OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joell Baxter

Magic Carpet, detail
2013
Screenprinted paper, glue
5 x 96 x 96 inches

JOELL BAXTER's practice combines screenprinting, weaving, sculpture and color theory in an exploration of visual perception and physical response. The placement of her multicolored, paper weavings-turned-sculptures on the floor evokes minimalist sculpture and interior design staples like carpets and couches, while the simplicity of the weave structure brings to mind grade school craft projects. Beginning in September, she will be an Artist-in-Residence in The Space Program at Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation. Her solo project Coverer will be on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut until June 27, 2014. Then it travels to Greensboro, North Carolina to be part of the group exhibition Art on Paper 2014 at Weatherspoon Art Museum from September 27-December 21, 2014. Joell lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your trajectory as an artist and your influences.

Joell Baxter: I studied painting as an undergraduate, and I still think about what I do in relation to that tradition. But I have always made work that sits between disciplines and actively engages the viewer in different modes of looking. All of my work strongly references minimalism, in terms of its approach to space and to creating a one-on-one relationship between the viewer and the work. I use very basic processes and forms that are reminiscent of grade school arts and crafts projects like weaving potholders. I want to evoke an immediate sense of familiarity, almost a muscle memory of how the work was made. But after that initial response, I hope that what at first seemed familiar becomes strange and more complex.

My most important art historical influences include: Sol LeWitt’s visually complex works created from seemingly simple ideas; Agnes Martin’s meditative focus; Josef Albers’ articulation of the relative nature of color; and Anni Albers’ writings on the historical importance of textiles as a kind of portable architecture.

Untitled (Rolled)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand cut and woven; glue
5 x 17 x 40 inches

OPP: All the paper that you work with is screenprinted, but most of it is solid-colored paper. Is it significant that you don't purchase existing colored paper for use in your sculptures? 



JB: My decision to print all of my own paper is largely practical. I use a carefully calibrated pallet of 12 hues in 8 different degrees of saturation. It would be hard to find these 96 exact colors in a commercial paper. In more recent works—Magic Carpet and Coverer—I have been printing blends of complimentary colors, so the color isn’t solid anymore. After printing full sheets, the paper is cut down, glued into long strips and woven by hand.

I also really love the process of screenprinting. Printing flats and color-blends in particular is a very meditative act, and I find the repetitive action of flooding the screen and pulling the ink to be extremely conducive to thinking through ideas. I like the fact that, as a technology, screenprinting sits in this strange spot between handmade and mechanical. The screen and squeegee are mediating the application of color to the paper, but it still requires a very physical, human action.

Stack Overflow (detail)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand torn and stacked; tape
1 x 72 x 72 inches

OPP: Is the color distribution in your work more influenced by color theory or intuition? Is this planned in advance of beginning a piece?



JB: I am interested in understanding how light and visual perception work together to create an experience of color. My basic mode of using color is very systematic. As much as anything, it comes from the basic color theory one learns in elementary school: the color wheel, mixing secondary colors from primary colors and mixing compliments.

In planning my work, everything is extremely orderly and can be diagrammed as a set of instructions. I typically use colors in the order of the visible spectrum, so red follows orange follows yellow, and so on. But by weaving these colors together, they start to interact and become harder to name and distinguish. This is due to the inherent nature of weaving, where color relationships are constantly alternating through the pattern of over and under. So there is a kind of glitch introduced into the plans, forcing me to let go of absolute control over the results.

Endless Day, Endless Night (for g.m.b.)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand cut and woven; glue
2 parts, 5 x 46 x 46 inches each

OPP: Could you talk about the woven, pillow-like form you have repeatedly executed in paper and your choice to exhibit it on the floor?



JB: The pillow pieces are human in scale, about the right size to sit in comfortably, and the sunken void in the middle seems to invite the viewer in. Placed directly on the floor, they share real space with the viewer and could almost be functional. But then the opticality of the work and the fragility of the paper take over, and they become more like paintings or drawings that are holding themselves up in space. So you move between a very empathetic and physical response to the work, and a very visual one, without ever settling on one or the other.

Coverer, detail
2014
Screenprinted paper, hand-cut and woven; glue; push pins
8 x 25 x 25 feet

OPP: Tell us about Coverer, your first solo exhibition, which is on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut until June 27, 2014.

JB: The installation at Real Art Ways is the first opportunity I’ve been given to use an entire room, so the work has really taken advantage of that. I began with the premise creating a visual experience of color in space that viewers could enter and explore and that makes use of the architecture. 

I use the same screenprinting and weaving process as the earlier pillows, but this piece is comprised of a modular series of flat, mesh panels laid directly onto the floor and walls in an intersecting pattern. Because of the gridded structure, the work functions as a kind of marking system that measures and diagrams the room. The diagramming is destabilized by an illusion injected into the color pattern of the woven panels; the edges blur and the colors fade as they move across the space. On close inspection, it becomes clear that the color is printed onto the woven paper. But when perceived as a whole, the weaves seem almost prismatic, as if they are catching and dispersing the light or, alternatively, as if the color is emanating from them, like a digital screen. So on the one hand the work clarifies and maps the physical space, but on the other it confuses and destabilizes the viewer’s perception. I am interested in this kind of toggling back and forth between visually grounding yourself and then losing your way again.

The viewer can actually walk into the work, stepping into the voids between the woven panels. In doing so, your view is reframed with every step. While I felt that it was conceptually important to be able to enter the piece, I was surprised by how active the work feels from a distance. The work is almost cubist in the way it constructs space. Just the act of moving your eyes around makes you aware of the way the images in your mind are constantly shifting and recombining. There is a bench in the room, and when you sit still, this constant shifting takes on a filmic quality. The piece seems to keep moving, and the light seems to flicker. So a viewer can move between active and passive modes of looking or watching the piece.

The last aspect of the work that felt important and new for me was its mutability and portability. The piece conforms absolutely to the architecture, while simultaneously affecting the experience of the space. But if the site changes, the piece can adapt and the conform to its new site in a modular way, and it can repeat this process indefinitely. I will be reinstalling Coverer in the fall at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The floors there are a different color and material, and there is natural light. It will be part of a group show, so the way that the work interacts with the space will be completely different and I am looking forward to seeing how that changes the piece.

To view more of Joell's work, please visit joellbaxter.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.


The 2014 Maker Grant Recipients

Chicago Artists' Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels are proud to announce the recipients of the 2014 Maker Grant, an award opportunity for two Chicago-based contemporary visual artists who demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable artistic practice and career development. 

Thank you to the 2014 Jury
Greg Lunceford, curator of exhibitions, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events
Cesáreo Moreno, chief curator, National Museum of Mexican Art
Lori Waxman, Chicago-based critic and art historian.

This grant is funded in part by a portion of proceeds from Chicago Artists Coalition’s annual Starving Artist fundraiser and a matching contribution from OtherPeoplesPixels.

The Beast at Hyde Park Art Center

This year’s $3000 award was granted to John Preus, a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist. Preus holds an MFA from the University of Chicago (2005), and studied furniture-making in Minnesota (1996-99) with celebrated furniture-maker John Nesset. He founded Dilettante Studios (2010), co-founded SHoP (2011), and Material Exchange (2005). Preus was the creative director of the Rebuild Foundation shop until 2012, and project lead for Theaster Gates' 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, at Documenta 13. Preus is currently the Jackman-Goldwasser resident at the Hyde Park Art Center, with a current solo exhibition, The Beast, now on view through August 3.

