Plywood, LED lighting, House Paint, Ebonized Ash Wood, Rubber, Pine, Cactus, Artificial Flower. 20”x 33”x 45”

OPP: Which system do you mean? The universe? Or something smaller?

AS: My work is primarily focused on American Mythology. As a country, I think we lack a defining national identity, with no ethnic or religious antecedents that define many (particularly european) cultures. We instead have a somewhat ad-hoc collection of symbols and rituals that form this constellation of “americanness.” I think a lot of my training, particularly when it comes to religious ethnography, helps to shape that understanding and translation of a deep ambivalence I have around my familial history as well as my personal embrace and revulsion of what it means to be American. 

I grew up on a horse ranch in rural Wyoming. In this environment, quotidian realities of daily life come into sharp contrast with the romantic idealization of the Wild West. For much of U.S. history, the West was an ordinal concept, an endless resource to compete with European culture, a blank canvas to be tamed with violence, or an escape route for self reinvention. Despite the clear and harsh consequences of climate change, the realities of colonization and genocide, not to mention the inconveniently finite nature of natural resources, the idea of the Frontier retains a perennial popularity as a Promised Land. The sculptural objects I make attempt to collapse the utopian ideals of Frontierism and the consequences of its reality.

New Frontier (Allegory of the Cave) (2020) Film stills, Wood, Enamel Paint, Rearview Mirrors, Plastic Rabbits Feet, Hardware. 45" x 42" x 20"

OPP: How does the combination of traditional craft, digital fabrication and found objects serve your conceptual interests?

AS: As previously mentioned, I did not go to art school for undergrad. While that education was great for conceptual development and critical thinking, it meant that I have come into making in a pretty circuitous fashion. I’m trying to make things in a way that works for the idea. I’m a decent carpenter, so wood tends to be a foundational structural material for many of my objects. I’m trying to become less precious about my hand being evident in the objects I make though. 

I love craft, especially woodworking, but sometimes it feels like a crutch, or a conceptual governor. My woodworking skills tend to build towards a human sized scale. I’ve been increasingly interested in branching into other methods of fabrication (including other people doing the fabrication) because they simply allow me to do things I cannot with my skill set. My interest in digital fabrication has really accelerated this drive to expand methods of making. If I can have something milled out in an afternoon rather than carving it for weeks, i’ll take it. 

For all that, I’m pretty enamored with found objects for basically the opposite reason. I love the embodied meaning in objects that are collected or sourced.

Heavy Lift (for Sergei) (2020) Monitor, Wooden Shelf, Potatoes, Zinc, Copper, Wires, Raspberry Pi, Digital animation. 24 "x 20" x 8”

OPP: That is evident in your comprehensive material lists, which give the sense that every object or material is included for symbolic purposes. I’ve been thinking about visual synecdoche and metonymy while looking at your work. Do you think those are appropriate words to describe how you approach materials?

AS: As a kid, I was really obsessed with the nutritional labels on foods. The atomization of say, salad dressing, into its nutritional attributes and a hierarchical list of ingredients, starting with the familiar (olive oil) and descending into the esoteric and sometimes frightening (sodium benzoate) felt like a mystery. A miniature scavenger hunt at the dinner table.

I’ve seen stage magicians do the same thing, they will explain how they are going to do a trick. That there is a trap door, that there a two assistants, that it isn’t their real thumb, and yet you are still astonished by the illusion you are seeing in front of you. The whole is not just greater than the sum of its parts, it is more exciting because you know what those parts entail.

My hope is that by listing the totality of the parts used in any given piece, there is a bit of alchemy that happens. The meaning of material is not just the shape of the whole object, but the embodied meanings of each individual object play with each other in a space. I think there is a difference between house paint and automotive paint, and house paint and a houseplant. Maybe its a bit onanistic but I think the indexing allows space for the creation  of meaning beyond the title and form of the artwork. It gives a peak into process without the explicit one-to-one mapping that happens with a full statement or artist talk. I think about some of the stories of Donald Barthelme, which work to morph impressionistic accumulations of single events or actions into a holistic understanding of an event or a place in time.

