Happy Solstice from OtherPeoplesPixels!

The OPPblog will be off-the-grid for the next two weeks, celebrating the Winter Solstice! (We've also heard that there are some other holidays around this time of year?)

Oh, Solstice Time! Break out the grog, the nog and the fleecy slippers! Put those oldies & goodies on the Hi-Fi! Bring on the rainbow-colored auroras, unicorns pulling chariots made of icicles, and polar bears having tea parties beneath snow-covered pines! Oh Solstice, the most joyful time of the year!

What's in the mix for OPP's holiday? The OPP Fund will be giving it's annual grants to social justice, environmental justice and arts organizations. You can see the past years' recipients, here.

If you have an OtherPeoplesPixels website, OPP is also excited to give you a holiday gift!

You put it on your wish list & you got it: You can now add Facebook 'like' buttons and/or Google +1 buttons to any page with a text box.

As you know, Special Formatting is OPP's easy way to add things like bold formatting or live links to text on your website. You now have two new options, which you can always be reminded of by expanding the Special Formatting section below each text box.

[like]  <--- creates a Facebook 'like' button for the page
[g+]   <--- creates a Google +1 button for the page

All you need to do is type these exactly as you see above, where you want the button to be placed. There's no need to add any links or other text -- OPP makes it easy for you! We think these buttons tend to look best at the very top or bottom of your text, though you can insert them anywhere you like.

If a viewer clicks one of these buttons, they will 'like' or +1 the artwork and text on the page where you created the button -- causing it to show up on their Facebook or Google+ profile. This means people can now easily share and promote your artwork through the magic of social media! Oh joy!

And in your Solstice stocking, there's a little something extra: Your Contact Page can now have neato clickable badges that link to your profile on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ & LinkedIn! Go check 'em out!

Wishing you all warm holidays (whatever they may be), and be sure to tune back in in 2012 for more amaaaaaazing Featured Artists.

Happy Solstice!
- The OPP Unicorn Groomer & Hoof-trimmers Union

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Justin Richel

Globe (Detail)
2009
Gouache on paper
5 ft x 5 ft

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your interview with Little Paper Planes you mention a compulsion to make work and the meditative experience of painting. Repetitive tasks can be both soothing and monotonous. They can engage your mind or they can free it. In general, what do you think about while you paint cupcakes and presidents over and over again?

Justin Richel: If all is going well while in the act of painting, I am thinking of only line, color and the emotional response. It’s a very interesting and blissful place for the mind to be.

OPP: How does your experience of repeatedly drawing similar objects shift over time?

JR: I usually have a specific image or sense of a particular painting or piece that I set out to create in my mind’s eye before hand, but through the process of translating that idea or wisp of an idea, from a thought to the physical paper, I am always a bit disappointed by the outcome. I feel that with each remaking of a particular idea, the message becomes more clear for me, as though I am able to communicate my idea more clearly with each attempt; understanding my own motivations through the repetition of the imagery. It also gives the image a life of sorts; you see it evolve over time.

When I was at Maine College of Art my major was in printmaking. I never really liked the process of printing very much. I felt that it was too limiting and often monotonous as well as a very dirty process. A lot of energy was expended with the only real benefit being that you can produce multiples of the same image. However, through the print making process, I realized the strength of the multiple. Images, if they are successful, do proliferate either by a cultural embrace or by the interests of a few, they are integrated and bent, changed and imposed upon, and I think it is this phenomenon that urges me to revisit these compositions again and again, manipulating and changing them to suit my own needs. In a sense creating my own iconography.  

Whirling Dervish (Detail)
2011
Gouache on cut paper, nails, adhesive
5.5 ft x 10.5 ft  

 OPP: You have many pieces titled Whirling Dervish, the first one a drawing in 2008 and the most recent your installation of gouache on cut paper at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art in 2011. Then there’s Debacle (2011), a wall drawing you did for the DeCordova Museum, which puts the viewer inside the whirling dervish. How does the shift in scale and media change the meaning of the imagery?

JR:  I have actually been working with most of these themes since the early 2000s and continue to find the rehashing of subjects and compositions completely engaging. I’ve found that the small work draws you in, engaging the viewers’ imaginations, encouraging them to lean in for a closer look, and allowing them to revel in all the fun details. The large work consumes the viewer wrapping them in the imagery. Most people find the miniature works very cute and whimsical, which they are. But there are darker undertones embedded in the work that I really want to be seen and understood.

With the larger work my hope is to dwarf the viewers sense of self with the compositions so that the audience feels like a part of the piece.

OPP: Do you see any of these as more successful than the others, in terms of communicating with your audience?

JR:  So far I think that through the use of various sizes and approach, the work’s message is communicated more clearly, each painting or installation telling a bit more of the story. As of late I am most excited about creating the installation works. They provide me with an opportunity to create an image that just isn’t possible in the confines of my tiny studio. The installation works are composed of hundreds of tiny parts and pieces that allow me to change the overall composition, keeping it a fresh exploration through each evolution. 

Precarious
2008
Gouache on paper
22 in x 30 in

OP: The theme of precariousness is very present in your works, as depicted in the columns and unstable piles of sweets, household goods, presidents’ heads and birds. You’ve written in your project statement: "The stack can only exist so long as all of its pieces are cooperating together, to shift or remove a piece would inevitably send the whole thing crashing to the ground." But, because your main medium is painting, you can endlessly stack objects in more impossibly complex ways without any real danger. You hold the viewer in an endless state of expectation of collapse. Do you have any interest in addressing what happens after the balance is actually lost, when things come crashing down?

Justin Richel: No, not so much. I think it is much more interesting to play with tension—I like creating that suspense and having the viewer’s own imagination complete the story. My hope is that the work communicates the sense that through cooperation of disparate parts and pieces acting as infrastructure, this odd stack or structure is able to exist. Just looking at the structure of present day society, it becomes very clear how precarious things really are. There is a real feeling that you have to hold up your end of the bargain. I think everyone is afraid of what might happen when it all falls apart and you don’t want it to happen on your watch. So we keep adding to and building the “system” so that it holds up, even as it falls apart during the process.

Died For Want Of Lobster Sauce
2010
Gouache on paper
22 in x 30 in

OPP: Looking at your various projects together, I see a strong sense of the interconnectedness of nature, culture, and the personal. Just like with the stacked furniture and sweets, nature and culture are precariously intertwined in our lives. You’ve worked simultaneously on the series Sweets and the series Big Wigs over the last few years. Could you talk about the differences between these two series, as well as how they inform each other? 

Justin Richel: The Sweets series is concerned with society as a whole: its behavior, its morality and constructions, the general state of things.

I like to think of the sweets and household detritus as characters or stand in for the figure, humans, and their relationships to one another. Creating scenarios that speak to the fragility of circumstance and the consequence of actions. I like to imagine them as functioning, dysfunctional infrastructures.

The Big Wigs are more concerned with those who are in power and, in contrast, the resiliency of nature. Quoting my project statement:  “These men sit rigid and firm in their positions of power and deeply entrenched in their glory, so much so that they essentially become living “monuments” of their own making. Meanwhile nature takes its course, birds move into their wigs, fungus and lichen grow on them freely and fires threaten to engulf them. All the while they struggle to save face and maintain their proud and victorious posture, ignoring their surroundings and the ensuing predicaments.”

I get a certain amount of pleasure creating the Wig paintings. They’re about the idea that if anything sits still long enough, nature will take root and treat that object as though it was simply landscape, a foothold, claiming or re-claiming the space as it’s own. I find the regenerative process of nature very comforting. It takes care of itself of it’s own volition. It’s a feeling of security and trust and one of relief. Nature’s design is one of perfect balance. In contrast, our own brand of design leaves so much lacking; not everyone is represented or even figured into the equation. Nature is both simultaneously finite and infinite.

It is necessary for me to have the two distinct series as a way of communicating this complex relationship.

