OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Meg Leary

Douse the Diva
2012
Digital Video (still)

MEG LEARY is a Chicago-based performance and video artist who uses music theory strategies and music materials such as cassette tape and vinyl records to evoke the body in relation to objects, space, and sound. She is a classically trained vocalist, who often references this history in her visual and performance work. Leary received an MA in Performance Studies from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2003) and an MFA in Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006). Her upcoming performance and exhibition Muses & Valkyries opens on May 18th at Thalia Hall in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have an interesting history. You were trained as an opera singer at a young age. How does this early education in music affect the work you make now as a performance artist? How has it been awesome to have this other context informing your work?

Meg Leary: It’s funny. I never felt fulfilled by the technical expertise of opera. Being a classical singer it is not unlike being an athlete in which you train your mind and body to act in expectable outcomes. What always interested me was the failure of these things: stage fright, voices cracking, forgetting the words to a song. These things seem like less explored territory than the perfection of musical phrases - there are other people who do that better and have a concrete interest in that.

The feeling of using your voice to fill a space and impart emotion is the thing that I loved about opera. I still that get out of my work, but I get to explore the performative context of this act rather than the mimetic repetition of a musical score. I am really interested in the artifice of the “Diva” and use this as a tool in my work, particularly around issues of the body, gender, and queerness. As a “fat lady who sings,” I like to play with the viewer’s awareness around the cultural associations and stereotypes about classical singers.
Shattering
2011
Performance documentation

OPP: How has it been difficult to have this other context informing your work?

ML: Because I began in music, my creative vocabulary is very much based around music theory and principles. When I am thinking about art making, I can’t help but associate what I am doing with sound. So things like improvisation, harmonics and sampling are the concepts that I think about. This seems really natural to me, but in a visual art context, it sometimes feels like I am bi-lingual, constantly relating my first language to this new context. Ultimately, I think what I am trying to do is to break down the barrier between the two by taking music ideas into the visual and the visual into music.

OPP: I see your work as falling into two distinct camps: work about audio artifacts and their cultural implications, as seen in the Silly Putty Works and your formal paintings made with cassette tape, and work about sound itself and how we experience it, as in your performances, installations and videos. Could you talk about how each of these informs the other?

ML: In my mind, all of my work has the same message but is presented in different mediums. In practice, the formal work I do is a way for me to work out micro problems within macro ideas. By pulling out one idea and working with it in a very different way, it creates a more rigid frame with which to think about things, sort of like re-creating a social construction in order to expose it. I think that by working in these very different ways I am playing out the tension between my intuitive process and the very formal training I received.

Untitled, Silly Putty Work
2011
Detail

OPP: Your piece Douse the Diva has been both a live performance and a video exhibited in a gallery. Do you think one way is more successful than the other? Did the different forms drastically change the responses of viewers in any way?



ML: I always think that my live performances are more successful than my videos. Maybe because my early training was in performance, and I feel more comfortable in that vein. I am really attached the ephemeral nature of performance because I enjoy improvisation. I think one of the best moments of Douse the Diva is when I wipe my face with my dress. That was a spur of the moment decision in that particular performance that I have kept in subsequent performances.

What I appreciate about video is the ability to make something new out of a performance - not to mention having it seen more widely. It is pretty rare (with the exception of Tapehead) that I have felt that a performance would be more successful if it began as a video. Ultimately, in a video, your image and your performance are mediated by so many factors (camera angle, recording device etc.). But, in person, you are actually confronted by a real live person - a video can never capture that energy. Video is a lot safer/ more controlled, and the responses tend to be more muted.
Michael Jackson, Off The Wall
2007
De-magnetized cassette tape

OPP: Cassette tape makes a recurring appearance in your work. It's been in your abstract paintings, your video Tapehead (2010), and you made a wig out of it, which will be part of an upcoming performance. Could you talk a little bit about the significance of this material to you personally and in your work?

ML: I just think it is exceptionally beautiful material. The varying colors, reflection, and possible textures are really exciting to me aesthetically. I also think that it is a very poetic material; it is a constantly-degrading and delicate material with such a limited lifespan. I love the idea of a mix tape. It is such a powerful gesture and makes you so vulnerable and was something I did ALL THE TIME as a kid. I have a big box of all my old mix tapes I made, and they are artifacts of particular times in my life. I play the tape I made for my first year of college, and it is a snapshot of the emotion, angst and frenzy I felt… it’s pretty funny to listen to a tape of Mazzy Star and Nine Inch Nails and remember that I was singing Mozart all day!

I use cassette tape in my work as a metaphor for hidden information, which was the impetus behind the decision to make a wig out of magnetic tape. Hair is this thing that has enormous cultural significance, but it also contains so much information about your body (DNA, toxins, etc.) and can be analyzed to extract information. I think cassette tape is a lot like this… run a magnetic tapehead over it, and it reveals a wealth of information about sound, the person who made the recording and the culture it came from. I particularly love the paintings I have done where I use a recording of a loved one’s voice to physically put them into the painting. It may not be that evident to the viewer, but the work is imbued with the ineffable quality of that person’s voice.
Playlist 4
2006
Oil paint, plaster and cassette tape on canvas

OPP: Oh, I love that idea! There is always so much buried personal information that is unaccessible to the viewer in paintings anyway... well, all art, really. That makes me wonder about Tapehead, in which you essentially lick the entire length of tape from an unidentified cassette, at times lovingly and sensually, at times violently. There’s a lot going on in this piece. While watching, I am thinking of your tongue as a playhead, of the difference between the voice in the video and what appears to be a mass-produced cassette and of the metaphor of your personal and emotional relationship to whatever music is on the tape itself. Is there any special significance to the cassette you used to shoot this video?

ML: To be honest, I did so many takes of this video that I don't know which album is the one that ended up in piece. The action is based on a sketch I saw by the poet Stevie Smith where a woman is holding a cat and saying "I love you so much I could eat you." I wanted to have that kind of physical interaction with music - almost consuming it. That feeling is not limited to one artist or tape for me.
Tapehead
2011
Video (in frame)

OPP: You are in the middle of planning an ambitious performance event at Thalia Hall in Chicago. Can you tell us about the space and what you have planned?

ML: Yes, I am going to be doing an exhibition of visual and performance work called Muses & Valkyries beginning on May 18th at Thalia Hall. I am thinking about this exhibition essentially as a collaboration with the architecture. The space has been empty since the eighties and the walls are crumbling and filled with junk. I am using the space as a vessel for thinking about cultural memory, so the show references many eras of performance production from Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and will include sculpture, performance, music, and dance. It will also be the first time that I have performers re-creating some of my past performances.

One of the unique aspects of this work is that it I get to take over a whole building for the performance, and then have an ongoing exhibition of the documentation and materials from the show that will exist in the storefront gallery after the performance is over. It is a rare and special thing for a performance artist to have the opportunity in the immediate to think about how the work will live on after the performance ends.
To view more work by Meg Leary, please visit megleary.com.


