OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Antoine Williams

Because They Believe in Unicorns
Surplus WW II military tents, wood, thread, marker, collage and acrylic on Sheetrock
120"x 48"x120"
2016

Both the vulnerability and the strength of the Black body are highlighted in ANTOINE WILLIAMS' ink drawings on velum, collages, paintings and black and white wheat-paste installations on white walls. Inspired by personal experiences of a rural, working-class upbringing in the South and by themes of Otherness in sci-fi literature, he presents a catalogue of nameless, faceless beings. Part human/part animal/part stereotype/part racial trope, each is a conglomeration of signifiers of race, class and masculinity. Antoine earned his BFA in Art with a concentration in illustration from UNC-Charlotte in 2003 and his MFA in Studio Art from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014. In 2015 he was a recipient of the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant, and in 2016 he was a Southern Constellations Fellow at Elsewhere in Greensboro, North Carolina. His recent solo exhibitions include The Wound and the Knife (2015) at Sumter County Gallery of Art (Sumter, South Carolina) and Something in the Way of Things (2014) at the John and June Alcott Gallery in Chapel Hill. His work is on view in Dress Up, Speak Up: Costume and Confrontation at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham through July 2017. Antoine is an Assistant Professor at Guilford College in Greensboro and lives in Chapel Hill.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I want to be transparent that I’m a White artist interviewing a Black artist who explores the image and experience of the Black body in his work. I ask questions based on what I see, but what I see is through the sometimes-unconscious lens of Whiteness. Is there anything that non-Black viewers repeatedly misinterpret about your work? In your experience, do Black viewers see different things than non-Black viewers?

Antoine Williams: I believe that everyone brings something different when viewing the work. However due to the shared experience of most Black people there does seem to be some overlap in the response to the work. When it comes to non-Black viewers, I’m less concerned if the work is being misinterpreted but more concerned with the thought process that leads to one’s conclusion. I make the work somewhat vague and open-ended to invite a more honest response because I want to embrace the various interpretations of signifiers. It’s less about what I’m trying to tell you about my experience and more about exploring how this imagery makes you feel.

5
Ink on vellum
14"x18"
2016

OPP: I feel empathetic, sad, angry and uncomfortable. I think about the way Black people have been victimized in America and how they stand up for themselves. I think about how monstrousness (i.e. otherness) is projected onto Black people by mainstream media and law enforcement and about how constantly being on the defensive affects a human. The figures are often hunched, as if in pain or preparing to fight. They have grown horns and sharp teeth with which to protect themselves. Are these figures metaphors for an embodied, emotional experience or renderings of a potential evolution?

AW: The more humanistic figures—the ones usually draped in clothing—reflect the day-to-day burdens with respect the race and class, which have become normalized. The horn protrusions can be viewed as either a weapon for either aggression or a means of protection. However, the use doesn’t matter because the horns exist as result of an environment and system that has produced them.

Some of the more animalistic figures are creatures born out of attitudes and actions around race and class. They’re a part of a contemporary mythos of the Black experience. Indifference and fear lead to policies and public sentiment that negatively affect Black people and communities of color. Policies that promote housing discrimination, mass incarceration and decades of over-policing to keep the fear of the other at bay, I believe, have lead to the high profile shootings of Tamir Rice in Ohio or just recently the deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Keith Lamont Scott right here in my home state of North Carolina. Like the protest in Charlotte, these creatures are born out of years of animus and neglect for entire communities.

Collage series
Ink and found paper on wood
8"x10"
2015

OPP: You talk about the figures in your work as “creatures, hybrid-like human-animal deities.” I’m struck by the fact that these figures never have human faces or heads, unless those heads are bound or covered—sometimes by choice and sometimes by force, as in The Ain't Gots no. II (For Freddie Gray) (2016). Why no faces?

AW: There are no faces because I’m speaking about systems, not individuals. We are witnessing how the Black bodies are reacting to these systems.

OPP: In what way are they deities?

AW: These are not deities in that they are worshiped in the traditional sense, but they rule in a transitional space that exists between race and class. I do view them as gods but as god of the gaps. They are created from attitudes towards race, and class. Indifference and apathy are attributed to them.

Originally Filipino mythology got me interested in this current body of work. More recently, the H.P. Lovecraft mythos has been greatly influential to my work. Lovecraft, most well know for his Cthulhu series, is a writer of sci-fi or cosmic horror. He has created this complex mythos of gods, creatures and cultures. His work is beautifully written, yet very problematic in that Lovecraft was a racist whose views seeped into his work. He had this disdain and fear of the other. His works in a sense are a metaphor for white supremacy.

Knife and the Wound
Acrylic, collage, ink, graphite on canvas
84"x 60"
2015

OPP: In installations, you merge three-dimensional materials—Seatbelt straps, wooden stakes, plastic sheeting, fake flowers, extension cords, beer cans and Sheetrock—with your drawings. Can you talk about what pops off the wall versus what stays flat?

AW: I merge the three-dimensional object with flat imagery to emphasize that it is, in reality, a drawing—an illusion of Black bodies. These flat representations of Black people are often how we are perceived in society. However, the three-dimensional objects invade the viewer’s space and draw them in. The actual experiences of Black people and the culture we create are often separate. Think about hip-hop and the inequities within the communities where this culture originated.

OPP: What about your placement of the wheat paste drawings hovering in the empty, white field of the gallery wall, as in Future Perfect (2015) and The Ain’t Gots (2016)?

AW: When I first started drawing these figures, they were often on a very busy and colorful surface where they could easily get lost so you would have to really work to see them as whole. In a gallery, the contrasting white surface or void is disrupted, forcing one to focus on this Black body. Plus these creatures exist in an in-between space, so the white wall supports that. Also, aesthetically I like working with the negative space created by shapes of the bodies.

The Ain't Gots no. II (installation shot)
Wheat-paste, wood, seat belt straps, plastic, And1 shorts on Sheetrock
36 'x 12'
2016

OPP: Tell us about your most recent installation Because They Believe in Unicorns (2016). We’ve seen the form in the center of the room in other installations and drawings, but it is always attached to the head and shoulders of a human body. The representational body has disappeared, but of course it is still there in the bound, hanging form made from Surplus WW II military tents, wood and thread.

AW: The piece is installed at the Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC where I did a residency this past summer. I had just finished reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and wanted to look at this ideal of racial indifference, which is spoken about at length in the book. This piece was also started the week after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The War on Drugs and over policing which has led to mass incarceration which has created a new underclass of citizens consisting of most Black and Brown men are allow to exist not because of racial aggression but rather racial indifference or color blindness. The ideal of not seeing color or color not mattering in a nation with America’s past is a myth, like a unicorn. Belief in this myth allows for white supremacy and other racial inequities to persist.

The piece itself is an entire body. Therefore I didn’t believe having a representation body was necessary. I wanted the form and shape of the figure to reference something that was alive.The figure is my version of a unicorn; a Black person who’s blackness is not relevant. The figure is constructed of WWII tents, a reference to America romanticizing war. In this case the War on Drugs. I wanted to play with the perception of whether the figure is being elevated or hung.

To see more of Antoine's work, please visit rawgoods.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 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work is on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPIxels Interviews JenMarie Zeleznak

Take These Words Pulled From Me Tied To You
2014
watercolor pencil on paper

JENMARIE ZELEZNAK’s precisely rendered wild animals hover, float, cavort and caress in empty white fields, surrounded by angular, geodesic line drawings that represent energetic halos, communication and connection with the unseen forces of the universe. For her, wolves, deer, hares and foxes—to name just a few of her subjects—are not just stand-ins for humans. They are a “medium for the expression of the self, yet they retain their own autonomy,” emphasizing a shared experience of being between humans and other animals. JenMarie received her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and her BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art. In 2015, her work was acquired by the National Museum of Wildlife Art for their permanent collection. JenMarie is represented by Diehl Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming and Søren Christensen Gallery in New Orleans, and Visions West Contemporary in Denver, Colorado, where she will have her gallery debut in BOUNDLESS, opening on October 7, 2016. She teaches at Lakeland Community College and Youngstown State University. JenMarie currently lives and works at the Tower Press Building in Cleveland, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Looking back at your archive of work, I see a trajectory of moving from expressionistic abstraction—I was completely mistaken (2007) and this is only a temporary solution (2006)—to hazy, atmospheric landscapes—Remove Me From This Deception That I Called Love and Awaiting The Burden Of Loss, both 2007— to your newer, more precisely rendered drawings and paintings of animals in empty space. These bodies of work look very different, but every piece seems to be an emotional metaphor. Please walk us through the shifts in style and content you use to explore our emotional worlds.

JenMarie Zeleznak: As an undergrad at the Cleveland Institute of Art, I struggled with drawing. When I began in 2004, they were shifting from their traditional program to something more theoretical and conceptually-based. From my perspective, the emphasis on traditional drawing and painting techniques got lost in that transition. At least I felt the effects of that. As a painting major with terrible drawing skills, I was exploring what came intuitively to me in regards to expression. With focus on process rather than image, I explored color and atmosphere in a way that allowed me to release inward expressions. These expressions tended to revolve around themes of loss, death, withdrawal and melancholy, as that was my state of mind at the time.

But after a few years, I felt burdened by the fact that I could not draw. Nothing came out how I imagined it, which was disappointing and unsatisfying. I wanted to explore another visual language that included representations of actual things. I am not sure where this desire for imagery came from, but I began to explore other subject matter like boxes that resembled graves or coffins, string-like forms that were metaphors for broken connections and animals. I remember a conversation with one of my professors during a studio visit in 2008. She asked me, if I had to chose between the boxes and other imagery or the animals, what would I choose? My answer was, well duh, of course the animals. I never looked back.

Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt
2012
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: So you started as a painter, but now drawing dominates your practice. How did you finally tackle drawing as a medium?

JZ: I never really addressed my drawing problems until grad school. I had always considered myself a painter, not a drawer. My sketchbook was filled with words and poetry, not sketches. I absolutely refused to draw. I despised it. When I decided to apply to grad school, I found myself getting rejection after rejection—extremely disappointing considering I had just completed 5 years of art school. As a last hope I applied to Savannah College of Art and Design. I was accepted but with conditions. I had to take “remedial” drawing and painting before I was accepted into the program. I was completely baffled by this and tried to appeal it twice with no success. Little did I know, those two “remedial” courses would change my world. I met two of the most amazing professors that spoke to me in a way that I could understand; they understood my needs in a way that was almost unspoken. They were challenging, yet encouraging and supportive. I learned more about drawing and painting in a semester than I did my five years in undergrad. I found myself trading in the oil paints and canvas for watercolor pencils and paper.

OPP: What has changed since grad school?

JZ: In grad school, I became more aware of the decisions I was making to ultimately convey meaning. I noticed I had seemed to set up some strict “rules” for myself: the animal has to be approximately to scale, for relatability, which dictates the dimensions of the piece, and I only draw animals I have had a personal experience or connection with. Throughout my work, I do not desire to depict the natural world. When I take the animals out of their original contexts and into a blank space, it suggests an emotional, inward space of the mind—a space between thinking and being.

I spent a lot of time alone and isolated in grad school when I created Lovesick: The Psychological Animal body of work. My depictions of animals during that time tend to reflect my isolation and longing for connection. I actually struggled to create work for quite some time after grad school. My mental and emotional state had changed and my perspective on the world was changed as well. I spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and writing between 2012 and 2014. I knew I wanted my work to have a more “positive” feeling but I didn’t know what that looked like. I experienced a spiritual awakening in 2013 that changed my perception of the world around me. I became heavily interested in astronomy, science, spirituality and nature. I spent a lot of time looking up at the sky on a clear night. I found myself lost in the stars. I began to feel energy and almost see it manifested within the interactions of everything around me. I felt so deeply connected to everything. The Universe became my source of love, protection and guidance. I had no doubts. Around this time, my work shifted direction and the geometric shapes in various formations, which I refer to as star maps, appeared.

I Never Said I Was Brave, No. 2
2016
watercolor pencil on paper
35"x45"

OPP: I was going to ask about those angular, line drawings. They make me think of 3D rendering programs or geodesic structures, and they read differently in different drawings. Some times they seems like energetic halos, as in These Dialogue Stars, No. 2 (2016); sometimes they seem like communication, language or sound, as in Talking to the Moon, Trying to Get to You (2013). How do they relate to the animals?


JZ: I appreciate your understanding that. They are connections of stars from NASA imagery. Obviously there are an infinite number of stars in an isolated image of the Universe. I try and not think too hard about what visible stars I will connect but try to place as many “dots” as I can in a random way. I then spend time copying those dots and connecting them in certain ways based on the animal gesture and imagery. Usually when I begin a drawing, I have a general sense of the placement of the star map, but that can change as I go along.

The animals in my drawings find themselves in introspective emotional and spiritual situations. The star maps serve as a visual for the invisible energy that is felt, but not seen by the animal subject. However, we as viewers are witness to both. We are onlookers of someone else experiencing something deeply or going through an emotional moment. We can see how the energy affects them. Maybe it is protecting them, or it is a fleeting moment of clarity. Perhaps they are experiencing desire or lack of desire, or they are experiencing unreciprocated feelings in a romantic relationship. Sometimes they are feeling trapped and fighting themselves, or maybe they are simply calling out in a surrender, to connect with something larger than themselves. . . calling out for help, for anyone.

The Ends of These Reaching Arms Need the Touch of Something Real
2011

OPP: Tell us a bit about your drawing process.

JZ: There is a disconnect for me when using a paintbrush. The pencil and paper are much more satisfying and intimate, although drawing does still make me feel awkward, incapable and embarrassed at times. I feel much more vulnerable and exposed when drawing. When I begin, anxious scribbles and neurotic mark-making hastily fill in the animal form. I work with watercolor pencils in a manner both sensitive and crude, using my saliva and sweat, hands and fingers, to manipulate the material onto paper. This personal and direct connection, much like caressing or grooming an animal, gives me the intimacy I need in the work as I bring in the animal into being.

This process was essentially discovered by accident; little did I know it would become so crucial to my process. I sat down to play around with the watercolor pencils and realized I didn’t have water or a brush in my vicinity. Too lazy to get up, I just smeared it around with the lick of my finger pushing around the pigment on the paper. When I finally had a brush and water, it was not the same thing, nor did it create the same effect. It was sort of embarrassing, and I was very secretive about my process for quite some time. I never really wanted anyone to know how my drawings were made. Once I began to understand how important it was to my process and feelings about my subjects, I started to understand there was nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it makes my work quite unique in that way.

I Was Swimming Through The Waves, For What Must Have Been Days
2016
watercolor pencil on paper
30"x30"

OPP: Your titles are very poetic and they contextualize the imagery or abstraction as relating to inner experiences of the outer world. You even reuse titles. When do titles show up in your process? 


JZ: My titles are very important to me. Generally they are generated at the end after the piece is completed, though I may have some ideas in mind beforehand. I have reused a few titles from many years ago, as I still feel connected to the words in the same way even though the form is different. Lately, I find that the same feeling is often extended over multiple pieces, telling an evolving story. While I am not really a fan of the whole “No. 1, No. 2, No. 3” thing in titles, I often find myself creating a new work that is almost a continuation of the previous piece. I’m not one to just not title something or hardly give a title any thought. It could take days or weeks after finishing a piece to think of a title. I choose my words carefully and make sure they help contextualize the work for the viewer. I’ll repeat the titles in my head over days and glance over at the piece waiting for it to tell me, “yes, that’s it, that’s the one.” When it’s the right one, even if it means reusing titles, it just clicks and there’s no doubt in my mind about it. I just have to go with it.

Trying To Get Back There, No. 3
2015
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: Can you talk about twining and/or pairing in your work?


JZ: I understand my works as self-portraits. The imagery, when in pairs, generally speaks to confronting the self. Internal struggle is like a battle in my own head. But just as often, I think about social and romantic relationships when I pair animals. I desire love, attention, intimacy and affection from another and my life is pretty void of that. Intimacy is hard and scary—at least in my recent experiences. Some of my animals seem as though they are being rejected or have lost a connection or their feelings are left unreciprocated, though I never intentionally anthropomorphize them.

I never work from a direct source where two animals are already together. What interests me is combining two animals from different source material into a new image as if they were that way all along. It is crucial that I do not alter their expressions or gestures, so it usually takes some time to find the right pair to speak to one another. They may appear to be “twins,” but they have slight and subtle differences that make them unique. I enjoy that ambiguity. Each work can be about the self and the other or about the self and the self.

I Can Hear It In Your Sigh
2016
watercolor pencil on paper
30"x30"

OPP: Using animals to explore our emotional needs as humans in relationship, whether romantic, platonic or familial, is a reminder that we are in fact animals. Our emotional needs are biological. . . part of our animal brains. But our culture often emphasizes our separateness, our superiority to animals. Why do you think this is?

JZ: Humans have created an artificial boundary between ourselves and other animals. The unique capacity of the human mind is one of the few things that separates us from other animals. This is the conceptual foundation upon which evolution has been built. We have created the illusion of control through mental concepts, embedding in the human mind that animals have no control over their own lives or minds. We have imposed so many thoughts and concepts onto the animal that there seems to be no way of viewing the animal as purely autonomous. Through eons of exploitation and misunderstanding, there is an inability to accept their condition of existence as similar to our own.

Humans have to “transform” an animal into a human being in order to attempt to understand the other. Otherwise, it just remains entirely other. We attach our own consciousness to animals and auto-affectedly respond with human emotions towards them, treating them as though they were capable of response. This is essentially an act of anthropomorphism, which perpetuates a satisfying relationship with those we desire to know but are not able to understand.

It's Almost Like We've Died Entwined In That Way We Are
2013
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: How do you avoid the pitfall of anthropomorphizing your subjects?

JZ: Though my depictions of animals might appear personified, I’m strictly interested in honoring actual gestures and expressions as they are documented, so as to maintain the authenticity of the animal’s condition of being. It is extremely important to me that I do not alter the gestures or expressions of my source material. I proclaim the animals as autonomous and self-referential, but also as an emblem of the human condition.

As Derrida once said, “We are not ourselves without representations that mediate us, and it is through those representations that emotions get felt.” The animal is the medium through which I attempt to articulate and reflect on my own experiences. The intimacy and empathetic nature of my process speaks to my fidelity towards the animal as emotive and autonomous, just as my fidelity towards the expression of my emotions and personal experiences speaks to the human condition. I believe it is in that duality that there is room to think about psychological and social issues concerning both the human and the animal.