Sound Installation Proposal for Making the Unknown, Known #1 (Site-Specific projects for Little Village, Chicago)
2013
Digital Rendering

This year’s $1000 award was granted to Maria Gaspar, who is engaged in transdisciplinary practices that individually or collectively mediate or occupy different sites to create ephemeral and permanent scenarios. Gaspar has presented work at the MCA Chicago, The Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art. Her performance work includes presentations at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson with La Pocha Nostra, the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago, and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio, TX. She is currently leading a series of long-term site-responsive projects, 96 ACRES, about the Cook County jail, the largest structure in her native community of Little Village. Gaspar is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the departments of Performance Art and Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Congratulations, John and Maria!

(Reposted from our partner on MAKER grant, Chicago Artists' Coalition)

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Courtney Puckett

Sea Lady
2012
Metal, wire, wood, string
20 x 60 x 18 inches

COURTNEY PUCKETT’s work is an exciting collision of color, pattern and texture. Drawing on the history of the Fiber Art Movement, she employs traditional techniques such as wrapping, coiling and sewing to transform cast-off elements from furniture and domestic decoration—frames, fans, coat racks, table cloths—into unexpected abstractions. Courtney earned her BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art (2002) and her MFA from Hunter College (2007). She is a recipient of several National Endowment for the Arts project grants and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center, Buffalo National River in Arkansas and the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony in Woodstock, New York. Solo exhibitions include Mountain High (2011) at Central Utah Art Center in Ephraim, Utah and Recycled, Wrapped and Sewn (2010) at Valencia Community College’s Anita Wooten Gallery in Orlando, Florida. Courtney lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptures oscillate between formal abstraction—for example, Bug (2011) or Snail Potion (2012)—and "useful" objects, as in the walking sticks and lassos. But in both cases, textile materials and the traditional fiber techniques of coiling and wrapping are center stage. Could you talk generally about your interest in these techniques?



Courtney Puckett: Before I knew about the Fiber Art movement, I studied painting. As an undergraduate, I had reached a technical level of realistic painting that no longer interested me. I could have continued in this vein and found subjects to paint or forced myself towards abstraction. But instead I made a discovery that permanently subordinated paint as a medium for me. While experimenting with alternative painting surfaces, I came across a large, ripped, black duffel bag. With the intention of painting on it, I cut it up and sewed it back together flat. But when I hung it on the wall, I knew it didn’t need paint. The form and physical material already had everything in it that I was searching for. It satisfied my desire to find an alternative approach to painting and to align myself with women artists, particularly those in the 60s and 70s who challenged the (predominantly-masculine) rules of painting. What began as an intuitive gravitational pull toward soft materials has become a intentional reframing of techniques associated with “women’s work” in order to disrupt hierarchical and categorical divisions within art.

Lasso 32
2012
Miscellaneous fabric scraps, string, yarn
19 x 10 x 2.5 inches

OPP: Could you talk specifically about your Lasso Series (2004-ongoing) Is your attraction to this form conceptual or formal? What does the lasso as a form mean to you?



CP: I began the Lasso Series in 2004 while living in New Mexico. I recycled scraps of unused fabric and discarded components from sculptures into long, coiled ropes and hung them in groups on the wall. The lasso is a metaphor for our persistent attempts to acquire, achieve, control, fulfill, capture. But often we fail. These aren’t Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso.

OPP: Looking at all the lassos together reminds me of Sheila Hicks' amazing book Weaving as Metaphor, in that she has a daily practice of exploring the aesthetics of one simple form—for her, the handheld loom. The variety is astounding. Sheila Hicks is probably the most well known artist who uses coiling and wrapping as a technique. Is she an influence for you?



CP: It is exciting that Sheila Hicks is receiving so much attention right now. I went straight to her work at the Whitney Biennial. However, I only found out about her work about five or six years ago. I took a bus to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia to see her 2011 retrospective, which was the first time I saw her work in person. I was totally jazzed. At that moment, I felt very proud to make the work I make. Her work gave me the permission—that for years I thought I needed—to work primarily with fabric and textile techniques. People have suggested to me a more mixed media approach, so as to not get labeled or pigeonholed. But Sheila Hicks’s work is powerful in its embrace of fiber mediums and disregard of categorization.

Back Yard Boogie Woogie 1
2014
Fabric, wire, wood, yarn
94 x 14 x 19 inches

OPP: What role does time-tracking play in your work?

CP: The act of recording time is not an objective. My goal is more to lose track of time and enter a meditative, quiet, contemplative zone, often with nothing to listen to but the sounds outside my studio window. Time is obviously quite evident in the process; the labor evident in the work. This is more a result of the kind of intuitive physical relationship I have with the materials and processes—cutting, pasting, ripping, knotting—than as a subject itself. I like that the viewer has access to this intimate space that rewards slower reading.

OPP: Could you talk about your drawings on graph paper? Many of them are titled “Study for . . . .” Are the drawings just plans for the sculptures or something else?

CP: The drawings are like epilogues of the sculptures; they only reveal segments of the story. Typically, I do not begin with drawing. When I get lost or am not sure what move to make while working on the sculptures, I draw. It either sends me off in a new direction or helps me find my way back to the original logic of a piece. I think two-dimensionally like a painter, and drawing really helps to flatten things out. Recently, graph paper has been the most useful blank page for working out patterns and formal systems.

Cricket Comb (detail)
2011
Fabric, wire, wood, yarn
108 x 28 x 15 inches

OPP: Materiality is clearly a driving force in your practice. You incorporate fabric, thread, wood, wire, yarn and found textiles like table cloths and men's ties. Are you more of a hunter, seeking out specific materials for your work, or a gather, saving whatever comes your way until you have a use for it?


CP: Both roles as you describe them appeal to me. I have been scavenging thrift stores for cast-off gems since the age of twelve before vintage stores popped up everywhere. It is still one of my favorite things to do when traveling to new places. Red, White & Blue Thrift outside of Trenton, New Jersey, where I teach, is one of the best I have ever been to. I have fantasies about supermarket sweeps there. I hunt cast-offs (usually textiles) that have aesthetic value and character that can play into one of my pieces. Often, I take in the trashed furniture parts from the alleys around my live/work space in Brooklyn. It is important for me to have plentiful fabric and furniture scraps on hand for spur of the moment re-workings. I’m not a hoarder though, and I do take time to toss things back to the curb.

OPP: Could you speak generally about this reworking of cast-offs you’ve mentioned? It’s more than a practical way to get materials or a clever way to recycle. How does this relate to the “reframing of techniques associated with ‘women’s work’”?

CP: I am drawn to art that recycles waste, that makes something extraordinary out of something ordinary, that examines the detritus of everyday life and, in particular, of domestic life. One early influence for me was Art Povera. I will never forget, while studying in the south of France, seeing Dieter Roth’s boiled-over stove at a museum. This was around the time I stopped painting and started using the refuse around me. Another important influence has been my mother, an interior designer, and the home I grew up in, which was an evolving experiment in the decorative arts. There was little distinction between material object and aesthetic experience. Her resourcefulness and creativity built a colorful living space for our family and special, meaningful objects that held a kind of magic. With sculpture you can use the physical, tactile energy of things. You can also transform them. In my work, I try to reconcile the perceived inferiority of fiber and craft materials with the assumed superiority of paint, concrete, steel and the still-hyper-masculine disciplines of painting and sculpture.