OPP: What’s next for you? Any upcoming shows or new directions for your work?

JR:  Well, for 2012 so far I have a solo show at Galerie Voss in Düsseldorf, Germany (TBD) and a group exhibition, curated by Natalie Larson, at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. And in the spring my fiancé Shannon Rankin and I will have a two person show at June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland, ME.

Justin Richel has also recently released a beautiful print through The Endangered Species Print Project, which is sponsored by OtherPeoplesPixels. 100% of the proceeds from Justin's print support the endangered Guam Micronesian Kingfisher depicted in his charming work.

To view more of Justinʼs work visit justinrichel.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Elizabeth Axtman (The Love Renegade)

The Love Renegade # 4: If I Said It
2010
archival ink jet print

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell me about The Love Renegade and what inspired the shift in the perspective from which you are working.
 
Elizabeth Axtman: The Love Renegade came to be while sitting in a restaurant. I was trying to understand my own heartache, heartbreak. I was reeling from being betrayed by the person I was closest to (and please believe it was on some Dynasty, Melrose Place, Gossip Girl level of betrayal… I have regretfully discovered the shit they write on these shows really happens to people in real life) and I was trying to figure out how was I going to get past it. I was surprised that within the pain I was feeling I could also reach feelings of compassion for this person. I was beginning to understand that people who harm others are in far deeper pain than the people they offend. This gave me mild comfort and any amount of comfort then was worth investigating.  I wanted to know everything about love, forgiveness and compassion; how people were able to find it and how people were able to implement it. I started reading and watching everything on the subject. It began invading me from every angle, so much so it was finding its way into my work. Suddenly, I wanted the art I made to be more than calling racist assholes, racist assholes. There are enough artists of color doing that shit already (I wouldn’t be missed) with plenty of rich white art collectors/curators financing it (a very dysfunctional cycle). So The Love Renegade came from where so many other art works come from: heartbreak and the journey out of it. The difference now is that the journey is one of love, forgiveness and compassion.

OPP: Humor is still present in your Love Renegade work but is differently approached. Your video Dark Meat from “before” is disturbingly funny; splicing a Stone Phillips interview with famed serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (Phillips asking Dahmer “Did race matter?” in regard to his victims and Dahmer answering it did not by citing the various races of three of the men and boys he killed) intercut with the man-eating plant, Audrey II, from the cult-film The Little Shop of Horrors asking to be fed (“Feed me... must be fresh... must be black”).

The Love Renegade #2: Forgive Me (series)
2010
archival ink jet print
20" x 24"
text: You didn't deserve that, your were so good to me. I am so Sorry.

Your piece, The Love Renegade #2: Forgive Me which features a newspaper headline and picture of actress Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband Jesse James after news of his infidelity was publicized. The headline quoting James reads ‘I am the most hated man in the world.’ In a thought bubble pointing to James’s head drawn on top of the clipping, you (as The Love Renegade) have written, “You didn't deserve that, your were so good to me. I am so Sorry.” Part of the humor in the Jesse James forgiveness piece functions with our knowledge that collective forgiveness is unusual in our society. Can you speak about how humor plays out in these two pieces and more generally in your work “before” and “now,” as The Love Renegade.
 
EA: Regardless of the shift in my art practice… humor remains a constant because it’s such a big part of who I am (but I’m learning not everything I make has to involve a joke). I worship comedy and everything about it. My interest (obsession) with comedy has always made me feel like a bit of an outsider in the art world, because so many of my artist friends worship everything about art: theory, history, current events aka art gossip…. and I don’t. I mean seriously, the only time you might catch an art theory book in my hand is if my friend asked me to hold it for them while they tied their shoe. Nothing about MAKING art bores mein fact it thrills me but getting trapped in a conversation about art theory makes me wanna blow my fucking brains out.
 
In the piece Dark Meat the humor I used is a way of softening my screams of “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” I was pissed at how little Jeffrey Dahmer was taken to task on the subject of race as well as by how little a black man’s life is worth in our country. Had the roles been such that it was a black man killing, raping, dismembering and eating blond haired white women……this country would go buckyballzbananas and reinstate lynching. In the video I used an interview with Stone Phillips and Dahmer because it was the first time I actually saw anyone ask him about race. In the interview he lists the race of all of his victims except for the black men (which were the majority of all of his victims).  His inability to mention them spoke volumes to me.  I mix in the man eating plant, Audrey II from the Little Shop of Horrors to fill in the gaps of Dahmer’s lapse in memory of the 11 black men he assailed. To me the man-eating plant is what lurked behind Dahmer’s blond hair and blue eyes, which helped him stay out of jail 18 victims too long. Dahmer’s desire and repulsion in regards to race and sexuality were off the fucking charts. I’m not done with him yet.

I like that you mentioned “collective forgiveness is unusual in our society,” in regards to my Jesse James piece. I’ve had a few people tell me how soft my work is now that it’s focused on love and forgiveness. I never get my back all up about it but I laugh to myself and think “this muthafucka has no idea how hard it is to be loving to someone who acts so ugly and hateful.”  I still have those knee-jerk ego reactions where I want to tell people about themselves (harshly) but I check myself, because now I’m more interested in starting conversations then ending them. I am all too aware that we live in revenge culture and how that is far too often people’s line of defense. The entire series is about getting people to hopefully see that they too have been untoward to someone at some point or another and have desired to be forgiven and loved anyway. It’s about how often we forget those times and withhold the very thing we desire when the roles are reversed. It’s about squandering an amazing opportunity to be compassionate just to appease our egos.The unconscious hypocrisy is rife with humor to me  Every person in The Love Renegade series are just stand-in’s for us. Ha! and Got Ya!

The Love Renegade #6-307:Love Letters (Make It Rain)
2011

Mixed Media

OPP: You recently exhibited Love Letters (Make it Rain) at The Kitchen in NYC. Viewers had the choice of sending a letter to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Westboro Baptist Church, and Glenn Beck. How did you select each public figure?

EA: I chose them because I think they have on several occasions acted a hot ugly mess in front of a camera that broadcasts to millions of homes all over the world. They have encouraged and condoned: greed, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and revenge... your basic asshole behavior. We are all guilty of these things in our lives (varying degrees of course) and if you say you aren’t, you’re a liar and not ready for this work or conversation. I’m just posing the question: what can change in your life if you show love to someone who is acting in its opposition?
 
OPP: As I understand, a great number of letters were mailed over the course of the exhibition—have you received feedback on the project from participants or other viewers? Have the letters worked?

EA: I was thrilled when The Kitchen told me that over three hundred letters had been sent during the course of the exhibition. I received beautiful letters sent to me by people telling me how my work has touched them. The response was really great from participants and folks who just happened on to my website. I’ve had an art space in New Zealand show interest in having the Love Letters come all the way across the world. Folks have been in to it. Have the letters worked? I know Glenn Beck is no longer on the air and Fox News has been trying to tone it down. I also heard some state was trying to ban Westboro Baptist Church from attending funerals… it was kind of eerie how it was happening all around the same time. It isn’t so much what I want to see happen in these figures’ lives as what I want to see happen in everyone’s life. I desire to see people take responsibility for the energy they bring into the world and make far less decisions on behalf of their egos. Take my word for it: I am a recovering egomaniac and as such I know I’m responsible for the emotions I choose to experience and the behavior I choose to express… I no longer put the blame for these things in another’s hands.

OPP: You exhibit widely, how does working toward a deadline for a show influence your process? In fact, your first solo exhibition with the San Francisco Arts Commission is currently up—what are you working on for the show?

EA: Well I like to call “deadlines”, “time frames” it has a better ring to it. They definitely influence me to throw things across the room, bang my fist on the table, hurl expletives at my computer that would make a Boston Bruins fan blush, then apologize to my computer with the following: Mommy didn’t mean it, I’m just under a lot of pressure with these “time frames,” and no sleep. Time frames motivate me to get the shit done, it’s a part of the creative birthing process. There will be pain and there will be joy.