To see more of JenMarie's work, please visit jenmariezeleznak.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 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work is on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Snow Yunxue Fu

Still
2016
Video Installation, Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology

SNOW YUNXUE FU’s experimental animation and installations explore the digital Sublime, liminality and multidimensionality. She moves her viewers through virtual space, which has the capacity to be both gargantuan or minuscule in size, complicating our perception of physical space. She simultaneously grounds them in the tangible world by combining animation and architectural interventions in the gallery. Snow holds two BFAs, one from Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (2009) and the other from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2011). She also earned a BA from Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu, China and went on to earn her MFA in Film, Video, New Media and Animation from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2014), where she is currently a lecturer. Her solo exhibitions include Tunnel at Mana Contemporary (Chicago, 2015) and Still at Yellow Peril Gallery (Providence, Rhode Island, 2015). Most recently, her work was included in Abstract Mind: the International Exhibition on Abstract Art (CICA Museum, South Korea, 2016) and Group Format at Logan Square Arts Festival (Chicago, 2016). Through September 30, 2016, her work is on view in Vision and Perspective: Chinese-American Art Faculty Exhibition at Hongli Cheng Art Museum in Guizhou, Guiyang, China. Snow lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your background in Painting.

Snow Yunxue Fu: I grew up with two art educators as parents and a grandfather who was a well-known Chinese traditional painter and sculptor. I was painting as long as I can remember. I worked with Chinese ink painting, acrylic and oil pastel throughout my childhood, painting anything from abstraction to figurative. As a child, that was very much part of my life. Art is how I reflected what I saw during the day and processed things I experienced.

However, there was a break from art in my teenage years, mostly because of the heavy load of Chinese academic work from school. Plus, I had a bit of a rebellious period where, due to family pressure to continue the trade and become an art star, I resented the idea and focused on English. This actually paid off, since I came full circle in the States. It was not until I came to America for college that I started to paint again (on my own terms) and finally majored in oil painting. In my many undergraduate years, I was mainly a painter, but also had a multidisciplinary background in sculpture and photography before making the leap into Experimental 3D and installation.

Ray 1
April 2016

OPP: What led to that leap?

SYF: On a whim, I took this intro to Experimental 3D course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was very different from my normal practice, but I found myself relating to it. What I had been hoping to express and explore in painting seemed to suddenly be freed and made possible through the limitlessness of virtual reality. It was like a light coming on or a door opening, and I never looked back. However, I brought with me a painter’s sensibility and process. I quickly replaced my canvas and paintbrushes with software like Maya and Realflow, and moved more and more into intentional abstraction. 

The main conversations in the painting world were not so connected to what I was trying to explore conceptually. Painting seemed burdened by always carrying around centuries of conversation and baggage. One would almost have to choose to fully carry that baggage or find a way to creatively dismiss it all to explore what one wished. Yet, when I came to 3D experimental animation, it was like a sudden discovery of a better language.

It was definitely a younger medium and virtual reality had yet to be explored in the art world. The conversation was more energetic. I think the painter in me will never die, but, as in my real life, one language may work better than another to express myself. With each language you learn, new perspectives are available to you to explore. Some languages seem naturally related to one another, and the language of installation was a natural progression from 3D work, as it is often projected into architectural space.

Figment
Experimental 3D Animation
July 2016

OPP: When looking at your work, I definitely bring the associations of non-art uses of 3D animation that I’ve encountered: scientific illustrations of the Big Bang and planetary movement, representations of the microscopic goings-on in our bodies, video games, CGI in Sci-fi movies. Do these references support or distract from your “Kantian quest to capture the experience of the sublime through the limited means of human consciousness especially within the contexts of the multi-faceted contemporary technological society”?

SYF: That is a really good question, and one that I have wrestled with. If I am talking to someone even slightly out of contemporary art circles, when I say I work with 3D animation, nine times out of ten, their response is, “Oh yah! Like Pixar and Toy Story, right?”  In contemporary art making, one has to take into consideration the commercial context of the medium they work with, especially with a medium so widely used in mainstream culture. By selecting 3D animation as an artistic tool, mainstream’s perception of it is unavoidable, but I actually do welcome that, especially as a starting point for conversation.

Some of the earliest comments of my work were, “It looks sci-fi,” and that the color choices were commercial – bright and beautiful. I like the notion that aspects of what is familiar in the mainstream become abstracted aspects in my work. I like John Chamberlain and the Pop artists, who used relatable images or objects in an abstracted way to draw viewers into greater perceptions and awareness beyond their mainstream selves.

Still
2016
Video Installation, Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology

OPP: In your recent installation Still (2016) at the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College, viewers were confronted by a floor-to-ceiling rift in the gallery wall, through which they could watch an animated video. Viewers could both peer directly into this rift or step back to experience how light and color from the video affected the atmosphere in the gallery. A rift can be dangerous, but it can also provide a new point of view. Could you talk about how you think about the rift?

SYF: A rift or gap to me is a starting point. It indicates new possibilities.

Still, as an architectural video installation project, finds Edwin Abbott’s novel, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, as a primary inspiration. The story centers on a 2D geometric character, Mr. Square, who lives in a land of flatness. Through a series of encounters with a three-dimensional being, known as Sphere, he discovers a greater reality outside of his own 2D perception. Through some considerable yet considerate prodding from Sphere, Mr. Square begins to explore 3D space, and learns to adjust his perspective of himself.

In my installations, as for Mr. Square, the seemingly infinite world within virtual reality has to be made into something we can relate to in our world. I found the relationship between the infinite virtual world and the need for scale to be ripe with symbolism for our physical selves in relation to new perspectives, the infinite, and the sublime. To bring moving images into space, where the physicality of the images (size, ratio, brightness, and depth) have a relationship with the viewer’s body. The size of the viewer’s body becomes their basis for relating to the infinite virtual world, where the limitation of their height and the distance of their vantage point become rulers, which they measure the infinite realm suggested in the projections or screens.

Rift
April 2016
Experimental 3D animation for single-channel projection

OPP: Is it a metaphor?

SYF: My work offers a metaphor for the human being’s existential relationship to the larger world. Extending out from the pictorial and expanding into the land of virtual reality. The projections and installations become metaphors for the human physical perception, by which the quality of the sublime is framed, inviting the viewer to physically and mentally enter into a liminal Gordon Matta Clark-like interior within a digitally constructed space.

In the same way abstract work can at times appear cosmic yet microscopic, the experience of the viewer encountering the liminal space can be a metaphor for our perceptions related to our practical relationships with each other, not just our cosmic existential relationship to all of reality. Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we have to choose to accept our limitations to grasp realities beyond them. This, to me, is something very relevant today. For example, with the racial strife happening in the U.S. right now, both sides have to strive and choose to move beyond perceptions they were born into and arrive at a greater understanding, one that celebrates their uniqueness, but moves into a new and greater realization of what they need to do to end the problem. Approaching and exploring such rifts can be dangerous, but it is necessary. To acknowledge the rift, and to begin exploring its untold wonder, is to acknowledge we are on the other side. Like in the cave, people can resist this vehemently, but for those who reach, they begin a process of discovery that we need in contemporary global culture.

Access
Experimental 3D Animation
September 2012

OPP: How do you approach sound in your work? Some animations have it and others don’t.

SYF: As a former painter, sound was not an immediate concern going into 3D. Now it is quite obvious. Sound continues to be an area of exploration for me. My process is quite intuitive, so there are times sound seems to be a natural extension of the work and other times not. Like with mainstream viewers’ perception of 3D animation, media natives that have experienced digital media and sound from near birth, tend to expect sound when they see a moving image. Whether sound is or is not used, its presence or absence can help viewers arrive at a particular awareness of themselves in relation to the work.

When I do use sound, I usually start with recording environmental sound or I use recordings from various sources and then edit them on software like Logic. I find there is a draw for my work to combine sounds at opposite ends of the spectrum – sound based in the environment and sound that is fully synthetic. And that relates somehow to the experience I want my viewers to have: either fully immersed in the visual and audible elements of my work, or stopping to explore why there is not sound and how it relates.

Solid 4
Experimental 3D animation still
January 2015

OPP: Does your exploration of an abstracted “digital realm” have implications for the way digital technologies are embedded in our everyday lives?

SYF: Definitely. The majority of digital technology has practical uses in our daily routines. How can I do this efficiently? How can I get this information the fastest? How can I connect with this group of people? These questions are often answered by “looking down”, focused on a specific place in time, a screen, an app, a watch. It very much reflects a western capitalist consumerism, though, in my work, I am more fascinated with the idea of conjuring an experience of the infinite in nature – like what happened when you saw the ocean for the first time or climbed to the top of a peak. These experiences reflect the questions we face when our finite selves meet the infinite. The digital virtual world parallels this stage. Everything in the virtual world is made up of singular finite 0’s and 1’s, yet they grant the virtual world infiniteness, as in Maya where the X, Y, and Z axes extend forever. The digital realm, therefore, is an excellent platform to hold conversations about the significance of our personal/interpersonal and existential/everyday selves.

To see more of Snow's work, please visit snowyunxuefu.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Elisabeth Piccard

Pulsus, 2016
Attache à tête d'équerre (Ty-Rap), Pelxiglass, canevas enduit de vinyle, D.E.L., microcontrôleur, MDF peint
18'' x 60'' x 30''
Programmation : Ghislain Brodeur
Crédit photo: Jean-Michael Seminaro et SODEC

ELISABETH PICARD expertly manipulates a variety of materials into unexpected forms, while maintaining their material identities. For the last five years, she has transformed manufactured, plastic zip-ties into organisms, land forms and architectural curtains, emphasizing accumulation, texture and transparency. Elisabeth earned her BFA in 2004 from University of Quebec and her MFA in 2011 from Concordia University, both in Montréal, Quebec. She has exhibited widely throughout Quebec, including solo exhibitions at Materia (2012) in Quebec City and the Centre d’Exposition de Mont-Laurier (2012). In 2016, she created two new pieces at the Centre d’exposition Raymond-Lasnier for the Biennale Nationale de Sculpture Contemporaine, which are on view until September 9, 2016. Elisabeth is represented by Lonsdale Gallery in Toronto. She lives in Montréal, Quebec.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the relationship of the single unit to the whole in your work and in nature?