Support Meg Leary's upcoming show Muses & Valkyeries by donating to her Kickstarter campaign.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Keary Rosen

Simulacrum Series
Family Portrait
18" x 24"
photograph

KEARY ROSEN is an interdisciplinary artist working in drawing, photography, video, performance and kinetic sculpture. He often references science fiction narratives and imagined technologies from the past, exploring language and its associative meanings, as well as how our relationship to technology reveals our emotional experiences as human beings. Keary Rosen received his MFA from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts in 2000. He currently lives in Raritan, NJ.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you acknowledge the influence of sci-fi on your work. Tell me about your personal history in relation to sci-fi. What's your favorite sci-fi text of all time?

Keary Rosen: I naturally gravitated to science fiction writing because I appreciate the sometimes fantastic and covert ways the genre attempts to grapple with certain philosophical quandaries that I am interested in (issues of racial equality, issues of quality of life, issues of power, issues of surveillance, artificial life vs. organic life).

There are a number of novels and short stories that I’ve read many times. I don’t have a single favorite… I’ll give you a list of works that never fail to inspire me: 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, R.U.R. by Karel Capek and the whole Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. 

In addition to written works, I’ll geek-out even more by divulging that I’m also a huge fan of sci-fi television and cinema. 

I’ve begun paying homage to my favorite sci-fi works in the drawing series M-Class Planet. In these drawings, I’ve inserted myself into imagery I’ve either appropriated directly from a visual source or gleaned from specific narrative descriptions. (I am a droid. I am Dave Bowman piloting the space pod. I am Powell on the back of the of the robot chasing Speedy. The robots rebelling against humankind are modeled in my image.)

Droids
25" x 31"
Graphite on 4 ply Bristol Paper

OPP: One of the interesting aspects of sci-fi movies and TV in particular is the way the visual representation of the future is quickly dated. Like, in 80s movies, the things the computers could do were amazing and fast, but they still had an MS-DOS interface, which is laughable now. It seems that your work is exploring specifically these outdated projections of future technology in your life-size sculpture 1.530R The Robot. That's no Cylon! It's more like Rosie from the Jetsons. I'd love to hear more about this piece. What was the video projected on the belly of 1.530R The Robot?

KR: 1.530R The Robot is an amalgamation of many atomic age tin toy robot designs from the 1940s -1960s. I’ve always been interested in automata, and tin toys are a modernist/contemporary continuation of that tradition. I like the idea that a simple or low-tech device can generate movement. 

It’s true, 1.530R is no Cylon. I chose to create a form that looked dated because I wanted to reference a time period that began using media and commerce to popularize this kind of image as a symbol to represent a preoccupation with the technological advancements that were taking place and how they might impact the future.

1.530R The Robot is a seminal work for me. Within this work was the genesis of a lot of the conceptual ideas and working methodologies I’ve explored. It was the first time I used the robot as a form, and it was the first time I worked collaboratively on a film.

The 16mm black and white film that is projected onto the belly of 1.530R The Robot was conceived as a B-Movie style horror story/critique of our current mental healthcare system. 1.530R The Robot was an actor in the film. In the installation, 1.530R The Robot doubles as a film artifact and projection screen.

The Atomic Treatment Installation
Installation includes: an antique iron and marble theater table, two antique theater chairs, a 1950’s 16mm film projector, a 1960’s reel-to-reel tape player and 1.530R The Robot

OPP: The Barker is a kinetic sculpture with sound. It appears to be an alien life form, either kept alive or imprisoned in a glass vitrine with a speaker. The viewer is able to hear its booming voice spout "excerpts taken from an early 19th century American Dictionary."  It's gross, in an awesome way, to watch this creature speak, and the timbre of its voice creates the sense that what it is saying is very important, despite the fact that it doesn't seem to be. Why did you choose the dictionary as a source, and how did you decide what it would say?

KR: The Barker was a real breakthrough, in terms of technology and studio process. Up until this piece, the kinetic devices in my work were mechanical in nature (gears, motors and belts) and the forms were generally composed of rigid materials such as ceramic and steel. I would spend a great deal of time tracking down parts or fabricating custom gadgets. In The Barker, I began working with cast silicone and, most importantly, digital technology. 

I was invited to participate in the testing/evaluation of a new user-friendly and multi-functional robotic motherboard through an outreach collaboration between The Pittsburgh Art and Technology Council and Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Laboratory. The robotic motherboard made function control and response a simple matter of programming. I had gone from analog to digital! The motion range inherent in the robotic motor and motherboard naturally suggested speech patterns and I went from there.  

There is an inherent absurdity of this grotesque form doing anything, much less giving advice or information. I culled its script from a 19th century American dictionary, because I wanted to work with codified, authoritative, precise, and potentially dated definitions of words. The words I chose to look up included: origin, creation, death, reason, aggression, animal and breed. I selected excerpts from those word definitions and their lists of examples for The Barker to blurt out. The statements ultimately become disjointed tidbits or morsels of much larger abstract concepts we have attempted to explain.

The Barker put me on a path that ultimately led to the work I am currently creating. It is an installation that consists of a landscape environment inhabited by three Komodo Dragons that have the ability to sense and speak to viewers (I am utilizing the same digital technology used in The Barker). Each creature will have a unique voice and perspective, both literally and philosophically. They will be on top of and surrounded by rocks of various sizes and shapes. These rocks are cast out of urethane resins.


The Barker
28” x 38” x 63”
Birch Plywood, Oak, Poplar, MDF, Naugahyde, Acrylic, Silicone, Qwerk Robotic Unit, Motion Sensors, Speaker, Light Unit.

OPP: You've done several collaborative videos with Kelly Oliver, in which you write and perform the text and she films and edits the visuals. How did this collaboration evolve? Is there any back and forth, or do you each stay in the roles you've chosen?

KR: Kelly and I met in art school. At the time, she was studying painting before gravitating toward film. We’ve been married for 10 years. Her method of making video is very poetic and indirect, based on edits of disjointed and mysterious images. The pacing and narratives emerge and submerge. My text pieces work within these same parameters. An important part of my process is to establish a rhythm and character that feels appropriate in regard to the content. It seemed like a natural progression to collaborate on work together, and the results have shown around the world at film festivals, galleries and museums.


Second Firing
Running time: 2 min 30 sec

OPP: Writing and language is a recurring part of your work, whether it is the monologue of The After-Dinner Speech, the appropriated statements of The Barker, or the non-sensical poetry of First Firing or the Lincoln Library of Essential Information Volume I and Second Firing, in which the audio is a running list of words that are linked more by sound than meaning. (My favorite phrase is "placenta polenta placebo gazebo.") Has language always been a part of your art practice? Could you talk about how you approach writing?

KR: I created my first pieces built around words and the spoken language as an undergraduate. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in oral and written communication.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about my writing process. Whether I start with research, accumulated stream of consciousness writings or wordplay, it always eventually transitions to a process of editing and composing. 

When I complete a written work that I know I will read for a recording, I begin to experiment with voices. The voice I choose determines the speed, emotional responses and mood.

OPP: Tell me about a piece from your past that you think was a failure, but taught you a lot about your work.

KR: Why? What did you hear? Were you at that opening where the Mars Rover’s battery died?! Seriously though, I’m that person who likes to work through the burn. If something isn’t working, I have to keep at it until I am satisfied.

To view more of Keary Rosen’s work, please visit kearyrosen.com.

