OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Doug Beube

Max Weber Deconstructed (detail)
2009
Altered book
6 3/4" x 5 1/4" x 3/8"

A book is both an object and a transmitter of information. For the last 34 years, artist DOUG BEUBE has transformed this "seemingly antiquated technology" into sculpture and collage. He cuts, folds, gouges and rearranges the contents of each tome, stretching the limits of its form and calling attention to the incidental juxtapositions of text and image in various genres, including the novel, the art-historical text and the reference book. Doug lectures internationally and acted as curator and consultant for The Allan Chasanoff Bookwork Collection from 1993-2013. In 2011, he self-published a comprehensive monograph with numerous essays by critics and curators titled Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex. His two upcoming solo exhibitions open in October of 2014: Codex at BravinLee Programs and Emendations at Christopher Henry Gallery, both in New York. Doug lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You received a BFA in Film and an MFA in Photography. Did your early interest in the moving image and the image frozen in time lead organically into your sculpture and collage made from altered books?

Doug Beube: My photography ranges from social documentary to a formal exploration of visual phenomenon, i.e. how recognizable objects are collapsed into a two-dimensional plane as light and dark forms. The transition to collage and bookwork was an organic move. When I look at how I composed my early photographs, I notice certain abiding preoccupations: the compression of foregrounds and backgrounds, the construction and deconstruction of sequences, the repetitive use of forms, images and actions. These repeated gestures show up across separate artifacts and formal systems but also from one medium to another, verging on an obsessive compulsion. For example, the composite photographs like AloeVera: Negative/Positive (1980/1993) were created just as I was turning to collage and bookwork. They emphasize the negative spaces connecting primary objects in the illusory flat plane. In later pieces like A Passion Play (1995) and Masters in Art (2009), I carve and deface that same two-dimensional plane, creating negative spaces through such erasures.

Masters In Art: Van Gogh
2009
Altered book
6 3/4" x 5 1/4" x 3/8"

OPP: You are certainly a biblioclast, in the literal sense of the word, but are you also a bibliophile?

DB: I have a love-hate relationship with the medium of my art. I love the collection of concrete words in a book and the rich history of global inventiveness in binding pages and ideas in fixed margins. I love the heft of a book’s pages, the exposition, the narrative, the linearity and curvature of a story, the unfolding of a point of view, the simplicity and even the assumed preciousness of this object. Yet, its technology is outmoded in this digital era. As a method for recording, preserving and transmitting culture and information, it’s frustrating. On my Mac, I can delve into ideas with a series of clicks. I can drill down through websites into an almost infinite library of human expression. I can reshape, rearrange, erase and restore, at will. All such acts, so intrinsic to digital technologies and so unnatural to books, are nevertheless what I am driven in my art to do.

The codex, with the span of its body and its spine, is a metaphor for the human form. With its story, it is a metaphor for human expression and an artifact of civilization. Like a physician or an archeologist, I am driven to examine it, to dissect it, to cut it open, to dig into it. I am compelled to unfix margins, make tomes weightless, empty volumes of their stories and twist a point of view into its opposite.

When I select books for particular pieces, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.  I use the author’s work, held between the covers, to reveal my own story. Up-cycling and re-purposing the book pays tribute to the original author’s title, which can also be a critique of the content as well.

Life
2004
Altered book
13 1/2" x 22 1/2" x 11"

OPP: Are there books you would never alter?



DB: Books in our culture are presumed to be objects of affection, accorded a high status; their significant value may be due to the quality of materials, monetary expense of publication and the relevance of ideas. As one of the oldest technologies for disseminating information, all books, regardless of content, are made in the likeness of that familiar, black-clothed object: the "good book," the venerated Bible. Destroying a book is almost like destroying, not only the author’s soul, but God’s word immortalized in the wisdom of an ancient text block.

For centuries, responsible parents and repressed librarians have universally proclaimed, “Respect books, don’t touch them with sticky fingers!” If we even think about damaging a book, we scan the surroundings, waiting for an omniscient voice, “If your mucilaginous fingers blacken that book, if you have specious thoughts and you intend to sacrifice that volume, even for a righteous artistic cause, you will be punished, doomed to a life filled with eternal library fines and the worst, I will strike you down with guilt!” It’s as if an a priori code is imprinted within our cerebellum that inflicts pain if we clutch a tome with bad intentions or fingerprint it with filthy digits.

In my work, I primarily use discarded novels, atlases and art monographs. At one time, their spines stood upright on thousands of miles of dust-free shelves. As the information in the books became redundant, new volumes supplanted the well-read copies. They were tossed into a molding heap: vanquished titles stacked into smelly cardboard boxes and relegated to dank catacombs with cockroaches and rodents as their custodians. So, who will punish me if I revive a lost publication from the 42nd Street Public Library’s dumpster, a neighbor’s trash bin, the basement of Strand Books or a Judaica book shop in the East Village? I have actually saved numerous books from becoming landfill.  

But there are certain books I won’t re-purpose because they are rare, such as the Guttenberg Bible—it’s perfect as is. I also wouldn’t modify a book whose title does not resonate with my sensibilities or a religious text, where doing so might endanger my life.

Disaster series: Twisted Borough
2009
Altered phone book
14" x 15" x 5"

OPP: Gouge is a series of cut, drilled and pierced books. You describe the process as excavating, "as if it were a thrilling, previously undiscovered site in an archeological dig." While archeologists never know what they are going to find, they don't just start digging anywhere. There's a reason they pick the sites they pick. Once you make that informed choice as to where to dig, how often are you surprised by what you discover?

DB: There are two revelations that occur while working with power tools; one is immediate and the other delayed. I use a high-speed rotary drill to eliminate text from the front of the page, turning ink and paper to dust as the words disappear, as in the pieces Red Hat with Veil or Patterns of Abuse. Sometimes I work from the reverse side, and it’s not until turning it over that I see the effect of eliminating the inks, as in Erosion or Tessellation. Both are nontraditional drawing methods. Drawing with a pen or graphite is an additive process in which you see the results immediately. Instead, I use power tools as my stylus to create marks through a reductive process. There’s a third discovery made when I begin shuffling the gouged pages on top of each other and temporarily stacking them—sometimes five pages deep—and the excitement of a visually stimulating image emerges. On the website, it’s difficult to see the actual results in some series. In Frieze, Disorder and Erosion, I use quarter-inch spacers between each page. Not until the pages are finally glued in place does the excitement of what I’m seeing become real.

When doesn’t it work? When I think a found image is a good candidate, but the image doesn’t interact with the empty squiggles and hollow marks I grind into the paper. I’ve learned what works through trial and error. The buzz occurs when there’s a collaboration between the original image and my alterations; the two create a synergetic, revelatory spark that ignites an aha moment.

Modernism
2013
Altered book, collage
12" x 14 1/4"

OPP: My favorite series is Indicies (2002- ongoing). These abstractions evoke mountain ranges, ocean waves, EKG readings of the human heartbeat and EEG readings of brainwaves. I love that the process appears so cut—pardon my pun—and dry, but it produces such poetic results. Could you talk about the process of creating these pieces?



DB: Each piece in this series teaches me something new about how to put a line together and how to modulate the peaks and valleys. The book is sliced into strips, that are slightly fanned out on top of one another, creating a calligraphic gesture that appears to be a line doodle or scribble. After I configure the individual strips, I tape them together, creating a perpetual replay of the abstracted content and allowing the viewer to scan the entire book. For example, in Modernism and Pollock, the alternating currents reference both admiration for these artists and their falling out of favor at certain times then swinging back into adulation. Another reference is to the daily modulations of the stock market and precarious art investment in an unstable economy.

OPP: What are your thoughts on e-Readers?

DB: Fantastic! E-readers are convenient, hold a multitude of reading materials and are accessible with the click of a button. One day they may mostly supplant the paginated book—but not completely. There are too many readers who insist on physically turning the page. Who has heard of anyone passing on a dog-eared Kindle or reading the serendipitous hand-written notes in the margins? The choice to read using an electronic device or to turn the actual pages of a book are not mutually exclusive. Both technologies transmit an author’s words to an audience. We don’t have to choose between watching a film on a large screen in a movie theater and watching it on a TV or computer monitor. The experiences of viewing are different, but both are effective.

Right now I don’t use an e-reader, but their versatility excites me. Software programs allow the reader to interact with the published text or imagery, shrinking the gap between the reader and author. They become collaborators, whether the author likes it or not. I am working on a number of digital animations that will use a computer screen or iPad. But unless it’s a mixed media installation that requires that kind of technology, I’m sticking to the 'actual' book.

To view more of Doug's work, please visit dougbeube.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adrienne Ginter

Two Trees
2013
Hand-cut paper
24"x 32"

ADRIENNE GINTER relishes the details of nature: the gnarled web of tree branches, the modulating texture of a flower's surface, every individual blade of grass. Her cut-paper works, etchings and paintings of nature scenes draw on ancient myths, history and personal experiences. Each meticulous detail reveals a unique narrative, adding depth and nuance to the larger whole. Adrienne received her MFA in Painting from Boston University in 2008 and recently completed a residency at Vermont Studio Center. Since 2013, she has served as a trustee on the Vermont Arts Council of Windham County as well as the Vermont Crafts Council. In July 2014, she will have a solo exhibition [title?] at Outerlands Gallery in Vergennes, Vermont and will be featured in the Spring 2014 issue of Studio Visit Magazine. Adrienne lives in Wilmington, Vermont.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement you say, "My approach to a painting is that of an exploration into the reoccurring oddities and subtle fascinations of the natural world." Can you give us some examples of the oddities? What fascinates you about nature?