Elisabeth Picard: I often use single zip-tie units in repetition to create a massive texture. I also assemble a few single units to create hand-sized pieces that may be seen as miniature sculptures or sculptural sketches for a gigantic construction. Single units can also be attached together to create bigger pieces. I often think of my pieces as similar to permeable cellular forms that are bound together because both configurations would let water and light pass through.

It is the architectural potential of the material—to be cut, bent and torn— and its translucency that stimulates me to create organic and abstract shapes. My relationship with nature surfaces by itself, even when the plastic material is far from nature. The forces of nature create growth, movement and transformation in animals, plants, cells and landscapes. My sculptures could be associated with some static stage within those realms. 

Défragmentation, 2014
Detail
Dyed zip-ties, LED light, enamel painted aluminum and steel
Dye Sébastien Jutras
Photo credit: Ghislain Brodeur

OPP: When did you first begin to work with zip-ties?

EP: One of my major interests lies in the possibilities of the material and the pure pleasure of exploring many ways of manipulating it, following my intuition and gestures. I distinguish my production and creativity from that of other artists because my intention is to develop ingenious applications of different materials. Before using zip-ties, I worked with rattan, wood, metal, resin, beeswax, plywood and single face cardboard.

While studying for my Master’s Degree in Fibre Arts at Concordia University, Montreal, I discovered how important and creative contemporary basketry is in the U.S. In 2010, when I was about to start new work for my thesis, I went to the library at my favourite museum, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). There I opened a magazine and saw a 3D representation of a translucent wave of spikes. I had a flash of working with zip-ties. I created my first significant piece Flot and then 18 small sculptures known as Constructions in 2011. As I was developing this new body of work, I went online to see how this material was being used and I realized that there was great potential for me to manipulate it in a personal way, because I consider it like some sort of Meccano. Since then, I have been continually evolving with this material, integrating dyes and programmed LED lights. With some hindsight, I realize that my use of zip-ties is a continuation of early works with rattan but with the intriguing properties of resin.

Coccolithophoridés, 2013
Dyed zip-ties, with plexi light box
17.25 x 17.25 x 6 inches
Photo credit: Michel Dubreuil


OPP: Your titles often refer to single-celled organisms—Nuées : Ceratium, Phacus, Closterium (2014), Asterionellopsis glacialis (2013) and Diatomée 5 (2013) are just a few examples. What role does scientific research play in your practice?

EP: Science and nature are my major sources of inspiration: I have studied the work of D’Arcy Thompson, Peter S. Stevens and Buckminster Fuller. Looking at their work, I encountered beautiful antique illustrations of radolaires and other sorts of cells, seaweeds and invertebrates. I have become very interested in the relationship of growth and transformation in evolution. These features inspire my work without leading me to represent them. It is more of a parallel universe that I study for its formal constructions.

I find it very difficult to give a title to a body of work and not have it suggest a single reading for the viewer. Because few people know Latin, I use these terms to give more of a clue that can be researched later. Furthermore, specific cellular and phytoplankton names are a source of inspiration for titles of new shapes that I have just created because they happen to look similar.

Strongylocentrotus, 2013
Dyed zip-ties, with plexi light box
15 x 15.75 x 8 inches
Photo credit: Michel Dubreuil

OPP: In your earlier work (early 2000s), there are a lot of recurring forms: voids, circles, tubes, and mazes, all of which also had the quality of cumulative, organic growth that is still present in your more recent installations that now make more direct references to natural forms and organisms. Was this a conscious shift? Or something that grew out of material changes?

EP: My earlier work referred to a spiritual state that is the result of observing sacred architecture. I was interested in the personal or grounded self-connection that develops during the state of contemplation and elevation of the spirit without the religious content. I discovered that this interest was linked to the thought of Indigenous peoples: for them the spirit is grounded within nature. My work kept the same approach but took another form: a reading that relates to the basic architecture already present in nature’s shapes and force. Karl Blossfeldt’s black-and-white photographs of specimens show this.

Rainbow mountains, 2015
60,000 dyed zip-ties
6 x 5 x 7 feet
Detail
Dye: Sébastien Jutras
Photo Credit: Michel Dubreuil

OPP: Setting content and imagery aside, describe your experience in the studio making work built from repetitive processes. What do mean by the phrase “meditative approach?” Do you think of your studio practice as a meditation practice?

EP: I do not consider my art practice as meditative. However, creating work stimulated by the material’s potential is a form of focused involvement. Also the fact that I produce a massive construction through repetitive action requires a capacity of endurance. While making a large body of work, I may let my mind become centred in another state, or maybe I am being simply obsessive compulsive.

When I am creating work, I like to think about the boundaries of scale. I imagine that my miniature work could be gigantic for a firefly. At the opposite end of the scale, some of the larger installations could be seen as Nano texture, a piece of material bigger than the building that hosts my work. Also, I like to look at textures and patterns that attract and excite me. I have a tendency to create dense work that demands a lot of visual attention, and I play visually with depth and surface to make the viewers lose their points of reference, if they so wish.

I use a ‘’meditative approach’’ more with the idea of producing an awareness of nature, of showing its power and capacity for change, thus showing respect for our interconnection with nature and understanding of what we do to it. However, I am not an ecological artist, and no art works are truly green or have zero impact. I am trying to be better in my everyday life and to compensate in other ways, but I feel torn because I love both nature and plastic.

Waitomo cave, 2016
Plexiglass, canevas enduit de vinyle, D.E.L., attache à tête d'équerre (Ty-Rap), microcontrôleur et détecteur de mouvement
2' x 10' x 15' (variable)
Crédit photo: Jean-Michael Seminaro et SODEC

OPP: What's next for you? Where do you see your work going in the near future?


EP: As I begin work on a commissions, I explore various ways of using the zip-ties and I discover unfamiliar readings for them. For example, the mineral world is full of colours and unusual shapes. So my abstract constructions and textures take on exciting new readings. These new opportunities push me to be creative and technically adept. This also requires me to continue developing my drawing skills on the computer because laser cutting is so practical for making a structure that can receive zip-ties. In parallel to the permanent works, one of my future goals is to introduce movement, using electronic components in some pieces to create work that flows into space.

To see more of Elisabeth's work, please visit elisabethpicard.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matt Phillips

Luxor at Dawn and Bungalow

MATT PHILLIPS expertly wields color, line and texture in mid-sized paintings and smaller works on paper. Drawing a clear parallel between Geometric Abstraction in painting and in quilting, he divides the rectangle into endlessly-surprising, smaller shapes. He renders the repeated triangles, rectangular bars, half circles and curved lines in varying colors with repetitive, overlapping brushstrokes, balancing the importance of each mark with the overall composition. Matt earned a BA in Art/Art History from Hampshire College (Amherst, Massachusetts) in 2001 and an MFA in Painting from Boston University in 2007. He was a McDowell Colony fellow in February 2016 and has had solo exhibitions at Cerasoli Gallery (Los Angeles, 2009), Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects (New York, 2013 and 2016), Branch Gallery (North Adams, Massachusetts, 2013), Kate Alkarni Gallery (Seattle, 2013) and the University of Maine Museum of Art (Bangor, 2014). His work was recently included in Summerzcool: A Group Exhibition at David Shelton Gallery in Houston. In September 2016, his work will be included in a three-person show, also featuring the work of Austin Eddy and Benjamin Edminston, at Charlotte Fogh Gallery in Denmark and in October 2016, his solo show Yard Sale will open at Devening Projects in Chicago. Matt is a professor of art at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent paintings evoke quilts, especially the Gee’s Bend Quilts, which are often asymmetrical and slightly irregular. Are these an influence for you?

Matt Phillips: The Quilts of Gee’s Bend have been very important to my relationship with painting. They share so many affinities with geometric abstraction and synthetic cubism. I love the spontaneity of the quilts’ imagery and the resourcefulness of the artists. Quilts and textiles teeter on the edge between image and object. Many of the Gee’s Bends quilts have such an incredible and varied physical surface found in well worn clothing and old denim. It is a kind of imagery that is generated by the exchange between the body and a swatch of fabric—a process not unlike the act of painting. I am also interested in how, as a sculptural object, fabric gives form to some of the more invisible forces of the world such as gravity.

Slow Dance (for E.E.)
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: I’ve noticed quite a few contemporary painters referencing both quilting and weaving in the last few years. What’s really interesting about abstraction in these textile forms is that it grows directly out of the process. In traditional quilting, one cuts just squares and rectangles from different fabrics and rearranges them using the grid to make other shapes. It’s a process of building up into a rectangle, but the rectangle doesn’t exist at the beginning. Painting, on the other hand, seems to be partly about dividing up the clearly defined rectangle. Your thoughts?

MP: I feel like the way that I approach my paintings has certain similarities with the process you just described. The painted image ultimately has to exist within the edges delineated by the support. In much of my recent work, though, the pictures don’t entirely fill the rectangle. Instead, the image form either extends towards or recoils from the edge of the canvas, sometimes both at once.

Untitled
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: Can you talk about the texture within your fields of color? It reminds me of coloring a large expanse of space with a very fine-tipped marker. The hand is really present. Is this effect something you sought to create or a happy accident that emerged from your process?