Yes, I’m working on a year-long (hopefully just a year) project entitled The Love Renegade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell (Phase I & II). Keith Bardwell is the latest person to catch the attention of The Love Renegade, because he refused to marry an interracial couple in 2009… you heard that right, 2009. Bardwell (an elected official) explained his refusal to marry the couple was, because he “had seen countless interracial couples where the children were rejected by family members, and he didn’t want to see that happen again.” The piece consists of interviews of biracial people from adulthood to infancy, kindly letting Bardwell know that they are doing well and his concern for them isn’t necessary. Alongside, interviews of interracial married couples telling the viewer why they wanted to marry their partner. In this lens love (not race) can become the forefront of how these partnerships began and biracial people are given back their voice in order to speak on their own behalf. Upon, hearing from the source any viewer who has shared in these sentiments will be left to address what’s truly resting behind their concern for the children. It’s a long work in progress.

The Love Renegade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell (Phase I)

OPP: Does The Love Renegade have advice for emerging artists?

EA: Yes I do.
1.    Don’t listen to anyone who encourages you to live Plan B.
2.    Tell your ego to fuck off on a regular basis.
3.    Know your self worth as person and an artist.
4.    Be kind.
5.    Be relentless.
6.    Don’t be afraid to go by yourself.
7.    Tell your ego to fuck off on a regular basis.

To view more of Elizabeth Axtman (The Love Renegade’s work, visit elizabethaxtman.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Montgomery Perry Smith

Oh Mother, 2009. Detail. Chair frame, fake flowers, plastic dome, glass, paint, mirror.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work feels both man-made and organic at the same time. The craft materials and discarded domestic elements remind us that we are dealing with manufactured goods, while the forms those materials take suggest that these sculptures have grown organically. This paradox leads me to wonder about your process. Do you have plan or is the process more instinctual?

Montgomery Perry Smith: Most of my pieces have been planned out and sketched several times before they are finished. I’ll collect many objects that interest me and arrange them in my studio, then sketch and arrange and sketch.  It is a nice way for me to work, because some of my pieces take forever to complete. Along the way I will find new things that interest me, or months later I’ll look at sketches and want to expand on something that I initially wasn’t interested in.

OPP: Your material lists are comprehensive. Do audience members care about the materials and their meanings the way you do? 

MPS: I like rewarding the few who choose to learn more about a piece. My work has many layers, details, and holes that require the viewer to spend more time exploring than they are probably used to. And my materials are another one of those layers. I can’t expect everyone to dedicate the time to really inspect a piece, but the ones who do are usually pleased. Being in the Fiber and Material Studies Department at School of the Art Institute of Chicago made me pay close attention to the objects I chose. I think it is important to know when you use a certain material or object it can bring very specific meanings along with it. I’m personally interested in playing with found domestic objects and materials that would traditionally be used for craft or decorations.

Baby Blue, 2010. Paper, pen, paint, lace, fake flower. 14 inches.

OPP:  What is it about domestic objects and craft materials that is so appealing to you?

MPS: I like how domestic objects hint at a specific way of life or use. When incorporating these objects it gives my pieces a sense of nostalgia. I think of craft materials the same way. They imply the pieces had a purpose other than being decorative. Each piece has this absence of a body or a living being to activate it. 

I personally connect with these objects because they remind me of childhood.  The ceramic dishes and light fixtures bring up memories of my grandmother’s house and the hours of craft projects I would work on while visiting her. I was always fascinated by the dollhouse she had made from scratch, and I wanted to make my own. I remember secretly constructing little rooms out of cigar boxes, and hiding them, because I was convinced that little boys were not allowed to show interest in dollhouses.

Bottom Feeder, 2009. Starfish, lace, paper, pen, paint, fleece, plastic dome, fake flowers, the cone, google eyes. 40 inches.

OPP: The formal language in the work (repetition of concentric circles, cascades, gaping holes, concave and convex domes, fringe, symmetry) is quite engaging, if I think of your sculptures in purely abstract terms. But there is also a sense that your sculptures are representational, but of things I’ve never seen before. Some pieces, such as Bottom Feeder (2009) and Just Like You Should (2008), remind me of Muppets. They are aliens or animals we haven’t discovered yet. Many, like Gasper, (2009), Pit Worship (2010), and Hardcore (2010), evoke Victorian memorial art. Do you think of your sculptures as abstract or as representational? What, if anything, are you memorializing?

MPS: I think of my sculptures as representational. I like creating these objects that are pulling from various sources and playing with them until they become disturbing and familiar at the same time. I’m very interested in the uncanny and the emotions it brings out in people.

I’m memorializing moments, ideas, and people of interest. Some pieces seem more like mounted trophies on a hunter’s wall, while other objects appear to have a specific purpose or ceremonial use. I try not to be too specific with the subject that is being referenced; I’m drawn to the more open and accessible pieces. But there are definitely pieces, like Gasper, that are memorializing something specific (David Carradine).

Pit Worship, 2010. Pleather, felt, faux fur, fake flowers, satin, fleece, leather. 50 inches.

OPP: Many of your titles, like Pearl Necklace (2008), Creamy (2009), and Daisy Chain (2009) evoke sexual themes. How do your sculptures talk about sexuality without any images of bodies? Are the titles jumping off points for creating a piece, or do they come after?

MPS: The titles usually come after the piece is complete. The ideas are there throughout the whole making of the piece, but I tend to wait till the end to name them. I wouldn’t say that I don’t use images of the body. There is a definite orifice throughout my work, and it is often a representation of just that. But I like abstracting it and playing with it and bringing a new visual vocabulary to it.

OPP: I can see what you mean about the orifice, and you are definitely abstracting it in a very compelling way. Are you trying to say something specific about sexuality?

MPS: I’m interested in societies’ views on sexuality. It is a very uniting and polarizing subject, and it is something that everyone shares, in one way or another. I’m fascinated by its ability to cause euphoria and anxiety, life and death, love and hate.

Loads and Tools, 2011. Glass, foam, beeswax, fake flowers, paint

OPP: Loads and Tools (2011) from your recent threewalls show Milking (2011) includes a contextualizing narrative in the promotional materials: “two new sculptures that focus on an otherworldly relic and the tools used to milk it.” Was this the first time you offered an explanation as to the nature of your sculptures as part of the exhibition support materials? Does this represent a new direction for your work in general?

MPS: Milking was the first time I had used text along with my work, I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. I wanted to add another level to the narrative, but in the end it seems too specific for me. I think it is more of a test than a new direction, my next show I’m letting the pieces speak for themselves.

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

MPS: I'm continuing to work on a new series of pieces that should show up on my website within the next couple months. I will also have my work in Flowers, the upcoming issue of Monsters and Dust. They recently won the Propeller Fund Grant to create a print edition in addition to their web release.

To view more of Montgomery Perry Smith’s work, visit montgomeryperrysmith.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andrea Myers

Orange Horizon (Detail)
2008
Machine sewn fabric collage
20 x 120 inches

OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as a painter who works in sculpture and your BFA was in printmaking, so I imagine a time when you worked primarily in 2D. Was this ever true?

Andrea Myers: Yes. I began my pursuits as an artist, taking classes in mainly painting and printmaking and finishing my BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I found myself more engaged in the processes I was learning in my printmaking classes than with the actual resulting prints I was making. I was never really good about being precious or careful with prints I made, inevitably getting stray marks or “happy accidents” all over my paper. At some point, I started cutting my prints up, maybe out of frustration and maybe out of rebellion against two-dimensional expectations. I think that’s when I started activating a part of me that was interested in the materials and processes of printmaking and painting, such as paper, fabric, paint and color, and taking those elements and making them more malleable and tactile.

OPP: What prompted the change in your practice that led to "exploring the space between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, hybridizing painting, printmaking and sculpture," as you say in your statement?