Adrienne Ginter: The largest flower in the world is the Rafflesia arnoldii, which I reference in my paper-cut work Red Crane and my mini gouache painting Craneflower. The Rafflesia arnoldii grows up to three feet and only blooms for a couple of days. It is nicknamed the "corpse flower" because when it flowers it emits a horrible odor of decaying flesh. It does so to attract flies and beetles which pollinate the flower. The pollinators must visit the male then female flower in that order. Red-crowned cranes will attack larger predators like wolves and foxes when protecting their nests. Other smaller birds such as mockingbirds will attack snakes and even humans to protect their nest as seen in my paper-cut Snake in the Garden. In Whale Hunters, I portray a whale shark, a species which originated 60 million years ago. It is the largest fish in the world and times its arrival to coincide with spawning fish shoals and feeds on clouds of egg and sperm. So much in nature is left up to luck and chance, yet every plant and animal has evolved to better its own chances of survival.

It’s crazy that I can spend three consecutive days painting outside on the same watercolor, and everything changes day to day because plants and animals are continuously growing and dying. I often think about how many different processes are happening in the natural world at any given moment and how we as humans fit into this, copy it and ignore it. We are animals, after all.

Red Crane
2012
Hand-cut paper
25.5"x 19.5"

OPP: You have experience with many different painting and print media: oil, watercolor, gouache, monoprints, etching. More recently you've been making work in hand-cut paper and collage. When did you make this shift? Do you consider it a break from or an extension of painting?

AG: I work in different media because I enjoy learning/teaching myself something new. The first hand-cut paper piece I made was Jungle (2008) during graduate school. I was struggling with a 6' x 7' all-green oil painting of the same title and created the paper-cut in order to inform my painting. After I made that first paper-cut, I was hooked. Working with paper allows me to open up and be more creative in experimenting with imagery and ideas. Paper allows me to be more fantastical for some reason. It doesn't have to make as much sense as I think a painting should. Paper also simplifies my palette since I use archival papers, usually Canson Mi-Teintes, and they only make 42 colors. Also, since I am working reductively and with a border on every piece of paper there is a built-in stopping point. There’s a natural limit to how much paper I can cut out.

I do not consider cut-paper a break from painting; each medium informs the other. I created a book from etchings I made during my first year in graduate school. That book of etchings was a huge turning point for me. I felt much more free with my imagery with the small scale of the etching plates, and those etchings led to the large oil paintings that ended up being my thesis show. I never would have made those large paintings without creating that book first.

Spring
2012
Hand-cut paper
32"x 24"

OPP: How important is planning and precision in your hand-cut paper works? Could you explain a little about the process?

AG: I do not plan out the paper-cuts. The only thing I plan is to have a connecting border on every layer. I typically use a X-Acto swivel blade. It’s an extremely small blade on a pivot, so I can cut curved lines. I begin with a color palette in mind, but this usually changes as the work progresses. I start with an idea (which often changes as the work progresses), and work on everything backwards, as I loosely draw the image on the reverse side of the paper, always leaving a border. I cut the smallest details first. That way, if I have a slip with the X-Acto knife, it happens towards the beginning of the process. After the first sheet of paper is cut to my liking, I register it on the next piece of paper, upside down, so I can again draw on the back and always leaving a border. I work this way, from the top sheet towards the back sheet, which is left blank. When I glue-tack everything down, I work in reverse from back to front. I am limited in what I can achieve with the paper, a fact I like. Paper is more graphic than painting. Images like clouds that require a lot of variation do not register well, so I just omit them.

Altair and Vega
2008
Oil on canvas
48"x 36"

OPP: There's little sense of the modern world in your oil paintings from 2008, around the time of your MFA thesis exhibition. The human figures often look like statues or figures from paintings of a different era because of their clothing and hairstyles. Some rare exceptions include the bikini in Me and My Mama (2008) and the making-out couple in Where Babies Really Come From (2008). The landscapes themselves seem idyllic and make me think of the romantic poets of English literature. Were you romanticizing nature in your work at this time? Has that changed in recent work?

AG: I still like using people of different eras in my work, as in my paper-cut Spring. I wanted my paintings from my thesis exhibition to feel like you were stepping into a different world. I often referenced french porcelain, anatomical statues, etc. Humans have emotional connections to items in history, and I wanted to represent that. For example, in the painting Altair and Vega, the touch that occurs between the two women feels so more emotional to me than if I had used representational figures in the same pose. I think it is just easier for humans to feel that emotion and connection if it is step removed from reality.

I am romanticizing nature. I want to make my own world. Many of the animals, people and flora in my work are combinations of the real, the extinct and the imaginary. Birds in The Forgotten Forest, for example, are sourced from emus, ostriches and my imagination. My current work is more about creating my own history/nature. In Red Crane, the corpse flower is birthing the red crane. This scene is from my imagination; it couldn't be possible.

Mayday
2008
Oil on canvas
84"x 96"

OPP: Could you talk about the importance of detail in your paintings and cut paper work as it relates to macro and micro narratives?

AG: I always have multiple narratives going on in each piece: a more universal narrative and a more personal one. I have to include my personal narrative in order to keep myself engaged, but I also offer viewers an opportunity to create their own narratives through the presence of detail. Mayday, for example, is about that moment of falling in love and how fantastic and vulnerable it is at the same time. A heaven/hell or light/dark theme emerges through the painted details in the scene, i.e. the juxtaposition of scary roots and tree branches with whimsical flowers. Regardless of what medium I’m working in, I strive to create work that is legible from a distance and becomes more engaging as the viewer moves closer. I want my work to be compelling whether you are across the room or just an inch away.

I have always noticed the details in a room or in a painting or the accessories people are wearing. As I progress in my work, I have become more and more intrigued by learning which components make up a whole. If I am representing a bird, I pay attention to each feather, to how wing feathers are very different than body feathers and to how the texture of the body differs vastly from the texture of the eye, beak or legs. I consider how each element in a scene has distinct qualities and requires precise visual language to describe it. This is something that is easier done in oil paint than cut-paper: leaf and rock textures can be built up with paint, and the sky can be a thin wash. Detail is so easily overlooked in everyday life, and I want to make people notice it. It heightens the narrative. Maybe because that's all there really is: millions of details making up the whole.

To see more of Adrienne's work, please visit adrienneginter.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and her solo exhibition Everything You Need is Already Here is on view at Heaven Gallery in Chicago until February 17, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Friedman

Uncontainable Esoterica
2013
Acrylic on Panel
37"x 45"

ADAM FRIEDMAN is aware of the tropes of sublime nature. His chosen subject matter—mountains, sunsets, oceans and outer space—have all accumulated symbolic meanings through the lenses of science, literature, pop culture and art history. He merges these meanings in two-dimensional and three-dimensional paintings that bend the rules of perspective, space and time, representing the mysteries of nature rather than a realistic rendering of it. Adam received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2008. He is represented by Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco, where he mounted his solo exhibition Space and Time, and Other Mysterious Aggregations in 2013. His upcoming solo exhibition Esoterica opens on March 7, 2014 at One Grand Gallery in Portland, Oregon, where Adam lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Mountains and glaciers are recurrent visual motifs in your work. What is so compelling about these landforms for you?

Adam Friedman: I’m originally from a small town in North Lake Tahoe. I literally grew up surrounded by some of the most epic mountains in the continental U.S. (if not the world!). My family eventually moved down to Encinitas in North County, near San Diego, where I became obsessed with the ocean. . . I was surfing, swimming, fishing almost every day. I have a deep-seated love for the great outdoors. For me, a snow capped mountain or a stormy ocean is the ultimate symbol of sublimity. Aside from my own personal investment in these motifs, there are art historical references. From the Hudson River School to Ed Ruscha and beyond, a large mountain has and always will be a powerful trope, simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.

The Spiral of Time, The Black Whole of Space
2010
Acylic, Screen Print, Gel Transfers, and Collage on Panel
16"x 16"

OPP: An Impossible Ascendancy (2013), Never Still-Life (2013) and A False Assignment of Ownership (2012) are paintings of landscape sculptures sitting on familiar white pedestals. In each one, mountains or glaciers are breaking through the top of the glass case that is meant to contain or preserve them. Could you talk about the attempt to contain nature in art (or in general)?

AF: The vitrines/pedestals are recognizable as objects that we see in museums and galleries. These structures typically house articles of particular human accomplishment in art, science, history, etc. Through the lens of science, they represent understanding, as in a natural history museum. But there is a fine line between “understanding” and “ownership.” We name things, places, people and cultures so that we can begin to comprehend them. But in doing so—especially in the case of the natural world and the cosmos—we deny their overwhelming mystery. Painters, photographers and writers have tried for centuries to create representations of the awe-inspiring experience of nature. As powerful as they may be, they never adequately represent the real thing. The landscape sculptures breaking out of glass are my way of recognizing that human beings can never fully grasp, nor control nature. These pieces are about relishing in the mystery of it all.

Bedrock of Being
2012
Acrylic on 2 Panels
36"x 46" (each panel)

OPP: Your newest paintings remind me of album covers for classic rock bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Is album art an influence for you?

AF: That’s awesome, and it’s something that I’ve heard a few times. I think that I’m more influenced by the music than the album covers. The album art is a sort of representation of the music, so it makes sense that I share a similar aesthetic. I love psych rock from the late sixties and seventies: Blue Cheer, Hawkwind, UFO, Zior, Ashkan, Tangerine Dream, Cactus, Captain Beyond. "Larks Tongues in Aspic" by King Crimson is one of my favorite albums of all time and has been highly influential for me over the years. Music is a HUGE part of my process. I typically spend 8 to 12 hours a day in the studio, listening to music the entire time, so it makes a lot of sense.

Spacial Aggregation (front)
2013
Acrylic on Wood
57"x 68"x 28"

OPP: Could you talk about the integration of time into your paintings of space? I'm thinking of pieces like Oceans Before and Behind Us in Time (2010) and Bedrock and Paradox (2013).

