OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amanda Williams

Uppity Negress, 2017. Site-specific installation at The Arts Club of Chicago. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan

AMANDA WILLIAMS explores the intersection of color, line and material with social, political and cultural meanings inherent in architecture and urban environments. For her well-known project Color(ed) Theory, she painted eight houses slated for demolition on Chicago's South Side in a palette derived from African American consumer culture. Her work hinges on this cultural specificity while simultaneously addressing the broader themes of impermanence, transformation and healing, as they are sited in the human-built environment. Amanda earned her Bachelor of Architecture with an Emphasis in Fine Art at Cornell University in 1997. Her numerous awards include a 3Arts Award (2014), a Joyce Foundation scholarship (2013), and an Excellence in Teaching Award (2015), for her work at Illinois Institute of Technology, College of Architecture. Amanda was named Newcity’s 2016 Designer of the Moment, was a 2016 Efroymson Fellow and has been tapped to be part of the team working on the exhibition spaces at the Obama Presidential Center. Uppity Negress, a site-specific installation for The Arts Club Garden Projects (Chicago), is on view through September 2017. Her solo show Chicago Works: Amanda Williams just opened and is currently on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art through December 31, 2017. Amanda lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Uppity Negress, a site-specific installation for The Arts Club Garden Projects (Chicago), just opened in June and will be on view through September 2017. Tell us about this new work. What about the title and form of the “fence” in relation to the site?

Amanda Williams: I am so excited by this new body of work and how it has expanded the ways in which I’m continually contemplating questions of space, race and color. The title has tangential beginnings related to sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who was an early exhibitor at the Arts Club, as well as a portion of a chapter from author, Natalie Moore’s book, The South Side. I am fascinated by the way the Arts Club garden operates as neither completely public or private. How could I use this spatial condition to consider questions of authority and access, particularly as it relates to the black female body in public space. By venturing “out of line,” the fence creates a disorienting space that allows occupants to experience this liminal social condition. The pickets of the fence disperse and eventually lead to a large banner displaying the arrest transcript of Sandra Bland interspersed with excerpts from a commencement speech given by former First Lady, Michelle Obama. The mashup charts an alternate narrative to the potential of getting out of line. 

Uppity Negress, 2017. Site-specific installation at The Arts Club of Chicago. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan

OPP: Tell us a bit about the process of painting the abandoned houses marked for demolition in your project Color(ed) Theory. Is it a guerrilla act or a permitted one? Who are your artist assistants? Compare painting the first house in the series to painting the last one.

AW: I chose properties that were at the end of their life cycle and use the project as a way to ask questions about how and when we value architecture. Because of the temporal nature of the structures and the project, I enlisted the help of fellow artists friends and family members who wanted to support my artistic practice and also understood the stakes in working under such conditions. They were collaborators in the truest sense.

My husband Jason Burns was probably the most prolific painter. He also cleared the overgrown weeds, bushes and grass. I didn’t know what to expect when I started. The idea was to load up as much paint as would fit in our truck , or that I had the budget for, go out at daybreak and paint until someone challenged us or until we ran out of paint. By the final house, the project had gained the attention of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and had been folded in as a part of their programming. We went from about 9 people helping to 70. It meant a lot of tiny brushes. It was a good moment to terminate the project, before it turned into something else with external agendas.

Newport 100/Loose Squares, 2015 (Overall), 2015

OPP: How do the painted houses operate in their natural environments? What kinds of responses have you heard from people who live around them? How many are still standing?

AW: Approximately half are still standing. The responses and reactions to the houses are as varied as the houses themselves. Some neighbors don’t like the project at all and think it exacerbates the issues that I’m attempting to call attention to. Many residents near the Currency Exchange and Safe Passage Houses find the color offensive. Some neighbors have described them as odd or thought provoking, while other neighbors have become friends of mine, and we’ve developed relationships that extend beyond the project’s initial intentions.

I think its important to emphasize that it’s fundamentally flawed to imagine homogeneity with words like “community” or “black people,” etc. We are often treated (and discriminated against) as a monolithic group, so its great to have a project that is not black or white, but gray.

Perhaps one of the most unique reactions came from photographer/artist, and Englewood resident Tonika Johnson. She included one of the painted houses as a backdrop to a photo composition she created for a billboard series, Englewood Rising, that offers positive images of everyday black life as a counter narrative to what we hear on the news or see tweeted by uninformed nationally elected officials. It is exciting to have my project interwoven into other local artists’ efforts to raise awareness and change the conversation. The landscapes feel more pronounced when you watch nature reclaim these voided lots.

Color(ed) Theory, Chicago Architectural Biennal, 2015. Photo Credit: Steven Hall

OPP: Most viewers—myself included—have only encountered Color(ed) Theory in the form of photography. What do the photographs do that the actual painted houses can’t. And how have the different display iterations of these photographs changed over the life of the project?

AW: The photographs do a few things. They allow the project to be read as an aggregate, you can never physically occupy or absorb them as a singular spatial body. The photographs also contextualize the houses in relation to one another. They also make the context, namely the general isolation of the structures as important to the visual story as the houses themselves. Lastly, they freeze an ephemeral moment. While this allows the project to be widely shared, I’m still not sure this is a completely desirable strategy for a project that was intentionally temporal.

Pink Oil Moisturizer (Winter; Overall), 2014.

OPP: As I was researching your work, I became aware of just how much sudden attention your work has received since the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015. So you’ve done a ton a interviews and received a lot of press over the last couple of years. Is there anything about your work that you don’t feel gets proper attention? What gets overlooked?

AW: The social nature of the Color(ed) Theory project overshadows a parallel thread about this as a project that is attempting to help inform my painting practice and a desire for a better formal understanding of color. There is also a levity that gets overshadowed by many. I’m always thrilled when someone laughs or smiles after reading a title of a piece, or has an ‘ah-ha’ moment related to a personal connection to the content.

OPP: It’s nice to hear you say that because I love the way the color itself both challenges and lives in harmony with the surrounding environment. It asserts itself, dominates the landscape and then just becomes another part of that space. What colors are you thinking about now?

AW: My Chicago Works exhibition at the MCA, curated by Grace Deveney, has afforded me an amazing opportunity to produce an almost entirely new body of work that contemplates several themes that emerged as a result of the response to Color(ed) Theory. Some of the narratives you’ll see emerging include gold as a signifier for social, cultural and political value associated with land use and ownership, as well as deep material explorations of salvaged building material. It has been really wonderful to continue to think through these fundamental questions in a variety of formats and media. This exploration of gold will also move beyond the MCA walls in a companion project funded by my Efroymson Fellowship, in which Golden Brick Roads will be embedded along short cuts (desire paths) in vacant lots on the City's south and near west side.

A Way, Away (Listen While I Say)—Translating Phase, 2017. Collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez. Photo Credit: Michael Thomas

OPP: Are these Gold Brick Roads connected to A Way, Away (Listen While I Say), your collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez in Saint Louis? This project applies five transformation actions—marking, subtracting, translating, shaping and healing—to 3721 Washington Boulevard, which was slated for demolition. Will you use some of the salvage bricks for the brick roads, and are those bricks also the bricks in your MCA show?

AW: The gold leafed bricks in Chicago share some themes with the gold painted bricks salvaged in St. Louis, and in hindsight will inevitably all be part of my gold color phase—I also had a Peanut Butter and Jelly phase in the 3rd grade—but they are intentionally not the same actual bricks. For A Way, Away, it was important to the premise of the project that the St. Louis bricks STAY in the St. Louis area and contribute to a new life cycle for that place. The four projects that were selected all share concepts of healing and legacy; either material or social/cultural. Andres and I recently participated in a day long charrette with the four organizations leading the projects. We have found that these formal transformations of the material also serve as metaphors and platforms for dialog about personal healing and transformation.

To see more of Amanda's work, please visit awstudioart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ben Willis

Man Candy (detail), 2017. Acrylic, Flock, Glitter, Resin, Spray Paint on Panel. 14" x  24"

BEN WILLIS creates vibrant juxtapositions of color, texture and brushwork, which appear to be separated by clean borders. But in actuality, the smooth, one-directional brushwork never meets the swirling impasto at this sharp edge; the matte acrylic and the glitter never square off defending their own territory. Instead, each hovers above or below the other, floating harmoniously on layers of resin. Ben earned his BFA in Sculpture at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (2005) and went on to earn his MFA in Painting at Arizona State University in Tempe. He received a Contemporary Forum Artist Grant in 2014 and has had solo shows at Rhetorical Galleries (2016) and Pela Contemporary Art (2013), both in Phoenix, Arizona. His most recent solo show Candy Man opens this Friday, August 5, 2017 at Fort Works Art in Fort Worth, Texas and is on view through September 9, 2017. The show is accompanied by Candy Castle, a group show curated by Ben, who lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The title of your solo show Candy Man makes me think of the term eye candy. This description was often used in a dismissive way in my own grad school critiques. Have you encountered this kind of attitude about color?

Ben Willis: I envision Candy Man as an immersive experience in both color and pattern. The challenge has and will be creating an exhibition that has something for everyone. A lot of what we learn and how we speak in graduate school is for such a secluded group, that the majority of your audience members are lost before they begin.