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OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews David Leggett

Drank
2011
Acrylic, felt, pom poms, silver leaf, and wiggle eyes on canvas

DAVID LEGGETT’s paintings and drawings synthesize the personal and the cultural. His egalitarian use of craft materials, paint and ink emphasizes the balanced treatment of his subject matter, which ranges from the silly to the profound. He has tackled such topics as the history of painting and the high/low divide, race and our perceptions of ourselves in relation to the images presented to us by pop culture, sex and desire as they relate to self-esteem and carnality. Leggett received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. He lives and works in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When asked how you would describe your work to a stranger in an interview you did with LVL3 last year, you responded with a great tagline: "it’s everything wrong with the world with bright colors." How do the bright colors (as well as the craft materials like pom poms and glitter) function in your work? Is it about a kind of optimism? Or is it a deflection of all the bad stuff?

David Leggett: Color has always interested me. The artists that I was interested in as a child and as an adult had vibrant color palettes. All the cartoons I loved as a kid use vibrant colors as well. I do not think of the colors I use as being optimistic. I see color as a tool to bring the viewer in for a closer inspection. I work with subject matter that can turn some off. Color can be used to make medicine go down if you will. That could also be said about craft materials. I started using craft materials in order to problem-solve in my painting. I felt my painting was very rigid before I used craft materials. I wasn’t trying to figure out one painting from the next. When you work with craft materials you have figure out how to use them, so it doesn’t look like craft materials on canvas. It’s too easy for those materials to look like a child at play.
That Where They Made Me At
2012
acrylic and shoe polish on canvas

OPP: Who are some of the artists you love? And what were your favorite cartoons growing up?

DL: Pedro Bell, Gary Panter, Sigmar Polke, Harvey Kurtzman, Jim Shaw, and Mike Kelley were a few of my favorites growing up. I loved the Smurfs, Ren and Stimpy, and Thundercats.

OPP:  You often use the form of the tondo, a large round painting historically used for religious subject matter. Could you talk about this formal choice, either in general or in relation to a specific piece?

DL: I don’t shy away from any subject. I cover religion a lot. Tondos are interesting. They are a part of art history, and I like using that reference in my work. In Uncle John, I’m making a memorial to all the Johns of the art world. The idea of a gold leaf tondo with just the name John referenced Christianity even though that wasn’t my intent. Working with more than one meaning is one of the many things I use in my work.
Unforgivable Blackness
2012
acrylic on canvas

OPP: Many of the tondos also feature recognizable figures from pop culture, as in Silver Dechanel (2010) or Rick Rossing It (2010). What about in a piece like Chocolate Rainbow Connection (2010), which features Kermit the Frog? Are there religious connotations here?

DL: I don't think of them having that meaning, but I'm aware that some viewers have taken that from the work. I like things being open for the viewer.

OPP: My favorite thing about your work is the way the tone continually moves back and forth between the sweet and the profane. I see this especially in the recurring motifs of boobs and balls on heads and scoops of ice cream. Does this resonate with your interests?

DL: Yes it does. There are many thoughts and ideas that go through my mind when I make work. My personality is very much a part of my work. I have a dark sense of humor, and it comes out often in the things I do. I also bounce back to being more practical at times and that also reflects. I feel everyone has the same way of thinking to an extent.
How to get to Grape Street
Blog drawing
2011

OPP: You currently have an exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago called Coco River Fudge Street, which consists of 152 drawings from your blog of the same name. How are the blog drawings different from other drawings? Has the digital form of the blog affected your analog work?

DL: The only real difference is the time. I have very limited time to work on the blog drawings. I’m always trying to beat the clock. I also find myself making things I might not have if I didn’t have to produce a drawing a day for the blog. It was a fun challenge.

It made me keep things simple. Certain things wouldn’t work on a blog. Colors and textures wouldn’t show up as clear due to my using a scanner. This changed the direction I originally had for the blog. I wanted to do all paintings which is nuts.

OPP: Tell us about your process.

DL: There isn't really a process to the blog drawings. It's whatever comes to mind within that day. I will use whatever trials I have, but I try to keep it simple so I'm not spending the entire day on one thing. That is the opposite of my other paintings and drawings. I have materials and subject matter planned ahead of time. I'll also gather source materials.

Old Negro
2011

OPP: Will the blog keep going now that you’ve had the show?

DL: I was thinking about doing a fan appreciation month in the near future. As for another entire year of blog drawings, I don't have it in me. It's a lot of work, and I would like to travel. You have to stay put when you are doing a daily drawing blog.

OPP: What were your drawings like as a child?

DL: It was all pen and ink. I wasn’t a huge fan of color back then. I would go through hundreds of sheets of typing paper to draw on. I would draw my favorite comic characters and cartoons. I later realized I was good at making caricatures of kids I didn’t like in school. It’s funny how things never change.
To view more of David Leggett’s work, please visit davidleggettart.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Deb Sokolow

You tell people you're working really hard on things these days (detail)
2010
graphite, charcoal, ink, acrylic, paper on panel
7 ft x 25 ft

DEB SOKOLOW creates large-scale drawings that combine text and image in complex narratives with multiple beginnings, endings, and course-changes. Weaving together facts and fantasy, her signature 2nd-person narrator expertly pulls the viewer into her paranoid musings. She ultimately leaves us with an entertaining and profound experience of doubt, questioning the nature of reading in the gallery and the function of art in general. Sokolow lives and works in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The first time I saw your work was in 2003. It was Rocky and Adrian (and me), a 9 ft long drawing which catalogs the love story of Rocky and Adrian scene by scene while inserting alternate scenes in which the narrator becomes the love interest for Rocky. Since then, you have become well known for your use of a paranoid 2nd person narrator in your drawings. What precipitated the switch from me to you?

Deb Sokolow: What precipitated this switch was a desire to tell a story in a way that would immerse a viewer/reader in the narrative. This is hard to do with text-y art that exists on a wall and not in a book, because I think most people are resistant to doing a lot of standing and reading. So I decided to switch from narrating everything in the first person (i.e. “I have an uncomfortable encounter with my neighbor, Richard Serra, the failed-sculptor-turned-body-butcher-for-the-mob”) to the second person (i.e. “you have an uncomfortable encounter with your neighbor, Richard Serra, the failed-sculptor-turned-body-butcher-for-the-mob”). The idea is for the viewer/reader to take on the roll of the protagonist when reading the story, and hopefully develop a connection or some level of personal investment in it. Also, I’ve never wanted to make diaristic work, so the decision to switch from I to you was a way to move the story out into the world, so that it could be about anyone’s real or imagined experiences, and not just my own.

OPP: Were Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 1980s an influence for you?

DS: Absolutely. I’ve attempted to work in a Choose Your Own Adventure type format, but can only manage to create 3 to 6 possible endings. I’ve discovered that it is so much harder to do this with a story that hangs on a wall as opposed to a story that resides in a book.

Whatever happened to the Pentagon (restaurant)?
2007
graphite, ink, acrylic, correction fluid on multiple papers, pins
5ft x 4ft

OPP: And you have experience working in both formats. Whatever Happened to the Pentagon (restaurant)? (2007) is both a large-scale drawing and an edition of 100 accordion-fold books. Could you talk more specifically about the differences in creating a text drawing that evolves linearly as opposed to one that is more of a rhizome, as is more common in your large-scale drawings?