AM: The transition in my work from exclusively two-dimensional to predominantly three-dimensional happened very slowly and incrementally. In stages, I found myself stepping off of the flatness of the wall and growing my work out into dimensional space. I began layering materials that I felt comfortable with, mainly paper. I experimented using the materials in multiple, rather than using paper solely as a means to make repetitions of imagery. The paper and then fabric became the subject matter, like painting in dimensional space, creating sculptural objects that relate to the color and forms found in painting.

Plateau
2007
Layered fabric, foam, glue, thread
65 x 50 x 20 inches

OPP: Could you talk more about how your overall process relates to painting?

AM: I really struggled with my first painting class. I was horrible at oil painting, probably too impatient, which is funny to say, because you could look at my current work and assume I am a very patient person to sit and layer small shapes of fabric and glue them together one by one.

In graduate school, I was in the Fiber and Material Studies department at SAIC, and our studios were mixed with the Painting and Drawing department. I found myself in a love hate relationship with painting, enamored by the possibilities of color and form but questioning the traditional format of painting. I began making what I now consider “exercises.” I would make a quick, gestural fabric collage and then make a seemingly exact replica out of painted wood. The pairs would be positioned together, testing the perception of the viewer. The Duplicate Series, as I called them, was a major epiphany in my work. In hindsight, I feel like I was breaking down my practice to the base level of what I was interested in, almost like finding my work’s DNA structure, so that I could then build it back up.

When I talk about my work now, I like to consider myself a “maker.” Each project or form I create leads me to my next work. It might involve sewing, drawing, printing on fabric, or cutting forms out of wood. I try to keep my practice fluid and take elements and processes from mediums that seem appropriate to my concepts for the pieces.

Pretty much every piece I make starts as a black and white contour line drawing in my sketchbook. Over time, the idea grows into a dimensional form, occupying physical space. But what is interesting to me is that the piece inevitably returns to its flat origins when I photograph the piece (usually for documentation for my website). In a way, every piece, no matter how dimensional it becomes, will spend most of its existence, its representation in the world, as a flat two-dimensional image. So perhaps every sculpture I make could really be seen as an idea for a painting of sorts.

Isthmus (Detail)
2006
Layered fabric, glue, acrylic, wood
20 x 32 x 144 inches

OPP: Your work relies heavily on accumulation, which speaks both to the organic and the manufactured. Your titles often evoke naturally occurring processes and formations (i.e. melting, thawing, drifting, fissures, webs, avalanches, plateaus), while your color palette and chosen materials (felt, commercially-produced fabric, paper) conversely evoke the manufactured. Can you talk about this apparent disjuncture?

AM: I have always been interested in presenting contrasts or tensions in my work. The starting point would be exploring the space between two- and three-dimensionality or what constitutes a two-dimensional piece versus a threedimensional piece. My approach to sculpture is to take flat materials and stack, layering and amassing the material so that it loses its initial flatness and starts to become a whole made up of many layered increments.

Inevitably, the central focus in my work tends to be abstractions of nature or perceived nature, and I am interested in how historically human kind has tried to harness and control nature only for nature to become more uncontrollable. My pieces function as a mediated version of nature. I attempt to illustrate the behavior of nature through bold, saturated color in contrast to how we generally perceive nature. I juxtapose natural forms with typically unnatural, intensified colors such as florescent orange or Technicolor striations. I look to color’s intensity as a means to visually illustrate the uncontrollability of nature while also working against the typical white wall format of a gallery space, creating forms that disrupt the linear, clean and neutral setting of the traditional exhibition space. Consistently in my work, there is also a contrast between the presence of my hand and the use of a tool. I go back and forth between cutting layers of fabric individually by hand, implementing a sewing machine to create line work, and using a jig-saw or band saw to cut forms from wood. Even with manufactured materials and machines, the individual artist uses each machine so differently. I see all of my materials like tubes of paint, in line with Duchamp’s notion that tubes of paint are ready-made and so every painting in the world is a readymade object; every artist in the postmodern world is dealing with “readymades,” but each artist’s hand and idea is what makes original works of art.

Everlasting
2010
Fabric, polystyrene, plaster, latex paint
50 x 55 x 30 inches

OPP: I personally find your work unbelievably beautiful. There's something profound to me about forms that immediately reveal their processes and labor, as if the beauty lies as much in the process as in the resulting form. Does this resonate with your interests as an artist? Does beauty play a role in your work?

AM: I love that you mention beauty. Doesn’t it seem like we aren’t allowed to discuss such a thing in contemporary art sometimes? I feel like often times, we can lose sight of the fact that at the core of art making, there is an individual making the work, a person who has feelings and imperfections and is human. My work is a reflection of my personal observations and, for better or worse, is an extension of myself. I have always loved to be in nature and experience the fundamental forms and behaviors of nature that I find fascinating and compelling. The processes I utilize in constructing work emulate events found in nature: slow erosions or accruals that shape and shift land over time, sometimes rapidly, sometimes subtly. I find beauty in the cyclical behavior of nature, in the growth and in the decay and in all of the moments in between.

Spill Thaw
2011
Ink on fabric, glue, foam
15 x 17 x 19 inches

OPP: What's an average day in your studio like?

AM: Ahhh, I wish I could have a whole “studio day,” but usually my practice comes in fits and starts, typically a couple hours at a time or less. Now that I have an almost two-year old daughter, her naptime and bedtime dictate when I can concentrate on my work. I have maintained a home studio ever since I was the artist-in-residence at Central Michigan University in 2007, where I was given a house in the woods with a studio to live and work in during the school year. I sometimes miss having a studio outside of my house, but ultimately it is so convenient and nice to be able to go look at something I am working on, even if it is just for a moment. It seems like I try to do a lot of mental pre-planning and drawing in my sketchbooks, so that when I do have the time to work, I am focused and decisive. Some days, I will just sit down and try things, making little collages or work on developing new processes. It also depends on deadlines, if I have a commission deadline or a show deadline. I am more likely to be very strategic when I go to my studio. When I am working in my studio, it feels very much like a meditative process. The repetition of accumulating layers or stitches from the sewing machine over and over allows my mind to rest or wander, and I get absorbed into the present moment of making.

To view more of Andrea Myers’ work visit andreamyersartist.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Parker Smith

Pussy Fart, detail
2011
Printed canvas, 14k necklace
20" by 30"

OtherPeoplesPixels: Interdisciplinarity is a staple in your work, from photography to painting to sculpture to installation to collage. Many of your wall-hung works, such as Crush, Dead Clay, and Pussy Fart, are hybrids: part photograph/part sculpture. Could you talk a bit about working in so many different media?

Adam Parker Smith: I like the idea of mutual dependency between materials and idea. In my recent work concept seems to always dictate the materials used; however concept is normally reliant on the materials. I like to think of these “hybrid” works as combinations of inert materials that, when combined, have a catalytic reaction. This forms concept that is far removed or contrary to the original materials that make up the work. I spend time mining for ingredients that will lend themselves to this type of conceptual transformation and that blend or polarize ideas.

OPP: Has your practice always been this way or did you ever have an emphasis in one specific medium?

APS: I have my MFA in painting and originally confined myself to painting on canvas with oil or acrylic, but moved quickly away from this my first year of grad school.

OPP: What kinds of subject matter did you paint back then? Anything that is a clear precursor to the work you make now?

APS: Actually, my paintings morphed directly into my sculptures. In grad school I was working figuratively, setting up scenarios that were essentially snapshots from the everyday, transformed and glorified. What began to happen was that I was having a hard time finding models to do the things I wanted to paint. I decided to make my own figures and paint from these, at which point I had full control and no restrictions. The figures were constructed from nylon and cotton filling and were sewn together in a rudimentary way. At a certain point I looked around the studio and realized that the sewn figures were much more interesting than the paintings that were being created from them, and so I abandoned painting and focused on developing my sculptures. So initially my sculptures were informed by my paintings. It took me a while to return to painting. In the last couple years I have started painting again, and now my paintings are informed by my sculptures.