To view more of Courtney's work, please visit courtneypuckett.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.




OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Frank Oriti

Danny II
2010
Oil and acrylic on canvas
48" x 60"

FRANK ORITI paints psychologically and emotionally honest portraits of “blue-collar, middle-class individuals returning to the hometowns and neighborhoods that they originally attempted to escape.” The juxtaposition of meticulously-detailed figures with flat, hazy backgrounds conveys a sense of limbo and highlights a nuanced experience of conflicted resignation and bold confidence in the face of uncertainty. Frank received his BFA from Bowling Green State University (2006) and his MFA from Ohio University (2011). His solo exhibitions include Return (2011) at The Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland and Homeland (2013) at Richard J. Demato Gallery in Sag Harbor, New York. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize Emerging Artist Award. From September 13, 2014 to January 4, 2015, his work will be included in the group show Get Real: New American Paintings at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida. Frank lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was born and raised.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many of your paintings are based on your friends and family. These paintings are portraits in the traditional sense. But the individuals can also be viewed as symbolic of the "psychological state of settling," which you identify as a major theme in your work. Did this theme emerge from the individuals you chose to paint or did you seek out subjects that embody the theme you were interested in exploring in your work?

Frank Oriti: Originally the theme came from my own realization of what it was like to return home. After I received my BFA from Bowling Green State University, I didn’t really have a plan for the next chapter in my life. Things just seemed very uncertain. Around the same time, I realized that a lot of friends and family had also returned home from college and the military. So naturally, I wondered if they were experiencing the same thoughts and feelings about this return that I was having. Because the theme was sparked by my own sentiments, I think of these paintings partially as self-portraits.

Comeback
2014
Oil on canvas
30"x24"

OPP: Your blue-collar background and the fact that you worked at Cleveland's American Tank and Fabricating between undergrad and grad school are often cited in the intro paragraphs of interviews and reviews of your work, and I'm obviously bringing it up, too. The return home is a theme in your work, so your personal biography is relevant. Do you think critics, collectors and viewers romanticize these details? Or is this just a reasonable reference to details that inform the content of your work?

FO: I don’t really think it’s my place to say whether or not my personal history is being romanticized. I think any time a writer is doing a piece, it’s up to them to write something that will hopefully entertain and keep a reader’s interest. All I can do on my end of interviews and in talking about my work is be honest and tell my story. I was taught that, as an art-maker, it’s important to be honest about where your work is coming from and why you’re making it. I DO think that my post-undergrad time at home really sparked something. The thoughts and feelings I had during that time became a great reference point for what I was trying to say in my work when I started these portraits in graduate school at Ohio University.

Living Like Teenagers
2012
Oil and acrylic on canvas
70" x 46"

OPP: Now that viewing artwork online is so common, one of the details that sometimes gets lost is the impact of scale. I experience so much artwork contained within my computer screen that I can only imagine what my physical response to seeing the work in person would be. Could you talk about the significance of scale in your work?

FO: I originally made these portraits at a true-to-life scale. I wanted the viewer to be drawn in to the gaze of the subjects. It was important for the viewer to relate to them as actual people, as much as possible, just by looking. Since the beginning of this series, I’ve always made portraits that gave off the presence of an actual person—portraits that were more life-like than a photo but stayed true to my representation of the individual at that time the work was created. More recently, I’ve found that by changing up the size of the painting, I’m able to experiment and have more fun with the format as well as the actual application of the paint.

There Is No In Between
2013
Oil and acrylic on canvas covered panel
20" x 16"

OPP: Clarity (2014), Uniform (2013) and Without (2013)—among others—stand out because the subjects are painted in profile, as opposed to confronting the viewer with their confident gazes. These immediately brought to mind mugshots, although nothing else about the subjects evokes criminality. Could you talk about your choice to paint these subjects this way?

FO: I’ve always loved looking at the way portraits have been depicted through history in painting, and I wanted that appreciation to show through. I was thinking about how the figures in this series previously had their backs turned to the whited-out houses that represented our suburban landscape. Painting them in profile reveals the position of uncertainty: they are neither heading towards the landscape nor heading towards the viewer.  

OPP: In 2013, you won the $10,000 Cleveland Arts Prize for Emerging Artist. What was your first reaction when you heard the news?

FO: It sounds extremely cliché to say I really did not expect to win, but. . . I REALLY DID NOT EXPECT TO WIN! It was only my second year submitting. After seeing winners from previous years, I understood the winners were chosen from a very wide selection of the different categories of arts in town. As someone who is constantly submitting to competitions, shows and magazines, I try not to get too worked up about entering these sorts of things. You have to do your part to enter and then forget about it and get back to work so that you’re not stressing over it. When I received the call last year that I had won, I was speechless. It was a great thing to be recognized by my peers, especially in my hometown. It’s overwhelming to be a part of such a prestigious group of past winners.

Mirror
2014
Oil on panel
20"x16"

OPP: Practically speaking, how has this prize affected your art practice?

FO: When the art prize came along, I had just left my part-time job to concentrate on painting full time. I had also just moved into a studio space in Cleveland. So winning the prize was perfect timing. It helped out financially, allowing me to concentrate only on my painting as I was getting ready for my first solo show at Richard J. Demato Gallery in New York.

OPP: Now that you are a few years out of graduate school and many of the subjects of your paintings are also older, has the overall level of uncertainty shifted? Have you experienced anything new that might change the emotional nature of the portraits?

FO: I think now that I've become a little more settled in Cleveland and a little more comfortable with the work I'm creating, some of the issues I was dealing with when this work began have shifted slightly. I've gravitated more towards finding people I know who apply a blue collar work ethic to whatever it is that they do. I really enjoy connecting with hardworking people who know what it is like to put in a lot of time and effort into their jobs, even if they aren't the most glamorous jobs. It's that type of work ethic that I use daily in the studio, and I find it extremely inspiring.

To view more of Frank's work, please visit frankoritijr.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Cristi Rinklin

Migration 1
2014
Oil and acrylic on aluminum
36" x 48"
Photo credit: Stewart Clements

CRISTI RINKLIN’s luscious landscapes are dense with undulating forms that hover somewhere between smoke, clouds, waves and vines. Beginning with digital collages constructed from details of existing landscape paintings, she seamlessly combines opposing styles, highlighting the “virtual reality” that has always been present in painting. Cristi graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BFA from Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1989 and earned her MFA from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1999. Her numerous solo shows include Diluvial (2012) at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire and Paracosmos (2010) at Boston’s Steven Zevitas Gallery, where she is scheduled to have another solo exhibition in January 2015. Before then, you can see her work in Forecasted: Eight Artists Explore the Nature of Climate Change at Northeastern University in October 2014. Cristi lives and works in Boston.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I would describe your style as a mash-up suggestive of illustration, painting, printing and digital manipulation. Your hard, graphic lines evoke Japanese Ukiyo-e landscapes, commercial illustration and comics, while soft fields of color remind me of watercolor landscapes and pictorialist landscapes. How does this amalgamation of styles get at your conceptual interests?

Cristi Rinklin: There definitely is a mash-up of painterly vocabulary happening in the work, and the references you identified, especially Japanese Ukiyo-e and pictorialist landscapes, are among the various works I’m sourcing. I start with elaborately orchestrated, digital collages combining details of paintings and backgrounds that are manipulated to create a seamless, yet impossible space. At times some of the objects in the paintings are in complete opposition to each other: flatness collides with atmospheric depth, and graphic linear forms overlay fleshy, voluminous shapes. I’m working towards a dreamy ambiguous space that is reminiscent of landscape, a familiar place where we feel grounded but which is in flux. It is either being created or being destroyed—or both.