AF: Time is present in a variety of ways. First off, my paintings take a long time to complete. I have friends that can finish work really quickly, and I’ve always been a bit envious of them. But I’ve learned to embrace my process and not try to force or rush things along. But more importantly, Time is conceptually interesting. For a human being, 100 years is a long time. . . But I paint landscapes. Geologically speaking, 100 million years isn’t very long. So our understanding of time is completely skewed as it relates to the cosmos and the bigger picture. We also understand time through the lens of space. For instance, if I stand on top of a mountain looking off towards the ocean, I understand that the ocean is far away based on how long I imagine it would take to get there. But time and space exist independently of one another, and the universe exists without all the binaries we use to understand it (time and space, up and down, in and out). So I like to make paintings that break the rules of those imposed binaries. Space and Time, for example, displays multiple locations folded on top of one another. Vanishing points don't follow typical rules of perspective, and objects in the foreground appear the be far off in the distance.



That Which Swells
2009
Acrylic, Screen Print, Gel Transfers, and Collage on Panel
35"x 60"

OPP: Before 2010, your works were collages on panel which involved acrylic, screen print and gel transfers. Now, you are working primarily in acrylic. What precipitated the change in media? How did the collage work lead to the new paintings?

AF: I started painting when I was really young, but became focused on printmaking in college. I had almost stopped painting entirely until I entered grad school. I began cutting up my prints and collaging them onto wood panels, basically making “paintings” again. Screen printing is inherently pretty flat, so I began reincorporating paint. Acrylic made sense for mixed media works. Slowly my love for the paint—feel, color, directness, process—took over, and I started using the printed media less and less. I barely use it at all anymore, but my years of printmaking have definitely influenced the way I paint. I’m very detail and process oriented. I apply paint in non-traditional ways. For instance, I often paint onto polyethylene plastic, peel it up and apply it to my panels with gel medium. It then gets painted over again. In this sense, it is a collage-like process, but I’m using all acrylic medium.

Recently, I’ve been moving towards three-dimensional work. I still consider them paintings, but they are also sculptural in nature. Sculpture has been a huge influence on my work lately through painting all of the pedestal imagery. I’m working towards a solo show that opens on March 7, 2014 at One Grand Gallery here in Portland. There will be a lot of three-dimensional paintings, as well as actual pedestals with objects under glass.

To view more of Adam's work, please visit artbyadamfriedman.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and her solo exhibition Everything You Need is Already Here is on view at Heaven Gallery in Chicago until February 17, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Megan Stroech

Ninja Turtle
2012
Mixed media and collage on paper

MEGAN STROECH employs shared associations of color and texture to hint at human emotions, traits and drama in her abstract, mixed media works. She chooses easily-accessible materials such as vinyl, fleece, latex, cardboard, paper and various printmaking techniques, often straddling the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional in her collages constructions. Megan received her BFA from the University of Texas at Austin (2008) and her MFA from Illinois State University (2012). In 2012, she was an artist-in-residence at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado. In 2013, she began the year-long HATCH Projects Artist Residency at Chicago Artists’ Coalition, which pairs emerging artists with emerging curators to produce three-person exhibitions. She has two upcoming solo exhibitions: Social Niceties at Jan Brandt Gallery in Bloomington, Illinois (April 2014) and Megan Stroech: New Work, SUB-MISSION at The Mission in Chicago (June 2014). Megan lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You've written that you are "fascinated by the tendency to assign human capacities like joy and aggression to patches of color and textured elements of collage." How much does "the anthropomorphizing of non-representational objects and shapes" affect the compositions you make? As the artist, are your own emotional experiences and interpretations dictating the juxtapositions of color and texture, or is it more about the tendency of viewers to assign meaning to abstraction?



Megan Stroech: When I start making a piece, I go in with an idea of an object or an action that interests me. In the beginning, my experiences come into play, but I don’t necessarily want the viewer to get back to that place in the finished work. My initial idea becomes more and more abstracted throughout the process. I muse on the imagined viewer’s possible preconceived notions that come with particular colors and formal relationships. Ultimately, I’m more concerned with the meaning that a viewer can assign to the colors and textures that I place in conversation with one another.

Sunk
2011
Woodcut,mixed media and collage on paper
24"x20"

OPP: Can you give us an example of a really surprising or exciting response from a viewer to one of your pieces?

MS: At the opening of my Anderson Ranch installation, a viewer was so eager to get up close to Green Giant that he asked if he could jump into the "hole"—the area of the floor that was not filled by green paint. He then excitedly jumped inside, careful not to touch any of the green painted areas. It was fun to see that kind of physical interaction with one of my works, and it paved the way for more thinking about how to dictate viewer interaction with a piece.

Green Giant
2012
Latex, gouache

OPP: Could you talk about your interest in the space between the floor and the wall? When did you first get the urge to straddle this boundary line?



MS: During my last semester of grad school, I began to produce larger scale works. They were more dynamic and could function as objects, playful figures or spaces. Extending the work onto the walls and floor was a natural progression for me; it allows the work to become an active participant in the gallery space. It is also a playful way to critique the gallery as a closed system with specific parameters. Many gallery spaces have strict rules about altering the space itself in order to present a work. The act of painting on the floor or directly on the wall calls attention to that.

I had been thinking about this for a while, but was able to first put into action during my ten-week residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. I had already been experimenting with works that cascaded onto the floor, but for the first time I had the freedom to alter the installation space in any way I wanted. I didn't have a studio at home in Chicago at this point, so I wasn't sure when I would get that chance again. I had to take the leap and work directly on the wall. I loved the immediacy of painting on the wall and that it forced me to quickly react to each mark I made.

Processing
2011
Monotype,mixed media and collage on paper
22"x 30"

OPP: If someone's life depended on you choosing one or the other, what's more important to you: color or texture?



MS: I’d have to say color. Color carries so much weight in terms of constructing a place or object. I keep that in mind while creating work. One of my guilty pleasures when starting a piece is to pair two colors together that come with a distinct association—sky blue and grass green, for example—and then try to take them out of that context. I’m always interested in learning how color can play a role in one’s daily routine. For example, grocery stores use specific colors to market products to consumers. Texture is an area that I’d definitely like to push more in my work. In the future, I plan to use more substantial materials like wood in order to be able to support different textural elements.

Don't Go Too Far
2010
Mixed media on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: What are your thoughts on abstraction as play?


MS: The work I identify most with from other artists is that which incorporates humor or play, but still participates in a serious and relevant conversation in contemporary art. My work is very playful, and I think abstraction allows for so much exploration into the nuances that make up one’s everyday observations. I am drawn to specific formal elements that seem to take on challenges, but don’t quite succeed. Or they fail in a funny way, like imitating a piece of fabric with paint or repeatedly painting over a line in an attempt to make it look straight. I’m drawn to these little details that appear to be missteps. I see them as a way to mimic awkward or funny human interactions.

OPP: You have an upcoming solo installation at THE SUB-MISSION, the basement space at The Mission in Chicago (June 2014). Will you give us a sneak preview of what you are planning?

MS: At the THE SUB-MISSION I plan create approximately three works that start on the wall, and flow onto the floor through the use of paint and fabric. In addition to the wall works, I hope to construct some floor pieces that have three-dimensional elements, which will force the viewer to interact with the space in specific ways. I’m interested in building three-dimensional forms that act as an underlying armature for fabric or paper. My show there is slated to open in late June, 2014.

To see more of Megan's work, please visit meganstroech.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and her solo exhibition Everything You Need is Already Here is on view at Heaven Gallery in Chicago until February 17, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Geoffrey Chadsey

Recliner (in progress)
2014
Watercolor pencil on Mylar
42" x 63"

GEOFFREY CHADSEY’s watercolor portraits on Mylar are amalgams of found images from chat rooms and hook-up sites geared toward men seeking men. His poignant and provocative drawings reveal both the specificity of their source material and the universality of donning plumage—in the form of performances of gender, race, persona and cultural affinity—to make ourselves more desirable and to communicate our availability to others. Geoffrey received his MFA from California College of Arts in 1996 and was awarded the prestigious Eureka Fleishhacker Fellowship in 1999. His numerous solo exhibitions include shows at James Harris Gallery (Seattle), Jack Shainman Gallery (New York) and The Contemporary Museum, now part of the Honolulu Museum of Art. His work will be included in the group show, Drawingroom, which opens March 7, 2014 at Galerie im Taxispalais in Innsbruck, Austria. The exhibition, curated by Peter Weiermair, will travel from Ursula Blickle Stiftung in Stuttgart, Germany, where it was shown in December 2013. Geoff lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you consider these drawings to be portraits of individuals?

Geoff Chadsey: Each drawing is a portrait of individuals, plural. They are composites of photos taken from a number of social media sites—other peoples’ self-portraits (or should I say, Other People’s Pixels?)—that are further fleshed out with my own photo studies and images ripped from magazines. I spend so much time on them that they feel imbued with personhood. Frankenstein’s monster, but without the creator's god-complex or nature-challenging hubris?

Wolf
2011
Watercolor pencil on Mylar
36" x 57"

OPP: The morphing of figures and the presence of multiple heads/arms/bodies is a richly compelling aspect of your drawings, and it seems to be used to different ends throughout your practice. Sometimes the extra body parts evoke potential motion, as with Reacher (2012) and Reacher, revisited (2013). In works like Vestigial Velasquez (2011) and Portrait (Pink Beak) (2011), I read the second face as representing a buried part of the personality trying to escape. Visually these remind me most of horror movie effects used when someone is possessed. Tinchy Klimt (2011) brings up the idea that our own personalities contain distinct elements of the surrounding culture, i.e. hip hop and fine art. I could go on and on—I haven't even mentioned Hindu deities! What does this hybridity of form and body mean to you?