Bad Dog
2011
printed canvas, porcupine quills
30" by 30"

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

APS: Humor in my work is closely related to a more academic definition of comedy with origins in the theater of Ancient Greece: dramatic performances pit two societies against each other in an amusing conflict. I see this agon of comedy as a struggle between the powerless youth and societal conventions. The youth is left with few options other than to take dramatic, unconventional action.

OPP: Is youth in this metaphor the figure of the artist in general? Or is this more a representation of your personal experience? Is the “unconventional action” all art or is it specifically the kinds of unexpected juxtapositions you make it your work?

APS: I like to think that artists, musicians, actors, activists, and writers are a voice for their generation. So when I speak of the youth, I am speaking of a group that includes not only myself and artists in general but also a larger group of individuals who face similar struggles but who may not have a conventional venue to voice their views. With this in mind, "unconventional action" can range from irreverence toward medium specificity in a painting to violent revolution.

Disco Ball
2009
Plexiglas, paper, matte board
24" by 12"

OPP: Many of your pieces depend on convincing illusions. Burn Out (2010) and Burn Out (2011) list a smoke machine as one of the materials, leading me to believe that the Lamborghini isn’t even turned on. Disco Ball (2009) turns out to be impressively handmade with small squares of colored matte board instead of mirrors. Is illusion the point or a means to convey something else?

APS: Luckily vision often dominates the other senses, which makes visual illusion a great tool to exploit the audience's assumptions about the physical world. For me these illusions are not the point, but a way for me to skirt the normal restriction of the physical world in an attempt to convey an idea or concept that otherwise may not be possible. These illusions are not meant to be permanently deceptive, only to suspend conventional notions of time and space long enough for viewers to be intellectually transported before they have the chance to peer behind the curtain. I like to think about illusion as something that is not true or false but as an alternative experience that supplements meaning.

Fall Into The Void
2011
Photo collage on paper
126" by 126"

OPP: In Super Fight (2010), Superman, the paragon of wholesome American masculinity, fights only himself. He is frozen in constant battle, becoming both the perpetrator and victim of violent conflict. In Fall into the Void (2011), male heads are placed on female bodies and vice versa. No one looks at all comfortable. It appears that this gender-bending is not a welcome change, but a destabilizing force that leaves all the figures struggling to find any ground to stand on. Is talking about a contemporary experiences of gender your intention with these new collage pieces?

APS: While the complex social spectrum through which sexuality is now viewed is something that I am interested in, I would like to attribute the destabilizing force in both of these works to the mounting uncertainty of our times. Both works deal with ideas of negation and arbitrariness, which can of course be applied to ideas of gender or the absence thereof. But I would like conversation to extend beyond ideas of sexual identity and gender identification to more universal concerns of disorder, entropy and cultural disarray. Fall into the Void runs visually parallel to Rodin’s Gates of Hell, which depicts the falling of the damned into an eternity of brimstone and fire. It also evokes contemporary images of well-documented, man-made catastrophes. Super Fight lends itself to notions of the utter futility of man’s endless courtship with war and conflict and our societies celebration of sensationalized violence.

Installation at Times Museum, Guangzhou, China
Preggers, Fox in Box, Crush, and Cage
2011

OPP: Could you talk a bit about the issue of how individual pieces relate to your body of work as a whole?

APS: Because of my background in painting, I often think about these issues in a more formal sense. One of my teachers once stressed that a work (she was speaking about painting) must operate from three distances and be interesting from each perspective. These distances were from twenty feet away, from six feet away and from inches away. So from across the room a work must have something that draws you near, that compels you to look longer. Its overall composition must be stimulating in some fashion. As you draw closer to the work, details become clear. The work grows and begins to operate on another level; concept and form begin to merge. Directly in front of the painting you should become engaged with the nuances of the work that are only apparent from that perspective. These, too, add depth and understanding to the work so that, through a combination of different perspectives, a very rich appreciation can be drawn from the work. I like to think about my entire body of work in this way: from across the room (my work all together), from a few feet away (my work paired with another work or in a specific location), and from a few inches away (my work standing as an individual piece). For me each one of these hypothetical perspectives is important. If one is lacking, then the overall experience that the viewer has with my work is less rich.

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

APS: Sewing together thousands of colored friendship bracelets from Guatemala. I am working on a series of tapestries. Some of the tapestries are image based while others have text formed from different organizations of colors from the bracelets. One of these texts reads, “will you marry me?”


To view more of Adam Parker Smith’s work visit adamparkersmith.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sam Jaffe

Blue Meanie
2009
Mixed Media
12" X 12" X 20" (approx.)

OtherPeoplesPixels: As an interdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, installation, and painting, with an emphasis on color, form, and materiality, your body of work is varied and mostly abstract. What are some common themes that come up again and again for you?

Sam Jaffe: First of all, I'm probably a hoarder. Luckily, I'm also obsessively organized. I think, as with many artists, my upbringing, early experiences, and passions really do seem to be relevant here. Within my work, I have owned much of the physical material from which I draw inspiration since childhood. I started many of my collections (bits of lace, seashells, kitschy figurines, beads, stickers, miniatures, handmade potholders and blankets, vintage clothing, sea glass, Lisa Frank everything, foreign coins, holograms, colored light bulbs, fake eyelashes, children's books, yarn, plastic flowers to name a few) before I can remember how or why they started. Many of my works begin with a certain personal visual delight in these collections. My art is all about combinations and amalgamations of details; it could be seen as an over-romanticizing of the commonplace.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk a bit more in depth about the materials you use?

Sam Jaffe: Most of the materials that I end up using for the work are from popular culture and are mass-produced. I'm searching out this latent possibility in things that are part of the everyday. I create by taking these items and placing them next to things that have been painstakingly handmade. I hope to question what is craft and what is commodity. I want there to be prickly situations where nature and culture come to some sort of outlandish understanding. That which was thought to be animal, or human, in some way morphs into something horribly artificial. There are also a lot of accumulations of partsa kind of overgrowth or bad, mutated evolution, and I think that may suggest some contemporary cultural parallels that are very problematic.

Materials for me are not just formal elements, nor are they ever neutral. They stand for a vast array of personal and cultural frameworks. They shape our senses of self. Above all, the work is about surrendering to materials and the fetishistic nature of material culture. In many ways, I like to think that this IS the primary content of my recent work. It's all about strange ways of using materials and allowing the form to be a demonstration, extension, and exploitation of the possibilities of the materials.

Untitled (from Sketchbook)

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have chosen to include documentation of your sketchbook on your website. Many sketchbooks compliment finished pieces by showing the working process of an artist with notes and ideas for further development, but yours seems denser and closer to a work in and of itself than others I have seen. What is the role of the sketchbook in your practice?

Sam Jaffe: I rarely sketch, unless there is a concrete logistical task like taking measurements or a mathematical problem raised by a work. Sketching for me is almost pointless, because I start with a vague idea and end up with something completely different nearly every time. I just start working without much of a plan and the pieces evolve. I spend a lot of time looking at what's there, be it a pile of fabric or a nearly completed installation, and then I make my next move... one step at a time. The sketchbooks really function more like portable studios: just something to work on while traveling or at home watching TV.

Painting Sweater
2009
Yarn on Masonite Panel

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many pieces, such as Physical World (2009), Painting Sweater (2009) and Agnes (2011), reference painting visually without being painting. How does the history of painting as a discipline relate to your work in other media?