When I was working towards my MFA I painted portraits of the artists who shaped my experience. Early on I kept hearing “you need to expand your color palette” or “find more ways to apply the paint.” I was encouraged to experiment but to also build towards a body of work that was cohesive and meaningful. I went on to use more complex paint mixtures by pushing color into a higher Chroma and found alternative paint application methods that didn’t use a brush. Ultimately my portraits had become more vibrant, but I was so invested in color, texture and mark that painting the figure seemed mundane.

PPAP, 2016. Acrylic, Glitter, Resin on Panel. 18" x 12"

OPP: What would you say to these haters? What don’t they get about color?

BW: I would educate them on the subjectivity of color. It has the ability to trigger emotional and symbolic responses, both good and bad. I’d assure them that it’s more than just eye candy at play and that there is intention behind that sparkly surface. Materials like glitter, flock and even spray paint have certainly been used with negative connotations in my experience, and I like to think of myself as an artist who is not afraid to break the rules if it enhances my message. The color palette references “sweet treats” and the overwhelming presence often displayed in a traditional candy store. In many ways, I want to create a visual experience that is both fun and satisfying yet leaves you hungry for more. I truly enjoy what I am doing right now and believe there is some healing power behind this body of work.

Little Juan, 2017

OPP: Big Juan (2016) and Little Juan (2017) evoke a classic quilt pattern known as Tumbling Blocks. Are you influenced by quilts? If not, can you talk about how you’ve come to work with repetitive squares and triangles?


BW: As far back as I can remember, my mother has always made quilts as well as crocheted various blankets and garments for the entire family. My father is very much a handy man and for all intents and purposes a wood worker. I hadn’t considered it much before, but would certainly be steering you in the wrong direction if I said my parents and up bringing haven’t played a role in my work.

What really tipped the scale in terms of pattern and abstraction relates once again back to portrait painting. My process involved visiting other artists to capture poses in their studio. It was a great challenge trying to replicate the artist’s physical presence in front of their work. I distinctly remember several paintings using impasto techniques, hard edges and geometric shapes. At the time, there was something about that style, using tape and thinking about what paint can do that felt fresh and exciting.

Original Woodie, 2016. Acrylic, Glitter, Resin on Panel. 18" x 12"

OPP: Tell us a bit about your process which involves layers of epoxy resin, glitter and dry pigments as well as acrylic and spray paint. Have you always worked in layers this way? 


BW: All of the panels I work on are handmade. I start with a variety of primers from traditional gesso, spray paint, acrylic paint, resin and collage. From there, it’s more of a classic way of drawing or working general to specific. A loose pattern is sketched on top of the primer followed by resin often mixed with a combination of flakes and pearls (glitter and dry pigments). I build up layers but feel like there is a lot more intuition and freedom involved allowing the composition to evolve on its own.

It’s rare for me not to use a variety of media on any piece and I have always worked in layers. For example, my oil paintings are never really just oil paintings. I typically build up value on canvas with compressed charcoal. The drawing is then sprayed with fixative and squeegeed with amber shellac. From there I use a scumbling technique to build up layers of oil paint as I progressively work towards finer detail.

#groundrules, 2016. Installation at Rhetorical Galleries. Photo credit: Airi Katsuta

OPP: What were the ground rules in your 2016 show #groundrules at Rhetorical Galleries? Did the hashtag #groundrules work the way you’d hoped?

BW: I’ve been working full time as a preparator at Phoenix Art Museum for almost two years now. My job entails closely handling valuable historical and contemporary objects. I think a big portion of the idea for this show came from what I see on a day to day basis.

For #groundrules I wanted to create the same road blocks visitors are confronted with in a museum—don’t get to close or touch the art, no flash photography, no food, no drinks—but in a shipping container. I posted said rules both on social media and on a large didactic at the entrance of the space. I used the same censors and warnings we use at work and even recorded visitor interactions (they were warned). The only real change was that there was no security to stop occupants from acting out.

In my opinion, the entire process revealed rules that exist when it comes to interacting with art and that there is value in finding new outlets to allow your audience to connect with your work. I would say the hashtag was a success and provided new avenues for getting my ideas outside of Phoenix.

So Post Post Modern, 2016. Acrylic, Resin, Glitter on Panel. 18" x 12"

OPP: You’re in the process of curating a show called Candy Castle, featuring the work of Derick Smith, Christina West, Adam Hillman, Sean Augustine March, Sean Newport, Rachel Goodwin, Wheron, Kristina Drake and another of our own Featured Artists Dan Lam. How is the process an extension of your studio practice? What was your curatorial process like?
 
BW: The idea for this companion show to Candy Man was spawned during a conversation with Dan Lam a little over a year ago about Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas. I’m told it’s not out of the ordinary for artists showing at the Nasher to curate additional works on view during the run of their exhibition. The space at Fort Works Art is quite large and stunning. I knew it would be difficult to truly utilize it entirely on my own and felt I could expand my reach by getting more artists involved. 

From a curatorial stand point it has been about finding work that speaks to my senses. I was still thinking in terms of color, texture and repetition but also looking for artists who are currently pushing the conversation on materials and form. Eye Candy, as you put it earlier, is an underlying theme in both shows paying some homage to the Hasbro board game Candy Land. As the creator and curator, my aim is to provide a sense of adventure for all ages through concepts of desire, play, nostalgia and maybe just a tiny bit of death.

The experience thus far has certainly provided a new set of obstacles and amazing opportunities for collaboration. There certainly is and will continue to be a lot of takeaways that will benefit my practice moving forward. I am grateful to everyone involved for the opportunity and support.

To see more of Ben's work, please visit benwillisart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Dean Veca

Hatter 2 (detail), 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 72 x 72"

MARK DEAN VECA’s paintings and immersive, temporary installations are bold, biomorphic worlds. Carefully balancing the sacred and the profane, he renders mass media imagery in a drawing style that adds organic movement to the usually flat graphics of recognizable cartoon characters. The skin and clothes of Mickey Mouse, Uncle Pennybags and Tony the Tiger seem to writhe with maggots, billow like smoke and drip like slobber, semen or pus—not to mention random eyeballs. Yet, in spite of all this bodily grossness, the lines are sleek and elegant. Mark earned his BFA at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He has received fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts, Lower East Side Printshop and the Pollack Krasner Foundation. His long exhibition record includes solo shows at San Jose Museum of Art (2012), Site:Lab in Grand Rapids, Michigan (2015), Western Project in Los Angeles (2013 and 2014), and Azusa Pacific University in California (2016). Upcoming shows include the group exhibition LA Painting: Formalism to Street Art at Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis, which opens on September 2, 2018 and a solo exhibition of Mark’s prints and posters at Agent Ink Gallery in Santa Rosa, CA, which opens on September 16, 2017. Mark lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a signature style, which I would describe as “intestinal line work or visceral chaos organized into contained, recognizable forms.”  Firstly, how do you respond to my description?

Mark Dean Veca: Yeah that's a pretty clinical and concise description of what I've been doing in my work for a while now. People do seem to latch on to the intestinal aspect, but there's a lot more going on. It’s a kind of biomorphic abstraction that references all of the biological systems, not just the digestive.

Mothers' Worries, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 66 x 66"

OPP: Secondly, is it a style that you’ve consciously cultivated, part of an existing drawing lineage or simply the way you’ve drawn since you were a kid?

MDV: It's just something that developed and evolved over time. I don't think I ever necessarily tried to pursue it or reject the idea. One of the many ways I learned to draw as a kid was copying from comic books, and I was always attracted to the more organic forms rather than geometric. Later in my career I made a conscious decision to explore the visual vocabulary of cartoons and to speak in that vernacular.

Oh Yeah, 2011. India ink and acrylic on canvas. 48 x 48"

OPP: Tell us about the commercial logos and cartoon characters you choose to render this way. What do they have in common across your body of work? Are your choices driven by fandom and/or critique?

MDV: The found images in my work are always carefully chosen, never random. I use an idiosyncratic set of criteria to choose images that are personal as well as universal, and that serve the needs of the particular piece I'm working on. Very often they are simultaneously celebratory as well as critical. For example in Pony Show (2015) I painted a corrupted version the Ford Mustang logo on the exterior of a former auto repair shop in a work that celebrates and critiques American Car Culture. My first car was a 1965 Mustang which imbues the logo with sentimental value to me personally, but it's also universally recognized and has religious connotations via its cruciform shape. In other works, like Natch (2016), I've chosen an iconic image from popular culture (R. Crumb's Mr. Natural) and manipulated it into a baroque kaleidoscopic composition within which to improvise my particular brand of mark-making. I think of it as a celebratory mash-up of genres that also draws upon the psychedlic culture of my youth in the Bay Area of the 60s and 70s.

Pony Show, 2015

OPP: I’m really interested in the Toile de Jouy paintings like Klusterfuck (2002), West Coast Story (2006) and Toile de Boogey (2008). Tell us about these textile-influenced works. Do you have a favorite? What kinds of images of everyday life are buried in there?