GC: I have no grand narrative. I am no great revelator, although I enjoy and agree with your readings. I pursue the uncanny, but as a wary surrealist, who is suspicious of images that beg interpretation or that try to look weird or provocative. The multiple poses, limbs and faces—pentimenti—render indecision into full form. I read a review of a friend's show, which described her paintings as portraits of people who couldn’t make up their minds about who they wanted to be. That description of multiplicity, confusion, playfulness of identities delighted me. That's what the internet was supposed to be about when it became a popular medium. People were talking about how you could reinvent yourself in chat rooms and be whoever you wanted to be. It was supposed to be a post-identity space. Instead, people have become even more entrenched in their identifications of who they'd like to be—and who they'd like to be with.

The added limbs, faces and traces of previous poses also add distance between my drawings and the unseen source material of the screen and its frozen image. They add a physicality to the figure, as well as movement and the passage of time. Reacher, which quotes a Sports Illustrated basketball cover, and Marines, which evokes Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, both read like dance. Portrait (Pink Beak), a self-portrait, reminds me of spirit photography; the vulpine mask came from a moment of wanting to just SCRIBBLE. Tinchy Klimt is a melding of two common source materials for me: hip-hop and Klimt. There is no reason for it, other than those are images I am repeatedly drawn to: the riveting swagger, the rancid glamor, the spectre of murder. Theater, basically. Popular metaphor of the mask is about hiding, artifice, fakery. Popular psychology is about removing the mask, revealing the true self. But masks enable action. Giorgio Agamben writes that, “‘Persona’ originally means ‘mask’ and it is through the mask that the individual acquires a role and a social identity." He goes further to describe how, in the online era, this mask gets separated from the individual as a profile of online behavior, purchases and likes. Data mining companies collect this information in order to present further enticements or calls-to-action to the individual. You are what you “like.”

In online chat-rooms, you can see how men increasingly identify themselves with costumes that indicate a masculine archetype: the straight-acting (an overtly theatrical role that requires great skills in projecting illegibility), the jock, the leather-daddy, the preppy/ Abercrombie-and-Fitch collegiate, the scruffy urban-woodsman, the executive, the thugster, the punk. Each one calls out to other lovingly-detailed archetypes for a meeting of the masks. The hybridity in the drawings is about pursuing identities that aren't easily summarized as racial, gender, personality types.

A Sure Thing
2003
Watercolor pencil on Mylar

OPP: I've read that many drawings are based on images from Grindr, an iPhone app for meeting "gay, bi, and curious guys" and other internet chat sites, although they aren't identified that way on your website. For me, knowing this source adds a distinct layer of longing to connect and to belong that might not be otherwise present in the drawings of single figures. Would these drawings be the same if you drew these figures from life? How important is the source material to you?

GC: “Curious”—isn’t that hopeful? Yes, Grindr is one source, Manhunt another. I have an archive of photographs from sites I have been collecting for over 10 years. I’ve been an active participant in these sites, by the way. These images are about longing and the self-presentation that goes into being longed-for. Men post themselves in an online bazaar to a fantasized other; it’s a peacock gallery. Maybe that’s the discomfort of these drawings. Here is a figure presenting himself to you. You are an implied part of the drawing. He is looking out at you, he is looking FOR you, but you are also not the original intended audience.

Someone asked me a few years ago if there was any empathy in these renderings. It’s complicated. While looking at so many beautiful men online, I find myself collecting the photographs where the performances are wonky. There’s some sort of excess that disrupts the aspiring hotness factor, like a bulging belly or an overenthusiastic hairdo. Empathy and delight enter in those moments. Popular gay iconography is all about desirability: beauty, youth, the fitness factor. I seek to capture a more disruptive figure, something you can’t take your eyes off of, something disorienting, alien, horrific like a movie monster that rivets the gaze. Let’s call it the aspirational abject.

Blondie
2005
Watercolor pencil on Mylar

OPP: All your drawings are watercolor pencil on Mylar. Why do you choose it? Is there anything about your work in this medium that doesn't translate well online? What are we missing as online viewers?

GC: The image ecology from screen to Mylar back to screen is largely how my work is seen these days. I joke that I am represented by the gallery called Facebook, and they give me a show whenever I want. It’s fun to gather "likes" and to see your work bounce around Tumblr. But the jpegs are pale ghosts of their originals—you miss the WORK involved in making it, the physicality of the line, the painterly goop of the melted scribbles, not to mention the size (some of these drawings are six feet tall). So then the question becomes: why draw? I have a Masters in photography, but I drew my thesis show. Call it digested photography, a reconstituted archive. Drawing is a sentimental attachment to the personal mark, to the mastery of the rendered copy and to the intimate privacy of mulling over images alone in my studio.

Black Couch
2010
Watercolor pencil on Mylar
36" x 60"

OPP: You are a 2013-2014 Mentor at Queer | Art | Mentorship, which is an organization dedicated to "pairing and supporting mentorship between queer working artists in New York City." Will you tell us a little about the program and why you decided to become a mentor?

GC: The program is about nurturing conversations between (roughly) two generations of participating gay male and female creatives. Because of homophobia, the closet and a generation lost to AIDS, these relationships have to be sought out, created and fostered outside of the university. This is my second year participating. Each generation of gay youth coming into their own has perhaps less baggage than the generation before. The generation before meanwhile has accrued experiences that might be summed up as wisdom—not just about being a thriving gay adult but about being a working artist in New York. The mentorship is about an exchange of ideas, readings, film recommendations, critiques. My participation comes from a desire to integrate my practice into a larger community, to share and receive new ideas about what it means to be queer today.

To view more of Geoffrey's work, please visit geoffreychadsey.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and her solo exhibition Everything You Need is Already Here is on view at Heaven Gallery in Chicago until February 17, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lily Martina Lee

Larry Halbert, Middleton, Idaho (Failure to Appear: DUI)
2012
1994 Ford pickup hood, body filler, steel, resin colorants, resin, vinyl, steer horns
50" X 69" X 17"

LILY MARTINA LEE memorializes the forgotten, the discarded and the overlooked. She juxtaposes intimacy and anonymity in her embroidered and appliquéd memorials to unidentified human remains, her beaded scratch ticket medallions and her car hood portraits based on the tattoos of fugitives wanted for non-violent crimes. Lily received a BFA in Fibers (2008) and a BA in American Indian Studies (2009) from the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her MFA from the University of Oregon in Eugene (2012). Her work was recently included in Post-Racial U.S.? at the University Art Gallery at New Mexico State University (Las Cruces, New Mexico, 2013) and Across the Divide IV: The New Boondocks< at Center on Contemporary Art Georgetown Gallery (Seattle, 2012). She teaches Sculpture and Fiber Art at Truman State University. Lily lives and works in Kirksville, Missouri.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your Fugitive Portraits (2011-2012) are based on the tattoos of wanted fugitives and the facts found in legal and news media documents. Some of the crimes the men committed are "escape from community custody," "burglary," “failure to appear: DUI," and "criminal endangerment." Was it a conceptual decision not to include fugitives for more violent crimes, like murder or rape? What makes you pick the fugitives you pick?


Lily Martina Lee: My decision to work with the narratives of fugitives wanted for non-violent crimes was a conscious one. Rather than sensationalize the criminal element, I wanted to make more intimate work, bringing attention to these individuals, where they come from, and the personal narratives and identities as constructed through their tattoos. Their stories may seem banal or even despondent, but they are also so evocative of our present day culture.

I initially researched most-wanted postings in the Inland Northwest region because that’s where I am from. But I also noticed a pattern in higher-profile, national stories: fugitives often seem to run to Idaho or are captured in this region. I always choose people who are wanted in jurisdictions outside of major metropolitan areas. I began to think of this body of work as cumulatively articulating a contemporary iteration of the romanticized west: anonymous and removed from authority.

In order for authorities to know and list tattoos in a Most Wanted posting, the fugitives must be a repeat offenders. These individuals often have lengthy histories of petty crimes. In pouring over the list of tattoos—information which is made public for the purpose of finding and capturing them—I couldn't help but imagine and try to understand the characters of the individuals who had made those specific choices. I read hundreds of cases, paying special attention to those fugitives who had enough tattoos listed so that I could create a formal composition. More importantly though, I became intrigued by the discursive combinations of tattoos, such as a pentagram and Tweety bird, as in Israel "Izzy" Rodrigues, Butte, Montana (Criminal Endangerment), or text in English and Spanish with a Thai name, as in Jimmy "Bam Bam" Rodriguez, Pasco, Washington (Escape from community custody).

Automotive decals and accessories share striking similarities with tattoos in both style and subject matter: flames, Chinese characters, tropical flowers, mythical creatures and religious symbols that are often cliché and rooted in cultural appropriation. Even as tattoos have become more mainstream, they retain their transgressive status, which the marketplace has capitalized on by generating a multitude of consumer products carrying these graphic styles. Despite the commercialization, individuals still permanently mark themselves with such graphics and attach personal meanings to these tattoos. I find this very beautiful; it transcends preconceptions of originality and meaning within a visual language.

Jimmy "Bam Bam" Rodriguez, Pasco, Washington (Escape from community custody)
2012
Dodge Caravan hood, applied, carved, inlaid, and stenciled body filler, resin colorants, polyester resin, primer, cut vinyl, chrome emblem
Detail

OPP: You've used auto body materials like body filler, automotive enamel, fenders, chrome and tires in a number of sculptures, including Universal/Tramp Stamp Soldier (2011) and Nightbringer (2011). Did you have any experience working on cars before you started using their parts in your art practice? What's compelling to you about these materials?


LML: My experience with auto body materials was originally from an observational perspective. In college and during graduate school, I worked seasonally as a flagger at construction sites. I watched cars go by all day and naturally began to personify them as we occupied the same space. It’s a special situation to be clad in safety gear while standing out in a live lane of traffic, choreographing the movement of vehicles. To entertain myself, I began a list of the worst cars I saw each day, where I spotted them and who was driving. For instance, at an apartment complex in Renton, Washington, I saw a gold Nissan Pulsar wagon being driven by a young, Hispanic male.