Further West (2019) Laser Etched Drywall, Pine, Maple, Hardware, Plastic Boot Tray, Perlite, Cacti, Artificial Flowers. 55”x 40”x 40”

OPP: Will you pick a favorite piece and talk us through all the materials and their meanings?

AS: Sure, let's look at Further West, 2019, which was part of a body of work examining the concept of the cold war era Space Race as an extension of Manifest Destiny. I would argue that much of the American project has been oppositional and reactionary to exterior political pressure. Much of the space race, and NASA in general—which I think of as the greatest public art project of all time—was in direct opposition to the Soviet national project. This piece uses the iconography of westward expansion to look a the moon race as an extension of that process, a need to push “American Greatness” to increasingly far reaching lands.

I wrote a computer program that converted data from select sections of amateur astronomer Walter Goodacre’s 1910 map of the moon into vectors that were laser-etched onto drywall. Using materials that are traditionally used for household construction in sculptural objects creates an uncanny feeling, making a material that is so ubiquitous but we never pay much attention to precious or elevated. Thinking about the walls of the home as something that moves, or is in transition is an important thought process for me. Being untethered is both exciting and disorienting.

I always have pine 2x4s around my studio, and they’re my go-to for anything structural. This main body of the sculpture mimics the radial arms of a wagon wheel, buried in the sand, an iconic image from western films. The crutch-like leg that props up the framed wall is American curly maple. Sometimes, you need nicer wood. I’ve become increasingly conscious of being able to assemble and disassemble work easily for installation, so the hardware was a necessity for transportation. Rather than hiding these connection points, I wanted to highlight them with brass hardware. I was looking at a lot of late 19th century surveying equipment. They are beautiful machines and the contrast of brass on wood is a gorgeous look. 

My weird color palette is generated through the remnants of other people’s discarded materials. I buy most of my paint from the “oops” section at the hardware store paint counter. They sell it for around $.50 (a pint?). It’s fun to see trends over the years of what colors people are almost-painting things.

I bought the plastic boot tray that holds the perlite—if there was a sandy desert on the moon, this is what I imagine it looking like—at a tractor supply store because I loved that shape. It is meant as a place to rest your boots when you have come in from a day of hard labor. I like the idea of this object designed for holding dirt to contain a different sort of dirt. . . in this case, a miniature desert.

I’ve been using cacti in a lot of my sculptures recently. I like the look of them and they are pretty resilient to changes in environment/don’t need to be watered very often. They also serve as a metonym for The West. I’ve been buying plants from Home Depot a lot over the last five years or so as sort of a treat for myself when I go to the hardware store. They clearly do not care about longevity for plants, and often it takes a lot of work repotting and nursing plants back to health after they are purchased. The cacti, which are non-flowering, are sold with these tiny plastic flowers hot-glued to the tops of them. I find this very funny and like to leave them on when I include a cactus in my work.

Pervasive Practitioners (2020) Ash Wood, Birch Ply, Latex Paint, Beeswax. 82” x 24” x 15”

OPP: Tell us about your newest body of work, M.E.K.A. I’m not familiar with that acronym. What does it stand for? 

AS: M.E.K.A. doesn’t really stand for anything, though sometimes I retcon titles Most Even Keep Alive? My Ego Korrupts All? But the title is more a nod to a 90s cartoon trend of creating tortured acronyms for a catchy nickname, like S.H.I.E.L.D. or M.A.S.K. And mecha is a term for a sci-fi subgenera where teenagers pilot giant robots. 