Arcadia
2011
Oil and acrylic on Dibond Aluminum
48" x 36"
Photo credit: Clements/ Howcroft, Boston, MA

OPP: The recurring, visual forms in your work border on abstraction while still evoking ambiguous landscape forms. Billowy, organic shapes appear in some works to be smoke. In others, these forms evoke waves and waterfalls, clouds and vines. Did you set out to create this ambiguity of form or did you discover the versatility during the process of painting?


CR: I’m interested in referencing landscape as something that is part of a deep memory, as if it no longer exists, and our impression of it is ambiguous, abstract or hard to pin down. Because the paintings start as digital collages, the manipulation and ambiguity is achieved in the studies that I create. I use a collected vocabulary of imagery and forms that I’ve been compiling over many years. The studies resemble the final paintings, but they don’t have the fleshy surfaces and great depth that the paintings have. Although the paintings are more or less predetermined, there are certain decisions and outcomes that happen during the process of painting, However, it’s less about improvisation and more about continually nudging the painting towards the thing I want it to do.

OPP: Take us back to the first time you made a painting based on a digital collage. Why did you first start working in this way?

CR: I first started working from digitally manipulated images in grad school, which was in the late 90s. At the time, it was a relatively new tool for art making, and I found that scanning and manipulating source material was a very convenient way to generate images for paintings. At first it was very basic and perfunctory, but the more I experimented with Photoshop, the more I became interested in how the computer has such a specific pictorial language that the way we see has become calibrated to screen space. I intentionally push colors to look synthetic, rather than organic, and I want the images to retain this feel of an artificial space.

Fumarole
2009
Flashe on Duralar
32" x 24"
Photo credit: Clements/Howcroft, Boston, MA

OPP: I have to admit that I can't stop thinking of the black smoke from the television show Lost (2004-2010) and the title sequence from Dr. Who when looking at your work. Are either of these a visual reference for you? Can you give us some specific examples of non-painting influences? 


CR: That’s awesome that you thought of Lost. The black smoke was fascinating to me because I have long been interested in the physical representation of ephemeral things. The best example I can give of this is smoke and clouds in Renaissance prints. They always look solid and fleshy, and often times they’re carrying people, angels, saints, etc. It’s like the divine transportation vehicle. A lot of the billowy forms in my paintings look as if they are sentient, like they’re consciously advancing, sometimes in a menacing way. When the Iceland volcano erupted a few years back, I was enthralled by all of the images in the news and on the Internet of all that billowing smoke. While it was so beautiful to behold from a distance, it was also a reminder of how powerless we are against the fury of nature.

Diluvial
2012
Site Specific Installation, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH
Lambda Duraclear prints, wallpaper and wall mural
Photo credit: Jeffrey Nintzel

OPP: In 2012, your installation Diluvial at the Currier Museum of Art (Manchester, NH) was an immersive environment that included printed wallpaper and a wall mural and used the existing window as a light box for your Lambda Duraclear prints. Could you talk about the site-specificity of this installation and how the imagery portrayed a "world undergoing creation and destruction?"


CR: That was an amazing opportunity! I was invited to create this installation specifically for the Currier, in response to its history and its collection. I had done other installations like this previously, and I was excited to take on another large-scale immersive project. The Currier’s collection originated with 19th century American landscape painting, and since I had already been looking at and sourcing a lot of this work, that resonated with me. When I began brainstorming for Diluvial, I also heavily considered the New Hampshire region that was represented in a lot of the paintings in the collection. In my research, I found that many of the artists of this period, such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, were deeply interested in geology. Their contemporaries in the Earth Sciences were attempting to prove that the American landscape was forged by the Great Biblical Flood, therefore giving it divine status. The word diluvial refers to geological formations and deposits that are forged by flood or glacial activity. Because I’m interested in cataclysmic and catastrophic phenomena, this idea really resonated with me, so I set about creating an immersive experience that had the feel of the landscape being swept away by a huge force of water. It’s beautiful as well as terrifying, as great change always is. I often think about what it will be like in a post-human world. What will be gone and what will remain? While it’s scary to contemplate, there is also something poetic about nature surviving beyond human existence.

Orphan Series
2014
Oil and acrylic on aluminum
9 individual panels hung in grid, each 18" x 15"
Photo Credit: Stewart Clements

OPP: In your newest work from 2014, there's a distinct collision, not only of painting styles, but also of opposing ethics from painting history: flatness meets perspective. The smoke is now utterly flat to the degree that, had I not seen your previous work, I would not interpret it as smoke. What led to this shift?

CR: If you go back to some of my very early work in the Archived section of my website, you’ll see how the new work has actually come full circle. While making Diluvial, I researched scenic wallpapers and designed one for the installation. I became intrigued by the idea that these scenic wallpapers were created to psychically transport viewers to idealized, pastoral landscapes. I decided that after the installation, I would explore the simplified and idealized space of scenic wallpaper, in which fragmented chunks of landscape float throughout the space. While I was experimenting with sketches and studies for these paintings, I began to ask myself, “what is essential, what is unnecessary and what can I leave out?” When I arrived at the large, flat cloud-shapes in these new paintings, they felt fresh to me. It referred to cloud, but also to a void; it became both positive and negative space. The cloud formation has been a part of my work for a long time, and in these new paintings, it’s simply a new evolution of this form.

To see more of Cristi's work, please visit cristirinklin.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Menchaca

Ondersoort Onderlijnen Bo
2014
Screenprint
25" x 19"

MICHAEL MENCHACA’s signature graphic style combines the aesthetics and recurring visual motifs of cartoons and Mesoamerican iconography. He re-imagines current events along the U.S.-Mexican border as part of a mythic allegory in his screenprints, installations and digital animations. His work is on view until July 27, 2014 in Estampas de la Raza/Prints for the People: The Romo Collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh). You can also see his work in Galeria Sin Fronteras at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago) through August 2014. Michael currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he is an MFA candidate in Printmaking at Rhode Island School of Design.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do cartoons and Mesoamerican iconography have in common and how do they support your conceptual interests?

Michael Menchaca: The Codex Migratus print series is my attempt to chronicle contemporary events involving drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal immigration in the format of an ancient Mesoamerican codex. Codices are pictorial manuscripts that documented ritual, bloodlines and social class. They often depicted supernatural imagery with bold outlines and flat graphic representation. By combining the format of an ancient Mesoamerican codex with Modern-era cartoons, I aim to present a hybrid, pictorial narrative that transcends time and space, allows for multiple perspectives and reflects the complex nature of migration to the U.S.

Spics 'N' Dip
2012
Serigraphy
11" x 14"

OPP: In a 2012 interview with mysanantonio.com, you said “I never wanted to do anything that had to do with my cultural heritage because I felt that was just expected of me. I just ended up drawing a cat and then added a mustache. . .  I started researching Mexican folk art, and I realized how out of touch I am with my own culture. I started asking my mom how she was raised up and how I was raised up. I saw how different it is for me in the States because she was raised in Mexico. I grew up like a regular American kid.” When did you first experience this expectation that, because of your Mexican heritage, you should make art about being Mexican?