When I began to use auto body products in my work, I was initially intrigued by the phenomenon of a cosmetic repair. In our society, it often seems like everything is produced for function and cost-effectiveness. However, the whole auto body industry is essentially aesthetic. It is this curious bastion of formalism practiced outside the context of fine art and is even endorsed by insurance companies. I wanted to explore and participate in this phenomenon by physically manipulating these materials to conceptual ends.

Fender Flare
2011
Toyota fender, body filler, icing, chrome
27" X 44" X 7"

OPP: Could you explain the process of working with the body filler?

LML: I use resin colorants to dye body filler, and then apply these colored layers to the car hood. In some cases, I cover colored layers with a fleshy-colored layer (the default color of body filler when using a standard red cream hardener). I carve through the flesh-toned layer into the colored body filler using woodcut gouges and electric and air rotary tools. In other cases, I carve into a filled area of the flesh-toned body filler, and then fill it back in using body filler dyed to different colors. By repeating this process, I achieve a fairly high degree of detail and generate color gradations by controlling the direction in which I spread the body filler into the carved areas. An example is the rays coming out around the cross on Jimmy. I’ve also experimented with different solvents to thin the body filler in order to pour it into molds I make for casting forms like the masks on Izzy. In some cases, I achieve fine outlines by carefully carving the body filler, spraying on a black primer and then sanding it away to reveal the carved areas.

This methodology of inlaying is analogous to the process of tattooing and strengthens the connection between body and car; the body filler becomes flesh. I reaffirm the surface of the car hood by juxtaposing the inlayed imagery with decals, chrome emblems and fabricated steel components affixed to the surface or floating above it, such as the pentagram in Izzy or the numbers in Michael. I challenged myself to work completely with products and materials from the automotive industry. The body filler can be carved, thinned and dyed different colors, and it can be applied to itself or to the steel. The material affords me great flexibility in combining these techniques in each piece.

Chips & Salsa
2010
Scratch ticket, beads, poker chips

OPP: How did your Bachelors of Arts in American Indian Studies from the University of Washington inform your beaded work including Regalia, Skulls and Medallions, your series of beaded scratch tickets?

LML: I began doing beadwork long before college under the mentorship of the late Pauline Lilje, an artist of Chippewa descent, and my interest in beadwork partially led me to pursue a degree in American Indian Studies. I was very fortunate to study at a university that had such a department, and I was continuously surprised by the contemporary issues facing Native Americans. My understanding of our nation’s history was constantly challenged and reshaped during my coursework.

While I had done beadwork since a young age, it wasn’t until I became involved with the student group First Nations at the University of Washington that I started to make regalia for formalized events. During my first year in this group, I made a crown for the royalty contest at the annual First Nations Spring Powwow. Royalty are selected—primarily based on dancing, essays and interviews—to be role models in educational and career goals and for their strong connection to their tribal traditions and identity. The winners of royalty contests wear their crowns at all of the powwows they attend throughout the year they hold that title. It was a tremendous honor to make such a crown. Watching Carmen Selam, the winner of the first crown I made, wear it was rewarding far beyond any art-making experience I had previously had. I went on to make another powwow royalty crown and then began to make beaded medallions. At powwows, I often saw people wearing medallions as stand-ins for things that are typically printed on T-shirts, such as sports team logos. I decided to make metal band logo medallions like Slayer Medallion (2009) to function in a similar capacity.

I later referenced the form of the beaded medallion in Medallions. The series explores the relationship between decoration, value and labor, as well as the cliché themes—Gold Rush, Buck$ and Dough and Asian Riches, to name a few—of the scratch tickets. This work has a clear relationship to tribal gaming enterprises, but I’m most interested in drawing an analogy between the status of decoration and the status of Native Nations. Much in the way that American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes are legally defined as “domestic dependent nations” by the U.S. government, decoration exists on the surface of an object. It’s often defined within the context of its surface instead of being a thing unto itself. The analogy is in the struggle to define both tribes and decoration; neither is given full autonomy under the power structures of U.S. law and the art historical cannon. In many critical legal cases where tribal sovereignty has come into question, ambiguous phrases like "quasi-sovereign" or "semi-independent" become law. In conjunction with this body of work I wrote an imaginary court decision in which I use key language from historic cases in Federal Indian Policy that define the legal status of Tribes to talk about the status of decoration in fine art.

Portland Elk
2013
Applique, embroidery, and beadwork
16 1/4" X 17 1/2"


OPP: Unidentified is a relatively new series of embroidered and appliquéd memorials based on "police sketches and photos of unidentified remains." On your site, you say, "My designs are made using computer-generated graphics relating to grieving from social networking, such as Imikimis and Facebook cover photos." What are Imikimis?

LML: Imikimis are a brand of pre-made, photo frame graphics. There are a lot of sites out there where you can upload personal images into a computer-generated photo frame for posting on social networking sites. Most of these sites have collections of different themes such as holidays, romance, the seasons and “In memory of.” This paradox of “personalizing” a one-of-a kind photo with a pre-made, computer-generated graphic is intriguing. I have observed the use of these images in social media by individuals who are celebrating a relationship or mourning a loss. I am interested in how grieving through social networking forums can be impersonal but also enables people to have these public conversations about very personal and emotional topics.

OPP: How does the immediacy of grieving on social media relate the slowness of embroidery?

LML: The instantaneous nature of social networking, including the photo frames, makes it impersonal. I am using the slowness of embroidery to complicate that. I pair the police images of unidentified individuals with the computer-generated photo frames in a way that is almost camp. Then I recreate it with appliqué and embroidery to make this digital image physically tangible. The work is both deeply intimate, and yet the subjects remain anonymous. As an artist, I devote my time, labor and thought to these cases of unidentified remains and contextualize them within the historical tradition of memorial embroidery. I am fascinated by how a person could be deceased for decades yet still remain unidentified, especially since there is ample evidence such as what clothing they were wearing and what objects were found with them. I wonder how anonymous their lives were to leave them so unknown. I use embroidery to commemorate their lives, even if I’m the only person to take the time to think about them.

To see more of Lily's work, please visit lilymartinalee.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and her solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here opens tomorrow night at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. The opening reception is from 7-11.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Becky Flanders

Babydoll teeth
2013

BECKY FLANDERS' photographs of feminine archetypes peeing while standing up playfully and provocatively comment on cultural constructions of gender, while her photographs of vaginas with mandalas nestled inside add nuance to the political by introducing the possibility of relating to the vagina as a site of the sacred. Becky received her MFA in Studio Art from the University of South Florida in Tampa. In 2013, her work was included in the group exhibitions Post Coital at Mindy Solomon Gallery (St. Petersburg, Florida), Subversive Narratives at Balzer Art Projects (Basel Switzerland) and Ransom at Wayfarers (Brooklyn). Becky lives and works in Tampa, Florida, where she owns the Mermaid Tavern with her partner and is in the process of renovating an abandoned, mid-century warehouse to house artist studios and workshops.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In general, do men and women respond differently to your work?


Becky Flanders: The work definitely sparks a lot of dialog about conceptions of gender, sex and bodies. I especially love when the work opens the door to talking openly about female genitalia and the way women touch, interact with and relate to their bodies. While it’s no longer a Victorian-level taboo subject, it’s still not so often broached, particularly in a professional situation or with complete strangers. I love it when people I’ve just met tell me interesting stories about touching themselves now and as children, birth control mishaps, squirting, bathroom politics, personal gender gripes, the shape and size of their labia or, if they’re trans, what exactly they have in their pants and how they feel about it.

I get objections to the work from both sexes, but truly more often from women who feel that the work is somehow a debasement or a betrayal of the feminine. I’ve never felt that the act of exposing any part of my body was ever giving anything away or taking anything away from me, but some women feel disturbed by the exposure. Some think that it is a rejection or a cheapening of femininity. Some reject it as being too second wave, but they’re missing my point. One of my most basic goals is to expand and refine the conception of the feminine to include my own experience of it. I’ve always felt like a gender outsider, and yet I’m happy with my body and very comfortable in my skin. I know I’m not alone in that.

With men, it runs the gamut as well. There are always people who want to poke holes in anything feminist, and I’ll debate with them. But if people are into my work because they are turned on by it, that’s fine, too. It’s not my explicit goal to turn people on sexually—although I’ve considered making porn-related work at some point in the future. But now, I want the work to be luscious and titillating in a broader sense. The sexual is sacred to me and that is part of it.

Swamp 1
2013

OPP: In almost all of your Female Standing Urination photographs, the face of the figure is either off camera or masked. Sometimes it's a result of the angle of view, as in pieces like Stomach (2013), or the photograph is a close-up, as in Methods 1, 2, and 3. But then there are studio shots like Pan, Egypt, and Venus of Willendorf. Was your choice to mask the peeing figure a practical or conceptual decision, or both?

BF: That choice initially arose from my irresistible desire to mask my own face and faces in general. It’s like the seventh veil. Growing up, I always felt more social anxiety about the exposure of my face than that of my body. Facial expressions have never come naturally to me. They are willful, conscious, often painstaking acts. On the contrary, sex and nudity comprise a space in which I could remain naturally blank-faced, yet not invisible or abject. That space has always been a palliative. As a young person, it was a real confidence booster, almost therapeutic.

But conceptually, the face is a site of the dispute of power. We cannot even legally mask our faces in public now. Facial expressions are daily acts of submission or resistance, a daily game in a culture of spectacle and persona. I always fantasized about being free from this, wandering in public like a ghost. In the work, I wanted to contend with the realm of the body, separate from this facial dialog. I want to consider the figures as archetypes, icons, goddesses. They are not specific individuals.They are platonic forms, abstractions.