MDV: I discovered Toile de Jouy in the wallpaper of my mother-in-law's bathroom in the late 90s. I became fascinated with this 18th century French style and with Rococo decorative arts in general. I love the draftsmanship and intricacy. In 2001, I started using it as a found composition within which to improvise, combining found imagery from popular culture and art history with the aforementioned biomorphic abstraction, among other things. Klusterfuck has to be an all time fave.

Klusterfuck, 2002. India ink on paper. 59.5 x 39.5"

OPP: Tell us about the various museum installations that include huge, encompassing wall drawings replete with bean bag chairs. Madder Hatter (2016), Virgil’s Vestibule (2016) Le Poppy Den (2014) and Son of Phantasmagoria (2012) are just a few. I’ve sadly only seen pictures online, but I imagine these spaces as energizing refuges from Museum Fatigue. What experience do you hope viewers will have in these spaces?

MDV: I like that idea of a refuge and always appreciate a good chair. My goal usually is to create a spectacle: something monumental and awe-inspiring, immersive, overwhelming and interactive. I often aim to alter the function of a sterile white-cube museum space into a trippy, psychedelic lounge. When I first visit a potential space, I try to let it dictate to me a course of action, to let it reveal to me what should be done. In this way the work is truly site-specific and made for the site in which it will exist—typically for a limited time before it's destroyed. The process therefore becomes temporary, ephemeral and performative. I'm usually working in public and claim the space as my own studio for a while.

OPP: Most recently, you created Madder Hatter, followed by Maddest Hatter, for Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose, a touring exhibition that has its final stop (and is on view through September 17, 2017) at Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. What’s your connection to Hi-Fructose?

MDV: I randomly met Attaboy, cofounder of Hi-Fructose at a San Diego Comic Con afterparty, which led to a spread in the magazine a couple of years later. The curators of the show chose me and 50 or so other artists who had appeared in the magazine over its first 10 years.

Madder Hatter, 2016. Installation.

OPP: How is Maddest Hatter different from Madder Hatter?

MDV: I made Madder Hatter for Turn the Page at Virginia MOCA in 2016. This installation was derived from an earlier painting called Hatter (2015), that referenced the art from a tab of LSD depicting the Mad Hatter from Disney's Alice in Wonderland, which was, in turn, based on Lewis Carroll's book—there’s a rabbit hole for ya. For the show's final presentation at the Crocker Art Museum, I adapted the work to fit the scale and proportions of the room. I altered the colors and redesigned the floor graphics, but the concepts and general design principles remained the same. In both cases there's plenty of improvised, stream-of-consciousness wall-painting.

OPP: What’s the process of creating these temporary, improvised wall drawings like for you?

MDV: There's always an essential improvisational element to my installations, which is most often made possible by a lot of careful planning and design. A lot of prep work goes into them ahead of time regarding compostion, scale, color, allowing me the freedom to be spontaneous and direct in the execution. There's also a lot of adrenaline associated with the monumental projects as time is always of the essence. I've enjoyed traveling to places I'd never been like London, Tokyo, and Guadalajara and setting up shop, so to speak, living and working in a strange place and meeting the locals and exploring a little. I does take a lot out of me, so I try to limit these to a couple per year. It's nice to spend the rest of my time at home with my family and in the solitude of my studio.

That's All, 2010. India ink and acrylic on canvas. 66 x 99"

OPP: What keeps the process fresh?

MDV: Since I was a child, I've been drawn to the more intimate side of art—drawing in my room alone or with a friend. The combining of oppositional elements—micro vs. macro, elegant vs. vulgar, spontaneous vs. calculated, high culture vs. low—is a recurring theme in most of my work. That opposition is echoed in these alternating modes of working, which keeps things fresh and interesting, always giving me something to look forward to.

To see more of Mark's work, please visit markdeanveca.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jenene Nagy

scabland, 2017. latex, plaxiglas

JENENE NAGY's practice includes both architectural interventions built entirely onsite from mundane building materials and the creation of discreet objects and drawings in the studio. In both cases, the work is materially-driven with an emphasis on surface, endurance, labor and line. Jenene earned her BFA from University of Arizona (1998) and her MFA from University of Oregon (2004). She is a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Pulp and Deckle Papermaking Studio in Portland. She is currently preparing for a solo show at Samuel Freeman Gallery (Los Angeles, fall 2017) and a two-person show with Joshua West Smith at Whitter College’s Greenleaf Galley (Los Angeles, spring 2018). Her work is represented by Samuel Freeman Gallery in Los Angeles, PDX CONTEMPORARY ART in Portland and Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver. Jenene lives and works in Riverside, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What materials are you repeatedly drawn to in your installations, sculptures and drawings?

Jenene Nagy: With all of the work I employ low tech materials. The drawings and the objects are mostly all paper and graphite, and the projects are all common building materials (drywall, 2x4s, house paint). I like working with my hands in a very direct way, and I also like to keep it simple. It is exciting to me to see what kind of results I can get with mundane elements. When I first began making the large projects, drywall was easy to work with and only required a box cutter and a drill. I don’t really have patience for a lot of tools and working in this way let the evidence of my hand remain.

Once the projects—Tidal, for example—became large enough to require more people to help me produce them, I became less interested in making them. So I introduced a new material in out/look and cover, which allowed me to still work large but independently. Tyvek is just a big gigantic sheet, so I could move it all around by myself. The projects have been built in venues in different parts of the country but working with common building materials I am able to order everything ahead from a Lowes or Home Depot and have everything delivered to the site as opposed to having to hunt down speciality items.

The Crystal Land, 2014. latex, Mylar, plexigalss, wood.

OPP: Symmetry is very present in installations like scabland (2017) and The Crystal Land (2014). The illusion of symmetry is present in disappear here (2016). But older installations like out/look (2010), Tidal (2010) and s/plit (2008) depend more on asymmetry. Was this a conscious shift or just a symptom of the spaces you were showing in?

JN: Around 2010 my studio practice shifted dramatically. Before that, I was making the onsite projects exclusively and the time in the studio was mostly experimenting with materials and testing colors. After a long residency in Los Angeles, I began using the studio to make discrete images and objects. Since that time the studio practice has become almost ritualized, I think as a result of making the drawings. The drawings are meditative and quite but intense. I think I can attribute the symmetry now present in the projects to the types of compositions I am working on with the drawings but also as a result of a more focused practice.

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between labor and impermanence in your site-specific installations?

JN: I am interested creating a space for the viewer to have a true experience. I think the fact that the projects are in essence fleeting spaces there becomes a kind of urgency to the viewing. Labor is critical to setting up that urgency.

b1, 2014. graphite on folded paper. 14"x12.5"

OPP: The installations make consistent use of bold solid colors while the drawings traffic in the subtle grey tones of graphite. How does color or lack of color relate to scale in your work?

JN: In the onsite projects, color becomes content. I always think of the projects as landscape paintings. The color is always borrowing from the surrounding area—or in the case of the early work, a remembered space and time—and then hyper-realized, resulting in a punched-up pallet.

In the drawings I don’t think of color or lack of color, I think more about surface and material. With both the projects and the drawings, the viewer is asked to engage physically. They need to move through the installations to fully experience them. In the drawings they need to walk from left to right and close up and further away for the compositions to reveal themselves. I can’t say I am making intentional choices with regard to color pallette and scale but I am interested in seeing how the colors shift our perceptions of the space. In scabland, the brightness of the color really opened the space up, but in Destroyer the color shrank it.

p1, 2013. graphite on paper. 28"x 40"

OPP: Tell us briefly about your history as a curator.

JN: In 2006 I opened Tilt Gallery and Project Space in Portland, Oregon with artist Joshua West Smith. In that program, we exhibited site-responsive projects and works that were difficult to show in a commercial setting. After a two-and-a half-year run, we closed the brick and mortar space and shifted to working as an independent curatorial team under the moniker TILT Export:, which is ongoing. We wanted to give ourselves and the artists we work with more flexibility. As TILT Export: we produce shows in partnership with a variety of venues including commercial galleries, academic institutions and non-profits. We wanted to give Portland artists opportunities to show work in other cities and to bring work from other places back to Portland.

From 2011-12 I was the first Curator-in-Residence for Disjecta Contemporary Art Center and currently serve as Curator and Gallery Director at Los Angeles Valley College. At LAVC my role is different because the exhibition program is in support of our department curriculum. The exhibitions are intended to enhance students’ experience and understanding of contemporary art and to provide a space for critical thinking and the development of observational skills.

object 2, 2014. palladium gilded papier-mâché and concrete. 59" x 16 1/4" x 12 1/2"

OPP: What’s your curatorial process like? How is it different from the way you work as an artist?

JN: I don’t often think of myself as a curator in the traditional sense. I think more of what I do in this role is create opportunities and give artists the support to develop ideas. This in turn becomes a bit of a collaboration then, as opposed to the very solitary way I work in the studio.

OPP: Speaking of the solitary space of the studio, what’s happening in there right now that no one else has seen?

JN: My studio right now has lots and lots of tiny torn paper pieces that are being mounted on paper and then coated with a graphite paint I am making that then gets burnished. I am interested in continuing to push my materials and see what new things can be discovered. In the latest work, the paper becomes the mark as opposed to the mark being drawn.