MM: I don’t think that it was ever a concrete expectation. I never explicitly had anyone say to me in school, “you should make art about your Mexican ancestry.” However, early on in my art education, I did feel an implication directed towards me to make personal expressions that reflected my cultural heritage. The impulse for me at that time was to go in the opposite direction and try and reconcile with a conventional, bourgeois art aesthetic. It wasn’t until my time at Texas State University where I earned my BFA that I began to work out how to address a history pertaining to me in a way that was true to my experience.

OPP: Your project Codex Migratus (2011 - ongoing) uses allegory and the form of the codex to chronicle current events along the U.S.-Mexican border. Rats with machine guns represent the border patrol and cats with mustaches represent the Mexican immigrants. But don't cats usually chase mice? Is this a subversion of the Tom-and-Jerry trope?

MM: Yes. Tom and Jerry has been a great influence. This role-reversal is integral to the allegory I’m working in. However, I prefer not to expand on how natural laws work within this realm, as I’m keen to keeping a level of mystery intact. I am fascinated by mythical stories, and there’s a lot of play and wiggle room when interpreting myths. This, in no small part, contributes to their lasting appeal. I’d like my work to exist within this framework.

Creatio Episodium Megafauna I
2012
Digital Animation

OPP: You've also explored the same themes, allegories and imagery in digital animation. In Codex Vidiot Vidi (2013) your recognizable iconography is combined with what sounds like audio from video games. In Creatio Episodium Megafauna I (2012), I hear music and sound effects that remind me of old-timey cartoons. Could you talk about how audio and animation changes the tone of your static imagery?

MM: There is a sense of infinite space in the prints; the viewers are free to animate for themselves. In the videos, the moving figures and sound create a new level of experience and interpretation. I’m very new to working with sound and am currently invested in it as a means of orchestrating a narrative. For example, sound is the defining factor in Codex Heterogeneous. It carries the story and acts as the container for the content.

Crooked American Boarders: The Beaner Express
Mixed media installation
2011

OPP: You shifted the scale of your iconography dramatically in a three-dimensional installation called Crooked American Boarders: The Beaner Express (2011) and in Autos Sacramentales (2013), a window installation at Artpace in San Antonio. Did viewers respond differently to the work at this scale?

MM: The shift in scale allowed the audience to walk inside a narrative structure. In that sense, these pieces explored the possibility of audience interaction in the physical sense. I could never have anticipated the capacity of a younger generation to see these installations as photo opportunities. I think that’s something worth considering for a future project.

OPP: From a purely process perspective, how was the experience of creating imagery at this scale different than drawing and screenprinting? What did you like? What did you not like?

MM: Working on a larger scale requires more time, a huge substrate and a lot of pigment. It can sometimes get expensive so that’s the part I’m not too fond of. I enjoy the exaggerated, physical interaction between your body and the final piece. For these installations, I had the opportunity to work with vinyl, plexiglass and insulation foam, which are normally used for commercial advertisements. I like the way these signage materials inform the content of my work.

Oculus Ceremonia
Site-specific installation
2014
Photo credit: Jane Long

OPP: You are smack dab in the middle of graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design right now. What's changed about your work since you've been there? What's the most unexpected thing about grad school?

MM: My time at RISD has so far been incredibly resourceful. I’m working amongst a community of extremely talented artists and have a good feedback situation. I have a sense of direction that I haven’t had in a while. My studio practice has embraced working in new technologies that wouldn’t be otherwise accessible. It’s also given me freedom to explore, to spend time, to waste time, to discuss, to write, to read, to study, to fail miserably without hesitation. There’s a lot of digesting taking place, and I look forward to the part where I finally get to excrete it all out.

OPP: You were awarded a travel grant to visit Sri Lanka in January 2014 through RISD’s DESINE-lab. Can you tell us about the program and what you worked on while there?

MM: DESINE-lab@RISD is an initiative founded by Elizabeth Dean Hermann, Professor of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at RISD. The lab focuses on developing solutions for communities in economic, social and environmental need. Following a civil war, Sri Lanka is undergoing a state of transition. Along with a group of very talented RISD students, I engaged with local organizations to address social issues and sustainability. The grant allowed me to visit textile initiatives, sacred Buddhist sites and temples as well as historical sites across the country. I learned the art of Batik, a wax-resist method of dying fabric. I also had the opportunity to host a screenprint workshop for children and widowed women at an orphanage in Kilinochchi. This grant has sparked an interest in global religious practices.

OPP: Is that what led to your most recent piece Oculus Ceremonia? Can you explain the installation for our readers and talk about the connection between the immersive technology you use and ceremonial practices?

MM: Oculus Ceremonia is a piece that uses a virtual reality headset, known as the Oculus Rift, to submerge the viewer into a 360 degree digital space. In order to enter the digital world, the person must put on a mask. I think of the piece as ceremonial in that it gives an individual viewer limited access to a transcendental space where they then perform for an external audience much in the same way as a shaman. I had a platform for each "performer" to stand on and had a looping projection behind them. Luckily no one fell off the stage and got injured.

To see more of Michael's work, please visit michaelmenchaca.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Serena Cole

Black Mirror I (detail)
2012
Colored pencil and gouache on paper
35" x 28"

SERENA COLE positions herself as a “hopeless outsider and wary researcher,” as well as as “a cultural anthropologist and an obsessive, self-aware consumer of highly seductive imagery.” Her drawings in colored pencil, gouache, watercolor and ink explore both the repulsion and attraction to an unattainable fantasy promised by fashion advertising. Serena received her MFA (2011) from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is currently an instructor at the Art Studio at UC Berkeley. Her solo exhibitions include Through the Glass Darkly (2012) at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis and I Wanna Be Adored (2009) at Triple Base Gallery in San Francisco. Serena lives and works in the Bay Area.

OtherPeoplesPixels: According to your bio, "[An] extreme isolation from culture and civilization created a fetishized association with anything perceived of as high art, fashion, or wealth. [Serena] can still recall every page of the only Vogue she was ever given as a child. This incurable affliction followed her into adulthood and her art career. . ." How does your personal experience of fashion magazines influence the art work you make based on this source material?

Serena Cole: I cite this little snippet from my childhood to offer anyone interested in my work the specific root of my obsessions. In many ways, my reaction to a lot of this imagery was similar to that of any other teen girl. It's almost ingrained in girl culture to rip a picture of a something you like out of a magazine and stick it to the wall. However, because I was so far removed from the reality of anything I wanted—a pair of jeans or being at a cool art party or buying even a new album at a record store—my obsessions and fantasies became my dreamscape. I lived in them entirely to avoid the fact that I was physically in the middle of nowhere. I didn't need the real thing, so particularly unattainable images like fashion ads weren't and still aren't problematic for me. I much prefer to live in the fantasy of the images I am drawn to. It’s like living in the Matrix. My drawings allow me to stay there as long as I want, but I can also completely control the dream. I can change the colors, change the composition, change the facial features. I can be outside, looking in. But I also create the fantasy from the inside out in my drawings, allowing me to have pure dominion over all my desires. 

I'm Dead, I'm Dead, I'm Dead
2011
Watercolor, colored pencil, ink, gouache, photo transfer, and gold leaf on paper
46" x 36"

OPP: Are your drawings recreations of specific images taken from magazines? How much do you modify the image in your process? What kinds of images are you most attracted to?