Goddess 1
2013

OPP: I assume that the peeing figure is you, but the identity doesn't matter in terms of the content. Still, it makes me curious about the practical concerns involved in these photographs. Part of the implication of the entire series is that it isn't that difficult for a woman to pee standing up. But is it difficult to photograph?

BF: Yes, it’s usually me, mostly because I prefer to work alone, without communicating verbally or directing as part of my process. And no, it’s not difficult to pee standing, though you should practice in the shower first to learn how not to drip. Though if you have trepidations about touching yourself, you might be out of luck.

Some of them are exceedingly difficult to photograph because I am both in front of and behind the camera. This is important both conceptually and practically for me. I’ve sometimes worked with another photographer, or an assistant to help carry equipment through the swamps and look out for park rangers. But my ideal shooting situation is alone in the studio with a set that I can manipulate slowly and take my time on. I shoot with a Toyo 4x5 field camera, and I use a cable release, which is the only thing I’m not hesitant to remove from the shots in post production. I often take a lot of polaroids to perfect the setup, and position myself within the shot.

The first person perspective photographs of the Omniscient Sadistic Fantasies series (Heart, Mirror, Stomach, Baby) are the most difficult to shoot because I’m basically trying to put my body in the same location as the gigantic tripod and camera, and none of the equipment can get into the shot. The camera must go where my head should be, and my head is bent backwards and off to the side. This is uncomfortable, and I can’t see where I am aiming. The cable release goes in my mouth because my hands are busy in the shot. It takes a lot of concentration and multitasking. Also, I have to constantly drink water and take vitamins to keep the pee somewhat yellow. I had to learn how to tolerate impartially emptying my bladder over and over again for hours at a time. It’s kind of fun actually. When I’m in the zone, I can’t even feel the mosquitoes biting me.

I choose to shoot in film for technical and aesthetic reasons, but I think this process is a good metaphor for a woman’s relationship to her genitalia. It’s “complicated” (not really), tricky to work, sometimes painful, very analog, incredibly performative, and she can’t really see what she is doing without external reflection of some sort.

Daily meditation 2
2012
Archival Inkjet Print
20" x 30"

OPP: In 2012, you did a series of photographs called of Gorgons and Ana Suromai. Each photograph of a vagina with a mandala peeking out from behind the folds of the labia is titled as a numbered Daily Meditation. Could you address the idea of the vagina as a gateway to sacred space?

BF: Think Kali, a creator/destroyer, or Medusa. The gorgons with actual eyes are both. They might swallow you up or turn you to stone, they might settle feuds or calm the angry sea. There are countless fascinating myths about effect of the sight of a vagina.

I think of these photographs as icons, almost in a religious or meditative sense. They represent a platonic aspect of the feminine and consciousness diverted to the genitals rather than the head. There is also a relationship between yoga and meditation and the poses and forms that I use. These images came to me whole; I just had to get them out. I’m always mining mythology and symbolism for content in my work, also history and natural history. It’s not fashionable anymore to work with religions or mythologies other than those you’ve inherited, but I love Joseph Campbell. However the original impetus to do ana-suromai work came from reading The Story of V, A Natural History of Female Sexuality, by Catherine Blackledge. It’s a goldmine of a book. 

Hurricane 1
2013

OPP: Your Hurricane paintings from 2013 broaden the read of the Gorgon and Ana Suromai photographs by drawing visual connections between our personal experiences of our bodies and the bodies of others and our understanding of the larger weather systems on the "body" of this planet. What does the eye of the storm have to do with the vagina?

BF: I currently live in Florida. Hurricanes are a reality here. Like the alligators, you get used to them after a while and may even begin to feel somewhat fond of their power to destroy. A hurricane is a weather system that has become so large, so singular that it is given a name. In Florida, the destructive power of nature is right there in front of you on a daily basis, along with the extremes of beauty and exhaustion. The feminine is often equated with nature. Though this is a trope that feminism has long since rejected, I definitely continue to mine it, sometimes mockingly, sometimes in earnest. I grew up close to nature, and it’s dear to me: the wild, the feral, the willful, headless power.

I suppose you could say the hurricanes are another aspect of the gorgons, like a goddess who changes aspect. They are a similar metaphor, and very much a meditation for me to make. I made these drawings during the summertime, when thunderstorms are a daily and powerful occurrence in Florida. They take over the landscape, not only during the 30 minutes of deluge and surface flooding, but also in the aftermath. The summer rainy season is a time of sisyphusean striving to keep nature from swallowing what humans have built. Whether by vines or by mold, leaks or floods, she will eventually have you one way or another.

The drawings are based on photographs taken by satellites. Until relatively recently, it wasn’t possible to see these storms from above. There’s that metaphoric connection to female genitalia: the storm cannot see itself completely unless externally reflected. This also applies to feminine persona in general. The human power to reflect is one of our greatest, like we are the way the earth has of looking back upon herself and reflecting.

I, the State Am the People
2013

OPP: It might appear to the average viewer that your hand-embroidered Aphorisms from Nietsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra were made by another artist, but there's a connection to your photography. What is it?

BF: The work may only be related to the body and feminist pieces in that it is political and somewhat anarchist, but I suspect there are other links which will be revealed over time. I’m beginning to explore the political in a broader sense: the relationship of individuals to the state, the language of extremism and revolution and Americana and its symbols and icons. The What is Value? pieces are also part of this process. The embroideries started with translations of Nietzsche quotes from a particular chapter in Thus Spoke Zarathustra called “the State,” but I have branched out to other quotes and language, some of which I write, but most of which I gather.

I’m interested here in the language of memes. I studies memetics in the earlier days of the internet, but it has taken off with the public at large in recent years. I’m at once fascinated and horrified with the effect that the conscious use of memetics seems to be having on language usage and thus on the transmission of thoughts. The current supposed dividing lines in popular American politics, i.e. the deep polemics of the right and the left, serve mainly as an obstruction to dialog. They seem to be a tool created to control thought and keep people divided and distracted. I think the whole thing is a big charade, and I’m trying to see through it.

Stitching is more of a commitment than the posting or sharing of a Facebook meme. The sheer amount of time it takes to render these texts (about an hour per letter) runs me backwards and forwards, questioning my belief about the statement. Do I mean it in earnest, in irony, in nostalgia or sadness, or in a complex combination of ways? Or perhaps I don’t even “mean” the statement at all, but put it out for consideration alone and as part of a constellation. It’s an attempt at grounding.

These pieces are also a bit nostalgic in terms of their relationship to technology. I sometimes have nightmares that we are being fog-marched via silicon valley into a fascist-capital-slavery state (loosely quoting Willie Nelson here), into a technological age beyond human utility. I am not generally a luddite, but lately I’m gripped with the feeling that we are speeding into a progress trap, and I can’t help but attempt a feeble protest with my meditative embroidery.

To see more of Becky's work, please visit beckyflanders.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lavar Munroe

For The Slain Dragon Is Precisely The Monster of the Status Quo
2013
Cardboard, cloth, rubber, and bed mattress

Drawing on the stages of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, LAVAR MUNROE assumes the role of trickster "to confront and disrupt disparities faced by the excluded and marginalized poorer-class blacks in the ghetto." He frames the economically disadvantaged as heroes and villains, kings and queens, gods and goddesses in his painting, sculpture and installation. He repeatedly blurs the line between the two-dimensional and the three-dimmensional just as he blurs the the line between honor and shame, rich and poor, man and animal. Born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, Lavar moved to the United States in 2004 to attend Savannah College of Art and Design, where he received his BFA. In 2013, he received his MFA from Washington University in Saint Louis and was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant and a scholarship to attend Skowhegan. In 2014, he will mount solo exhibitions at Segal Projects in Los Angeles and The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. Lavar lives and works in Germantown, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about your chosen role as "trickster?" Are all artists tricksters?

Lavar Munroe: As an artist-trickster, my role is more amoral than immoral. It’s neither blasphemous nor extremely rebellious. It is my duty to blur the lines between what society dictates as right and wrong, since most societies are managed in a way whereby the dominant class benefits more so than the majority. In reference to the subjects my work targets, I speak with the voice of the ghetto, as the ghetto has little if any voice outside of its own confines. I embrace the idea of being a rebellious force against what is considered normal within the larger constructs of society. My duty is to be a champion of sorts for disadvantaged people who call the ghetto home.

I am the embodiment of cultural and societal hero. When considering the roles of the trickster, the folktale hero Robin Hood comes to mind. The idea of robbing the rich to give to the poor is parallel to that of the disruption of rules, boundaries and the status quo, all of which are attributes of the trickster. In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell states, “for the mythological hero is the champion not of things to become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo.”  



My work rebels against the status quo. It contradicts societal norms, and it celebrates what the mainstream dismisses. My art favors the disadvantaged and fights hierarchy. I intend to visually lure mainstream society with my work, allowing me the opportunity to further engage and educate people who look like me, who have lived the way I have and outsiders who could benefit from gaining a more realistic and broader understanding of the stereotypes I examine. It also affords me the opportunity to use the institution as my message board, exposing the taboos and preconceived ideas held against those most desperately in need.

 Maybe subconsciously all artists are tricksters, but my undertakings are all executed consciously.  

BIG C: Goddess of Coke (Heavens' Dust)
2012
Mixed Media Assemblage
20ft x 11ft x 14ft

OPP: You grew up in the Bahamas. Did your upbringing inform the work you make now?

LM: Born and raised in the “impoverished” community of Grants Town in Nassau, Bahamas, I grew up challenged with a lot of stigmas and stereotypes that were associated with the community that I lived in. Though many people lived by meager means of survival, my family and I were economically more privileged than the vast majority of people in our community. There was simultaneously a sense of pride to be from the ghetto and a sense of resentment towards those who were afforded better lives outside of the ghetto.