This has been an unusual body of work for me. I had a number of shows and longer-term projects put on hold or cancelled due to COVID-19. My studio practice had gone into a rut. I was fairly depressed and was having difficulty putting much conceptual rigor into anything. To justify being in the studio, I started playing around with arranging shapes and objects in an unlocked and unoccupied studio next to mine. I had made a scale model of a robot from the Gundam cartoon that I used to watch in my middle school days. I really liked the shape and the translation from the flatness of anime to a physical object. I started looking up more giant robot films and cartoons and isolating the heads from them. There was a certain challenge in replicating these cartoon shapes into something with heft and dimension. This has been an exercise in formalism, color, and installation, rather than the more conceptually driven objects I tend to make.  

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points (2020) Pine, Ply Wood, Felt, Automotive Paint, Latex Paint. 11”x 84” x 28”

OPP: I don't know. I think you are selling yourself short. You might be tapping into the collective unconscious. Either that, or I just can’t escape viewing everything made in 2020 through the politics of the pandemic (i.e. economy vs public health.) I see the robot heads as representing the dangers of relentlessly-onward-marching Progress. It seems very significant that the robots have been beheaded and are propping up the systems of objects. Your thoughts?

AS: I don't know that I'm selling myself short, as much as allowing myself to work intuitively, something I mostly only do with my drawing and illustration practice. I'm very enamored with the design of these giant robots even though have very little context for their stories or personalities—despite my visual fascination, I've watched very little anime. I'm both interested in and skeptical of this sort of science fiction, where incredible levels of technology, global and interstellar economic and political systems are all easily reduced to combat between between giant robots. How simple compared to the intertwined and endlessly complex realities of climate change and global economic collapse that we face in our daily lives.

I'm both interested in technology and skeptical of Positivism, this idea that progress is somehow linear and inherently good. A book that really caused me to rethink the understanding of technical progress was Keven Kelly's What Technology Wants (2010). Conceiving of a Technium, a "greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us." is both thrilling and, existentially, a bit nerve wracking. Perhaps the decapitation of these robots is a way of symbolically reestablishing a dominance over these systems, but I don't think that completely covers it. As with many of the topics I tend to fixate on, there is both a love and a revulsion that co-mingle. Even with my discomfort, I tend to want to ritualize and care for objects. In this case, I literally put them on pedestals.

To see more of Alex's work, please visit www.alexschechter.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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Laura Mongiovi

From Schoolhouse To White House (2019) Wood, tassels, flocking, yarn. 58” x 76” x 12." 
Title from Alice Allison Dunnigan’s autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House. Kentucky History: Honors Alice Allison Dunnigan, first African-American female correspondent in the White House and member of the Senate and House of Representative press galleries.

LAURA MONGIOVI’s sculptures are material-driven contemplations of the past, both sociopolitical and geologic. She uses the repetition of stitching, braiding, and knitting to physically process local history. The resulting abstractions crafted from tactile materials, are paired with informational text, drawing attention to lesser-known people and events. Laura has an MFA from University of Colorado Boulder and a BFA from Florida State University. In 2019, she initiated and co-organized the Deeper Than Indigo: Southeast Textile Symposium at Flagler College (St. Augustine, FL). Recent solo exhibitions include The Grass is Blue (2019) at Georgetown College in Kentucky and Northward (2018) at Arts on Douglas in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Laura is a recipient of the Northeast Florida Individual Artist Grant (2018) and the Arrowmont Pentaculum Residency (2020). She lives and works in St. Augustine, Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between material and geographic location in your work? 

Laura Mongiovi: I often research a particular time and place. I am interested in exposing origins; I consider the past a vital component in understanding the present and navigating the future. I am most interested in sensual experiences and utilize associated materials. Our relationship with distinct materials taps into our senses, powerful conduits for reflection and emotional response. 

Upon researching Northeast Florida, where I currently reside, I discovered the history of indigo plantations. I began experimenting with indigo dye and ink to visually communicate stories about a color that led to enslaved labor. Such stories bring awareness to the humanitarian histories, as well as current textile practices, associated with the production of indigo. Another example, I collected water from the Atlantic ocean and boiled to produce salt. The salt was incorporated into a piece about Kentucky geographic history for a solo exhibition The Grass Is Blue at Georgetown College. Kentucky was once underwater, covered by the Atlantic Ocean and present day salt licks are residue of receded ocean water. The memory of salt and taste allows the viewer to connect with this information beyond the visual experience.  