DS: People will usually read a book from beginning to end, so for the most part I know how they will experience the story. When I’m working in a less linear format, such as with some of the large drawings, I am less certain of the path a viewer/reader will take when following the story. It’s so much harder to make the work because I’m constantly struggling to develop a strong enough visual hierarchy so that there is one or a few obvious entry points in the piece, but not too many so that it runs the risk of being too chaotic and unreadable. Writing for a book is also difficult because there is less space for tangential story lines. Recently, I’ve been working with footnotes in the books as a way to organize some of those tangents.  

How do these people manage?
2011
graphite, ink, acrylic, collage on paper
11 x 8 1/2 inches

OPP: You never try to hide erasures and edits in the drawings. These changes are integral to the visual aspects of the work. You even made these changes a performative part of your 2010 installation You tell people you're working really hard on things these days at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, adding and removing elements over the course of the exhibition "as contradictory evidence and new observations were acquired." Could you talk about how this aspect of your work developed?

DS: Initially, when I started making large drawings with a significant amount of text, I was frustrated with myself for making a lot of mistakes on the paper and using quite a bit of correction fluid. But then I came to terms with the mistakes when I realized they were as important to the drawing as the final product. And lately, I’ve been thinking about this writing process, its erasures and edits and indecisiveness, as a type of time-based drawing process.
You are one step closer to learning the truth
2008
graphite, ink, acrylic on wall
141 feet long
installation shot

OPP: You have exhibited widely in Chicago, nationally, and internationally. Does any one exhibition opportunity stand out as having been particularly suited to your work or particularly transformative for your work, pushing it in new directions?

DS: There was this one project, Dear Trusted Associate, which was first installed at the Van Abbemuseum in The Netherlands, and then exhibited again a year later at the Smart Museum at University of Chicago. Both times, the piece existed primarily on a forty-foot scroll of paper with some amount of writing and drawing spilled out over the edges of the paper onto the wall. Showing the project a second time was a real challenge for me. Not only did I have to re-create the parts on the wall, but I actually had to re-do everything that was on the paper, too, so that the story would fit within a different wall configuration. Also, the Smart Museum asked me to add a new chapter to the end. So, in the end, I decided to re-write the entire piece, and came up with a more edited-down piece that included additional commentary of a contradictory nature from a more jaded, older version of the narrator who, looking back in time, disagrees with his/her initial version of how the story is told. This playing around with tenses was something new for me. I don’t think I would have experimented in this way if I hadn’t had the extra time or reason to fine-tune an existing story.

OPP: Could you tell us a bit about how each piece evolves? Is the story fully formed in your mind before you start drawing?

DS: The basic story is formed in my mind before I start figuring out how it should exist visually, but the tangents happen as I'm physically making the work, and I don't usually know how a story will end until I'm almost finished with the piece.

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece from your own work? Is your favorite piece your best piece in your opinion?

DS: Someone tell Mayor Daley the pirates are coming might be my favorite piece. I don’t know if it’s the best piece I’ve ever made, but I’ve always liked how ridiculously naive the narrator is - so much more naïve than the way I write the narrator’s voice in other projects. I keep thinking I should revisit that level of naivety again. 
You tell people you're working really hard on things these days (detail)
2010
graphite, charcoal, ink, acrylic, paper on panel
7 ft x 25 ft

OPP: Have you heard anything from Richard Serra about your inclusion of a fictionalized version of him in your 2008-2009 drawing Dear Trusted Associate?

DS: Not yet. I’m still using him as a character in the work, still playing around with this idea that his life as an artist would be so completely different if he’d come to Chicago to try and make it as an artist, but failed miserably and had to take on a day job butchering bodies for the mob in order to maintain a studio practice. I’m starting to write alternate versions of the lives of other larger-than-life individuals, most recently Willem de Kooning and the cult leader, Jim Jones. My father was a political scientist, and one of his former students, (now Congresswoman) Jackie Speier, was part of the delegation that had been shot at while visiting Jonestown in 1978 to investigate allegations of human rights violations. Jackie was shot five times and still managed to survive. Her story and that of Jim Jones have always loomed large in my mind.

OPP: That sounds like the basis for a new story. Is it a piece you are working on right now?

DS: I am starting a project about Jim Jones, and Jackie Speier might be a character in it, but it's in the initial planning stages, so I'm not entirely sure how it will all pan out. I'm also trying to figure out which, of three upcoming exhibitions, would be the most appropriate venue for the project, since the nature of the project might be fairly disturbing. I can't install a piece about evil, torture and death just anywhere!
To view more of Deb Sokolow’s work, please visit debsokolow.com.

Support the Love Renagade's New Project!

 ELIZABETH AXTMAN is an interdisciplinary artist, whose alter-ego, The Love Renegade, creates powerful works about bridging the divide between people and their egos. When a person has acted, (as Liz says) "a hot-mess," the Love Renegade steps in with a work that confronts this head on -- treating these sometimes hateful people with surprising grace and kindness.

In her socially engaged practice, The Love Renagade has written love letters to Ann Coulter & Bill O'Reilly, has re-edited video footage of Sarah Palin to create an apology to people she had hurt, and has poignantly altered a photo of O.J. Simpson's mugshot to say "I'm so sorry." She has participated in exhibitions all over the world including: The Renaissance Society (Chicago), The Studio Museum (NYC), The Contemporary Art Museum (Houston), Kunsthalle Gwangju (Republic of Korea),The Kitchen (NYC), & te tuhi Center for the Arts (New Zealand).

The Love Renagade's newest project, currently being funded via Kickstarter, is entitled "The Love Renagade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell." The documentary-form work confronts former Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell, who in 2009 refused to marry an interracial couple in Louisiana, siting that he was concerned about "the children." Axtman's ambitious new work documents the loving relationships between interracial couples, and shows their happy thriving children -- who at intervals tell the camera: "I love you Keith." The Love Renagade's work is a moving testament to the power of love over hate, compassion over ego, and understanding over fear.

Please check out The Love Renagade's Kickstarter page for this wonderful project, support it if you can, and pass it on!

You can see more of Elizabeth Axtman/The Love Renegade's work, on her website.

 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Graham McNamara


IMG_6293, detail
2009
Oil on mdf unit
18" x 18" x 3.5"

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you evoke the role of the scientist by using words like "clinical" and "dissect" to describe how you deconstruct "romantic, idyllic European painting." Could you say more about this "clinical" approach? 

Graham McNamara: I’m quite an analytical person, and I like systems and structures. I’ve always perceived the world in this manner, and so it was a clear step for me to view art in that way, too. Art history fascinates me. By dissecting it, I create an interesting dialogue with truth and idealism both then and now.

OPP: In your series Units, small sections of classical paintings are blown up, painted in monochrome and intersected with paint drips. The paint drips actually come before the reproductions, which get painted in around the drips. Why is this important to the piece? How does it change the final look of the painting?

GM: Within my work I enjoy many subtleties and quiet gestures. The cited paintings are often grand, strong declarations. I counter this with understated actions that have equally powerful declarations, albeit with opposing intentions. The order of the application, subtle as it is, is a key element in my work. It creates a paradox whereby my work, which is undermining an illusionary motif, becomes in itself illusionary.