SC: I am mostly drawn to images of people. I am interested in the psychological aspects of the facial expressions and of the gaze. I find all the sources for my drawings in expensive fashion magazines because I am deeply fascinated by the model or celebrity as a vehicle for fantasies. These images of people are made to be looked at, but not only that. They are made to exist as avatars. A glimpse of what kind of you is possible with the right merchandise. It is fascinating that the people in these high-end fantasy images are often emotionally distraught or completely vacant, almost dead. It suggests to me that we don't always fantasize about being one kind of person, but many fucked-up versions of ourselves. I modify these images only slightly, sometimes making these avatar creatures even more emotional, dark or sickly. It comes from a need to control them, instead of feeling that they are superior to me in some way. They become an army of versions of me.

OPP: Why do all these women seem so sad? Do you consciously avoid the fashion campaigns that employ images of joie de vivre?

SC: I have no interest in happy paintings in the same way I can't listen to the Cure past 1989 because they suddenly cheered up. I am interested in telling a subtle story with the expressions in my work, and there is no story in happy. It's boring to me because I am still an angsty teenager stuck in my room.

Ecstasy Face V
2010
Watercolor, colored pencil, and gouache on paper
24" x 20"

OPP: The titles in your Tropes (2010-2012) are really successful at highlighting your position as a self-proclaimed "wary researcher," a cultural anthropologist" and "an obsessive, self-aware consumer." You've identified recurring visual tropes in fashion advertising in works like Ecstasy Face IV, We Wish We Could Find the Sublime I (2011) and I'm An Animal, I'm Going to Eat You I (2010). Do you think the average consumer of these magazines is oblivious or savvy to these tropes nowadays?

SC: I'm not sure what the average consumer thinks. I don't feel it is my job to teach anyone anything that they are not already picking up on. I might not even be right about the armchair psychology findings that I'm presenting. I do find that, in talking to people about my source material, I am always asked to choose a side: am I for or against fashion? This comes from a variety of political beliefs that people are entitled to have. But I would really rather be talking with people about the nuances and hypocrisies of our own dreams, fears and desires. I am 100% aware that I am drawn to sick, unlivable, sexist images. It doesn't mean that I REALLY want it. I just want it for a second. Advertising is highly sophisticated and complex, and there's no surprise that what I want is unattainable. That is practically the definition of desire. But I feel like the difference is owning up to those desires, of being able to admit that you sometimes DO want to be comatose, sexually sublimated, socially deviant, etc. Most people are not honest enough with themselves.

Black Mirror II
2012
Colored pencil and gouache on paper
24" x 36"

OPP: Tell us about your most recent body of work Black Mirrors. What are these drawings reflecting?

SC: I was mostly thinking about my relationship and reaction to specific images I gathered of models who were acknowledging their own positions as subjects of desire. As idealized magazine figures, they were photographed for the purpose of evoking someone else's desire. However, they don't give you exactly what you want from them. These are not pin-ups with come-hither expressions. These are images of subjects choosing to confront the viewer. They look back, essentially making the viewer into the subject. This complicated relationship between desiring/being desired/seeing yourself as being desired is an example of Lacan's psychoanalytic theory of the Mirror Stage (a greater 'gestalt' figure versus reality). I found myself looking at these models as versions of who I wished I was. I also wanted to give them more autonomy than they have in the original photos. These mirrors of me as my fantasy selves are also pissed at being made into subjects, so I gave them all I-don't-give-a-fuck expressions.

OPP: What's going on in your studio right now?

SC: I have my hands in a lot of different cookie jars at the moment. As an experiment, I've been taking my own photographs to paint from, researching objects and figures I desire or find intriguing. I'm working on two series, one of people I know and the other of floral still lives I find. I also have a body of work of narrative, fucked-up, slightly surreal large-scale paintings that are taking a very long time to finish. And I am working on experiments with more three-dimensional, paper headdress projects. It's difficult to prepare for any kind of show working in this way, but all these projects inform each other. With more time, I hope to have a number of paintings I am happy with.

To see more of Serena's work, please visit serenacole.org.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Zawatski

99-4
2012
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

MARK ZAWATSKI asks us to consider the authenticity of manipulated images in his painstakingly-composed mandalas and fields of color and pattern. Each digitally-constructed photograph takes hundreds of hours to create and involves repetitive, but unique gestures of the hand, subverting our expectations of the boundary between the digital and the handmade. Mark holds a MFA in Sculpture from Yale University and BA in Art from The University of California, Los Angeles. He teaches photography at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse and Ithaca College. His work has been exhibited at the Wright Art Gallery (Los Angeles, California), Fullerton College (Fullerton, California), The Gallery at the Ann Felton Multicultural Center (Syracuse) and the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Connecticut). Originally from Los Angeles, Mark lives and works in Syracuse, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You received your MFA from Yale in Sculpture (1999). How and when did you shift to digital photography as your primary medium? What was your sculptural work like?


Mark Zawatski: Video, installation, performance and photography were part of my sculpture experience. I also made Fluxus-like collections and cases out of plexi glass that contained manufactured objects along with unique systems of hundreds of handmade objects constructed of wax, wire, paint and foam.

In 2008, I started making photograms of manufactured objects as a way of looking at simple image-making. Man Ray’s photograms always appealed to me for their simplicity, abstraction and beauty. There’s a sense of playfulness, performance and the passage of time captured in those pictures. This led to an interest in the process of making pictures.

Smith
2011
Digital photograph
36" x 36"

OPP: Are your composites made of photographs you actually took or are the thousands of images that go into each piece scavenged from other sources? How important is it that viewers recognize the objects?

MZ: I photographed the objects individually. Sometimes they are remnants of products I consumed or manufactured, transitory objects I acquired. I wanted to document the physical ephemera of everyday life: objects we've all seen and used many times before but probably overlooked. For example, the objects in Gothic are remnants of products I consumed over a three-year period. I limited the collection to white items made of plastic: lids from juice and milk bottles, contact lens solution caps, dish soap caps, eye drop caps and laundry soap caps.

2012
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: How is the process of creating the fields in Local Places (2013), which are made from "hundreds of manipulations of a single disposable drinking straw" different from the process of creating the Circles and Stars (2011-2012), which include a variety of objects?

MZ: Lines is the first series made from a single photograph of a drinking straw. The image was duplicated and placed into individual columns. I continued to make more and more parallel lines, altering their color as I went. Prior to this, my photographs contained “straight” digital images with no manipulation. Ultimately, these are photographic drawings with a nod to photo history and an emphasis on process through the repetitive duplication and hand placement of each drinking straw. The lines look machine perfect, but there are subtle variations among them.

In Lines, I was interested in how appearance and meaning often don’t match up or can be misleading and confusing. They are meant to be optical illusions, fields of confusion that pull your eye in different directions. I wanted to disrupt the expectations we bring to experiencing photographs, which traditionally rely on single point perspective and lead viewers to see or believe something specific. The Lines have a conversation with Bridget Riley paintings, but the illusion is made of simple yet realistic photographs.

The images in Local Places series are made by fusing two separate line fields to create a single picture that vibrates and moves reflecting how we attempt to reconcile both appearance and meaning simultaneously. I also wanted to make a connection between what we think of as local and impersonal mass-produced culture.

Circles and Stars were even more time consuming than creating the labor intensive Lines. Each image took between one and three months to create, and in some ways could be seen as performance pieces. The largest piece is made from over 1,000 images and required many repetitive yet unique movements. It was a significant challenge for me to stay focused on the work for so long. While I was making the work, I thought about the performance and conceptual aspects of work by artists like Agnes Martin and Richard Serra. But I was also thinking about Jeff Wall and questions of truth in photography. I wanted to examine the possibility of a manipulated digital photograph being a form of authenticity.