Sam Jaffe: Well, I'm from Wisconsin. I was exposed to some contemporary art as a kid, and certainly came from a family dedicated to cultivating my artistic interests. But, up until I was well into my BFA, art meant modern, Western painting. Sculpture would have definitely involved a hammer and chisel, or worse, power-tools...scary! I didn't go to Chelsea until I was in my early 20s and I doubt I could have named a single, contemporary, female artist at that time. Looking back, I think this painting baggage thing has been hard for me to shake, so I embrace it. As you point out, even as I have moved away from the medium, painting, painting rhetoric, painters, and painting history have really still remained salient concerns of mine.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are there any contemporary painters that influence your work now? If not painters, what artists do influence how you think about sculpture?

Sam Jaffe: I'm really interested in all kinds of art and also design and fashion. I don't tend to spend too much time categorizing or discriminating based on media. I am particularly drawn to artists that activate and take advantage of spaces in unique ways like Olafur Eliasson, Gordon Matta Clark, and Dan Flavin. I had the opportunity to see Flavin's rooms of light at The Villa Panza in Italy several years ago, and I think that it is one of the main reasons I became excited about installation in the first place. I also tend to look at artists with similar material and aesthetic interests to mine like David Altmejd, Mike Kelly, Folkert De-Jong, Yayoi Kusama, Jim Drain, Nick Cave, and Louise Bourgeois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does humor play in your work?

Sam Jaffe: Humor is often characterized by some kind of sudden shift in perspective, a convergence of two conflicting frames of reference. It is something we might use as a coping mechanism when we are experiencing painful, stressful, embarrassing, or awkward emotions. My goal in using humor is to energize the viewer with the playful formality in my work. But when s/he gets up close, I want there to be an insecurity as to what s/he is seeing. Do the exaggeratedly bright colors and overstuffed, spongy forms begin to turn toxic and sinister when one turns away? Carnivals, cartoons, parades, and fairy tales can be confusingly humorous and scary settings. Tough messages can be buried in softness.

Some Pig
2009
Construction Gloves, Chicken Wire, Poly-fill
Variable Dimensions

OtherPeoplesPixels: Some Pig (2009), Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner (2009), and Blue Meanie (2009) are just a few titles that make reference to popular movies, books and music. What is the role of these cultural references in the meaning of your work?

Sam Jaffe: The cultural references serve mainly as complicating agents and informers that push up against a prudish aspect of formalism that seems to interest me. I visualize the concept of "pop culture" as an expansive sea of data that can be grabbed at in the same way one would make up a mix tape. I pose the question, how can we make narratives out of our contemporary, American culture, which is already such an irreverent crossbreed? I am hugely influenced by both popular and avant-garde film, literature, and fashion. So, yes there are references to films like Dirty Dancing, but I also reference films by Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowski, both of whom make work that would be categorized as somewhat experimental or underground. My work is particularly American and Post-Modern in that I sometimes brazenly de-contextualize and take possession of whatever forms seem to create something interesting. I think artists have to be opportunistic yet selective when it comes to cultural input.

Warm And Scuzzy (Detail)
2009
Latex, Great Stuff, Felt, Thread, Polyfill, Glitter, Acrylic, Hair, PVC Piping
3' X 3' X 1.5'

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptures and installations range from clean and uniform, as in Some Pig (2009), to chaotic and filthy, as in Warm and Scuzzy (2009) or the untitled sculptures from 2009, which use insulating foam. Could you talk a little about these qualities in your work?

Sam Jaffe: Rather than using the terms "clean" and "dirty," I would describe the dichotomy in my work as modern/synthetic vs. natural/biological. Modernity represents a utopian epoch of efficient, triumphant, and evangelical conquest over those elements of culture that are not consistent with the logic of a particular, shrewd, and masculine world order: a system set up to control the primal, erotic, and, of course, feminine impulses that stand in the way of "true progress." In some of my work, I hope to complicate and undermine this order by creating works that mimic a modernist style or trope, but then at the same time are visually or sensually rich and tactile or ornamented. Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner, for example, is essentially a monochrome, but it's made from neon pink, knit pieces; knitting being a tradition that communicates with the human body in feminine, emotional and interactive ways. In a piece like Warm and Scuzzy, the form is meant to refer to the body, but it is made from mass produced, industrially available goods like felt, insulation foam and pieces of PVC piping.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Ah! Would you say that underlying your formal explorations of material is a primarily feminist approach to the art history associated with Modernism? Is this connected to why the painting concerns you mentioned before continue to come up, but in other media?

Sam Jaffe: Yes, I think so...if not a feminist approach, at least a feminine one. It comes down to the idea that a modernist vision tends to deny certain valuable qualities inherent in handmade objects like their ability to be intimate with the body or the fact that they carry with them the complex histories of their makers. I think that in our culture these may be feminine modes of experience. Paintings, historically speaking, may have more to do with a different and more traditional type of object-experience since they usually hang on walls and are observed from a distance. So, I suppose the painting references in my work could be seen as a nod to this latter type of object-experience, which I then hope to completely complicate and undermine.

To view more of Sam Jaffe’s work visit samjaffe.org.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andy Rosen

Dear, Old Master 
2009
Installation

OtherPeoplesPixels: On your website, you mention the “friendly and peaceful view of rural life as portrayed by the crafts and folk art of New England.” Could you expand on this for viewers of your work who are unfamiliar with the New England folk art tradition? Are there certain visual tropes from this tradition that you are responding to in your own work?

Andy Rosen: I’ve been focusing mostly on local art traditions like chainsaw carving, whittling, wooden toys, yard art, etc. But, really I’m looking at everything art-related that is (or was) created by folks in this area. Many of the works tend to have a roughness and imprecision (non-manufactured look) that conjures for me an attitude of the wilderness.
 
I’m particularly fascinated by a portrayal of nature where the wildlife is shown as majestic, portraying animals that never eat (each other) and are never affected by our presence. And when we do exist together, it’s as though they’re happy to see us. In short, a land at peace, untouched and pristine.

I find the lack of conflict and struggle intriguing, especially, in light of increasing pressure by us on their habitats and food sources. While such scenes surely do exist still, I can rarely see such things without wondering what’s really going on here?

I think it may be easy to dismiss such works as escapist, idealistic or merely decorative, but for me they have a kind of revelatory power. These works are more mirrors than lenses. Reflected on the faces and gestures of the animals in these works, are our desires, beliefs and fantasies about this area.

In this context, what I make becomes my way to better understand the extent to which these fantasies shape and influence my conception of nature, my biases and beliefs. For instance, why do I focus my attention on particular elements within a landscape or why do I choose certain animals and pretty much ignore others?

OPP: Woodcarving is your most prevalent media. How did you learn it?

AR: I’m more or less self-taught. My training at school was as a painter and glassblower. So for needed techniques and tricks I study what I need to learn and ask furniture maker friends for tips or just bungle my way through.

I’m quite taken by the evocative power wood holds as a material representative of the wilderness.  I love the smell and the feel of it, as well as the surfaces I can achieve with it. Also, nearly all the wood I carve comes from the dump. I like the idea that I’m reconstituting a material that comes directly from my local landscape.

Loaded
2010

Wood and Epoxy
Detail of an installation

OPP: In many of your pieces, evidence of the man-made world is built upon a single animal’s back. In pieces such as I Can Only Take You So Far, Barnacle and the installation Loaded (2010), the animals’ faces express weariness and excruciating pain. In other work, such as Trick (2010) and Chip (2010), the animals seem at peace, almost joyful. Can you talk about this difference?

AR: My interest in understanding what is happening to the environment changed. I began to question why I was depicting animals as pawns or helpless creatures in our game. This kind of thinking seemed umm... rather self-centered. Though we are certainly in an era where our actions are affecting every habitat on Earth, I’ve become increasingly interested in a more ambiguous portrayal of animals affected by human activity.

It also corresponds roughly with the birth of my son. It’s pretty hard to not see one’s offspring as an investment in the future. So many questions and concerns I had regarding the big ol’ problems of US and the environment were now being asked in the context of bringing a child into this world. How should I respond to what is undeniably a major issue that my son and his generation will face?  My artwork seemed like the best place to start this dialogue. But, should my language be dire? Why? Was there a way to talk about this worry without directly stating it?