Tracks (2019) Felt, faux fur, yarn, thread. 14" x 17"
The demand for fur in Europe was great. Indigenous peoples hunted beyond their own needs so they could trade fur for tailored shirts, guns and gunpowder.

OPP: You’ve stitched thread into felt for years. What keeps you coming back to these materials? 

LM: Tufts and elevated marks echo topography. As I work, I trace my hands over the surface, aware of valleys and mountains. I am mapping, connecting with space and time.  

OPP: Tell us a bit about your process? How do you start a new piece, generally speaking? 

LM: My process is deeply rooted in research. My research includes tangible experiences as well as gathering resources about a particular time, place or subject. I carefully consider how materials and processes can visually communicate content and meaning. If I don’t have the materials or process knowledge, I will embark on a search for materials and learn a new process. I then begin exploring materials and/or process. Sometimes my first attempt is successful. The majority of time, I am reworking ideas, learning about materials and process for future pieces.  

Claimed Union With The Earth (2019) Yarn. 45” x 56” x 5." 
Title from bell hooks poem #5. Kentucky History: The significance of hair and sweet grass among Indigenous Peoples. 

OPP: Many of your works might be viewed solely as material abstraction if the viewer didn’t read the title card. In two recent series, The Grass is Blue and This Land is My Land, the long-ignored histories of Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans are highlighted via titles and supporting text. Do you consider this language part of the work or the context for the work? Is this distinction important to you?  

LM: This is a good question – led me to reflect on how I arrived at decisions to use language. I was a gallery monitor during my undergraduate years. I noticed the majority of visitors read the title card before viewing visual work. I came to the conclusion that people wanted to “know” what they were looking at, an explanation, and relied on the title card to guide perception. This observation led me to eliminate titles from my work for many years. I wanted the work to speak for itself, the visual experience to dominate and the viewer to arrive at their own interpretation. As I matured in my studio practice and expanded my research practices, I realized language providing historical reference can serve as context and not necessarily guide the viewer toward a particular conclusion. I also see this information as an additional honor toward the visual stories I am telling. Perhaps similar to a plaque that accompanies a visual commemorating a person or event. So, yes this distinction is important to me as my intent is to create visual work that provides moments for investigation and contemplation while acknowledging the past.  

This Land Is My Land (2019) Felt, metallic thread, air dry clay, wood, steel, paint. Detail. 
Shell middens, left behind by indigenous peoples, buried under colonialism. 

OPP: 2020 has been a challenging year—that’s putting it mildly—for most of us. How have the events of the past six months affected your studio practice?  

LM: With projects and exhibitions postponed, I have time to explore ideas that have been kicking around and finish pieces that have been patiently waiting for me in the studio. Some of these ideas and pieces may not work out and that is okay. Time spent investigating will lead me to new ideas. So, I would have to say the unusual circumstances of 2020 have afforded me time to reflect and catch up. 

To see more of Laura's work, please visit www.lauramongiovi.com and follow her @lmongiovi.

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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Luis Romero

Untitled, 2015. Acrylic on paper. 20.5" x 25.5"

LUIS ROMERO's dimensional, layered works confuse and capture the eye with overlapping, repeated marks. Somewhere between sculpture and collage, these accumulations of hand-drawn, layered canvas, paper and cardboard are often held together by staples, merging pure abstraction with mundane materials that keep the viewer grounded in the real world. Luis earned his Post Baccalaureate Certificate and MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo show Who Says Words with My Mouth? Who Looks Out with My Eyes? (2018) at Adams and Ollman Gallery (Portland, OR) and Between Land and Sky (2019), curated by Nazafarin Lotfi, at Everybody Gallery (Chicago). In March, Luis's solo show at Museo de las Américas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) was put on hold due to the pandemic. Echolalia is now open and on view through January 23, 2021. You can see a video walkthrough of the exhibition here. Luis lives and works in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do found materials show up in your work. In other words, tell us about the surfaces you are drawn to make marks on and the materials you use to make marks.