Over the past nine years, I have observed many behavioral similarities between the mainstream society and the ghetto in the United States, a place that has constructed its own myths and stereotypes concerning race, poverty and hierarchical social structures. I have an advantage of having experienced both mainstream society and the ghetto, so I am able to use the stereotypes that exist in each sector to measure the strengths and downfalls of the other.

OPP: I'm curious about the manifestations of poverty in the Bahamas versus the cities you've lived in since moving to the U.S. What are the differences or similarities in your experience?

LM: There are similarities between the Bahamas and the United States in regard to societal structures and economic deprivation among poorer class blacks who reside in the ghetto. Like the ghetto in America, the ghetto in the Bahamas is an unstable place where many people are undereducated, mis-educated, uneducated, and left unfit to compete in the larger job market. As a result, many turn to lives of crime.

I retain my sense of pride to be from the ghetto and have learned to use the negative stereotypes of the ghetto as fuel for my visual investigations.

Boy Predator, Boy Prey
2012
Cardboard, duck take, cloth and acrylic on canvas
72’’ x 52’’

OPP: What are the benefits of addressing real-life "societal divisions dictated by wealth, class and race" through fiction and myth?

LM: Like mythological practitioners of ancient cultures, I use myth as a tool to further understand and evaluate societal disparities and my own existence. I use personification and allegory to narrate and elaborate on real life events. 
Though framed in fictional narratives, my forms and images are all based on real life occurrences that I have either personally experienced or encountered through research (readings, documentaries and real world conversations).

In mythological narratives, beastly hybrids and animals function as allegoric substitutes for humans. The intersection of the paradigms of historic, civic and contemporary notions of the animal serve as a trajectory of investigation in my work. My intentions are to evoke a sense of power and employ social hierarchy, while also pointing to Otherness. In so doing, the animal is metaphor for the human Other. In particular, I am interested in contradictory understandings and the idea of skewing meanings as it relates to the animal in pre-modern and contemporary societies. 

from Shank=Survival

OPP: Shank=Survival is a series of sculptures that are also functional shanks. It seems counter-intuitive to make these make-shift weapons pretty, but then I think of bejeweled swords throughout history and the sacred moment in every quest movie I've ever seen when the hero/heroine forges his/her own weapon. Could you talk about aestheticization of tools of violence in this body of work?



LM: Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey inspired this work. I was interested in the mythological stages of initiation, survival and the return as they relate to time served in prison. In many ghettos, having served time in prison is considered a rite of passage. I metaphorically align prison with the stage of the "Belly of the Beast" where, through violent and heroic acts, heroes are either born or reborn.



Aesthetically, I used material and color as a vehicle for revealing prison as a simultaneously violent, heroic and homoerotic space. I thought of the shank as trophy, the shank as weapon, the shank as phallus and the shank as relic. I was also interested in the notion of concealment through disguise. Pearls, flowers, pink cloth, thread, among other “feminine” materials, were used to make weapons which belong in the arguably male-dominated space of the prison. 

This body of work was executed at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. The environment there fueled the early beginnings of the shivs; my studio metaphorically and psychologically became the confines of a prison cell.



Untitled Bed no. 2
2013
Cardboard, duct tape, mattress skin, adhered with flour and water

OPP: House of Indulgences is your only performative work to date. While in residency at Atlantic Center for The Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, you recreated a dilapidated building used as a crack house from the street you lived on as a child from memory and performed inside it. What was your personal experience performing like? Do you think it was very different from what viewers experienced?



LM: That experience was surreal. I was intentionally under the influence of a substance and temporarily became that person that I grew up seeing. Putting myself in that state was important to the performance and to the message I wanted to portray. Becoming THE addict engaged both the audience and myself. I got a first hand experience of being crippled and watched, but not helped by able members of society. During the opening, visitors got to experience what it is like to peer into a crack house littered with broken glass and debris and to see a person in a hallucinogenic state desperate for help. As people looked over my lifeless body, I heard a few somber sobs and words such as powerful, touching, sad, compelling and moving. Many people also speculated that I was someone brought in off of the streets. Comments such as “that is not the artist” and “is that the artist?” echoed across the space. 

OPP: Where Heroes Lay is a series of “bed” sculptures made mostly of brown cardboard, evoking the cardboard boxes that many homeless people sleep on and in. Tell us about this series.

LM: The series grew from a material exchange with a homeless person. Periodically, I removed soiled cardboard pieces from the homeless person’s sleeping quarters and replaced it with clean cardboard. In a sense, I became a maid. By serving him as the trickster, I inconspicuously inducted the homeless person into the role of the Hero. Secondly, presenting the Hero’s soiled bedding as a consumer good in the art-market allows the objects to serve as weapons of critique and ridicule targeted against mainstream society.

To see more of Lavar's work, please visit lavar-munroe.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Stephanie Patton

Meeting
2013
Vinyl, batting, muslin
55" x 86" x 17"
Photo credit: Mike Smith

Multimedia artist STEPHANIE PATTON uses humor, word play and an attention to materiality to address the universal human experiences of suffering, comfort and healing in her quilted sculptures, videos and installations. Stephanie is represented by Arthur Roger Gallery and is a member of the artist-run collective The Front, both in New Orleans. Her numerous solo exhibitions include Private Practice (2013) and Diffuse (2010) at Arthur Roger Gallery, as well as Upkeep (2012) and General Hospital (2011) at The Front. In 2013, her work was included in group exhibitions at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University (Malibu, California), Biggin Gallery, Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama), Vox Populi (Philadelphia) and Acadiana Center for the Arts (Lafayette, Louisiana). Stephanie lives and works in Lafayette, Louisiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the relationship between pain, healing and humor in your work?

Stephanie Patton: Healing takes many forms, both physically and emotionally. Painful experiences can lead to creative expression and are often the impetus behind some of the most engaging work. What source material would a stand-up comedian have if it weren't for strange life experiences and painful moments?

I believe the same is true for many visual artists, musicians and performers. There have been many instances in my own work when I was drawn to an idea, material or image for no particular reason. Then later the relevance became clear to me. One example is Life Saver. In 2006, while in residency at the Vermont Studio Center, I kept envisioning a grid-like pattern of multiple inner tubes covered in white vinyl lying on the floor. I wasn't quite sure why this image kept entering my mind. I later realized that this was in fact my own reaction to Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that it had caused here in Louisiana. This idea was not completely resolved until 2008, when I decided to suspend the inner tubes from the ceiling instead of placing them on the floor. Instead of white vinyl, I used mattress quilting—a material that I continue to use today—for the first time because of its multiple references.

I have heard that an artist has one or two great ideas in a lifetime, and the core of my work is based on striving to empathize with and understand those afflicted with physical and mental health issues. Certainly, we are in a day and age in which mental health is a growing concern, and it is luckily not as taboo as it was in the past. I am particularly interested in how physical ailments often manifest as extreme stress and/or traumatic emotional states and vice versa. I strive to illustrate connections between physical and emotional states in my work. This is especially the case in the white vinyl pieces that I have made in recent years.

Life Saver
2008
Mattress quilting, inner tube
48" (diameter) x 15"

OPP: The patterns in pieces like Strength, Valor and Meeting in your 2013 exhibition Private Practice evoke the raked patterns in Zen gardens, and I see a connection between the handwork of quilting and the contemplative state associated with the Zen garden. Is this a visual reference for you?

SP: Zen gardens were not a direct reference for me, but I see the visual and conceptual connection. In researching visual symbols relating to the emotions, I was very drawn to the Adinkra symbols of West Africa. These symbols are very simple, yet visually powerful and could easily translate into the material of vinyl that I continue to explore. The emotions they represent are conceptually appropriate for what I was trying to convey in Private Practice. Some of the white vinyl pieces such as Strength and Valor were taken directly from the Adrinkra symbols.
 
OPP: I imagine from the shapes of these pieces that quilting vinyl is unwieldy and difficult. What is it like to work with this material? When did you make your first quilted piece?
 
SP: Yes, working with vinyl is quite a challenge. I have often described it as "wrestling alligators"!  Years ago, I first used quilted fabric pieces for various installations. Satin was my fabric of choice. I made quilted satin walls for my 1996 thesis show while I was a while a graduate student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. These quilted walls lined a lingerie showroom which showcased fantasy lingerie products such as the Heart Filter™ and the Anxiety Guard™ by Renella®. In 2004, I used quilted satin to reconstruct the interior of a minivan for a project entitled Custom Built. Although I was still very interested in the idea of padding or cushions, I later discovered that vinyl was a more appropriate choice both in terms of its physical properties and its conceptual impact. Certainly the idea of padded walls comes into play. For me, these pieces allude to protective environments whether that is a reference to mental health and/or any soft, protective, physically-comforting space. My first stuffed, white vinyl piece, Protection (2008), hung flat against the wall. In 2011, I made Center Piece, which was more of a relief sculpture that pulled away from the wall. Today they continue to take various forms. I am interested in pushing the materials in ways that I have not yet encountered.

Private Practice
2013
Installation view
Photo credit: Mike Smith

OPP: Your videos Conquer (2013), Heal (2011) and Diffuse (2008) are embodied metaphors for emotional experiences that use language as a jumping off point. I also see a relationship to the trajectory of feminist performance art. Are you influenced by pioneers like Martha Rosler, Janine Antoni, Hannah Wilke and Marina Abromovic? If not, what has influenced you?
 
SP: Although I highly regard all of these amazing pioneers and their great contributions to performance art, I cannot say that I was directly influenced by them. I consider my main influences to have come form various musical personas such as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. I've also been inspired by female comedic players such as former members of the cast of Saturday Night Live including Gilda Radner, Molly Shannon, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey and Amy Poeler. I LOVE the SNL men as well! I've been making videos since 1995 and had the opportunity to study various types of performance in NYC between 2000-2002 at the Upright Citizens Brigade, Gothum Writers Workshop and the New School. This amazing experience has informed my more recent video work.
 