To see more of Jenene's work, please visit jenenenagy.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amjad Faur

The Thing That Hides in Fog, 2017. Dye Sublimation on Aluminum. 42"x 48"

AMJAD FAUR's photographic images are haunting, poetic and can't be trusted. . . at least no more than any other photographic images. He meticulously constructs scenes—usually drawing on the cultural and religious history of the Middle East— which only exist to be captured by his large format camera. Regardless of the geopolitical signifiers and symbolic imagery in each project, his work repeatedly engages with “the inescapable duality and tension between the photograph’s role as the arbiter of record and its inevitable problems as a constructed image.” Amjad earned his BFA in Painting at University of Arkansas in 2003 and his MFA in Photography at University of Oregon in 2005. He is a 2017 Artist Trust Fellow. His solo exhibitions include shows at Archer Gallery, (Vancouver, Washington), The Invisible Hand Gallery (Lawrence, Kansas) and most recently Scythe Across the Night Sky (2017) at PDX CONTEMPORARY ART (Portland, Oregon). He teaches at Evergreen State College in Olymipia, Washington, where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work solely with a large format camera. Tell us why.

Amjad Faur: I have long been attracted to the ways in which my materials might have something to say about what I am representing. Growing up—and even now—I wanted to work in special effects for movies. As I began to drift closer to the materials of still photography around 1995, I naturally found myself staging most of the things I was shooting with my Pentax K-1000. While I was never able to work in special effects, I also never relinquished the interest in narrative imagery. In time I found large format cameras, and they seemed like the kind of tool that I had always been looking for.

Today, I use the 8 x 10 camera as a way of thinking about photography’s ostensible use as an empirical form of data while positioned against a much more corroded process of how images almost always fail us. I am moved by the ways in which vast amounts of information can still be rendered as unrecognizable. In fact, this is the tension I constantly seek in my work. 

Winds Will Carry Their Arrows, 2017. Dye Sublimation on Aluminum. 38" x 42"

OPP: That tension resonates with me politically, art-historically and philosophically. In terms of your artistic process, is there also a tension between the experience of taking the picture (observing and capturing the world) and building the sculpture or still life (being an active participant in its physical unfolding)?

AF: The tension you are describing lies at the heart of my relationship to making photographic images. I will be perfectly frank and admit that I don’t look at all that much contemporary photography. This isn’t because I don’t find brilliance or value in contemporary photography, only that I am far more excited by painting—more specifically, early Renaissance painting from Italy and Northern Europe. Part of what I find so moving about this period of painting is just how rewarded the viewer is for sustained looking. My own process in the studio requires weeks or months of preparation for one image. The time required to take the actual photo is 125th of a second. The discrepancy between these timeframes points to just how suspicious I feel about the mechanical/empirical reproduction of the camera. What I am trying to do here is build environments that can only exist as interpreted by a camera. The spaces and objects would never make sense if you were to just look at them in my studio. In this way, the camera is not just an instrument of record, it is a mediator.

Erased Person, 2013. Pigment Print

OPP: Can you talk about traditional Islamic art’s prohibition of representational imagery and how it informs the photographic images you make? What do those only familiar with the history of the Western canon miss about We Who Believe in the Unseen, which is informed by Qur’anic scripture?

AF: Not all of my work is based in Qur’anic scripture, but my approach to images and representation is almost always informed by the history of Islamic art. Sunni art has always held out against using representational imagery (with some exceptions during the late Ottoman period) while Shi’a art folded further into the geographic traditions of West Asia and India. This means Shi’a art has a long tradition of representational imagery. I love this distinction because both Sunni and Shi’a sects share the same cosmology and text in the Qur’an but each has such wildly unique ways of showing this visually.

What has attracted me most to the prohibition of images in my own work (in photography – arguably the most representational form of imagery that currently exists) is the push and pull of the seen and unseen. This is a concept that is taken directly from Qur’anic scripture, but as I have continued to make new bodies of work, I have returned to the question of iconoclasm.

As I watched members of ISIS destroy statues of Mesopotamian gods and goddesses, I began to ask myself what made these statues so dangerous. Furthermore, I was struck by the fact that ISIS was making images of themselves destroying images. This cyclical process of image creation/destruction was actually very compelling to me and I continued to ask what made an image dangerous. I’m not interested in making images that challenge taste or revel in explicit depictions of violence or sexuality. I’m more interested in this notion that images, in and of themselves, can act as a corrupting or insidious force.

The early Jews, Christians and Muslims all feared that the creation of images might challenge the primacy of God or that those who see these images would be seduced into worshipping them as false gods. I think we are in a similar moment in terms of our current relationship to images. While the danger is rarely framed in religious terms, I think the recent conflicts surrounding the confederate flag or statues of Confederate historical figures can help illuminate how sensitive and vulnerable we still are towards images. 

Incomplete Grave, 2006. Toned Silver Gelatin Print.16"x 20"

OPP: What led you to shift into color in your most recent body of work, A Scythe Across the Night Sky?

AF: I had been toying with the idea of making a series in color for several years, and my gallery really encouraged me to finally do it. For this series, I was really looking at the inscrutable nature of deep space photography, as captured by instruments such as the Hubble Telescope, and also thinking a lot about the visceral nature of images as they were being used by ISIS.

I have to say that this shift was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my creative life. It almost felt like learning an entirely new process – like everything I had come to depend on in photography was now out the window. It was a truly humbling experience and the kind of thing I should force myself into more often.

I don’t know what role color will play in my work as I move forward. It seems so messy to me! Like a wilderness that I have no idea how to get around in. But I love what it did for these particular images and I certainly have no regrets about making the choice to use it.

ATEN. 2017. Dye Sublimation on Aluminum. 38" x 42"

OPP: The images are beautiful! So kudos to you as a color “amateur.” Why was color the right move conceptually for this body of work?

AF: As soon as I knew I wanted to focus on the seductive quality of images as a particular subject matter for this series, I knew I needed to make some kind of gesture in the formal production that would reflect this quality. As I said, my gallery and I had been discussing the possible use of color for a while and it made sense that this could be that gesture. Part of what I was thinking about was this vicious yet opulent reliance on the image that ISIS seemed to so effectively employ. I kept returning to the word scopophilia, or a kind of lustful joy one gets from looking at an image (more commonly associated with pornography or eroticism in images) as a mirrored inversion of the iconoclasm that ISIS was engaging. 

While I have long used formal elegance as a motif in my work, the transition to color made a great deal of sense for this work as a means to more fully explore this quality of image-lust. I knew I wanted to use color in both exaggerated and muted forms, playing off of each other. Color plays such a powerful role in ISIS's image-making. Think of the bright orange jumpsuits of their victims awaiting a brutal death, or the stunning contrast of the executioner's pitch black uniform against the serenity and vastness of the desert landscape behind him. These are powerful and dreadful images, and their colors play a large role in how they operate.

St. Margaret in Mosul, 2017. Dye Sublimation on Aluminum. 38" x 42"

OPP: Do you ever use the camera on your phone? If so, for what?

AF: This is a question I wish I could answer in the form of a long book. I teach at the Evergreen State College, and my students ask me about this a lot. I think the fact that I use an 8 x 10 camera and spend two years making ten photos leaves people with an assumption that I have a natural contempt for something like cell phone cameras. I don’t! I love my camera phone. I use it all the time. But I use it for everyday stuff. Mostly for taking photos of my dog doing cool dog stuff. I also use it to take reference images while I’m walking around in the woods. Sometimes I use it in my studio while I’m building things and setting up photos to see how those objects and spaces flatten out in two dimensions. I also use a crappy, old DSLR to proof the lighting of an image before I shoot the 8 x 10 negative.

Tamam Shud, 2014. Pigment Print

OPP: What are your thoughts on how the accessibility of this technology has affected the medium of photography, both positively and negatively?

AF: I think the accessibility of really nice cameras on billions of cell phones might one day be compared to the moment in 1900 when Kodak introduced the Brownie camera. This was a moment when the traditional gatekeepers of image-making were wiped out. Middle-class families suddenly had the ability to record their everyday lives and bodies in ways that were previously unimaginable. This was the introduction of the “snapshot” and it changed the way we perceived ourselves because suddenly there was an ever-expanding set of visual signifiers that molded our behaviors and expectations, rooted in the mass-market image.

Obviously I don’t know just how the internet and camera phones will ultimately play out in terms of the transformations that might occur socially or culturally, but I have a suspicion that the shift will be understood as radical as the introduction of the snapshot. I think these forms of image production have amplified our narcissism, our sense of self-importance and and helped to further enforce a perception of self-worth that is predicated on appearances. However, I also believe these new forms of image-making and distribution have helped illuminate forms of institutional racism, race-based violence, and other modern horrors that beg for accountability. These new forms are deeply tied to surveillance culture (fulfilling Jeremy Bentham’s theory of the Panopticon), drone warfare, counterinsurgency combat, asymmetrical warfare, terrorism, colonial expansionism, etc. But they are also at the forefront of liberation movements from Palestine to Black Lives Matter.