Top of The Falls
2013
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: Have you ever have any issues with carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis?

MZ: Haha. . . no, not yet. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve damaged my eyesight from staring at my computer screen for so long.

OPP: The compositions in Circles and Stars (2012-2013), Dots, and some pieces from Gothic (2011) reference mandalas. What brought you to that form?



MZ: A search for form led me to the circle. Maybe that’s a sculptural concern applied to photography, but a circle is a simple organizing structure. The Dots are meant to be simple pictures. Each one is composed of photographs of tiny, plastic discs. As photographs, the discs become reduced to pixels of color and are barely recognizable as actual objects. It’s the moment when a photograph becomes an abstraction.

While it wasn't my intention to reference a mandala with the circular pieces, I like how mandalas promote a meditative space both for the creator and the viewer. These pictures for me were about process. I wanted to create a photograph that would cause the viewer to do a double-take, to invite them to consider the handmade processes that go into making a digital photograph. 



Untitled
2012
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: All art manipulates the viewer, right? And all art media have authenticity. Why do you think people view digital photography as inauthentic? Do you think the average person still expects a photograph to be "true?"

MZ: Maybe it’s the simplicity of the technology that invites distrust. In just seconds and with minimal skill, a picture can be manipulated, its focus altered and its meaning changed.

The photography community still reinforces the notion that there is a truthful photography and a manipulated, false photography through competitions than ban manipulated works. I’ve heard the occasional story of a disqualified, winning photograph that is revealed to have a tiny bit of color adjustment. This is mirrored in the beliefs of most people who also make the same distinction between fake photography and real photography. But when you press people to define that boundary, when essentially all images are digital today, people are uncertain as to the criteria for digital truth. We are only a decade into consumer digital photography, and as in early photo history, people aren’t sure what they’re getting. Most people have no idea what a digital image is or how it’s created. But they can tell you that film is a piece of plastic with silver stuck to it, and that confers truth.

OPP: Does the prevalence of smartphone cameras and Instagram filters affect these perceptions at all?

MZ: Instant, online images only add to the anxiety. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are constantly having this conversation in our heads about the real or altered nature of pictures we consume. This skepticism has become an automatic response to digital images. Not that this is new. Since it’s inception, digital photography—like early color photography—has been disdained by the photographic community. So, there’s already a built-in bias. It’s only now that the technology has become integrated into our daily lives through smartphones and online content that we are confronted with the increasing frequency of these questions. Digital pictures are confusing to decipher and interpret. It’s this uncertainty that I’m investigating.

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Justin Margitich

Landscape Cache
2013
Pencil on paper
60'' x 84''

Bay Area artist JUSTIN MARGITICH combines undulating landscapes, the imagined angles of digital space and pure, geometric abstraction in an ongoing conflation of perspective, atmosphere and information. Justin received his BFA from California College of the Arts (2008) and his MFA from San Francisco Art Institute (2013). He is represented by Moskowitz Gallery in Los Angeles and has exhibited widely throughout the Bay Area. His solo exhibition Circuiting (2014) recently closed at City Limits Gallery in Oakland, California. You can see his work until May 28, 2014 in the two-person exhibition Atmospheres: Justin Margitich & Chris Iseri at Moskowitz Gallery in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You use a very particular drawing technique for some works, including Data Fragmentation (2012) and Data Fragmentation 2 (2013). What exactly is silverpoint? Why do you choose this technique?

Justin Margitich: Silverpoint is a Medieval/Renaissance drawing technique that uses silver or other metals such as gold or copper instead of the graphite that is most common today. Usually the metal comes in a stick or wire form in varying widths and lengths, and you insert it into a stylus of some sort. It functions the same as a pencil but has a much lighter touch and tonal value. It is most often used for underdrawings and sketches. After much experimentation, I decided to use the process in a slightly unorthodox way. I work on wood panel, making many passes and cross-hatches to build up the surface. After a few days, the surface oxidizes and turns slightly yellow. In person, you can see that the oxidization of the silver refracts and absorbs the light in very captivating ways.

Disassembling Landscape
2012
Pencil on paper
60'' x 88''

OPP: The quality that is most compelling to me in your landscapes is the ordered chaos of the lines. I can see the presence of the landscape, but most pieces transcend physical space and become metaphoric landscapes for me. They could be internal spaces of struggle and growth. But I also gather from titles like Landscape Cache IV (2014) and Assembling Landscape VIII (2010) that these are conglomerates of many landscapes. What are the inspirations or sources for for these drawings? 


JM: Your observations are very apt. I look at a lot of landscape paintings, especially those that were made before art demonstrated a full understanding of perspective. Bruegel and Bosch seem to have a naïve conception of perspective in some of their landscapes. This may or may not be so, but when three or more wonky perspectives are included in one landscape it makes for a disorienting and space-defying world. So when you say they transcend physical space, you are on to something. And yes, they are also like conglomerates. I think of cropping, deleting, cutting and pasting. I use digital or computer jargon to elucidate the themes in the work. I want the viewer to stay and explore. If s/he comes away a little unbalanced or disoriented, then that’s good too.

I sometimes think of the drawings as analogous to early video games: scroll-like, two-dimensional spaces (with some three-dimensional objects) that can be traversed. I am interested in drawing comparisons between the physical and the virtual. Both the physical landscape and virtual spaces are dense with information. I think a lot about the web and digital tech as a facsimile of the natural world and its rhizomatic or decentralized organizing principles.

Disassembling Landscape II
2013
Pencil on panel
49'' x 72''

OPP: There appears to be a subtle shift in your compositions around 2010. The soft, undulating lines are supplanted by more angles and straight lines. Can you talk about this change?

JM: The older drawings were not planned out but radiate from a single point and move out organically from there. They are a simulation of the meme-like growth and process of unfolding that takes place in natural systems. The newer, harder-edged drawings are emerge from a mechanized approach: a cut and paste, copy and repeat system.

Circuit #24
2013
Various metal points and acrylic on sandpaper
9'' x 11''

OPP: You just had a solo show of new paintings at City Limits Gallery in Oakland. The work in Circuiting represents a new direction for you. Tell us about the show. How did the new work grow out of the older work?

JM: Yes, the newer paintings are quite different from the previous work, but they are connected. The small paintings are on black sandpaper. When I was sharpening the metal silverpoint tools on the sandpaper, I found that the various metals rubbed off as subtle colors. The effect was different than when these tools were used as intended. This discovery was a starting point for what eventually developed into a full body of work. The idea of a circuit is a play on the metal point, as a sort of conductor of energy or electricity. I tried to mirror this with the electric and chromatic colors. I see these paintings as individual icons or pictograms that could be communicative. Each one is like a prototype of language without phonetic words, like a glyph with multiple meanings and interpretations.

Since the drawings usually contain a whole bunch of dense information, I do use the same images over and over. The best example I can think of would be from Landscape Cache II. There is a large rectangular and empty shape on the middle right. I lifted this section and singled it out as a new drawing called Cached Landscape. I am planning on doing a series based on this idea. The crowded objects from the dense landscapes will be stripped away and one central object will be the focus.