MP: This texture comes primarily from the paint that I use which is made by dispersing raw pigment into a silica binder. Making my own paint naturally creates inconsistencies in the opacity and transparency of the color. I also paint on a course linen using small brushes. The result is that the viewer can see many discreet passages of the brush within the larger flat areas of color. The place where two marks overlap create a darker seam that is slightly more opaque. Lately, I have been really interested in how this process creates a secondary illusionistic space within my paintings. It appears almost as if someone took the completed painting, crumpled it up, and then tried their best to flatten it back out. I remember turning in a lot of homework in a similar condition as a younger child.

Untitled
Silica and Pigment on Linen
24" x 20"
2014

OPP: In 2015, you translated Belay (2013) into a ceramic tile mosaic called Ascent. This translation really highlights the texture in your paintings in a new way. Did you execute the mosaic yourself or just lend the design? How do you feel about the translation after the fact?

MP: This work was a commission that I received from the New York City Public Art for Public Schools Program and installed in PS106, an elementary school in the Bronx. I collaborated with a great mosaic artist name Stephen Miotto. We worked together to find a way to translate some of the material issues I just described into tile. It was a great back and forth process as we tried to use hard pieces of ceramic tile to describe the way that wet paint looks. The school itself is designed in such a way that the youngest children are on the ground floor and the oldest children are on the third floor of the building. I wanted to try and make an image that somehow marked the student’s process of vertically climbing through the school as they learn and advance through the different grades. I also like that the work, like a ruler, consists of regular parallel stripes. My hope is that the students actually use these line as a tool to measure how they grow taller while attending the school.

Ascent
Ceramic Tile Mosaic
14' x 8'
2015

OPP: I’ve noticed a few recurring compositional motifs. House of Hands (2013), The Well at the Watering Hole (2014), Campfire by the Comfort Inn (2015) and Arboretum (2015) all have a figure-ground relationship, while simultaneously reading as pieced quilts. I see stacked boxes, stairs, mountains or buildings against a backdrop of blue sky. Can you talk about repetition of compositions and forms in your work from a process point of view?

MP: A lot of my works are built upon similar compositional structures or divisions of the rectangle. I like the idea that two things can have a similar point of origin but end up having two totally different conclusions. Those works you mention present the viewer with architectural forms. I think that such archetypal forms are a way I try and entice a deeper relationship to the picture on the part of the viewer—to get one’s eyes to pull their body through the picture plane.

Arboretum
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: What’s your experience like when painting these works with similar origin points? Do you long to paint that form again or does it surprise you?

MP: It really happens both ways. Sometimes I make a painting and then later feel compelled to revisit it through successive pieces. For example, I may want to see the picture at a different scale, or develop a new idea about light or color in relation to the original image. At other times though, I will just be following a painting wherever it takes me and I’ll end up finding out that there is some unfinished business with regard to a certain form or motif. The four paintings that you just mentioned were made over two years. There were times when each one of those paintings had drifted into really different territory. The final four works ultimately returned to this related motif of stacked blocks, yet each one has its own distinct and winding path to this shared commonality - I think this gives each painting its own unique voice and story.

To see more of Matt's work, please visit paintingpaintings.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Teresa F. Faris

Collaboration with a Bird ll #3
Sterling silver, wood altered by a bird
3" x 4" x 1"
2010

TERESA F. FARIS draws connections across species boundaries: "When removed from what is intended/natural and stripped of privilege one must find ways of soothing the mind." In wearable and non-wearable sculpture, she juxtaposes chewed wood—what she views as the byproducts of a captive, rescued bird's soothing practices—with sawed, pierced and pieced metal—her own creative practice. Teresa earned her BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1995 and her MFA from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998. Her 2015 exhibitions include Bright at Rose Turko Gallery (Richmond, Virginia), Adorn: Contemporary Wearable Art at WomanMade Gallery (Chicago) and The Jeweler's Journey: From the Bench to the Body and Beyond at Peters Valley Gallery (Layton, New Jersey). Her work was recently included in Digging Deep at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts (Brookfield, Wisconsin) and is currently on view until October 8, 2016 in Color Me This: Contemporary Art Jewelry at Turchin Center for Visual Arts  (Boone, North Carolina). She has been invited to participate in Shadow Themes: Finding the Present in the Past at Reinstein/Ross Gallery in September 2016. Teresa has been Associate Professor and Area Head of Department of Jewelry and Metalsmithing at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater since 2013, when she won a College of Art and Communication Excellence in Teaching Award. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work sits in the space where jewelry and sculpture overlap. Do you identify more as one or the other? Do you conceive of specific pieces as one or the other?

Teresa F. Faris: Jewelry and sculpture both exist to intrude, adorn, alter, etc. the space that it occupies. Some work calls for being in public in a small scale (on the body) and some in a large scale; both demand that the viewer contemplate their reaction/feelings about it.

Jewelry exists with the intervention of the wearer and sculpture exists with the intervention of the landscape or walls of a gallery setting. I do not see a great divide between the two disciplines because neither is utilitarian, and both may be made by people with a material fetish. Work is assessed based on its relationship to the viewer’s body, whether it is a giant steel structure or a neck piece.

Collaboration with a Bird lV, #3
Sterling Silver, wood altered by a bird, polymer, stainless steel
3" x 4" x 2"
2015

OPP: What’s harmful about the hierarchy of Art and Craft?

TFF: The histories and theories of both art and craft are more similar than different. Humans enjoy categorizing for the sake of ego. Through categorizing we establish hierarchies. Hierarchies are harmful when used to marginalize anyone or anything for the sake of protecting privilege. If work is made of congruous material and content, I think it is art. If there was less of a divide between art/craft, there may be more opportunity for critical analysis and progression.

OPP: What kind of critical analysis?

TFF: When the field is very small and exclusive it can be about popularity of a person rather than the importance of their work.To look critically at work we need to see beyond a person and look at the work in relationship to the present, past a future dialogue. The most important question I ask myself when making something is whether or not it adds something new and challenges existing norms. Humans make so much stuff that just takes up space and wastes resources. This could travel into a discussion about decoration and the value of that, but I am mostly interested in progression from a socio/psychological and/or technical standpoint.

480 Minutes
Sterling Silver, Wood Carved by a Bird
4" x 12" x 6"
2009

OPP: And what kind of progression?

TFF: What we chose to wear, eat, speak, etc. makes public our socio-political voice. To have conversations about objects that challenge the norm—wearing an object partially made BY a bird—asks people to reflect on their beliefs and actions. I am interested in the way that women, animals and marginalized individuals are treated based on centuries-old beliefs and superstitions. The ideas of challenging the beliefs of anthropomorphism and de-humanization will directly affect the choice of materials that people use. 


OPP: And that brings us to your ongoing Collaborations with a Bird? Tell us what drives this work.

TFF: Working in collaboration with non-humans rather than using or representing their bodies is most interesting to me. I work to recognize contradictions and change my action to minimize them in my work. For instance, I am not interested in and do not believe in the ideas of human dominion, so I do not to use animal bones, feather, skin, etc. At the same time, I live with a captive rescued, 24 year old parrot, who I desperately try to understand without placing human expectations on her. I seek to honor our differences with mutual respect. If we leave behind preconceived ideas, misinformation, anthropomorphism, fantasy and superstition, then the only thing left to do is observe. Through observation, privileges and disadvantages become clearer. While observing both captive and free non-humans, I have witnessed them performing repetitive movements and activities, and I wonder if they find the same soothing aftereffects that I am rewarded with when working at the bench.

Collaboration With a Bird
Wood chew toy, Sterling Silver
2008

OPP: So it is the same bird every time? I was wondering about that.

TFF: Yes. I have lived with Charmin for 22 years. Because of illness, I was forced to keep a distance from her for a period of time. During that time, she was kept in a cage and I was confined to a bed. I watched her obsessively chew wood and arrange her space in very specific ways. It was during this time that I made the connection that when removed from what is natural or intended, we ALL find ways to sooth the distress. For her, it is chewing wood; for me, it is cutting metal.


OPP: How do you facilitate this collaboration?

TFF: Parrots chew wood in the wild and in captivity as a way to sharpen their beaks and to play. Their beaks grow in a similar way to human nails. It is completely natural for a bird to maintain a sharp healthy beak. A bird uses wood and stone just as we us nail clippers. Charmin has been given thousands of wood blocks over the years and always has several in her cage (her safe and private space). I have witnessed her decorate her cage with certain color schemes, changing them daily. In the past she was given blocks that had been dyed with food coloring, so she chose the colors based on her mood. She hasn't been given dyed wood in many years but still makes very deliberate decisions about where to place the wood blocks and how to shape them. When she decides that the wood bits are "finished" or no longer interesting or functional for her, she gives them to me. Through design and process I react to the bits that I receive. 


Dis:Function
Sterling silver, Wood Chewed by a Bird
2009

OPP: Pierced holes and lattice work are recurrent formal motifs in your work? Are these intentional, visual metaphors or simply the results of preferred processes?

TFF: I have recently discovered that the pierced patterns that I have been making for over two decades are result of a traumatic event that I experienced as a child. The subconscious mind works in ways that help to desensitize without damaging our emotional state.

I use discarded materials that have been abandoned and viewed as worthless. Positioning them next to silver and/or gemstones offers the viewer a moment of contemplation and introspection. The process of piercing and cutting works in tandem with the content of my work. My direct experiences inform the objects I make. As my experiences change, so will the process and  materials.

Collaboration with a Bird ll #4
Sterling silver, wood altered by a bird
4.5" x 4.5" x 1.25"
2011

OPP: What’s going on in your studio right now? Anything new in the works?