Many of my students are between the ages of 18 and 25, and they couldn’t care less about using digital photography when they take my photo classes. They crave film. I think this comes from a lifetime spent taking unlimited photographs on tiny devices. These students intuitively recognize the extremely ephemeral nature of these kinds of photographs and I think they are searching for something that offers a more entrenched process of looking. And that is what I encourage my students to embrace: learning to look. We have the ability to create, archive, record and reproduce images at a scale that is difficult to comprehend. I believe what gets lost in this vast ability is the love and joy of looking. If my photographs can help stimulate this process in any way, I would be so very happy.

To see more of Amjad's work, please visit amjadfaur.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Meena Hasan

Nape (Fariba at home), 2017. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 37 x 53 inches.

MEENA HASAN paints the texture and patterns on clothing, the places where clothing meets skin and ordinary, transitional moments we all experience with our own bodies. These closely-cropped compositions suggest an intimacy with the present moment and offer viewers the opportunity to contemplate the possibility of universality in many of our everday, individual experiences. Meena earned her B.A. in Studio Art from Oberlin College in 2009 and her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art in 2013, where she won the Carol Schlosberg Memorial Prize for Painting. In 2010, she was awarded the Terna Prize Affiliated Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. Recent two-person and solo exhibitions include Meena Hasan's New Place at Violet's Cafe (New York), wallflower frieze at 6BASE (New York) and PoVs at The Peddie School's Mariboe Gallery (New Jersey). She currently has work on view at Left Field Gallery in San Luis Obispo, Caifornia. Meena currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels:  What’s important to you about highlighting everyday experiences in closely-cropped paintings like Getting Out of Bed, Drying Hair and Taking Off Shoes?

Meena Hasan: I first started dealing with the everyday in my work about six years ago. I was searching for a way to open up my subject matter and to present narratives that could be immediately understood and internally and physiologically felt. Dealing with everyday subject matter gave me the opportunity to speak to the idea of a universal humanity, while still locating the work in specific personal and individualized moments. These moments are very private ones. I am interested in the transparency, intimacy and openness that comes from making a private action such as getting out of bed public.

My Point-of-View series, which features compositions of first person perspectives of a figure performing everyday actions, started as in response to the bathroom drawings and paintings by Degas and Bonnard that are powerfully intimate peeks into private, secret moments. They both depict female nudes in the bathroom, and I always thought it was bizarre the way that the women seemed powerless next to the voyeuristic gaze of the artist. Often times their heads are covered, backs are turned, never is the gaze returned. My intention was to turn this dynamic on its head by making my works from a first-person perspective, complicating the gaze as well as the viewing experience.

Getting Up, 2017. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 53 x 32 inches

OPP: What do you hope viewers of your work will experience?

MH: Ultimately, I hope to create an intimate exchange between the viewer and my paintings where he or she bounces back and forth between being the subject of the work, the viewer and the artist. In understanding the paintings’ composition and process, the viewer is forced to imagine their own body within another’s. Using a relatable everyday subject makes it easier for this exchange to happen. It is a very subjective viewing experience that I hope reflects the way we interact with others in the world. I believe that the act of looking at an artwork, the act of scanning a surface for meaning inherently reflects a person’s desire for connection.

Untitled, 2016. Acrylic on panel.

OPP: Are the PoVs and Napes painted from memory or photographs?

MH: The PoVs and Napes are both painted from a composite of a number of iPhone photos, which allows me the distance for reinvention and for my own sensory memory of the subjects to come in. I am the kind of artist who needs a reference point, something to bounce off of and the photographs serve that purpose.

The PoVs are, for the most part, based on photographs of my own body performing everyday rituals. In that sense they are self-portraits. For example, Walking in the Snow was made right after a big snowstorm in 2015 that turned my routine walk to the train into a perilous, icy hike. I wanted to express the comfort I felt inside my own warm coat and the impending cold of my immediate surroundings. The painting is based off of about five different pictures taken from inside my down coat’s hood, looking out at my feet as they gingerly stepped through the ice and snow.

Walking in the Snow, 2015. Acrylic and fabric dye on panel. 58" x 48"

OPP: Are the Napes friends or strangers?

MH: They are all of friends both new and old. They are of women who I know well or have spent ample amounts of time with, and I used my personal experience with them to inform the texture, color and feeling of the painting. They are women who I think are courageous and visionary, who have helped me to form my own personhood and, in this sense, act sort of as extensions of myself. Each Nape is painted from a number of iPhone shots I take while spending time with the person in a space that is important to her such as her home, workplace or neighborhood spot.

Nape (Ala at the Armory), 2016. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 38 x 54 inches.

OPP: What is exciting about this singular, subjective perspective?

MH: I uniformly use the close-crop viewpoint of right behind the subject’s neck, placing the viewer very close to the subject, in an intimate position that ultimately functions as a sort of compressed third person perspective where you are seeing what the subject is seeing but you are also seeing the subject herself. It is a composition borrowed from film noir; there is a mysterious foreshadowing and an intense closeness in these frames. The Napes are quite large actually (about 3’ x 5’), something that doesn’t translate to full effect in reproduction. I love when my work elicits mirrored physical reactions in the people looking at them, and viewers have told me that looking at the Napes makes their own neck hair stand on edge, which I love.

In both the Napes and the PoVs I hope to depict strong, singular, subjective perspectives that are dependent on the viewer. So, although the compositions are very singular, they are also inherently social in that they are made to be looked at: they implicate the viewer because of their first-person perspectives and their zoomed-in presences. I am interested in how the idea of individualism functions in contemporary society, in the status of American individualism and Modernist individualism today. I'm interested in the agency of a single person—given their specific gender, race, sexuality, etc—to question, challenge, reflect and empathize with the world around him or her.

Charulata 12, 2015. Acrylic, oil stick and china marker on embossed paper. 24.25 x 36.5 inches.

OPP: The specificity of substrates seems important to you. You paint and draw on Indian Khadi paper, Okawara paper, mylar, vellum, Tyvek, jute paper. What’s your favorite surface and why?

MH: I don’t think I could pick a favorite surface or material; I use each one for very specific purposes based on their absorbency and flexibility. The surfaces not only determine the process, but also the ultimate effect in texture, color and feeling of the work. For example, the Napes are all done on thick Indian cotton-rag Khadi paper that has an irregular, bumpy edge that holds the close crop, symmetrical composition well. The Khadi paper is also highly absorbent so I can load it up with layer upon layer of color and acrylic until it reaches a tactility that is like skin, and it gives me the opportunity to juxtapose a thin watery stain next to solid, three-dimensional acrylic. Also, because the Khadi is so thick, I can actually cut into the surface, erasing what I’ve painted, creating a three-dimensionality and defining the sharp edges where a material meets a surface.

The 3D paper pieces are made with only Japanese Okawara paper and acrylic paint. The Okawara is a Japanese kuzo paper I found thanks to the artist Ellen Gallagher, who once described it as holding ink the way skin does. It absorbs the ink under its first layer, holding it within itself. It is exceptionally durable, which allows me to really challenge its shape, to crumple it up into a ball and unfold it without damage.

Shoes, 2014. acrylic, ink, fabric dye and Tyvek paper on Japanese Okawara paper. 20" x 15."

OPP: What led to those cut-out, somewhat 3D articles of clothing? They are still flat, non-utilitarian drawings of clothing, but you’ve discarded the rectangular frame.

MH: I have been making paper versions of articles of clothing for the past four years. It is a many-step process, and the series has served as an excellent tandem practice. I work on the 3D paper pieces while working on paintings and drawings as a way to keep me moving in the studio, to keep things fresh and dynamic.

I literally trace the article of clothing’s shape and scale and then do observational drawings from different perspectives like top, side and bottom. Then I cut out the drawings, load them with acrylic medium, dye them in ways that mimic wax-resist techniques like Batik and Shibori. They are painted and re-painted. The final form is determined by the shape of the drawings and the way that everything fits together. I never really know what they will look like until the end, which I love. I think of them as three-dimensional paintings, particularly since they start as flat drawings.

The 3D pieces stay very close to their original form and yet are made only of paper and acrylic. . . even the shoelaces are pure acrylic. The original forms are not only my own clothing or shoes, but also those of my friends, which turns the artworks into portraits. They are often objects borrowed from the artists and curators involved in a given exhibition, adding a collaborative element to each piece. They become a way to mark a specific show, almost memorializing the event and the social dynamic of that event.

Graham's Cowboy Boots, 2016. Acrylic, fabric dye and Okawara paper. overall 12 x 12 x 12 inches.

OPP: You worked for several years in stop motion animation. How did that form serve your conceptual interests? What led you to shift away from it into more conventional drawings and painting forms?

MH: The stop-motion animations are another multi-step, side process that I work on concurrently with my paintings and drawings. I make about one per year, but they aren't all on the website. I think of them as stream-of-consciousness, automatic drawings where the narratives are cyclical and based in material exploration and process.

There is a rhythm and speed to creating a stop-motion animation that I love. It’s a very ritualistic and repetitive process, and I hope for them to ultimately feel like a meditation on the possibility for transformation in material and physicality. Making the animations is very freeing since everything is so impermanent. The process informs my painting and drawing, giving me ideas and the opportunity to discover new applications.