Funny enough, another major source of inspiration for me was actually the mail order catalogs that my grandmother kept next to her recliner, such as Old Pueblo Traders and Dr. Leonard's. I grew up looking at these catalogs when I was bored as a child visiting her in the country. The gadgets in these catalogs inspired some of my earliest work, as in the products that I made for the lingerie showroom that I mentioned. They also led me to the idioms that I have used in my video work including "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" and "walking on eggshells.”

Diffuse
2008
Video
17 minutes 31 seconds

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece of your own work? Is it the same as the piece you consider to be most successful?


SP: That’s a hard one! I am very attached to the white vinyl pieces at the moment. One of my favorites is Center Piece because of its visual simplicity and the discoveries that it has led me to. This piece was in fact the springboard for all of the white vinyl pieces that I am continuing to make today. A few of my other favorites are my video Diffuse and the sculptural works, Life Saver and Bronze SAS Shoes. Although it is hard for me to judge which of these would be representations of my best work, I do feel that Diffuse is one of my most successful videos. The others that I mentioned are successful to me in the sense that they are all very true to my visual and conceptual intent.



OPP: You mentioned Renella as part of your MFA work. She’s your alter ego, a country singer, who, when asked in an interview what was inspiring about her trip to the Palace of Versailles, responded, "It's all about being fancy." She doesn't appear anywhere on your artist website, but I discovered her on your Vimeo page and found that she has her own Facebook page. It looks like she's had numerous public appearances in and out of the art world. Does she still perform? How does this character relate to your more recent sculptural and video work?
 
SP: Renella is actually taking a well-deserved nap at the moment. . . she’s a character that I began to develop in 1992 when I did a performance of a fictitious wedding with fellow artist, Jack Rivas. I needed a name for the bride and Renella Rose Champagne was born! She married Junior Rivas on April 17, 1992. This was a huge collaboration for me. It involved an eight-month engagement, many traditional parties and bridal events along the way, and the wedding itself was attended by 150 guests. I have pursued several major projects and have done many performances in and out of the art world as this character including the lingerie showroom I mentioned.

In 2005, I chose to devote my creative energy to my multidisciplinary studio work. Although Renella is not visually present in the current work, there is a sense of her ongoing spirit throughout my sculptural and video work. I am certain that she will find her way more directly into my work again someday. Renella has a way of making an appearance when least expected!

To see more of Stephanie's work, please visit stephaniepatton.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) just closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Lyon

Dendroclimatological Meditation (detail)
2012
Kraft, tissue, and drawing paper, pine branches, india ink, colored pencil
84"x 24"x 36"

Drawing, whittling and shredding paper are all forms of mark-making in BENJAMIN LYON's time-intensive art practice. He seamlessly unites both natural and manufactured materials in mysterious altars and monuments, revealing reverence and curiosity about time, chance and the nuanced experience of change that only occurs through ritualistic, haptic repetition. Benjamin earned a BA in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice with a minor in Fine Arts from San Francisco State University. He continued his artistic development at City College of San Francisco, and is in the process of applying to graduate school. Benjamin lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the presence of repetition in your practice and in the resulting work? I see it in the india ink drawings, the paper-shredding and the whittled pine branches, which are all forms of mark-making or marking time.

Benjamin Lyon: Repetition drives my practice because it brings me into the moment of making. Usually it gets me started and keeps me going. The work often begins without a plan. I think it grows out of a faith in the power of chance; I let go of control and rely more on the experience of making to guide me instead of its outcome.

My work is an intimate conversation with time. Time is fascinating to me because it's both abstract concept and a real experience. It's hard to define in an concrete way. There are so many different interpretations of it depending on what, who and when you are.

All of my work is handmade, and often I choose the repetitive act because it helps me become comfortable with anxiety and boredom. It's therapeutic for me. I dedicate a lot of my studio time to making marks, whittling sticks, shredding or braiding paper. Ultimately, the marks and objects function as witnesses that tell a story of change, and that story is written in nuance.

Wishing Well
2013
Kraft paper, newspaper, india ink, acrylic, watercolor, plywood, oak
55"x 25"x 16"

OPP: You repeatedly use brown kraft paper, wax paper, newspaper, construction paper in your works. What draws you these particular types of paper? Could you talk about using a two-dimensional material as a sculptural material?

BL: I've chosen these items because they're accessible, inexpensive and often taken for granted. The challenge for me is to take an object or material that is not precious and to inject meaning into it and express something important. And since my work often appears whimsical or other-worldly, I anchor it in reality with the familiar papers we find in our houses or on the newsstands.

Paper is a magical material. When I was a kid, art was always two-dimensional. My dad was an architect/engineer, and all of his work was prepared with different types of paper. I trained as a draftsperson with him for a handful of years and learned his quirky and efficient methods of constructing working drawings. These sheets contained layers upon layers of ink drawings on tracing paper. They were glued, taped, whited-out, xeroxed. They contained pasted notes and hand-drawn details that were repeatedly removed and replaced with the old torn edges of other sheets of paper. Each stage of the process remained subtly visible on the original, but would disappear once the paper was xeroxed on a copier set to a low sensitivity. The sheets were neatly organized but wilted by the end of the process. They had a lot of character. If you looked closely, you could see that they documented all of the changes over time.

Paper was such a large part of my development as an artist, that it seemed only natural to use this traditionally two-dimensional material, historically used for documentation, to create three-dimensional sculptures that document change over time.

Befriending 5,000 Splinters
2012
Fallen pine branches, kraft paper, india ink, colored pencil
3"x 18"x 18"

OPP: Paper is just wood in a manufactured form, and the presence of shredded paper makes me think of the absence of wood shavings that must have been produced when the fallen pine branches were whittled down. Was it the process or the material that drew you to wood-carving and whittling?

BL: I'm glad that the pieces produced such imagery for you. Through the visible marks of the tools, I'm trying to evoke the presence of work and its energy. In those pieces you're seeing manufactured forms as well as my own marks. Present are the many stages of transforming a specific material by machine or by hand. All of this is possible only with work. Tom Sachs is an artist that I admire. In an interview with Gaia Repossi, he says: “I'm trying to communicate transparency. I'm looking to show the scars of labor and the evidence of construction.” I relate to his sentiment. There is something truly satisfying about the act of creating. From cooking tasty food to building a sturdy book shelf, if a thing is made well and the process is satisfying, it makes all the difference for the maker and user.

I can’t say that it is either the process or material that draws me to these practices because it’s almost always both. I use a material in a way that illuminates the actual work done over time, but I also often choose acts that the viewer won't ever see in the final product. For example, I frequently go on walking adventures through the city and its parks in search of a material to gather. Or, in the new drawings that I'm developing, I've made a gazillion little, repetitive and beloved marks that I call “ink scratches.” I'm not using pens with ink cartridges but instead dipping a pen with metal nib into an ink well after every few marks. It's a little bit ridiculous. . . but enjoyable. It slows everything down for me.

For each piece, I chose materials that represent both nature and culture. I mix the two symbolic artifacts to address a perceived dichotomy. Time-intensive work allows the two symbols become more similar than they are different.

To Love and To Work
2013
Basswood, gathered fallen pine branches and redwood bark, acrylic paint
18"x 12"x 16"

OPP: Many of your pieces, including Fortune Teller (2012), Befriending 5,000 Splinters (2012), and Dendroclimatological Meditation (2012), evoke altars for me. Others, like Tangle Ish (2013) and Wishing Well (2013), are like monuments, sites of human longing or reverence. Does this reading echo your intentions? If so, what are these sculptural altars and monuments for?

BL: Observing the work through someone else's eyes can be really valuable for seeing new things! After considering what you've said about the 2012 pieces appearing as altars and those from 2013 resembling monuments, I think that the two different years mark different stages in a process of conjuring the energies of both natural and cultural elements. The altars from 2012 were made with the intention of awakening the ideas. I wanted viewers to feel as though they had stumbled upon a ceremony in an unknown world. I created my own rituals that could induce magic, bringing me closer to understanding nature, culture and time. The imagined ceremony itself was distant from the site that remained. It felt distant for me, too, because it was new.

Perhaps the altars did work as I intended, awakening the energies to produce the monuments in 2013. Reverence is a great word that I also use to describe those pieces. I have a deep respect for the world around me with all of its experiences and interactions. The respect that I try to maintain adds mystery to everyday situations. Life is rich with possibility when you allow the unknown to exist instead of desiring full control.

Tangle Ish
2013
Newspaper, walnut section, Ikea wood slats, Manzanita branches, string
46"x 20"x 20"

OPP: How does your experience as a teenaged graffiti artist in San Francisco relate to your current work in sculpture and drawing? What did you learn in that time that affects the work you currently make?

BL: Graffiti was a rush of excitement. It was a tight community that admired and hated each other at the same time. We shared secrets, tricks of the trade and lived and worked by a code that's hard for everyone to understand. But the code is heavy and present. It's an interesting subculture that I still have a lot of respect for. I think that writing graffiti did not so much transfer into a visual style for me, rather it developed my interest in the process of creating.

I started writing graffiti when I was in middle school. I still have old drawings of my first pieces on paper dating back to '91. The pieces are so funny with their letters filled in with brick patterns and their star-dotted letter "i"s! We'd go out walking in the streets searching for new spots to plan our pieces before heading to the wall, or we'd explore the streets while bombing, which is what we called tagging. But what's most memorable to me is the practice I put into perfecting my moniker. I must have filled hundreds—I mean hundreds!—of spiral notebooks with my name. I'd write my tag over and over and over, slightly varying the styles or the spelling in search of that perfect combination. This is where I developed my fascination with repetition, the nuance of change over time and the never-ending exploration of my surroundings.

To see more of Benjamin's work, please visit benjaminlyonart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.