TFF: There’s always something new in the works. Exploring materials and processes is a constant in my studio. Not all things are public. Now, more than ever I am charged to continue to explore the ideas dictating the Collaboration With a Bird series.

I am also currently working on pieces for an exhibition called Shadow Themes that will be at Reinstein and Ross Gallery in New York. The show opens in September 2016. The idea is to find the present in the past. In order to do that, I needed to travel through seemingly familiar, as well as lots of unknown territory. Many of things that I do not know or understand become glaringly present when I look to the past. The spaces between what I do and do not know spark my curiosity and drive me forward.

To see more of Teresa's work, please visit teresafaris.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jonathan Keeton

Fall Afternoon, Rio Chama
Watercolor
29" x 57"

JONATHAN KEETON's
large-scale landscapes and nocturnes create a solemn sensation of being immersed in the outdoors. Using watercolor, acrylic and gouache, he works from photographs taken on hikes and conveys a quiet reverence for the natural world. Jonathan documents his sources and his process on his blog. His work will be included in the Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Exhibition, opening on September 16, 2016  at Foothills Art Center in Golden, Colorado. He recently won Best in Show at the New Mexico Watercolor Society Spring Show, and you can see his work (almost) every weekend through October 2016 with the Santa Fe Society of Artists. Jonathan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

OtherPeoplesPixels:
In your statement, you say: “I’m lucky to be able to return many years later to my first love, although I am keenly aware of where my art might be had I been working as a full time artist all those years, and am mindfully anxious to make up lost time now.” What took you away from painting and what brought you back?

Jonathan Keeton: After working as a school teacher and an actor (and a waiter and picture framer), I stumbled into the beginning of computer graphics in California and ended up pursuing a career in visual effects for thirty years. It was nice to actually be paid to do something like art, and I felt a strong need to prove that I could succeed in the ‘real world.' After many years, with some prodding from my wife, I thought that if I was ever going to be an artist I had better start in earnest while I still had energy for it. Most people prefer me now to how I was then…!

Laguna Mesa, Chama River Canyon
Acrylic
11" x 14"
2016

OPP: Your landscapes never have people in them, but in every case, I imagine the point of view of a solitary hiker. These are intimate experiences of nature, not grand, romantic landscapes. There’s a solemn mood of contemplation. Is this just me reading your work through my own history of hiking in Northern New Mexico and Marin County or a tone you’ve intentionally set out to evoke for the viewer?

JK: What a perceptive question! In my landscapes, what I am most intrigued by is the sense of being in the landscape, as opposed to viewing it from a distance. That’s when I have the most powerful response myself, and it is usually a result of having hiked some ways first. So I try to convey that feeling if I can.

Cataract Bridge
Watercolor
30" x 40"

OPP: Why is it important to convey that sense of “being in the landscape?”

JK: I think that it’s a question of intimacy. Like the difference between seeing something, however pretty, at a distance, versus being in it. There is a sense, I think, of still being at a remove that I am trying to avoid; this is the same reason why I prefer to work large if possible. In a large painting the viewer is more likely to enter into it, as opposed to observing it from a (physical and emotional) distance.

OPP: Have you ever painted anything other than the natural world?

JK: Well, of course I paint nocturnes quite a bit. They are often cities or towns, but I feel that they reacquire a magical quality after the sun goes down somehow, that otherwise I find only in nature. I am intrigued by pools at night and also by florist shops in big cities. I would love to do a series of them. In each, I feel like there is a kind of a temple to the natural world of water and flora; a temple of yin if you will.

The Boarding House, Madrid NM
Watercolor
34 1/2" x 54 1/2"
2015

OPP: I should have phrased that differently; I was thinking of the nocturnes as landscapes, too. Although clearly they are not untouched by civilization, as evidenced by the electricity, architecture and roads. But these are rural spaces, not urban spaces, and the human presence is again limited to the point of view of the hiker, or in the case of the nocturnes, the wander. Can you say a little more about similarities and differences between the nocturnes and the landscapes in terms of that “magic quality?”

JK: Well, I am attracted to landscapes that give me a certain feeling, and although I might not be able to describe or predict what I might find, there is a strong recognition when I see it in front of me. Whether I can paint it is another problem! And at night, the sense of being on a planet in space is much stronger than during the day. There is almost a science fiction sense of newness in certain landscapes and night scenes for me, as if they were being seen with fresh eyes, or for the first time. I remember being a camp counselor in Vermont long ago and the kids were always loud during hikes, so that their noise kept away any animals or sense of wonder, bless their hearts. Another counselor had the idea of taking them into the forest on night walks when there was no moon, so one couldn’t even see one’s hand in front of one’s face. It was striking how the kids' attitude completely changed then—they definitely felt like visitors and were awestruck. That’s kind of the feeling that I get and want to convey if possible.

Dawn, Turqoise Trail
Watercolor
8" x 12"
2016

OPP: What’s your process? Do you paint from photographs, on site or from memory?

JK: I would be pretty darn proud of myself if I could paint them from memory! I take photographs and work from them in my studio. I learn a lot from painting on site, but dislike the result. Also, though, I am trying to paint a moment, when the light is a certain way, and everything in the scene changes when the light changes, so it’s pretty much impossible to do this work en plein air for me, when in five minutes everything changes.

A trick that I use to help is to print a version of the image that is exactly the size of my painting, and cut it into pieces to which I refer when I paint. By looking sideways instead of up at a reference, I don’t lose my place so much. I usually make a somewhat pale watercolor of the scene based on a pencil drawing, and that becomes a sort of watercolor sketch that then allows to paint with more boldness, once I have some idea of how everything fits together.

Upper Canyon Road
Watercolor
22" x 30"
2014

OPP: What should a non-painters know about watercolor, acrylic and gouache? Do you have a preference? If so, why?

JK: As it turns out, watercolor is by far the most difficult medium. For some reason many people beginning an exploration into painting feel somehow that they should use watercolors, then abandon the whole idea as a result. Acrylics are considerably easier, although that’s not to say they are a cakewalk, and every medium requires study and practice. Gouache is a medium that I learned in order to not have to throw away ruined watercolors. Basically gouache is watercolor paint with added chalk, and then extra pigment to overcome the chalkiness. It’s opaque, unlike watercolor, and one uses white instead of the paper as white, as one does in watercolor.

I have come to have fewer prejudices against particular mediums, and ultimately see painting images as the goal. There are certainly images that I would only paint in acrylic. When I started painting in acrylic this year, there were several images that I had not considered possible to make as paintings that are now in the queue.

Highway 100, Vermont
Watercolor
22" x 30"
2016

OPP: Why is landscape still relevant/more relevant than a time in history where painting the natural world was the only way to capture it?

JK: Wow, another great question. Well, first of all, we are more divorced from the natural world than at any time in our species’ history. There is a neo-Confucian idea that really struck me when I first encountered it in high school, expressed by the character, ‘Li’ (理). As I read then, it refers to the patterns in jade, but is intended to express the perfection in the apparent chaos of nature. That is exactly what I want to convey in my work. As to why I don’t just make photographs, especially since my paintings are so close in some ways to those photographs; I would describe my work as meditative and devotional, as opposed to emotional or expressive, per se. This is my own personal zen meditation in many ways, and if that feeling of awe and inspiration comes through at all, then I’m pretty happy.

To see more of Jonathan's work, please visit jonathankeeton.net.

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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart (2015), a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Most recently, Stacia created a site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015)a two-person show at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (Chicago). In September 2016, her work will be on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of THE ANNUAL.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dan Lam

Velvet Touch
Polyurethane foam, resin, acrylic on wood panel
12 x 12 x 8 inches
2015

Over the years, DAN LAM's patterned, abstract paintings have slowly accumulated textures, evoking plastic skin diseases, paint barnacles and occasionally masses of caramel corn. Recently they have further evolved into rounded, bulging growths—think moss, tumors or cake-decorating gone unchecked—and frozen drips, which feel like fluorescent-colored, over-sized, gooey ice cream toppings hanging from a table's edge. In this space between painting and sculpture, desire and disease flirt with one another. Dan earned her BFA (2010) from University of North Texas and her MFA (2014) from Arizona State University. She has exhibited widely throughout Arizona, Texas and California, most recently in Prick (2016) at The Platform in Dallas. Dan’s work is included in a three person show called Puffy Prickly Poured at Anya Tish Gallery in Houston, opening July 15, 2016 and a solo exhibition called Coquette, opening August 6, 2016, at Fort Works Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Dan lives and works in Dallas, Texas.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What has led you from painting to sculpture?

Dan Lam: As you've seen in the evolution of my work, the work continues to leave whatever surface it exists on. I think my continued exploration in textures and materials has guided me to sculpture. When I was an undergraduate painting major, I had this catalyst sort of moment working on one of my last flat pieces. I was trying to create this sense of depth through layers of matte medium, trying to create a frosty, semi-transparent surface, which alternately revealed and hid stages of the process. It started to get really thick, and I became interested in finding new mediums that could allow me to layer even more. I started questioning what constitutes a painting, what it meant historically and what it meant to me. So I started to push my paint off the canvas, off the panel, moving onto other materials like hot glue, resin, and wax.

I'm very drawn to soft sculpture, anything soft and melting. I wanted to create that aesthetic in my work and using just paint and hot glue wasn't cutting it. I constantly explore and try out non-traditional media, so my experimentation with materials has led me to continue to grow off the panel and into three-dimensional space.

Getting Hot
2016

OPP: Any plans to get away from the wall completely and onto the floor? What's the next step in the evolution of your work?