Luis Romero: In grad school I began covering found objects with marks all over. The idea was to envelop the object. I was using mostly pens and sharpies on things like brown paper bags and organic objects like leaves, branches, stones. In Home/Hypnosis (1999), I first started exploring a sort of camouflage effect on found objects within a limited palette of whites and grays. At a period when I felt the need to open up what I was doing, I started working with materials found in the street. This time it was the material rather than the object that interested me. I started constructing little fetish-like objects made of materials found around my neighborhood and downtown. I wanted the raw textures and the colors. (No organic materials this time.) It was easier for me to experiment with colors if I found them already existing in objects. Some have pen, others acrylic marks, but I used marks sparingly. The result, or one of the results of that period was the work Selected Fetish Drawings which I exhibited at the Drawing Center. Somebody asked me around that time if I was thinking of Schwitters when I did this, but actually it had more to do with the exercises that Josef Albers made Rauschenberg do when he was his teacher. (Off The Wall by Calvin Tomkins was very important for me. I think I did my first experiments with found objects around the time I read that work in Puerto Rico well before going to grad school.) Since then I’ve used found materials sparingly. Mutant Map of the United States for example, has some found trash from the street. I wanted it to have echoes from that fetish period. 

Untitled, 2010. Acrylic and pen on cardboard. 8.25" x 17.25"

OPP: What about cardboard specifically? Why is this a surface you return to again and again?

LR: The cardboard that I use nowadays is mostly found but that’s not what attracts me. I mean, I could very well work with cardboard that I’ve bought. What attracts me to cardboard is the warmth and the roughness, and that, like paper, the material also exists outside of the realm of art. The fact that the material is colloquial, is connected to everyday life, is more important to me. It is in fact very important for all I do. 

I'm Not That Innocent. 2015. Acrylic on paper and canvas. 17" x 27.25"

OPP:You were a 2010 3Arts Award recipient. In your intro video, you said, “My drawings are a surface, but they also want to suggest something that you cannot see.” What is the something we cannot see, for you?

LR: I should explain first that after college I began constructing drawings with layers of paper. I should explain first that after college I began constructing drawings with layers of paper. In some cases the layers suggest something very organic and in others something very architectural. They always reminded me of books too. All these constructions were very enveloping. Working with layers gives volume to the work and creates a relation between surfaces. In any case, my statement just means that works in that period were very interested in suggesting a space behind the surface, or between the surfaces, as something that was evidently there but that you could not see. Something unknowable and seductive. When things are not explicit, the mind of the viewer becomes more active. I wanted to activate a sense of wonder. The marks seem to begin from the invisible space, from the shadows. That’s why people often examine my work from different angles trying to see between the layers of paper. My works are constructed somewhat differently these days but I still try to suggest an area that is not seen. 

Home/ Hypnosis. 1999. Pen on found materials, plastic. 6.25" x 20" x 18"

OPP: What role does optical illusion play in our work?

LR: It’s a very useful tool. I’m referring specifically to the illusion or the visual confusion created by camouflage. When the mark is not contained within margins of a page but goes around it and seems to exist beyond the material, the objects with the same patterns blend. They loose individuality. They become less substantial. The mark is overpowers the object. The insight really goes back to that Home/Hypnosis work. But I do it now in different ways. Different surfaces can blend if they have similar patterns. In my studio I move things around just to make more space to work and often find random connections. Many pieces have started that way. Surfaces with similar patterns find each other by chance. They attach themselves visually. It's very weird. Very organic. 

Green Rectangle, Absolutely Baroque. 2017. Acrylic on paper and canvas. 20" x 16"

OPP: Do you think about abstraction as pure color, form, line and material? Or are these and the processes you use metaphors?