Page 136
2008
Oil, pencil, primer on mdf unit
24" x 48" x 4"

OPP: Appropriation of art historical paintings is a staple in your process. How important is it for viewers to know what the original source paintings are?

GM: In a way it does not matter if the viewer is able to decipher the original piece. It is either known or not known, and this conveys two different experiences that can be had with my work. I find them both interesting. I don’t really want to make an elitist art only accessible to those who know art history, which is difficult when art is referential.

If the work is recognized then the piece takes on quite an academic reading: all the history, stories, and interpretations of the original work feeds into my piece and creates a dialogue about art, art history and the creative drive. It is often quite comical, as I will crop out or ignore a fundamental element of the original work and paint instead the background or less important things, rendering its original concept absent.

The other, less informed reading of the work is more abstracted and intangible. Enough of the painting is left to convey a glimpse of a moment. It’s familiar in some way, but in one that cannot be placed. It becomes a sort of vague, shared memory, warmed by the soft, hazy, smoothed-out brushwork.

OPP: How do you choose what paintings to appropriate?

GM: A lot of research goes into selecting which paintings to use. I go through a period of a few months of reading and looking at works, which results in a selection of artists and a selection of their works that interests me. I then group these into loose categories to pull from. I reflect over what a piece does, why it speaks to me, and how I can manipulate it. I always seem to know which to use next.

The Creator, The Destructor IV
2009
Oil, pencil, primer, Epson print on partical board
12 x 12 x 0.5 inches

OPP: You mention Walter Benjamin's famous essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in your statement. When did you first read it? How has it influenced how you think about painting or art in general?

GM: I read his text while studying at university, so I was quite young and new to making art. It had a profound effect on me and how I saw the world, especially through the context of the Internet. Generally speaking, I see more art in reference form, whether on my computer, my smart phone, or in a newspaper or magazine, than in reality. My experiences of art become less valuable or unique as a result. Maybe that’s why I feel I can take such liberties with these important works; there is no preciousness to them. They can be dissected. I comment on this with my work, but I also fight against it through elements which cannot be replicated in these modes, such as the subtly and structure.

Blue Boy
2009
Epson print on paper, framed
15 x 19 inches (frame)

OPP: I know what you mean about how we look at art these days, considering the fact that I’ve never seen your work in person. But I disagree that our experiences of art are less valuable when they are mediated. They are just different than they were before. And in some ways, they are better. For example, I love how I can can a real sense of the breadth of an artist’s work by looking at his/her website. I can’t get that when I see a single piece in a group show. Sometimes, I find individual pieces dull, but when I see them in the context of the artist’s total output, I become really engaged with the work. Admittedly, my bias is that I prefer to understand things in their context. That’s where I find the most pleasure in looking at art. But I’d love to hear more about how your experience looking at art differs from mine.

GM: True. Maybe it is just different. For example, my website is a powerful tool to show a much wider audience my work and also show work that has not yet been exhibited in reality. But I think what is interesting is when these mediums shift from being referential to a primary source of absorption on art. The art then becomes the digital or printed reference, and the physical work itself is somewhat secondary in almost a Plato’s cave effect. The concept is paramount, which I love. But when we loose the physical engagement with the presence of a work, we lose the aura as Benjamin says, and that is so important to the understanding. No matter how many books I read and images I saw of Rothko’s paintings, they held nothing compared to when I first visited a collection in person at Tate Modern, London. Before that, I was informed, but I didn’t truly understand.

OPP: Tell me a little about your process. How much is thinking/planning and how much is actually painting?

GM: I usually have my work fully planned out before beginning the actual piece, although there is room for altering from course throughout the process. Most of my creativity is directed before I begin the work through writings and sketches, and the actual creating is more a series of skilled tasks to lead to completion. This helps me think clearly, and the process of making becomes a quiet meditative time. I have to work in a logical manner, almost machine-like in some stages. For instance, when I paint the cited image using the projector, I try only to paint the image projected, not what I see. Too much of my mind is chaotic, and the world is a myriad of complications. My art process grounds me and gives me a structure to realize my ideas.

With my Units and IMG_  series I firstly construct a selection of perfect boxes, then sand and seal them. At this point, I do not have a set use for them. While I make these, and for a while after, I research my subject matter and write. I usually have the piece fully planned out before beginning to paint. I use a projector and sketches to make decisions. I try to understand what the piece will become and if it will be successful. During this process, I’ll decide which boxes will be paired with which paintings, and I select a single paint color based on the imagery and the shape of the boxes. Next, the boxes get primed, sanded where necessary, and taped off to leave only the surface to paint on. Then I paint the whole area and brush it smooth, before I apply solvents to create drips with as little regard as possible for what will be painted on the box. This dries for a few months before I painstakingly paint an image around the drips, brushing the strokes smooth as I go.
Untitled, branch with rock #3
2011
Resin, drift wood, & rock
8 x 18 x 2 inches

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

GM: I have just come out of about 6 months of not making anything. I spent the time evaluating my work and considering its direction. I think it is important to take these moments of reflection when creating art in order to maintain the integrity of your creativity, rather than the integrity of a specific style or technique.

Earlier this year I had a residency at The Carriage House in Long Island. This took my practice in an exciting new direction with sculptural works that I’m very pleased with. Photos of these pieces should be uploaded onto my website any day soon(!). Using crude metal brackets and wood supports, I reconstructed a series of trees that had been cut down and moved into my space. I also constructed trees from found fallen branches to create man-made disjointed forms. These works were almost a poetic act of reconstructing trees to a former state using materials and techniques that clearly expose this interaction. My other works were made using resin, at varying degrees of clarity, to turn old lumber and driftwood back into the blocks of wood they once were. These works stoically strive to reclaim their former identity and sense of purpose, but instead they are a futile attempt to correct the forces of nature and of man in a ghostly, exposed manner.

To view more of Graham McNamara’s work, please visit grahammcnamara.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Shawnee Barton

Misfortune Cookies, detail
2010
Hand Embroidery on cotton

SHAWNEE BARTON is a Texas-born interdisciplinary artist who uses satire and storytelling to explore “sociological concerns such as dislocation, relationship and group dynamics, class issues, and the ways in which we make connections and communicate with each other.” She works in drawing, sculpture, performance, photography, video, embroidery, and new media. In 2006 she received her MFA in Printmedia from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and finished second in the World Series of Poker No Limit Hold'em Ladies event. Barton currently lives in San Diego, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You are an interdisciplinary artist in the extreme. But the strategy that is common throughout all your work is storytelling. Individual pieces, such as To Celebrate My Favorite Day, use text to tell a story, while video installations like Kachina involve oral storytelling. You also have  an ongoing project called The Roaming Blog, in which you write posts on various topics as a guest blogger on other people's blogs. First off, do you see yourself as a storyteller? How is storytelling in these various forms the same? How is it different? 

Shawnee Barton: I am firmly committed to an art-making model in which the concept behind a piece precedes and dictates the medium.  It was, for example, a natural fit for my satirically titled Occupation: Housewife series to be mostly hand embroidered pieces, since needlecraft is a stereotypically female, housewife-y hobby.