DL: I am currently working on some large scale floor pieces, big wall drips and various installations. Scale is the exciting part of these new pieces. I've worked large before, just not with this body of work, so that's new. Scale can change everything. I'm excited to see how the sculptures translate to living on the floor, taking up a wall instead of a shelf, and interacting with the corner of a room. When these factors change, it changes the process in small ways, which can generate new happenings.

Just A Babe
Polyurethane foam, resin, acrylic on wood panel
12 x 12 x 7 inches
2015

OPP: Is building the form or covering its surface more satisfying?

DL: Both aspects of the process are satisfying to different parts of me. There is something very meditative in the pattern and rhythm of laying down the spikes. With the form, it's more fun and experimental because there's the unexpected. Chance is involved.

OPP: How much do titles matter in your body of work? Are they just ways to identify the work or clear lens through which we should read each abstraction? How do you feel when viewers don’t bother to read the titles?

DL: I think of the titles as some context for what I was thinking about when making the piece. They do give viewers a type of key for understanding the work, but I'm indifferent to whether or not people read the titles.

Drinking Watermelon
Polyurethane foam, resin, acrylic on wood panel
13 x 12 x 7 inches
2015

OPP: If you had to pick one or the other for the rest of your life as an artist, would you pick color or texture?

DL: I would pick color. Color is primary for me. It holds the content, the emotion, the illusion. Color is difficult and I love an involved challenge. I'm drawn to it over anything else because of its ability to evoke feelings, it has a weight and can affect the people/things around it.

OPP: When asked about touching your sculptures in an interview for Maake Magazine, you said—about your more recent spiky sculptures— “Depending on the kind of acrylic I’m using or if I layer resin on top of the spikes, they can prick. So now there’s this layer of the desire to touch, but you kind of get rejected. This beautiful thing becomes potentially harmful.” Outside of your work, how is beauty dangerous? Or is it desire that is dangerous?

DL: Beauty, on one end of the spectrum, can be deceiving, distracting and create obsession. Desire is the fuel for action. Both have equal power.

Knobby Knee
2016

OPP: How does your life outside the studio affect your practice?

DL: It's incredibly important to take care of your mind and body, so you can make the work you need to make. I don't work myself to exhaustion. I get my sleep. I exercise. I put time into other non-art related things like hiking, reading, etc. I believe all of these things contribute to a solid studio practice.

Art and art-making are intrinsically tied into my life; there is no separating the two. My practice is something I need and do daily. I can't see myself being better suited for anything else. This is it.

To see more of Dan's work, please visit bydanlam.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Darren Jones

WORDS ARE THE SWORD
Sword, selfie stick, vinyl text
2015

Artist and art critic DARREN JONES wields words well, cutting deeply and quickly to the point. He employs found text, accompanying imagery and site-specificity to contextualize his pithy, text-based works. Playing with homonyms, anagrams, puns, palindromes and insightful misspellings, he asks us to question the verity of contemporary cultural values espoused by advertising, religion and social media, especially the constant striving for perfection. Darren earned his BFA in 1997 from Central Saint Martins College of Art in London and his MFA in 2009 from Hunter College in New York. His most recent solo exhibitions include A Matter of Life and Dearth (2015) New York and Florida. at Index Art Center in Newark, New Jersey and Thunder Enlightening (2015) at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. In 2016, he was an Artist-in-Residence at CentralTrak at University of Texas, Dallas. He is a regular contributor to Artforum, Artslant, Artcritical, and The Brooklyn Rail. Darren lives and works in New York and Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: As a visual artist who works primarily with text and as an art-critic who writes about the visual work of others, do you think there is a difference between visual thinking and textual thinking?

Darren Jones: In my case, increasingly, no. Words are the foremost source with which to foment my reactions to the world, whether in a visual arrangement for an artwork, or on a page for an article or review. In both, the aim is to describe and take a position. In art-making, there may be a greater aesthetic element or a requirement for imagery to expand the context, but the primary task is to utilize words in a manner that most effectively conveys one’s intentions. Writing an article, can be very similar to making a visual artwork. In both, one puts something down, considers it, edits it, walks away from it, comes back to it, tussles with composition, meaning, flow, etc. Writing is art-making.

ANAGRAM #1 (FIRE ISLAND)
Photographic print, vinyl text
24" x 36"
2014

OPP: What word would you use to describe the short, pithy statements in your work: aphorism, maxim, proverb, epigram, mantra, affirmation, slogan? Does it matter what we call them?

DJ: Aphorismmaximproverbepigrammantraaffirmationslogan. They are probably best described as amalgams or corrupted, dissected or perhaps alternative-truth versions of your suggestions. Anti-proverbs, anti-mantras, etc. Sometimes it is helpful to regard the darker meaning of a statement, in order to counter the unrealistically and blandly positive.

SENTENCING BEGINS #2
Sketch for arranged products
Variable dimensions
2014

OPP: I’m particularly interested in Sentencing Begins #1 and #2 from 2014, which remix product names into social commentary masquerading as advertising slogans. The Dawn of a Post-Freedom Era is dripping with sarcasm, while I Am Always Chasing Success is critical, but feels more empathetic to what I would call a primary problem of contemporary life. Can you talk about tone in your text-based works?

DJ: Tone can help to pry open a given or common phrase and tease out lesser considered meanings; while a lack of tone can allow for multiple conclusions. The deployment of tone within a work—wryness, archness, hostility, dubiousness—must be carefully considered because it can tilt the viewer to a particular response. Sometimes that might be the intention, other times less so. Tone then, in text based art, can be thought of as a tool, to enhance the piece or prescribe a characteristic to it, or when withheld, to restrict the artist’s influence on the perceived meaning of the piece.

WHERE TO LIVE AFTER DEATH
TEST FOR "PORTRAIT AS A GARGOYLE" AT CASTLE GLUME
Photograph
8' x 5'
2015

OPP:
Even in your “non text art,” text—namely the title and materials list—is often extremely important to the meaning of the images or sculptures. In Duct (2014), for example, the materials list includes various hormones, proteins and enzymes: water, prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, leucine enkephalin, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium, potassium. But a few photographs—Portrait as a Gargoyle (Castle Gloom) and Self Portrait as a Ghost, both from 2012—operate in a fundamentally different way. They seem more personal, emotional and visceral, as opposed to clever and conceptual. Your thoughts?

DJ: I grew up in Scotland, which has had a direct effect on both elements of my work that you describe. Edinburgh was the center of the Scottish Enlightenment. It's a hub of excellence in education, literature, medicine, science, politics and technology. Therefore, reason, precision of thought and the succinct presentation of ideas are a part of the intellectual legacy and character of Scottish society generally. At the same time it is an unimaginably romantic, otherworldly place, steeped in bloody centuries of mythology and the supernatural. When one grows up surrounded by ancient castles and other built heritage, legends of mythical beasts and mesmerizing ghost stories, the line between immediate reality and the supernatural is porous, both are believable, both exist. To this day, Scotland’s national animal is the Unicorn!

So, I am compelled as an artist by both the incisiveness and minimalism of wit and words, that eject the superfluous, and the enigmatic draw of the unknown, the romantic and the haunted. They have largely remained distinctive threads within my practice. . . although the list of chemicals I mention in Duct (2014), while purely scientific, isn’t so far distant in sound and tone from a fantastical list of ingredients one might see described in a witch’s spell. DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
Rearranged keys on broken computer
11" x 17"
2008

OPP: I’m excited by the simplicity of the phrases and how their placement in certain sites or rendering in certain material adds complexity. Can you talk about site-specificity in works like Deeper Understanding (2008), You Will Find No Answers Here (2008), and Pumping Irony (2013)?

DJ: When words that we expect to see within environments that we have become familiar with are altered in a way that contradicts or tweaks social, religious or cultural standards that we have come to accept through repetition or resignation, they can provide a jolt to the complacencies and complicity we have surrendered to the status quo. Art which is effectively, surgically site-specific—and not merely lazily site-specific—retains great power to jar people out of their tacit acceptance of standard beliefs. In those circumstances we can see the disconnect between repetitive standards and more uncomfortable truths. The works you mention were all to do with opposing the odious righteousness of what we are taught to hope or believe in; computers are great and they work; looking muscular by going to the gym, and never giving up on your fitness goals is the optimum lifestyle choice; and religion has all the moral and spiritual aids you need to handle life’s challenges. It is about the ridiculous concept that failure is not an option. In fact that is correct, because failure is not an option, it’s a necessity.

PUMPING IRONY
Chalk on gym motivational board / digital image
5" x 7"
2013

OPP: Can you talk practically about your experience as an art writer? Do you choose what you review and pitch it to the publications you write for or do you receive assignments?

DJ: Usually, it is a case of pitching what I’d like to write about. Sometimes a wider ranging article on a particular subject, an interview with someone in the art world or a review. The privilege of writing for several publications is that they each have their own approaches and aims, so I can tailor pitches and write on a wide array of topics in various formats and lengths.

YOU WILL FIND NO ANSWERS HERE
Digital c print from text intervention
Variable dimensions
2008

OPP: Can you offer any practical advice for new and emerging artists about getting their shows reviewed?