To see more of Meena's work, please visit meenahasan.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Zehra Khan

Smoking Cat, 2016. acrylic on paper. 10 x 9 x 8"

ZEHRA KHAN's costumes, sets and performances for video have a childlike style that is self-consciously and intentionally unsophisticated, referencing construction paper sets for grade school plays and homemade Halloween costumes. Her double-sided, paper "quilts" are made from her own "canabalized" paintings and drawings as well as other accumulated paper ephemera. Play, risk-taking and making-do with what's on hand are all defining factors in her practice. Zehra received her MFA from Massachussetts College of Art & Design and is a current participant in the Drawing Center Viewing Program and the deCordova Museum Corporate Lending Program. She has attended numerous art residencies including Yaddo, the Vermont Studio Center, the Contemporary Artists Center, and I-Park. Her work is on view through July 15, 2017 in the group show Relationships at the Riley Strauss Gallery (Wellfleet, Massachussetts). Zehra lives and works in Provincetown, Massachussetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does play serve in your practice?
 
Zehra Khan: I love play. I try to never feel like I’m working when I’m making art. If the process gets boring, it’s time to make a more risky move. I’ve always found magic in homemade Halloween costumes, theatrical props and mistakes.
 
I like to use materials available on hand: found materials, trash around my studio, and used paper and cardboard. If I work with expensive materials I find myself getting stingy, not wanting to squander a good canvas or expensive photographic print on an idea that’s not perfectly developed.
 
I favor low-tech materials and practices. I love a little surrealism, which leads me to play with scale, proportion and the viewers’ expectations of the space.

Oh Shit Quilt, 2016. acrylic and staples on paper collage, double-sided. 54 x 96." See the other side.

OPP: Tell us about paper textiles like Oh Shit Quilt (2016), Dirty Rotten Teeth (2015) and Charm Quilt (2014). How are these paper works in conversation with the history of handmade textiles?

ZH: I draw on bed sheets and blankets and make paper quilts to further the connection between my art and the corporeal, domestic, and intimate. Working on both sides of a quilt moves the piece from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, from collage to malleable sculpture.
 
My process is heavily inspired by the materials available, repurposing and recycling. I love the ways quilters use fabric scraps from worn-out clothing and trade swatches with friends. I create my paper quilts with a similar process of reusing: by cannibalizing my old paintings, drawings, photographs, elementary school homework, college notes and exhibition postcards.
 
Charm Quilt was inspired by a quilt my great-great-grandmother made; I used the same dimensions and hexagonal pattern she did. While I want to pay homage to the tradition of quilting, I also use techniques which contradict the craft, such as stapling or hot-gluing pieces together. Dirty Rotten Teeth began as a translation of a more traditional braided circle rug into paper; as I glued the pieces together, however, I felt the pattern needed interruption, hence the black “teeth.” I enjoy using rough ‘unladylike’ language and style. Not only does this reflect my personality, but it also breaks from traditional craft making.

Hello Stranger, 2013. mixed-media installation and performance, in collaboration with Tim Winn

OPP: You have a long-term collaboration with artist Tim Winn. Tell us about your work together. What drove your collaboration more, process or content?
 
ZK: I met Tim while completing my MFA from the Mass College of Art & Design low-residency program, which met at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Tim was interested in paper architecture and was building rooms and shacks out of paper. We realized my animal characters could populate and animate the spaces he created.

Our collaboration enabled the creation of larger projects in size and scope. But it was really process that lead us to work together… We were always excited about whatever project the other one was pitching, and working together meant allowing more spontaneity and a loosening up of control over the final piece.

I Only Have Eyes For You, 2010. installation: acrylic on sandpaper, bed sheet, pillow case, and friends. 72 x 324 x 110.”

OPP: Body painting has played a big role in your practice. What is compelling about the body as a canvas?
 
ZK: Painting on friends creates a social and collaborative side to making art. I wanted to break out of my solitary painting practice and engage with people differently in my studio. I always doodled and drew on myself and friends as a way to play and be informal and as an act of trust and affection.

OPP: How has painting on the body affected the drawings and paintings you make on paper and textiles?
 
ZK: Body painting puts immediate constraints on the painting session: work fast, react to the needs of the painted person or environment and embrace the spontaneous. These are reminders to trust my gut, and the process informs my work in every medium.

The Past Comes in Many Forms (backside), 2014. acrylic on comforter, double-sided. 86 x 93." See the other side.


OPP: I’ve noticed a lot of the recurring animals in your work—rats, foxes, weasels and bunnies—are considered vermin. You represent these creatures with dry humor and empathy. Like, vermin. . . they’re just like us! Are these animals allegories for human othering?
 
ZK: Animals evoke fairytales, fables, religious deities and ceremonies. Using animals as protagonists allows for the viewer to distance themselves. My creatures act like humans, with the same habits and foibles. Rats became a particular favorite subject because of the strong reaction they cause in the viewer. I represent them as individuals as opposed to a swarm.

Mr. H, wood and rebar, 9 x 7 x 7', Scotland, April 2017

OPP: What are you working on right now?

ZK: I was recently in Scotland making a 9-foot-tall hare head sculpture out of branches. It was my first time working in wood or on a semi-permanent outdoor sculpture, so I researched weaving techniques and basketry. This inspired a series of bowls and baskets “woven” (glued) out of paper. The largest piece is a 3-foot basket made from a drawing of an elk from 2008. It’s an elk remix. More weaving and mistakes to come.

To see more artwork, check out www.zehrakhan.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeremy R. Brooks

Rim Ware, 2015. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank) porcelain plate. 10.25”L x 1”W x 10.25"H

JEREMY R. BROOKS appropriates, alters and remixes found ceramic and plastic objects, hobbycraft decals and paint-your-own figurines. Whether exploring desire through lushious finishes on benign bunnies and birds or twisting heteronormative ceramic decals into queer narratives filled with wholesome longing, he emphasizes the flexibility of meaning available in preexisting objects. Jeremy received his BFA in art & design from Grand Valley State University & his MFA in ceramic art from Alfred University. He received the emerging artist award by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) and was a guest of honor at the XXIst International Biennial of Vallauris, France. He has has solo exhibitions at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Kalamazoo College. Jeremy’s work is currently included in Within the Margins | Contemporary Ceramics at Penland Gallery (Penland, North Carolina) and GENDERED: An Inclusive Art Show at the Mint Museum Uptown (Charlotte, North Carolina). Jeremy is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of ceramics at Southern Illinois University and resides in Carbondale, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Appropriation and juxtaposition are repeated strategies in your work, especially in the Arrangements and the Cockamamies. Tell us about your instinct to create new objects and images out of existing ones. Have you always worked this way?

Jeremy Brooks: This method of creation grew out of my research as a mold maker, learning to make molds by studying the parting lines of cast objects—artifacts of where pieces of a mold meet. I appropriated objects to create new molds from and assembled castings from different molds together. This is how my Arrangements series initially started. Slowly this series became less about the virtuosity of mold making and more about the juxtaposition of found parts through an eclectic sensibility. Today I only make molds if the work specifically calls for it. Otherwise, I’m content incorporating found objects directly into my work.

For the Cockamamies series, I collage different cockamamie decals with one another to create work. A cockamamie is a specific type of ceramic hobby decal that was marketed toward children by decal manufacturers. Although the meaning has changed today, the etymology of this term originates from the ceramic field, which is something that I find fascinating and enjoy sharing with others. Cartoon characters, for instance, are common motifs in cockamamie decals. By itself, cockamamie imagery is quite kitschy, which can present a challenge in how to use it in an artful way. Collaging different parts together is a solution that is playful and thoughtful, while embracing the unique history of cockamamie decals.

French Fry Field, 2012. Found objects.

OPP: Do you think about your work in relation to Camp?

JB: Maybe not the final work per se, but I can see certain aspects of my studio practice in relation to camp. The homepage to my website presents a portrait of me appropriating a set of praying hands from a thrift store and exaggerating the distance between them. I would characterize this gesture, changing the act of prayer into the pedestrian act of exaggerating, as camp. My intervention with the found object was performative and that gesture is essentially what drove my research forward to realize the artwork A Fish Story in 2011. I tend to think about aspects of satire, parody and pastiche more frequently in my work than camp.

The (Close) Marriage License, 2016. Found objects, epoxy. 9.0”L x 3.5”W x 9.0

OPP: In recent years, you’ve been mashing-up commercially-available ceramic decals on plates, creating queer narratives out of distinctly heteronormative imagery—Norman Rockwell’s The Marriage License, for example—from another era. These works draw attention to a time when gay men needed the hanky code to find each other. Some of my gay male students in their early 20s don’t even know what it is, which I suppose is a great thing because they have never lived in a world where they have to be in the closet. How do the decal works speak to different generations?

JB: Gay culture has a covert past, and I try to illuminate aspects of this history through my work. I’m currently making work to celebrate gay male culture and sexuality through pastiches assembled from Rockwellian sources. My aim is to subvert Rockwell’s heteronormative narratives and depict a queer experience. By altering the figures and scenarios portrayed through Rockwellian memorabilia, I invite the viewer to consider the narratives of gay americana during eras that were at odds with such identified otherness. I feel fortunate to live during a time where I can live an open life out of the closet, but in order to do so I find it important to recognize the past struggles LGBTQ people have endured to get us where we are today.