I also became increasingly surrounded by his toys. These toys invariably depicted an animal smiling or joyfully doing something laboriousmoving dirt, carrying people, etc. What are they all so happy about? Don’t they know what’s happening to them? I like how a smile can express joy and a grimace at the same time.

Pinocchio
Wood and Epoxy

OPP: Each of your sculptures and installations implies a narrative and many read like allegories. Some make references to known fairy tales including Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty, while others evoke well-known fables in their use of specific animals like the hare and the fox. Do you generally have a specific narrative in mind before beginning a piece? Is there a prevailing allegory that runs through all of your work?

AR: It’s hard not to get caught up in the fantasy/idea I create. I even pat my sculptures on their heads, as if they’re real. On some level, I really feel for them. This kind of deceptive empathy is how I generate narrative. It definitely shapes what happens to the sculptures and the decisions I make regarding their plight. It seems weird then to treat this “being” as a symbol or stand-in for a larger theme. They probably still are allegorical but I think I’m most compelled by the irrepressible urge to treat my works like real animals. I know it’s a fantasy, but it’s also something that is for me impossible to ignore. In this way, play becomes both subject and tool.

As for the use of fables and fairytales, I can’t help but notice their influence, especially those that take place in rural settings. The notion of a fairy tale as a way to process something more abstractly or indirectly within the environment resonates with me.

I’ll borrow from these ideas, usually only in part. I’ll use them as a framework to build from. However, I don’t initially have a narrative that I set out to illustrate. I often have only a vague sense or image in mind for each piece, a kind of gut level pull (read, biases and beliefs). To make the rabbit (Duster) for instance, there was some sort of narrative bouncing around my brain, a picture or sense of this rabbit in a really specific location. It’s often as though I can’t really see it until I make it. There were a handful of iterations before I eventually decided upon making him into a motorcycle.  Sometimes a piece will languish in a pile in my studio, half-completed for really long time. And I also usually make several pieces at once. What I’ve found is that the story unfolds as a kind of interaction between the objects I’m making and have lying around. I ask myself, what if this thing and this other thing were put together?  Throughout the course of making it, the idea becomes clearer, almost as if I’m fleshing out the scene in a landscape painting.

Duster
2011
Wood and paint
60 x 75 x 48 inches

OPP: In the most recent pieces, animals are engaged in unnatural states of transportation. The fox in Psst (2010) has become cunning beyond what is natural. He must think like a human. He appears to be avoiding some danger on the ground. I imagine toxic sludge or some kind of acid, something that is the result of industry. The hare in Duster (2010) has become part machine. Its characteristic speed is no longer enough. It needs wheels in order to escape some unspecific danger. I can’t decide if these pieces have a positive or negative outlook about the animals’ chances for survival. I can’t decide if they have evolved or if they are doomed. What do you think about the presence of optimism and/or pessimism in your work?

AR: A couple years ago I asked some friends who are prominent in the fields of botany and biology, whether they we’re optimistic about the state of the environment. Essentially I was wondering if there was a lot of irrational fear going on or if our fears were warranted. They were both certain, given their research and the research of their peers, that we are in a period of massive species collapse of both flora and fauna (and likely us, as well).

Knowing that we are witnessing huge changes every day, what’s there to be optimistic about? I’m not sure.

However, I’ve started to address depictions of majestic or happy animals, head on. It’s an attempt to see if I can really feel it or find it, despite the facts.

To view more of Andy Rosenʼs work visit andy-rosen.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carolyn Salas

Rug Project
2009
Cut and glued carpet foam padding
10ft x 8ft

OtherPeoplesPixels: You discuss addressing hierarchical powers of societal success in your artist statement. Your pieces The Awarded (2010), Trophy (2009), and Rug Project (2009), do so directly and with a subtle humor. Please tell me more about your ideas surrounding societal success as it relates to these pieces.

Carolyn Salas: With pieces like The Awarded I look to question the systems for which we recognize success; awards for the unknown seek to glorify the mundane while directly addressing the absurd. Similarly, Trophy (a collaboration with Adam Parker Smith) directly addresses the unattainable. As status and material obsession become an ever growing and ingrained part of today’s society we mock the ridiculousness of it, “showing off”, in this case has reached a laughable point. Rug Project, reassesses the value of common objects and questions conventional concepts of beauty, flipping the role of carpet from floor covering to fine art, playing with ideas of construction and the historical role of the rug as design, display of wealth, and warmth.  All three of the works ultimately explore themes of disillusionment and power while the material choice shows evidence of the erosion of time, breaking down and demystifying the power that they once held.  

Stack of Quilts
2011
ceramic, found objects
8.5 x 24 x 20” / 21.6 x 61 x 50.8cm

OPP: How does humor factor in your body of work as a whole?  

CS: I don’t consciously make the effort for the works to be humorous instead I think they reflect my personality. I am very rooted in the harsh realities of life but love to fantasize; I question my own insecurities, dissect my own inner struggles and rely on humor when I can. My material choice is driven by concept, I choose materials scaffolded with meaning which can be pleasantly interrupted or interpreted many ways, pushing the boundaries of material and concept to a place often times uncomfortable. I like how the awkwardness of a piece or the manipulation of a material very familiar to you can be jarring at the same time. For instance in the piece Stacked, I was thinking about the idea of mummifying a keepsake, questioning what happens as the object is repeated and how the meaning changes through that repetition. I’m interested in how the object loses its initial sentimental quality and becomes essentially a “kitsch” object. The objects both personal and found, placed on top of the ceramic cast quilts than provide another layer; a surrealist effect yet still tactile.

OPP: What did a day in the studio look like for you as you were creating Constructions and Tangible Losses (2010)? Do you “sketch” by drawing or does your process perhaps emphasize writing or pursuing the materials you ultimately incorporate?

CS: Initially I start by doing a lot of sketching, usually in response to a reading, thought strain or continuation of a prior body of work. During the making of this particular piece I was spending a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Greek and Roman Art wing. I was drawn to the marble figures, their missing limbs or what was left of a crumbled piece of architecture, for me their dismemberment was incredibly poetic, I like the idea of questioning what isn’t there. In attempts to recontextualize this in the work Constructions and Tangible Losses each pedestal piece displays a loss; the dowsing rod in need of land, the netted chain without a catch, the pedestal without an object, the leg and horseshow crab without its body, by simplifying the objects  the tension created lies within the absence they each represent. Their displacement and dismemberment act in dialogue with each other as if characters in a play.

Earring on a Mountain
2010
cement, abalone shell
80" x 64" x 2.5"

OPP: What comes first in your artmaking process in a piece like Earring on a Mountain (2010)—a conceptual or formal concern, an interest in a material, or do both occur to you simultaneously?

CS: It can vary radically from piece to piece, with the series of cement works, Earring on a Mountain, Untitled and New Order though I was inspired first by a reading. Mount Analogue, a book written by Rene Daumal, was floating around the studio; I picked it up and was immediately attracted to the voyeurism he speaks of, charting unknown territories. Inspired to create a sculpture that reflected this idea I started thinking about language and symbols. The two came together for me in the form of cement architectural structures. I was interested in using a material that could both be permanent while also seeming airy and light. I started playing with ways I could manipulate the forms and  the scale in relationship to the body while also addressing the connection between the wall and the floor.

OPP: You had a busy summer. What were you working on?

CS: This past summer I spent time at Franconia Sculpture Park, MN, on a Jerome Foundation grant. While in residence I created a 50 foot long handmade chain link fence. With this work I was investigating ideas surrounding territories, boundaries, borders and class issues. I am interested in the “in-between” stages; the tension that lies both within the physical space and the psychological space. For me the absurdity of hand making a fence and its displacement of location is an important factor. The fencing posts and chain are platted in a gold colored metal, in attempts to objectify and beautify the mundane, whilst the object itself fails to gain the authority it desires. For me the piece leaves a certain dissonance and residue that’s uneasy and off mark, I am hoping the viewer’s interaction with the work will question the same ideas. The piece titled Chain Link will be on view at the park through the summer of 2012.