LR: I rarely know what the project is going to be about. I always think of my task as finding the organizing principle for each piece, the “as if.” Finding it is something that happens while working; in the act, not a priori. Often the processes I use carry echoes of other activities.

Some works have begun just because I want to see two particular colors together, or because a particular shape is interesting, without considering what it could mean or what it suggests. There have been cases where I use the same color scheme of a previous work because I’m trying to explore the way the work is constructed and don’t want to be too concerned with harmonizing colors. Sometimes I just happen to have left over pieces from a previous work. But all those elements (color, form, line and material) do carry associations that I eventually use in creating a work. I don’t think they could be “purified” from these associations. They are multiple, and fluid but they are central to the work. Using those associations is part of the fun. 

Space Fortress During Facial Devastation Stage. 2020. Acrylic on paper. 27.5" x 36.5"

OPP: Talk about your recent painted paper constructions. 

LR: Those works are very recent, and I speak somewhat tentatively because I’m still trying to understand them and what they can do. I guess I’d say that for a few years now I have been trying to create a kind of visual ambivalence in my drawings using layers and mark repetition. I use layers and camouflage to create confusion between the foreground and background. 

In-progress work in the studio

OPP: How are they both drawing and sculpture?

LR: With these new paper constructions I’m trying to use that visual ambivalence in space, not just on the wall. As with my 2D work, the eye blends the repetitive patterns, but they occur in separate pieces that stand separately and that occupy a space. In some of my experiments the constructions expand, in others they are closer. These days I’m figuring out how to use density. I am also trying to see how to use color. Some of the results have been very site specific. Artists like Jesus Rafael Soto and other Latin American Op Artists have been on my mind. Also Helio Oiticica and even Paul Klee and  Mondrian, who if I recall correctly was doing installations in his studio late in his career. 

It’s amusing because I arrived to these works in a way that was somewhat different for me. Kind of hard to explain but there was a little bit more deliberation than usual. I tried these constructions for all sorts of reasons that were not related to what I was doing at the moment. The change felt a bit abrupt in relation to the piece I was working on. As I have been writing this response I am realizing how related in fact these pieces are to my previous works. My paintings have been slowing becoming installations over the last year. With a piece like Landscape Showing Butt, I started to place small sections that were detached from the main area. My Own Private Summer Something is really something like an installation. There was a progression that I hadn’t noticed. In terms of my deliberations, well it turns out I wasn’t doing what I thought I was doing. That’s why a couple of years ago I titled a show “Who Says Words with My Mouth? Who Looks Out with My Eyes?” Art making sometimes feels that way. 

To see more of Luis' work, please visit www.romeroluis.com and check out his Instagram @total_romero.

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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Russell Prigodich

Brace (2019) Soap, aluminium. 8" x 20" x 12."

RUSSELL PRIGODICH's minimal color palette allows his materials—soap and metal—to take center stage. He juxtaposes rigidity and flexibility, durability and impermanence, hard and soft in elegant sculptures that sometimes only last days. In recent works, physics and chemistry are at play as the weight of steel pulls and presses on the shrinking, drying soap. Other works employ common domestic objects—matchbook, radiator, drawer—as "proxies for the people who live among them." Russell earned his BA in Studio Art at Saint Michael’s College (Colchester, VT) and his MFA in Sculpture at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In 2019, His work was included in exhibitions at Conroe Art League (Conroe, TX) and Five Points Gallery (Torrington, CT). Other notable shows include a two-person exhibition  Site: Brooklyn Gallery (Brooklyn, NY). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at UMass Dartmouth (2015-16) and The Studios at Billings Forge (2009) in Hartford, CT. Russell lives and works in Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How long have you been working with soap as a primary material? What do you love about it? What is challenging about this material when it comes to process?

Russell Prigodich: I have been using soap on and off for about 12 years now. It can be a tricky material. I love the soft folds and wrinkles that soap holds and its relation to the body, but it can be a mess to work with. Anything it touches gets soapy, hands tools, finished metal, so I have a set of tools and supplies I use only for soap. There can be a lot of setup time and energy just to have 1 fold go wrong on a big sheet and then that piece is shot and has be reprocessed. But despite these challenges, I love the material. 