In terms of content, I am definitely a storyteller. I don’t approach storytelling differently based on the medium I am working in though. No matter what form it takes, a story is successful when it is profoundly relatable, when it makes you think something you’ve never thought before, or when it transports you. The things I love about This American Life pieces are the same kinds of things that resonate with me when I read a Zadie Smith novel or see a William Kentridge animation. 
Occupation: Housewife
Hand Embroidery on cotton, folder
2010
17" x 11"

OPP: Of all the media you work in, do you enjoy any parts of your practice more than others?

SB: I don’t feel the ghosts of art professors past looking over my shoulder when I write. I especially value that freedom to purge and play since I have a tendency to over-think even the smallest of decisions when I’m making visual work.

I also enjoy when a project requires me to mindlessly do something over and over, like filling in a solid area of color in embroidery or making tedious audio edits in Protools. Repetition in art making takes me to a quiet, zenful place that I don’t feel elsewhere in my life.

I’m curious, and I love learning new artistic disciplines, but the least favorite part of my practice is the technical “jack of all trades/master of none” aspect of it. A lot of art programs still hire people that are technical experts--master lithographers, bronze casters, and the like. People like me with strengths in idea cultivation, storytelling and problem solving tend to be less appealing to hiring committees. I’ve always wanted to teach college art, and sometimes it feels like I am sabotaging a dream by making art the best way I know how.
Ice Cream on Light Box 3
2009
Color photograph
Edition of 10, 30" x 40"

OPP: A recent piece, I Kindly Reject Your Rejection, led to an experience with internet censorship. Can you describe the piece and what happened?

SB: The web-based piece is a response letter to a rejection letter I received from a film program I never applied to. It originally ran on the well-known art blog, fecalface, but after Ann Berchtold, the director of the art fair I wrote about in my letter, complained about the negative attention, fecalface removed the piece from their website without first asking me to respond to Berchtold’s claims.

Being censored was not fun or funny, but since this particular piece was about rejection, it did seem appropriately ironic that the art fair people unwittingly reiterated the concept behind the piece one more time.

Everything in my letter is defendable, and I was shocked and disappointed at how casually fecalface, an art- and artist-focused online publication that I’ve admired for years, would censor me. It was also depressing that the director of a contemporary art fair would be so quick to make such a passionate effort to get a work of art censored—these are the type of people that should know better.

Being censored made me think about some larger issues, like whether online publications have a responsibility to defend the writers and artists they publish in the same way print publications do. This kind of support may be another important thing (along with quality investigative reporting, fair salaries, and benefits for content creators) that we're losing as news, information dissemination, images, and writing increasingly go viral.

On the flip side, this experience taught me that the internet makes absolute censoring, as in keeping someone from ever accessing certain information, much more difficult (at least in our country), since there is an endless number of places to repost content online. In my case, the fabulous Kathryn Born kindly republished my web-based piece in The Chicago Art Magazine where it received more hits than all the other stories on their site combined during the week it ran. It also inspired them to create a regular column of artist horror stories.
On Egocasting
2008
Installation View

OPP: Your work is unapologetically personal, and you make no bones about the therapeutic aspects of making art. This is an impressive and admirable admission in my opinion, because this is a contentious idea. I've often witnessed compelling work being dismissed outright with the phrases: "it's too personal; it's just art therapy." Why do you think this prejudice exists?

SB: I can empathize with the haters.  Introspective art can be angsty, heavy-handed and obliviously cliché. And since this type of art is the instinctual place a lot of young artists go for material before they find deeper wells to draw from, there’s a lot of bad art of this nature.

Sometimes, I compare this type of art to the “rom-com” genre of film—for every one honest, relatable, and smart When Harry Met Sally, there are 100 cliché, time-sucking Failure to Launches.

I think finding and making good introspective art is so difficult, because there are many places to go wrong. First, we all like to think we are more special and unique than we actually are. That’s why I love David Sedaris, Raymond Carver, and David Shrigley. There’s no inflated sense of grandeur with them. They all have an incredible ability to find magic or humor in the banal moments of life.

Editorially, it’s difficult to objectively make art in which your life is the material. You have to be completely vulnerable in the beginning in order to flush out raw material. Then, once you’ve got something to work with, you have to turn the emotional part of your brain off in order to neutrally make edits and design decisions that will strengthen and serve a larger, more important concept, which always includes murdering your darlings.

In many ways, I feel like this type of art chose me more than I chose it. What I make is honest, and I think even if people don’t like the genre, they can at least connect with or respect that intention.
How to Make a Baby the IVF Way: I'm Glad it's not Swimsuit Season
Photo from Slideshow
2011

OPP: Let's talk specifically about your recent piece How to Make a Baby the IVF Way. First published on Slate.com in November 2011, this photo essay with text documents the grueling emotional and physical experience of trying to have a baby despite infertility. How is disseminating work this way different from showing work in a gallery?

SB: The internet can be a more appealing artistic venue than a traditional gallery for many reasons. First, it’s obviously less insular. There are fewer people to pander to, more viewers see your work (at the level I’m at anyway), and there’s no one trying to take a 50% cut (even if it’s 50% of $0, which is the case most of the time).

I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to have gallery success. That would be amazing. It’s just that that road never really felt like a viable option for me, since I’m not very good at selling myself. I also always knew that I wanted to feel free to make weird stuff that doesn’t hang nicely on a wall. Maybe this excuse is a cop-out, but it’s kept me focused on finding creative venues to disseminate my work rather than feeling helpless and depressed after sending out hundreds of packets that just wind up in a pile that no one looks at.

OPP: It was the most read piece on the site the week it was up and there are 313 comments, ranging from thankful to abusive. What's it like to have this kind of sudden visibility and to read these comments?

SB: The comments about my Slate IVF piece were pretty fascinating. Nothing about choosing to do IVF feels controversial to me. In making the piece, I was interested in documenting the process of IVF, not debating or defending its validity. I frankly thought our society was past that, but, clearly, the volume of responses to my piece suggests otherwise. Realizing that your sense of reality may be distorted is always disconcerting.

The negative comments also reminded me of something I learned in Psych 101: people are more willing to be cruel to a stranger than to someone they know. I see their vitriol as a good reminder that we all need to step away from the computer and television every once in awhile in order to make actual connections with people in the non-virtual world.

Pink Slip
2009
Color C- Print
30" x 40"

OPP: Are you working on anything in the studio right now? What's next for you?

SB: I’m currently collecting stories from people who have moved back in with their parents because of the bad economy. The project’s website is movedbackinwithmom.com and stories or photos can be submitted to Imovedback@gmail.com

I also currently have a piece in an exhibition at The Athenaeum in La Jolla, and I will be in a group exhibition in June at Susan Street Fine Art Gallery in Solana Beach, CA. I am also always on the look out for blogs that would welcome me into their little nook of cyberspace. I can be reached at shawneebarton@gmail.com

To view more work by Shawnee Barton, please visit shawneebarton.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carl Baratta

Entombment/ Entombment
2011
Egg tempera, watercolor, and gouache on board
24"x 36"

CARL BARATTA paints lush and complex landscapes populated by robots, aliens, animals and humans who appear to be from some other culture or time period. His dense, colorful paintings depict moments of transition, often referencing his art historical predecessors in both composition and color palette. He equally draws from “popular and unpopular culture.”  He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005 where he currently teaches. Baratta lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When looking at your paintings, I imagine you have a complete narrative in mind when painting. Is this the case?