A Passing Interest, 2016. Found objects, epoxy.

OPP: Tell us about the origin of I Can Feel The Distance (2015), a series of 10 plates, which I imagine installed all together as one horizon line. Unlike the other decal works, the tone of this series is poetically emotional, less humorous.

JB: I was presented with an opportunity to exhibit work upon a long blank wall at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, Connecticut, so I created these plates to punctuate that space.  The work I put together for this exhibition was inspired by a plate I made the previous year titled I’m Not Touching You (Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder). This plate was about love and self control; wanting to touch someone close to you, but showing restraint. After making this piece, I was curious about exploring a variation of this narrative where the distance between the figures was further exaggerated. The exhibition space at the Creative Arts Workshop presented an opportunity to explore this new scenario. I Can Feel the Distance ended up being about the landscape of a long distance relationship, which I know from personal experience.

I'm Not Touching You (Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder), 2014. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank) porcelain plate. 10.25”L x 1”W x 10.25”H

OPP: Can the plates be separated or must they be sold and exhibited as a set?

JB: I see the plates with landscape-specific imagery as components of an unfixed set, and I see the two plates with figures on them as punctuation necessary to establish the structure of the narrative. The narrative content is about being physically separated, and the individuality of the plates echo that for me. They do not need to be exhibited as a complete set, however the figures are necessary for me to establish the narrative.  I made more than the ten plates that were exhibited at the Creative Arts Workshop, and I have exhibited this series with different quantities and arrangements of landscape specific plates since they were first shown in 2015. In each variation however, the two plates with figures were a necessary part of an ever-changing composition.

I Can Feel The Distance (2/10), 2015. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank) porcelain plates. 16.5”L x 1.25”W x 11.5”H. Installation dimensions variable.

OPP: You’ve made numerous cute, rounded bunnies hiding in? munching on? grass over the years. Ground (2006), Silverweed (2010) and The March Hare (2015) are just a few. These works stand out from the other works which address queer experience in a variety of ways. Is there a connection?

They are quite different from one another, however my exploration of ceramic decal collage grew out of this research through a sense of parallel play. I often attend ceramic trade shows to source hobby figurines, which is where I first became exposed to ceramic decals. I became curious about using them, so I slowly began to amass a collection of decals. It took me a number of years to figure out a way of working that made sense to me. In 2013, I began subverting the heteronormative narratives portrayed through ceramic decals upon commercial plates, and the work departed from there. So, the relationship between the bunnies and my decal work is that both series came from hobby-craft practices.

Silverweed, 2012. Porcelain, paint. 8”L x 8”W x 4”H

OPP: Can you talk about the variety of surfaces on these bunnies? 

JB: I use figurines from the hobby ceramics genre to explore color and surface. I view this work as a juxtaposition of high and low forms of craft practice through applying finish fetish surfaces to paint-your-own ceramic figurines. When I first started making the bunnies, I was exploring underglaze and fragrant waxes; the grass forms paired with the bunnies were infused with the aroma of freshly cut grass. After working with those materials for a few years, I began exploring a new line of commercially available textured spray paints. Several years later, these paints were discontinued, so I turned my research toward ceramic surfaces that I could formulate on my own. The glazes I am currently using are robust and archival; they look fuzzy, but are rough like sand paper to the touch. I enjoy experimenting to discover different surface solutions, and although I am uncertain what surface l will turn toward next, I remain open to new possibilities and change.

To see more of Jeremy's work, please visit klai-body.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Grisey

Just When I Unearthed the Instinct to Soften, 2016

Transformation, both planned and accidental, is central to MARY GRISEY's installations. Working with rust as a dye, hand-woven sisal, linen and raffia and collapsed ceramic vessels, she embraces the unexpectedness of loss and decay. Informed by a metaphysical approach to materials and process, she "reveals the ruin and beauty of both the body and the psyche." Mary earned her BA in Painting and Drawing at Marist College (Poughkeepsie, NY), her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her MFA at York University (Toronto, Canada). Recent solo exhibitions include Cloth Dripping (2016) at Xpace Gallery in Toronto and Sung From the Mouth of Cumae (2015) at Art Gallery of Mississauga, both in Ontario, Canada. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Artcroft (Carlisle, Kentucky), The Drake Lab: Akin Collective Studio Residency (Toronto) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Mary is based in Los Angeles, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the relationship of construction and deconstruction in your work? Are these simply processes or also content?

Mary Grisey: The relationship between construction and deconstruction comes from my interest in ruination, ephemerality and how my materials shift and change through destructive and manipulative processes. Through the cycle of loss and decay, something becomes new, and I believe there is true beauty in that.

The process of making my art becomes the content. Creating informs the work, and the meaning and content of what I’m doing develops as I make. Because of this, I never really know the title of my exhibitions until the work is 80% finished. Sometimes I never know how to fully talk about a show, until a few years later will it make sense. Working in an intuitive way has always been my strength, as if channeling some higher source, and then funneling it into the work.

For Leth, 2014. Hand-dyed sisal, rusted steel and sound. 8' x 8' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You have a pretty consistent neutral color palette of browns, blacks and reds. What influences your palette? What do you seek to evoke with it?

MG: The colors I am drawn to are informed by my interest in our natural world. Lately I have been very interested in the alchemy of rust as a dye and the exploration of ideas like weathering and time by experimenting with transformative dyes. Specifically I am fascinated with simulating water lines and traces of sediment that have been left behind. I search for abandoned rusted metal objects outside and apply them to my handwoven surfaces, creating imprints from the rust. I love experimentation-driven processes that allow contingency and accidents into the work, and I am discovering the limitations of my work by learning how to transgress these boundaries.

The use of black in my work represents weight and heaviness. It’s a mood or emotion I want to convey when I am feeling intense. Red shows up in my work from my interest with the “insides” of a body and the fragility of what makes us human. Red can represent blood or flesh, the inner-workings of the body, which we all share, and what makes us vulnerable. My color palette always returns to the confrontation with our mortality.

Cloth Dripping, 2016. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen, rope, cheesecloth, rust, acid dye, black tea, black walnut, terra cotta and sound. Photo credit: Yuula Benivolski

OPP: Tell us about the ceramic forms—which I read as some kind of holy water fonts—the sound that emerges from them in both Sung from the Mouth of Cumae (2015) and Cloth Dripping (2016).

MG: The ceramic forms emerged in my work as a way to both house the sound I am creating and to represent a feeling of sanctuary, shrine and holiness. I wanted the sounds to emerge from an unseen place as if coming up from the depth of a well, like haunted echoes.

The contrast and duality between hard and soft surfaces of the fired clay and the malleable woven fibers fascinate me. When clay is soft, you can mold it into whatever mass or form you desire, very similar to fiber. But when the clay is fired or when the fiber is woven, it is fixed in its permanent state. I love the potential of the materials before they become permanent in their set form.

The ceramic sculptures themselves are geological in form, evoking the mouth of the cave of Cumae or the Leucadian Cliffs. My way of arriving at their end form came as a sort of happy accident in the studio. Before one of the stacked pieces was fired in the kiln, it collapsed. I totally misjudged that it was fully dry—I can be quite impatient sometimes!—and attempted to move it. When it collapsed, it fell into this super beautiful, ruinous shape. So I decided that was going to be my clay-building process moving forward, which is interesting because I am following the habitual process of construction and deconstruction that I use in my textile work.

Sung From the Mouth of Cumae, 2015. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen and raffia, earthenware, sound. Dye is made from bleach and found rusty objects. Sound credit: In collaboration with Brooke Manning. Photo credit: Toni Hafkenscheid

OPP: Aside from making large-scale sculptural installation, you also have a line of jewelry called Meta. In conventional thinking, jewelry and sculpture are very different—one is art and one is craft. But both have a distinct relationship to the body. How is the body present in each of these practices?

MG: The exploration of the body is a continual force in my art practice. I think the reason why I stepped away from painting (when I first started making art years ago), was because the viewer couldn’t engage with it like installation or sculptural work. My most recent installation consisted of a series of handwoven panels hung from the ceiling in a semicircle. By suspending the work from the ceiling, it delineates space—from inside to outside—creating boundaries that define the environment, allowing the viewer to experience the work by walking inside and around it. I wanted to create architectural yet bodily pieces, in which the monumental size of this work demands one’s attention so you are confronted with it.

Right now I am thinking about the vulnerable body, as my materials—rope, dyes and rubber latex—ooze down my woven structures like intestines and skin. There is an emotional link to the liminality of inside and outside, connecting our underlying humanity and showing the sheer vulnerability of a body turned inside out for the viewer to see.

I have always been interested in body adornment and the idea of wearing an object or talisman that holds power. Creating wearable objects shifts my process into a much more limited approach because I have to consider the exact size, shape, and way the piece will lay on the body and how it will feel. Jewelry-making is more technical, whereas my art practice is much more unconscious and free.