OPP: What is next for you?

CS: I just moved into a new studio at the Abrons Art Center in the Lower East Side (NYC). I will be an AIRspace Artist-in-Residence for the next eleven months. I am excited about the other resident artists I am with and the facilities  I am hoping to get a chance to use the ceramic kilns. I am also preparing for a show at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum in February 2012.  There, I will be working onsite at the museum, using the piece Changing Sides as a platform for a much larger installation.  

To view more of Carolyn Salas’ work, visit carolynsalas.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews The Visualist

OtherPeoplesPixels is pleased to sponsor The Visualist, a Chicago visual arts calendar. OPP recently sat down with two of its three founders, Steve Ruiz and Chad Kouri, to chat about the project's inspiration, mission, and recent & upcoming highlights.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your project, The Visualist: Chicago Visual Arts Calendar, follows On The Make, a calendar project developed by Karly Wildenhaus. Tell me about the history of both projects and how The Visualist came to be.

Steve Ruiz: Some quick history: Karly started On The Make with Brad Troemel back in 2009. Originally, the site was a more journalistic blog platform, but they pulled that down and reinvented it as a stripped down curated events calendar. 

Chicago already had plenty of arts calendars in 2009—and still does—but the unique nature of the city's visual art scene meant it was more of a collection of smaller scenes, not all geographically related, which made it difficult to identify what was going on, where, and who would be interested in what. Additionally, many alternative spaces stayed away from advertising altogether, or passed info last minute on Facebook or twitter. On The Make's editors solved this by just focusing on those events that they were actually interested in attending, and this created a very valuable resource for a smaller insider audience of contemporary artists, curators, students, and professionals. While that sounds exclusive, most of the events they listed wouldn't have been covered anywhere else, and having a personally organized calendar was often most useful in conjunction with broader calendars.

Like many others, I used the hell out of On the Make and felt it was a crucial center for a community as spread out as Chicago's. I'm more of an artist / critic than a developer, but When Karly announced she'd be shutting the project down at the end of the summer, she and I met up and discussed the site and where she imagined it going. It wasn't until a few months later that I was able to get together with Chad [Kouri] and Jenny [Kendler] to put a successor project in motion. Karly passed us all of the data from On the Make and I spent August writing a new website around it according to Chad's killer designs.

I'd say The Visualist is our effort to provide the city of Chicago with a centralized calendar for visual art events. A lot more goes on than what I might add or approve, so I often encourage readers to check  ArtSlant, Chicago Art Map, Chicago Reader, NewCity, Bad at Sports, or other visual arts calendars or event lists. The value of The Visualist is its curation; every event I put on the site is something I'd personally recommend.

OPP: Fantastic, walk me through the website!

Chad Kouri: The whole idea for this site was to do one thing: showcase the best of the best events in the city and archive them in one place. No interviews, no blog posts, no commenting or any other content to muck it all up. There are a lot of calendars sites here in Chicago that are very well done in the city but they are all a small part of a bigger website and typically not super user friendly. Our goal was to have one site you can go if you were looking to go out that night / weekend and get in and out with the info you wanted without any of the info you don't need. Our Facebook Like Buttons are a good way for people to easily share an event with friends.

SR: I actually use Facebook heavily when gauging the events that are submitted. On its own, Facebook is a noisy calendar—but since new spaces open up all the time in Chicago, I'll check an unknown space's event listing there to see who's running it and who is attending. Occasionally I'll miss a name change or one-off event and only know what it is from the fact that half of my artist friends are planning on stopping by.

OPP: The Visualist is a project by three artists, yourselves (Chad Kouri and Steve Ruiz) and OtherPeoplesPixels co-founder Jenny Kendler. Can you talk about each of your art practices and other involvements in Chicago’s art(s) worlds?

CK: I co-run a collaborative art and design incubator called The Post Family with six other dudes. What other cool stuff am I involved in. . . hmmm. . . I art directed Proximity Magazine for a number of years here in the city and I have done numerous curatorial projects both online and in physical spaces: Co-prosperity Sphere, The Chicago Cultural Center and Chicago Urban Arts Society to name a few of the physical spaces. As for online stuff I started Margin Detail (a now defunct doodle blog), I write book reviews focusing on artist sketchbooks on book-by-its-cover.com and have done some guest writing on studiochicago.org. I've also shown my personal work at a handful of Chicago spaces including Ebersmoore, MVSEVM (rip), Johalla Proects, A+D Gallery and a handful of others. 

Steve Ruiz
Big Loop
Gouache, Graphite, and Ink on Paper, 8" x 9.5"
2011

SR: I'm a practicing artist and writer who writes about art, currently working on my MFA at the University of Chicago, and recently described myself as an artist interested in what other artists do—the work they make, what they do with it, and the actions artist's take within their professional and social circles. Most people who know me probably know me by my writing, which I began as editor of Chicago Art Review and later on ArtSlant, Jettison Quarterly, NewCity, and for a little group I started on Facebook called #chiart to facilitate inter-art-generational conversation. My personal site is at steveruizart.com, but googling me is probably better. 

In general, no matter what I'm working on, I try to operate in the community with a kind of active criticality. For example, I could write a paper about the importance of centralized calendars for dispersed communities, but that sounds a lot less interesting than just building a calendar and helping demonstrate that importance. Or I could complain about people my age not knowing what the Uncomfortable Spaces were, but I'd rather link them to spaces.org or invite them to #chiart. Chicago's art community is strongly defined by this kind of "go do something" criticism so I'm happy to be working within that tradition.

OPP: You are both incredibly informed about art events happening in Chicago. Do you make a point to attend much of what you post on The Visualist? What has impressed you recently?

CK: At this point Steve is doing most of the posting for the site. And he gives me some good ideas of what to attend! Most of the things I would add he is already on top of. But yes, I do try to go to as many arts events as I can each week. I average about 2-3 most weeks I think. Maybe a little less lately since I have been traveling for work. But going to art shows and lectures and such is free knowledge! Why avoid it?

SR: I'm from the western suburbs but didn't go to college in Chicago, so when I came back I think I over-compensated for that by going to as many shows as I could and writing like eighty reviews (or something equally reflective of how little else I was doing). That has dropped off a bit since starting grad school but I hope to continue to see plenty. Recent highlights have been Timothy Bergstrom / Volker Saul at Dan Devening Projects + Editions and Hennessy Youngman's presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

OPP: What is next for you both and for The Visualist?

CK: I'm hoping to start a publication of my own in the coming year. In the short term working on a collaborative mural with Ina Weise, Rod Hunting, Nick Butcher, Nadine Nakanishi and Ryan Duggan... preparing to leave for Portland next week with Margot Harrington to speak at Portland State University and working on a show with Stephen Eichhorn and Cody Hudson at Purdue called Studio Vour that opens early 2012. Otherwise just lovin' life, catching some local jazz heads jammin' from time to time and trying not to rush around so much. 

SR: I'm working with a few projects here at school, reading, making, and trying to avoid getting hit by cars. Philip Von Zweck's copy-machine project that I hosted at last year's MDW Fair is going to Performa in a few weeks so I'll have a drawing there for that, and a text piece in the next SCRIPTjr.nl. As always, a few other projects too up in the air to call. Trying to use Google+ more.

There are a lot of small improvements still on The Visualist's todo list, so once I get through those I'll be looking to improve the site's core functionality, streamline the event submission process, and perhaps include some of the post-event content that I demoed on Opencrit.com—user photos, critical collection, and carefully implemented commenting. However, like Chad mentioned above, we maintain a tight focus on what's up and what's good in Chicago's art.