Circuitous #8
2014
Acrylic on panel
18'' x 24''

OPP: I've noticed that I get a little depressed right after a big solo exhibition closes. It only lasts a little while. I've learned to expect it and channel my energies away from my studio for a temporary period of time until I'm recharged. It feels a little like taking an extended, metaphoric nap. Do you experience this downswing? If so, what do you do to deal with it?

JM: Especially after two shows, that comes on. At the same time as the City Limits show in Oakland, I also had a show of newer drawings at Moskowitz Gallery in Los Angeles. Every time I have felt this downswing—after a show or just after making sub-par work—a new and totally unexpected way of thinking or working arose. I probably should take a break, but I usually don't.  Just by keeping up production, I eventually fall back into making satisfying work again. It is a good opportunity to evaluate the work done for the show and, depending on that evaluation, either begin a new body of work or continue to flesh out the working idea. I see the Circuiting series as complete. Now that the exhibition is over, I am slightly altering the process and media. I'm keeping the fundamental idea but slowly adding two or three new themes. I have found that this process, after many failures on the way, usually leads to a new working method that I can keep until I have made a sufficient amount of new work.

To see more of Justin's work, please visit justinmargitich.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Melissa Manfull

Rising & Falling
2013
Ink, gouache, graphite on panel
40" x 60"

MELISSA MANFULL draws together the domains of nature, culture and the spirit in her densely patterned abstractions in ink, gouache and graphite. Her compellingly ambiguous spaces combine otherworldly architecture, geologic formations, the geometry of sacred spaces like cathedrals and mosques and the manipulative order of game design and graphic design. Melissa received her MFA in 2002 from Concordia University in Montreal. She has mounted three solo exhibitions at Taylor de Cordoba in Culver City, California: Tesseracts (2009), Pattern Constraints (2010) and Schemata (2013). Melissa’s work can currently be seen in two group shows: Thin Space at Fuller Seminary (Pasadena, California) through May 5, 2014 and Temporal Residue at Keystone Gallery (Los Angeles) from April 19-30, 2014. Melissa lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Sometimes your drawings reference architecture, sometimes landscapes. Other times, they look like the insides of temples and sometimes the insides of pinball machines. How are all these seemingly disparate types of space connected?

Melissa Manfull: I am interested in controlled space, specifically how architecture or human intervention dominates the chaos of natural environments and phenomena. Architecture mitigates our experiences of space and the horizon. It is an intermediary structure that connects sky and land. I use drawing to experiment with space and structure without the constraints of gravity and perceived reality.

Each individual body of work focuses on a specific theme and is informed by an aesthetic, theoretical or topical interest. These have ranged from an interest in the aesthetics of science fiction or mystic architecture from the Southwest to the aesthetics of game design. Over the years, the drawings have shifted from observing architecture from an exterior viewpoint towards an interest in flipping between interior and exterior positions. Schemata’s focus was on the enclosed space of a game, which is a relationship between the interior mind of the player and the interior space of the game. Formally, I play with the depth or ambiguity of the space depicted in the drawing.

Untitled A Frame
2012
Ink on paper
18" x 24"

OPP: Is the meditative act of drawing only the process that drives your work or is it also the content?

MM: Both are very important to me as an artist, and the process is directly related to the content of my work. I develop my drawings in a very controlled, consistent order. From beginning to end, the process is almost mechanical; drawing is the one place where I can control, predict and order the whole experience. First, I research my chosen topic and collect visuals related to the content. Then I plan out the drawing, execute it in pen and ink in the color. The drawing and inking stages are very meditative.

I listen to audio books related to the theme of the drawing. I like to imagine the books are somehow woven into the drawing or affect the choices I make in the process. While working on the drawings from my 2009 show Tessaracts—both the title of a science fiction novel and a geometric form—I listened to books that dealt with time shifts and time travel. I have an underlying interest in dimensional portals, 11 dimensions of string theory and the aesthetics of science fiction. While working on Plato's Cave, Arch, Stylobate and Portico, I listened to Margret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, among others.

Study for Ludic Space
2013
Ink on paper mounted panel
14" x 11"

OPP: I've witnessed the attitude many times—and I 100% disagree—that pattern, ornament and decoration are insignificant and superficial. Even beauty is sometimes dismissed as not meaningful enough. Have you ever had the experience of your work being dismissed with the descriptor "decorative?"

MM: My work has actually been described as difficult to look at in person. The decorative elements of the work are so dense and obsessively drawn that there’s more a sense of horror than pleasure. This is also changing in my current work. Recently I’ve been using a heightened color palette with fluorescents to create a more challenging visual experience. The drawings are still dense and decorative, but now they have an electric glow which makes it difficult for the viewers’ eyes to focus. The decorative is also a form of order. I am interested in logical, mathematical patterns, such as tessellations, as well as optical and geometric patterns that mesmerize or hypnotize. So, the decorative is a large part of the content.

I do agree that decoration and pattern are sometimes an easy way of not having content and that using it so predominantly puts my work in a position of being viewed as commercial or illustrative. I am okay with this because I feel confident that my work transcends this category and uses pattern in a meaningful way, creating a synergy between the disparate worlds of fine art, the decorative and the graphic.

Colony
2010
Ink on paper
16" x 18"

OPP: The press release for your 2010 solo show Pattern Constraints states: "Due to the obsessive nature of her process, Manfull has often viewed the meditative act of drawing as a way to approach her fear of vast, open ended space (the unknown). By creating her minute sculptural drawings, she gives this abyss a meaning and in essence, gains control." How does this “control” show up in a new way in your most recent exhibition Schemata (2013) at Taylor De Cordoba Gallery (Culver City, California)?

MM: For many years, my drawing style involved imposing a structure on an empty space or on less controlled forms (for example, poured ink forms, which were symbolic of chaos). But now, I am more interested in exploring forms of visual control in society and the relationship between power, manipulation and pleasure. It is still related to the chaos/control relationship, but it is more specifically about corporate, graphic design as a visual language that is used to manipulate.

In Schemata, I was interested in how games hypnotize and entrance the viewer with color and form. The theory behind game design relates to the intentions of architects of spiritual spaces—Gaudi is an example. Both have a visual logic with designated points that manipulate the player into making certain decisions. Squares, circles and triangles move game players’ eyes around the space, leading them on designated paths to preconceived outcomes. There are points of choice, possible actions and payoffs, as well as elements of addiction like relapse. I used these ideas to create compositions or abstracted versions of the original games. Symmetry, patterning and the golden ratio were all a part of designing these works and relate back to geometry found in spiritual spaces.

Point of Choice: No Possible Action
2013
Ink, gouache, graphite on panel
40" x 60"

OPP: Could you say more about the overlap of the aesthetics of game design and of sacred spaces?

MM: Geometry has always been a recurring theme in my work. My initial interest in architecture became abstracted into patterning and design, which are forms of order, logic and control. I began to research the relationships between geometry and sacred spaces like cathedrals and mosques, which were designed to inspire awe and explore the human relationship to the infinite. As an atheist, I want to understand how and why geometry and logical forms inspire such a reaction. The geometry found in the rose windows and spires of cathedrals, in the tile design of mosques and in mandalas is referred to as sacred geometry. Basic geometric forms are imbued with meaning specific to each religion or spiritual belief system. There are certain shapes that lend themselves to this—the circle (infinite perfection), the square (balanced symmetry) and the triangle (male/female duality in Hinduism). I use these forms with an acknowledgment that they have very significant historical references.

To see more of Melissa's work, please visit melissamanfull.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor 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 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.