Remains of the Ephemeral II, 2014. 30" x 5." Horsehair, hand-dyed cheesecloth and rubber latex. Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: Do you see jewelry making as part of your art practice or as a way to earn money by selling accessible/affordable objects?

MG: Jewelry is definitely a more accessible way to make income and for people to enjoy my work, as it is affordable for most. Whether or not to separate the two practices has been a big, burning question of mine for years. I am still slightly unsure. My interest in jewelry-making and art have always ran parallel with one another. I go through stretches of focusing on them separately, but never really together. During one of my critiques in graduate school, I was asked how my art straddles craft and that question really bothered me because I don’t consider my art “craft.” Instead of letting that critique insult me, I really considered it and decided to embrace craft within my practice. My weaves are becoming much tighter, my dye process is more complex, and I am looking into technique and structure a little closer than before. Lately I have been thinking of combining the two modalities (art and jewelry) as adorning the body with my work during live performance.

Cradling: In Ruins, 2014. Found barn wood, hand-dyed and burned sisal. 6' x 5' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You were featured last year on canadianart.ca, and in a short video in your studio, you mentioned that the best advice you’ve received is that “the work needs to be coming from a place of urgency, and that without urgency, the work is meaningless.” Can you talk more in depth about this urgency?

MG: The whole topic of urgency came to me during a studio visit with a well-known artist in Toronto. I was struggling with a few different concepts in grad school and felt unsure as to which direction to pursue. I was making these really awful plaster casts of my body that were really dark, disembodied and visceral. I was working through various ideas and concepts in the studio that I felt I needed to purge, which brings me back to this concept of urgency—an important and persistent need to release without overanalyzing. Even though I didn’t end up exhibiting these plaster casts, it was important to process these ideas of urgency, otherwise I wouldn’t have arrived to the work I am creating now. Urgency is about honesty and intuition—to trust that the work is unfolding in a way that will communicate the inner workings of an artist’s unconscious. When an artist is making work strictly to sell or copy, it becomes painfully obvious that the work is coming from a dishonest place and not from deep within. It takes so much courage to make work from a place of urgency.

OPP: What’s urgent for you in your work at this moment?

MG: Right now I am working through some personal demons within my work. Every time I release a new body of work, it becomes more vulnerable. My recent foray into adding sound to my installations has given the work another sensorial element that draws the viewer further into the experience. These sounds are coming from my voice, which is quite vulnerable in itself to “expose” a part of me. In addition to the sound, one can smell the dyes from my textiles, the earth that it was buried under, and maybe the char that it was burned by. The urgency to facilitate in the experience of the viewer’s senses is important to me, so that to engage with my installations is to become a part of it, to get inside it.

To see more of Mary's work, please visit marygrisey.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Catherine DeQuattro Nolin

Collected Wisdom, 2015. 16" x 12"

CATHERINE DeQUATTRO NOLIN's lush, opulent interiors are populated with solitary women, domestic pets and wild animals. Her works convey a sense of comfort and contentment in solitude, as well as the presense of longing, fantasy, a desire for escape. Catherine is a self-taught painter, who makes a living selling her work online. Her originals and prints are displayed in private collections throughout North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. Her paintings have been featured in numerous design publications including Style Magazine Australia, Artisticmoods, Surrounding Magazine and Sasee Magazine. Catherine lives in Andover, Massachussetts, where she works daily in a converted second floor bedroom with high ceilings and great light.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your beginnings as a painter. When did you first start painting? 

Catherine DeQuattro Nolin: Well I have always been interested in the visual arts. A family friend noticed I had some talent when I was ten and enrolled me in a class at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. I was always interested in colors, and I thought about color a lot growing up. I did take a few classes in college, but it wasn't until having my own family that I began painting. I started hand painting t-shirts for fun and selling them to retail shops. As my work got more intricate and in demand, I decided to put my designs down on canvas, and from there I started apply to small local art shows. I had a lot of success at these shows in New England, but once I opened a shop on line everything changed. I liked the idea of not worrying about the weather at art shows and all the hard work involved setting up and the travel. I also had a store retail background as a clothing buyer and was very comfortable setting up shop on the internet.

The Art Teacher, 2017. Acrylics on wood. 12" x 16"

OPP: How did you go about teaching yourself?

CDN: Lots of trial and error. I found all my favorite painters and practiced the way they painted. I have always had a strong sense of composition and color. My work has evolved over the years, and I am still learning something new everyday. At one point, I felt I should switch to oils, but I have come to love Golden acrylics and how they work. Today's acrylics are much higher quality then the acrylics I first started working with.

I work six days a week painting about eight hours a day if possible. I am so grateful to do what I love and make a living at it. I can't wait for Mondays so I can get back into my studio. Perseverance, keeping going, never give up. . . this is what I do. I have a 23-year-old son with profound autism. Everything I ever needed to know about life, my son Samuel has taught me without ever speaking a word.

Off The Grid, 2015. acrylics on wood. 20" x 16"

OPP: When I first encountered your work, I immediately thought of Henri Rousseau’s “portrait landscapes.” Off The Grid (2015) seems to be a direct reference to The Dream (1910), for example. How is your work in conversation with his?

CDN: Many of my customers mention that my work reminds them of Rousseau’s. I am a huge fan of his. His simple way of seeing and painting is in step with how I paint as well. I am self taught, and I believe he was as well. Nature is the best teacher, of course—I love creating lush botanicals and my own version of flowers.

OPP: What other painters influence you and how?

CDN: As a teenager and was introduced to the work of Thomas Mcknight, and that's when I became inspired to paint interior scenes. Obviously, Matisse was a huge influence as well as Vilhelm Hammershoi and the Italian Renaissance.

A Room Of One's Own, 2017. acrylics on wood. 16" x 20"

OPP: There seems to be an even mix of women happily inhabiting their surroundings—as in Interior With Gloria (2017) and Serious Moonlight (2016)—and women turned away from the viewer, looking through windows or exiting the space. I’m thinking of The Moon Will See You Now (2017), Chasing Venus (2016) and Collected Wisdom (2015). I read these as about longing, fantasy, a desire for escape. Your thoughts?

CDN: Yes, you are correct in that I am conveying escape and longing in some of those pieces you've mentioned. Raising my son has been an unbelievably bitter sweet life. I feel that it comes through in my work in subtle ways, but I like the idea of an open narrative, letting the viewer decide. Painting is something I can control. Usually, I decide the outcome. It helps me cope.

Where Are you Going?, 2016. Acrylics on wood. 12" x 16"

OPP: Your paintings are populated with both pets (bunnies, cats and dogs) and wild animals (polar bears, tigers, owls and leopards, to name a few). Are these animals allegorical or literal? Are the "wild" animals also domesticated?

CDN: Yes, woodland creatures would live in my house if possible. Like many artists, I have a deep love and respect for nature and animals and like to paint them in unlikely settings. I love the idea of pairing animals in interiors. I paint a lot of white doves, obviously a sign of peace, and swallows for hope and safety. Gold finches represent the resurrection, which is why they are depicted in renaissance art. Cats, lions, tigers—courage and fearlessness.

Letting Go, 2016. acrylics on wood. 18" x 24"

OPP: I notice a lot of recurring “portals” to other spaces within your interiors. They take the form of open windows, doorways and arches that reveal the outdoors, framed portraits, mirrors and famous paintings, as well as dressing screens painted with landscapes. How do these frames within the frame function in your work?

CDN: Portals, doorways and windows for me are symbols of hope, change and possibility. Again, having a son with special needs has greatly influenced my work in so many ways. Painting has been such a necessary therapy, however cliche that may sound. When I walk into my studio, I leave my worries at the door. Time seems to stand still, and I am taken to a place of peace but where I am in control. I am so grateful for that. The idea of letting go is also a reoccurring theme. 

The Garden Rules, 2016. acrylics on wood. 18" x 24"

OPP: What role does opulence play in your work?

CDN: My work is very conducive to opulence! The objects and home furnishing in a lot of my paintings stem from my childhood: chandeliers, French Provincial furniture, Chinoiserie, pianos, mirrors and statues. As a child, I was always interested in colors and fabric. I have vivid memories of when my parents redecorated our living room. I was maybe 10-years-old, but I was more interested in the swatches and paint chips they were choosing from than in playing outside in my neighborhood! Our house was small, but it was a little palace in my mind. I had forgotten about all that. Thanks for such interesting questions that made me think back.

OPP: And now a practical question. How do you go about selling your work? Any tips for younger artists without gallery representation?

CDN: I started with an Etsy shop in 2009.  It took time to develop a following but now Etsy is so huge I believe it's a lot harder to get noticed. Art shows were a natural first step as well. I never liked or was comfortable with the gallery route. I suppose because I was self-taught, I was a bit intimated by that scene. Things have changed so much with the internet and art that with hard work and perseverance anything is possible.

OPP: You also do commissions. Are they a drag that pays the bills but keeps you from your real work? Or are they a surprising creative challenge?

CDN: I use to do a lot of them, but yes, they kept me from doing what I really wanted to do. But depending on my client, they could also be very exciting. Over the past five years I have developed a wonderful following of clients that are so awesome and supportive. I still do some commissions that interest me.

To see more of Catherine's work, please visit catherinenolin.org.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.