Humans use soap every day, now more than ever, and it is a material with which people have developed a relationship. This daily use and the sensual and visceral nature of it, bring the viewer in. It intrigues them and helps them to relate to the work physically, emotionally and conceptually.

Radiator (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: What are the similarities and differences in the process of manipulating metal and soap? I imagine they aren’t as different as their final forms imply.

RP: Until recently I was using sheets of metal and sheets of soap, trying to build a relationship between the two materials with process. Both are cut, bent and folded into forms, the steel obviously rigidly holds its form while the soap shifts with time and age. Both require planning because once the fold is 

made it cannot be undone. The metal really has to be forced into shape while I often let the soap and gravity dictate the final form. I think of the process as a means of engaging with the viewer, emphasizing the act of folding.

Matches (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: In your artist statement, you write: “These sculptures recast seemingly mundane objects of daily domestic life as proxies for the people who live among them. […] Their monochromatic clarity and minimalism invite the viewer to psychologically inhabit them.”  Can you say more about the minimal aesthetic as a vehicle for conveying psychological experience?

RP: I want to try and leave room for the viewer to bring their own experience to the work, and I think that the minimalist aesthetic leaves a space for that. The objects evoke ideas/places such as containment, room, love and loss. By outlining the concept I hope to leave room for the viewer to fill in their own narrative. More recently I have been building tension into the work, forcing the metal and soap together. Some recent soap and aluminum pieces only lasted a couple of days before the soap broke. The simplicity of their forms and surfaces allow the actions and results to be the main focus.

Box of Nails (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: In Fold, soap mimics fabric, often draped over a radiator or folded neatly in a drawer. So the metal either supports or contains the soap. How do you think about the relationship between the two materials in this body of work? Are these physical or metaphoric relationships?

RP: I think they are both. The physical relationship is evident in their stark structural difference. When I think about soap as a skin both representing and standing in for the human body, the steel sometimes becomes the skeleton, holding and supporting it. This is most evident in Radiator, where I bent the square tubing on a diagonal so as the soap slumped and aged, the metal structure underneath became more and more prominent. In some works, the soap stands in for the body, a piece representing the whole. It’s folded into the steel structure, protected, stored, or contained, locked away; it can go a lot of ways depending on the work. Even though the soap is impermanent and the steel is enduring, the soap takes center stage, it’s about us and the steel works are the spaces we have lived.

Untitled (2019) Soap, aluminium. 10" x 24" x 12."

OPP: Your 2019 works that combine soap with aluminum are more abstract than the soap and lead works. How has your approach shifted in pieces like Brace and Rotor?

RP: In these works, I really wanted to dramatize time. The soap has always had a lifespan lasting months and years, slowly shrinking, cracking and aging. But, as I said,  some newer pieces only last days. There is suspense in an aluminum disc being held by a soap rod. We don’t think it will last and we wonder when it will finally break. I wanted to focus on that anticipation. I also was intentionally trying to make more abstract work. I liked the domestic reference of Fold and I think it helped build the dialogue between the soap, metal and viewer, but I was feeling confined by it. Also, I had access to a machine shop and that process lent itself to abstraction. I really believe in the meaning of material, listening to it and allowing it to speak. 

To see more of Russell's work, please visit www.russellprigodich.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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ricky Armendariz

This Is Not A Sign, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 24" x 24"

RICKY ARMENDARIZ's bright-hued painted surfaces are inscribed with creatures from Native myth, famous figures from the Western painting cannon, tattoo imagery and references to car culture in the Southwest. Carved in clean, beveled lines and thin crosshatching, his imagery doesn't just sit on the surface, but is part of the surface. This physical quality is a metaphor for the entwined relationship between what we call traditional and what we call contemporary. Ricky earned his BFA at University of Texas at San Antonio and his MFA at University of Colorado at Boulder. He has been represented by Ruiz-Healy Art since 2012. You can see his work in their San Antonio gallery through October 31, 2020 in Manos (hands), a two-person show also featuring the work of Andres Ferrandis. At their Manhattan location, Ricky's work is on view through October 17, 2020 in the group show Con(Text). His solo exhibition Smoke Signals and Other Reliable Means of Communication just opened at Flatbed Press (Austin, TX) and runs through October 17, 2020. Ricky lives and works in San Antonio, Texas.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between tradition and innovation in your work.