DJ: Offering advice in the art world often isn’t helpful because there is no one way to progress or to achieve one’s aims. Some artists don’t try to get their work reviewed at all, but instead concentrate on the work itself, on making it as effective as it can be. Or an artist might try very hard to get a review by focusing on fostering relationships with as many peers, colleagues and friends in the art world(s) as possible; by nurturing contacts and connections, building and constantly expanding a network, treating the art as a serious product to be promoted, exhibited, discussed and disseminated, and by committing to the business of being an artist. What I can say generally is that success in the art world—whether getting a show, review or making money from the art—depends a great deal on who you know. Those in power in the art world would rather deny this because they want legitimacy for their opinions on what is good and bad. But this is an arrogant aim, because art is utterly subjective. Nobody’s taste is superior to anyone else’s. And so the upper gallery system is built almost entirely on the forced opinion of those with influence, propped up with incomprehensible press releases and social media saturation. It is all very insidious. . . and yet, interesting artists, who say intriguing things, do still gain attention. So persevering is worthwhile.

To see more of Darren's work, please visit darrenjonesart.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Washington

Talking Board
2016
Chalk and acrylic on panel
18" x 24"

ERIN WASHINGTON uses imagery, text and fugitive materials to evoke a long history of human inquiry into the form and meaning of the universe we live in. Perception and permanence are called into question. Theoretical Physics mingles with tangible objects from antiquity. Art historical references are balanced by philosophical ones. Erin received a BA in Studio Art from University of Colorado at Boulder in 2005. She went on to earn a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Painting and Drawing (2008) and an MFA (2011) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Erin's 2016 exhibitions in Chicago include solo show Useful Knowledge at Zolla Lieberman, two-person show Hand of Mouth at Roots & Culture and group show Chicago and Vicinity at Shane Campbell Gallery. She was named a 2016 Chicago Breakout Artist by New City Art. Erin lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I think of art, philosophy, myth and science all as modes of inquiry, which should be balanced, but not privileged over one another. What do you think?

Erin Washington: Oh of course! By no means do I propose that one mode of inquiry supersedes another. . . if anything, I am looking at these modes of inquiry as different languages attempting to ask the same question. Some languages are better at capturing different nuances to the question; some languages elicit a different type of response or forefront a different type of preoccupation. One language may be more lyrical or poetic, emphasizing romance and pleasure while a different language may be better at discussing facts and figures and analytics, using statistics to describe an agreed upon reality. My hope is to flatten any perceived hierarchy. . . screaming into the void unintelligibly, waiting for an answer from where I do not know. . .

wormhole shape = headstone shape
2015
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: Many of your two-dimensional works are chalk on acrylic on panel. I’m curious about the permanence or impermanence of the chalk: is it fixed? Either way, the implication of erasure and accumulation of meaning is still there.

EW: Another instance in which the question might be more important than the answer! One of my favorite drawings is Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing. A very young Rauschenberg obtained an original drawing by Willem de Kooning and spent weeks erasing it. Erased de Kooning Drawing is powerful because of the story and because of the action. . . conservationists have taken digital photographs of the piece, and now we can Google image search and find out what the actual de Kooning drawing looked like before Rauschenberg labored over its erasure. But it's not satisfying to look at the imagery of what the drawing looked like before it became what it is now. It's satisfying to see the ghost of its former self and to think of the actions of both artists involved.

OPP: Do you think of your chalk works as palimpsests?

EW: My fondness for Erased de Kooning Drawing should imply that yes, I do think of my work as palimpsests. I like that every mark, whether preparatory or finalized, is present and available to the viewer. Some marks clearly describe a thinking mind, while others are purely in existence for the moment and only remain as ghosts of themselves. Those ghosts might not be immediately available, but as trace rewards to the careful and attentive viewer.

Perhaps another way of thinking about it could be illustrated in this anecdote: very often painters will keep rags in their studios to wipe their brushes clean between marks; this helps keeps the paint “pure” and unmuddied from pigment picked up by other pigments on the wet canvas. This is common in drawing, too. The drawer will have a scrap piece of paper handy to “wipe off” the pencil/pen, or to keep the tip at a certain sharpness or degree of angle. A friend in school started wiping off his brushes at the bottom of his painting, so he had these interesting perceptual paintings for three-quarters of the canvas and then what amounted to an abstract expressionist painting at the bottom quarter. When I asked him about why he decided to do that, he referred to the bottom quarter of the painting as “the basement.” It was his way of acknowledging that those “cleaning the brush” marks were just as important to the painting as the mannered and controlled perceptual painting marks.

Negative Positive
2011
Blackberries and oil paint on canvas
12 " x 12 "

OPP: In earlier works, you use other fugitive materials—saliva, moss, tea, and the juice from beets, pomegranates, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries—to make marks. These works tend to be more abstract, foregrounding the materials themselves. When and why did you first start working with these organic materials?

EW: My natural inclination is to be drawn to the materiality of media. I would look at artists like Dieter Roth or Wolfgang Laib and vibrate with excitement. If you want them to, materials can help dictate meaning and form and change the context in which a viewer engages with the work.

The contextual issues we discussed have been of interest to me for a long time. There came a point in exploring these ideas when I began to question the materials that I was using—at the time I was using oil paints. After all, if you’re dealing in inquiry of perception and permanence, eventually you turn that lens on not only Art History but inward as well. . . onto your supports and materials and eventually onto yourself. In other words, it felt weird to try to make work about these ideas using the immutable tools of Painting. While in graduate school at SAIC, one of my advisors picked up on my interest in the passage of time and permanence and suggested that I pick up The Art Forger’s Handbook to study methods and techniques for mimicking aged work. The secret spells and analysis of pigments and supports really tickled the witchy part of my heart, so I started expanding my scope of materials.

Suprematism (After K.M.)
2012
Charred bone and oil on paper
(Left image: found bone, before charring. Right image: Charred bone and oil ground into 40" x 50" paper)

OPP: How are these materials connected to your cosmology references?

EW: When looking at natural pigments, I think of their very early uses, cave paintings and rituals, for example. Using spit and burnt wood and bones and rocks and earth, humans made marks to say we are/were here and to make sense of their world. To figure out how the world began and why we are here. . . that’s one of the most basic definitions of cosmology! The pairing lined up nicely.

And yes, you are correct, the earlier work was much more abstract for a couple of reasons. I was really interested in figuring out how these materials could work, but I was also a little distrustful of imagery at the time. I was wary that images could shut down nuance. I want the artwork to operate with multiple layers of meaning. In retrospect, I think that binary is over-simplified and has flawed logic.

eternal return
2015
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: In eternal return (2015) and eternal return too (2016), you use the repeated image of the ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail. The symbol shows up in numerous ancient cultures and has associations in several philosophical, mystical and psychological systems of thought. What does it mean to you in the context of contemporary culture?

EW: Supposedly the concept of the ouroboros is represented in some shape or form in most ancient cultures to symbolize cyclical recreations, introspection and self-reflexivity. In earlier drawings, I diagrammed Shapes of the Universe and Shapes of an Expanding Universe because I am fascinated with the Oscillating Universe Theory, in which an expanding universe eventually falls apart, but then provides energy/fuel for a subsequent big-bang. This means that all matter and space is forever expanding, collapsing and expanding again (and answering that tricky question “what was there before the big bang?”). I think it has been disproved or isn’t popular among scientists, but it’s such a comforting metaphor. It’s another example of a language of inquiry stumbling upon the poetic. The ouroboros is a visual representation of an eternal return. When I started drawing them, I wound up personifying them, wondering how does it feel for them to eat their own tails? Are they terrified? Are they excited? Are they gagging?

Hand of Mouth
2016
Metalpoint, gouache and acrylic on panel
11" x 14"

OPP: Tell us about your recent show at Roots & Culture in Chicago.

EW: The show was a two-person show with myself and former Chicago artist Ron Ewert (now Brooklyn-based). We both reference and source imagery from other contexts within our paintings/drawings, and we also both have an interest in sculpture and installation as a meta-context/narrative to prop these two-dimensional objects upon. Ron, for example, creates stripped-down wall frames without drywall, often painting these naked two-by-fours bright colors and hanging his work on the wall-skeletons.

We had a couple of Skype studio-visits and realized that we both like using a sort of lateral-thinking/oblique strategy method of generating ideas. We were collecting images and realizing that a lot of them featured hands or mouths or hands with mouths. That’s how we settled on the title of the show Hand of Mouth, and I think that weird phrase influenced a couple of pieces for both of us.

Faith in Fakes (holodeck)
Mixed media installation.
Dimensions variable.
2016.
Also on view, Ron Ewert painting.

OPP: What new work did you present?

EW:  I featured more of my collage-based work,  as well as some new metal-point drawings. About a year ago, a friend gave me some metal-point tips with the challenge, “you like drawing and weird materials, try these: they’re the Olympics of drawing!” Metal-point pre-dates graphite and lead. When you’re drawing, you’re embedding metal deposits into the surface of the support, which means you cannot erase your marks.

As mentioned earlier, Ron and I both have an interest in installation acting as a meta-context for our two dimensional work. To this end, I created a mock Holodeck to hang paintings in. It’s an installation I’ve wanted to make for a while, and I was fortunate that Roots & Culture allowed me to do that. Anyway: Faith in Fakes (holodeck) makes reference to Star Trek The Next Generation (a show of great importance to a handful of dear friends in my life). It’s a room that creates virtual reality for the crew on Star Trek, and it’s a conceit that was always confusing to me. Here is a crew of people, essentially in a utopian society in which all races are treated equally and peacefully getting along. (The original Star Trek was one of the first network television shows to feature a racially diverse cast.) They are actively bringing PEACE to the galaxy. . . and yet, they need a virtual reality room to escape utopia every now and then? Furthermore: not only are they already in utopia, they’re astronauts (every child’s secret wish)! It’s often how I feel about my studio. I get to exist in this world. . . and yet I still need to escape into my studio to sit in a room alone and make drawings. . .

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwashington.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.