Carl Baratta: Well actually I don’t have a specific idea of a narrative. What I tend to do is read a lot of mythology, fables, sci-fi, and mystery books and then pick the parts where there is a tipping point in the narrative. Everything I end up doing leads back to transformation and moments of struggle. There’s a lot of overlap in everything I read so when I see a certain situation crop up I start to imagine what it would look like. The moment I pick is really important and I try to start every painting differently to see what happens. Sometimes I plan out major parts and other times I start with weird blobs and work out from them.

OPP: Tell us about how you make choices about your color palette?

CB: I approach a visual piece the same way as I do written stories. For the overall narrative tone, I’ve recently moved away from a Mughal Miniature approach to color and have started using a more subdued earthy pallet, more of a late Fauve use of color. One reason I decided to do this is I have been introducing a lot of animals into the landscapes and the high key color makes them look too cartoony. The other reason was I was making super violent imagery that the viewer didn’t see right away because the jewel-intense color struck the viewer first. I think having the color be more subtle lets the imagery be seen first and then the network of color. I’ve made well over 50 paintings that operate on the color first principle and felt I should move on. What I love most about the miniatures is the emphasis on an ever present situation as opposed to a more mutable subject matter. That’s why the only transient shadows I ever paint are really there to set a mood, never to imply that there’s a sun that moves over the land.
Driver, Take Me To The River 3
2010
Watercolor, gouache & ink on paper
18"x25.5"

OPP: I’ve heard you talk about the Mughal Miniatures before, but I’m not familiar with them. For those of us who are less educated, could you describe them and what draws you to them?

CB: Mughal is a style of painting from the 16th to 19th century in South Asia. The painters from that time period are known for their blushing colors and their use of pattern as a vehicle to move the viewer's eye throughout the composition. My favorite works are during Akbar's dynasty. He was alive during a period where there was a lot of trading of goods and ideas between cultures and understood the power of synthesizing all these ideas to come up with some very interesting paintings and ultimately introducing his people to a broader understanding of the world they lived in.

A couple years ago I saw a collection of illuminated pages from a book in his collection at the Met. The sky was atmospheric picking up ideas from the West,  and everything below the sky line was laid out with strong color rhythms and patterning that the Moghuls picked up from previous painting styles. It struck me that when I look back over painting and pick my favorite spatial conventions to create a dynamic space, I'm synthesizing from many cultures too. I feel that this is still relevant in our culture now, and to me it feels incredibly contemporary. The best thing about looking in the past is the experience of seeing something you wholeheartedly believe in from a long long time ago in a different country. It's the closest I will ever get to having a time traveler's conversation. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it feels really important.

OPP: In pieces like MFBB 2 (TFEFA!) (2009), Failed Out of Autumn (2007), and Showdown in Flames (2005), we see beheadings, bodies ripped in half and hand to hand combat. Could you talk about the recurring violence in your work?

CB: I need to come clean and say that I put the violent shit into my paintings because I think it’s awesome and it makes my friends laugh. Sometimes the gore is pretty over the top. A lot of the gore either comes from film stills from giant monster movies from the 70’s or from paintings and tapestries from just about anywhere from any time period. I collect images of beheading/ dismembering images and have a pretty large collection.

You wouldn’t believe how many paintings there are that have chopped off heads in them. For instance MFBB 2 (TFEFA!) stands for ‘Mother Fucking Blood Bath 2 (yeah, there was a number 1) and then ‘Thanks for everything Fra Angelico!’. The painting is based off of Fra Angelico’s The Beheading of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damien. I’ve been to Paris several times, and I always spin by that painting in the Louvre and stay with it for an hour or two. The composition is so tight it blows my mind. For my piece I wanted an even more anonymous set of figures while keeping the composition tight. To do that, I had to move some things around and essentially break Fra Angelico’s composition. It’s stupid to take a painting you love, shit all over the composition and not rebuild it. It’s a respect thing for me. Anyway, it was going to be a ‘fast’ painting. Took me over four months to figure out and it’s still not anywhere as amazing as Fra Angelico’s. In the end I realized the composition was what moved me to try my own. Since then I’ve tried to tackle every piece as fiercely as that one.
MFBB 2 (TFEFA!)
2009
Egg tempera on board
24"x24"

OPP: Often chopped limbs from trees resemble chopped off limbs from humans and monsters in your paintings. The landscapes and figures seem to have equal weight in your work. How do you view the connections between the environments you paint and the figures that populate them?

CB: You know, before I even made the connection between body parts and tree limbs, I realized I’d been photographing weird body-like trees for years! I paint them because I want the figures to reflect the world around them and have the landscape react to the figure’s emotional state depicted. In other words, the world around each figure is an extension of what is happening internally to the figure and vice versa creating the open ended narrative. Sometimes having trees and fauna echo the shape of animals and people is the quickest, clearest way to get their emotional relationship across to an audience.

OPP: What kind of drawings did you make as a child?

CB: Scribbly, weird ghost shit and robots. Basically the same stuff I draw now but without an art history background. I drew like that until I went to undergrad and then trained under New York abstract painters. The work I make now is me backing out of a tradition where paint is paint and moving into figurative painting. I can no longer just draw from one type of work or another, so these days I continuously try to meld the two approaches together.

River! Sky! Mountain, Mountain!
2005
Watercolor, gouache and ink on paper
32"x36"

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece or series by another artist?

CB: Well I mentioned Fra Angelico’s The Beheading of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damien, but I’d also think Saint Anthony the Abbot in the Wilderness by Master of the Osservanza is totally amazing. A contemporary I really enjoy is Johnny Ryan’s on going comic series Prison Pit. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite, but Bob Thompson’s Blue Madonna makes me feel like I am lazy and need to work harder. I’m looking at a lot of Bob Thompson again, and it’s blowing my mind.

OPP: What's your favorite piece of your own work?

CB: As for my own work, I usually just look at it in terms of what I should fix. So I don’t have a favorite. I just have ones that are more painful to look at than others. I know I’m being vague, but the paintings that are more or less painful to me change places every month or so. So, in short, I don’t know.

Say Goodbye To The Mountains 2
2006
Water color, gouache & ink on paper
20"x26"

OPP: You've been showing like crazy these days. Where can people see your work in person right now?

CB: I had a solo show open at Lloyd Dobler last Friday, March 2nd. It’s got a 5 x 10’ diptych in egg tempera and also features selected paintings from 2011 and 2012. The following night I had a group show I’ve curated about personal hell, transformation and struggle, opening at Side Car Gallery in Indiana. It’s entitled They Wore Faces of Red Clay, which is a line from a Mayan poem about death and the afterlife. Since this year is the year the Mayans predicted the world will shit the bed, you should come and see it before you melt into a puddle of blood and tears! The show features six artists, Isak Applin and Shay Degrandis from Chicago, Dan Schank and JJ Pakola-Mayoka from New York, and Iva Gueorguieva and Justin Michell from LA. The work they gave me for the show looks great and truly strange. In a good way.