Ricky Armendariz: I grew up not understanding the difference between high and low art, self-taught and academic art forms. My walls were covered with folk art and traditional paintings. It’s that hybridity that has informed my aesthetic approach to art making. My work is a mix of both traditional and nontraditional techniques. The painting process is very traditional with oil glazes to create the skyscapes or landscapes. After several months of drying time, I use a large power tool to etch imagery into the surface of the painting. I enjoy being slightly irreverent with the painting process.

Juan de Pareja, 2016. oil on carved plywood. 37" x 48"

OPP: How does the process of adding paint and then carving it away in serve your conceptual concerns?

RA: The idea was to reference carved wood signs of the American Southwest. My initial intention was to subvert the Southwestern stereotype; originating in 50-60s American cinema. The carved mark, which is a marring of the surface, serves as a counter balance to the refinement of the painting process. I also believe the carved mark reinforces the significance of the imagery, due to its permanence. The burned drawings have a mark that underscores the graveness of that imagery. 

Cono de Fuego, 2018. oil on birch panel. 48" x 48"

OPP: Various animals show up again and again: coyote, jack rabbit, buffalo, snake, crow. In your work, are these animals characters, allegories, references to myth, or simply non-human beings living in the world? 

RA: American myth is very dogmatic; figures are good or bad. Native traditions have more nuanced characters in their myth. Much of my work is referential of myth and allegories found in classical works of art as well as my own oral tradition. I’m interested in the parallels between my own myths, the myths of other people and in that connectivity of these allegories.

Meet You On The Other Side, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 24" x 24"

OPP: Coyote is a trickster, right? How does he show up in your work? What does he do in your work that he doesn’t do in traditional indigenous myth?

RA: Yes, but it's more complex than that. In myth protagonists often are complex individuals. Characters are both good and bad and everything in-between especially within indigenous myths. I possess aspects of the coyote, I identify with him.  He is someone that has difficulty seeing the good in things. Depending on the story, he is an individual who is dissatisfied with the gifts he has been given. He consistently looks to the greener grass just outside his reach. 

Myth is a living thing. Characters change, stories change and the complexity of the characters evolve. I don’t use many known myths, I prefer to write the myths in-between the myths we are familiar with.  I actually write stories that I use as a guide for the work.

Last Ride of Juan Diego, 2018. oil on birch panel with lights. 24" x 48"

OPP: When did you first introduce light bulbs into your work? Are you creating new constellations based on contemporary culture?

RA: I did that back in graduate school as a way to reboot our traditional constellations. I also believe in fate and chance and how that shapes our lives. I am of Mexican decent, and we tend to live very closely with our superstitions and our belief in things that are hard to quantify.

Blown off Course, Guided by Spirits, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 48" x 48"

OPP: How has your art practice been impacted by the pandemic and the collective socio-political unrest of 2020? 

RA: I know this is a very serious and grave time in our world. I’m getting a lot done in the studio, I am thankful to have a flexible schedule. Sometimes my everyday life has greater complications as so many others would attest to. My work is informed by current cultural and political events. It seems we all are in a state of panic, fatigue and hopelessness. It’s hard to ignore the fires we are all experiencing, and for that to have no affect on the things we are making. I will say that sometimes it’s difficult to speak to this while you’re in it, but much of my work these days is flavored by anxiousness and a desperate desire to hold on to the positive things we have in our lives. 

To see more of Ricky's work, please visit www.rickyarmendariz.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 Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she 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), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).