In June I’m in a group show at Southfirst in Brooklyn, curated by Jesse Bransford entitled That Sinking Sense of Wonder. And in the fall I’m in a group show at the DePaul Museum, a workshop with Isak Applin and Oli Watt at Columbia College, and I’m doing an installation at the Roger Brown House here in Chicago. All three things are curated by Thea Nichols and Dahlia Tulett-Gross. It’s going to be hot! Come see everything!
To view more of Carl Baratta’s work, please visit carlbaratta.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hope Hilton

The Recognitions: Slave Sights
the main house, Tulip Grove
Tulip Grove, Tennessee
C-print, 30 x 40 inches
2010

HOPE HILTON weaves together stories and journeys in her multimedia events and installations, revealing the spaces where the collective and the personal overlap in relation to history and geography. Hilton curates, collaborates, designs, publishes, writes, and walks. She received her MFA from Hunter College in 2008 and is a co-founder of the artist collective Dos Pestañeos (Atlanta/NYC). Hope Hilton lives and works in Winterville, Georgia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you tell us a little about your development as an artist?

Hope Hilton: I’ve always worn many hats as an artist. That’s one reason I call myself an artist – I can do anything. I write, publish, curate, teach, walk, design, and collaborate, among many other things. In art school I spent a lot of time in printmaking and photography and was seduced by the democratic nature of making multiples. I think it was a natural transition to create experiences, social architecture, websites, and projects that were trying to be open in what they would become. I’ve always believed that art is something we can all enjoy, and the experience should not only be limited to important and expensive works of art. I definitely try and share work that is accessible in a sense, within and outside of institutions.

OPP: What do think of the term relational aesthetics? Do you consider yourself part of this movement or responding to it?

HH: I like the collectivity and connectivity that is implied by relational aesthetics. It is a movement that fulfills a certain postmodern disconnect that many of us feel culture-wise. I do, in fact, want to create experiences to be shared and experiences that bring people together. Because of this, it’s not possible to say I’m not a part of it. I feel, though, that I’m more influenced by it and less a subscriber to it, because I believe my work is driven less by experimenting with people and more by collecting stories and shared experiences that are specific to a place, a history, or, more specifically, the local.

The Recognitions (detail of porch)
2008

OPP: Your ongoing project The Recognitions is an example of this. It explores your personal connection to your family's history of slave owning and takes many forms: photographs, a journey, a series of drawings, an installation and, most recently, the reproduction of a famous quilt. Could you talk a bit about the impetus for this project and how it has evolved?

HH: During graduate school in NYC I received a compilation of my family history from my grandmother for Christmas. In it were pages and pages of wills, letters, and legal documents. What struck me most was that my family had owned slaves. Not all white families in the South owned slaves, and I never had any reason to believe we had, having grown up in a lower-middle-class family. What came as a shock to me soon became my life’s work. I was drawn to a particular story about the birth of my great-great grandmother and a slave named Henry who walked 60 miles, from Alabama to Tennessee, to announce her birth.

The stories about my family have led to other stories, including an interest in the plants that slaves in my county used as medicine. It seems like a natural evolution.
Queensy's Light Root
2011

OPP: Art historically, appropriation as a strategy has served to critique consumer culture as well as the notion of originality. In the DIY world of the internet (via memes and remix video and tumbler blogs), appropriation serves to reveal the complicated ways we make meaning out of cultural material. But your piece The Recognitions: Mrs. Harriet Powers, Bible Quilt appropriates in a very different way. It is a re-creation in paper of a quilt made by a freed slave. Could you describe your intent with this appropriation?

HH: Wow, I haven’t even thought about this project as appropriation. Thanks for making me even think about that. It’s so new, really, that I’m still learning about what I did. To me, it’s more of a reenactment or a re-creation. I was enchanted with her story and her life, and in a way she haunted me. She crept into my dreams and became ever-present in my life. I had to do something about it. I wanted to participate in her labor, to make something that was about her work and stories and her intuition. To be honest, another part of the impetus of re-making the quilt that I kept reading and hearing about was a desire to see it to scale.

OPP: I definitely see your re-creation as a way to honor the original source, rather than to critique it. Can you tell us a little more about the status of the piece?

Working on The Recognitions: Harriet Powers Bible Quilt

HH: It's just finished and is on exhibit for the first time at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art until April 1st! I worked on it for two months after the idea came to me in response to an invitation to create a new piece of work for the exhibition Southern, curated by Judith McWillie. More often than not, my work is project-based and created for particular exhibitions or projects, so I felt really honored to be included and trusted.

OPP: You’ve also done quite a few events with children as part of this project, right? Could you tell us about some of them?

HH: I teach art to kids every week here in Athens and am particularly in love with their point of view. I've had many silent walks with children present and have made projects (Walk with me) that are accessible to kids, but programming events for kids is new to my practice. I've taught lots of art classes throughout the world to kids, so the experience is not new to me, but curating an event for kids based on my own work has been really delightful and intimidating. Currently I've created events with an art educator named Sage Rogers, and together we made a project for the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art. This week, in fact, I read a story about Harriet Powers (the original quilt-maker), and together we looked at her quilt to see what was there. We then did a tour of the exhibition, talking about each of the works. Lastly, we created our own quilt squares from paper and Mrs. Powers' imagery. It was profound and wonderful.

Walk with me : Georgia (installation)
2008

OPP: Your piece Walk with Me has been performed many times in different locations. You've led participants on silent walks in Georgia, San Francisco, and Boston. How do participants respond to the silence? Are their experiences on the walk documented? How do you determine if a walk is successful?

HH: Not everyone loves silence like I do, so I’ve definitely taken walks with participants that had to really put in a huge effort (thanks, Dad) and participants who put forth no effort. The walks are not documented as it’s very important to me that attention is paid. It’s impossible to determine or have a scale of success. Every walk I make is a success just because it happens. Ha!

OPP: What's an average day in your studio like? What part of your practice do you enjoy the most?

HH: I consider my practice post-studio, though I do have a wonderful studio to work in once a project is born. My front porch is the best place to have ideas. When I’m in my studio without a particular project, I spend a lot of time staring out the window and thinking or just watching the horses in the field across the holler. I'm more inspired by communing with what's around me, with my dreams, and with the idea of slowing down. If "slow art" were a term like "slow food,” that would be me. While I embrace technology I'm always wanting to slow down, to appreciate and learn from history, and to spend time with nature. I call myself a New-transcendentalist, which may sound old-fashioned but seems to be happening more and more, at least in the South. A return to our roots, our land, our independence, and our happiness. I'm always seeking the beautiful, and believe that hard work is just as important as a walk in the fields. That dedication to the invisible is just as important as the here and now. In this regard my studio is everywhere.

Georgia Tattoo
2007
tattoo

OPP: It sounds like where you live is truly integral to the work you make.

HH: When I moved to NYC for graduate school, I had no intention of returning to Georgia, where I was born and raised. After a move to San Francisco to teach, I really felt that I was too far away from my investigations and inspirations. Inspired in part by Lucy Lippard's The Lure of the Local and by my work pulling me back, I returned to land of my roots. This quote often reminds me why:

"Travel is the only context in which some people ever look around. If we spent half the energy looking at our own neighborhoods, we’d probably learn twice as much." - Lucy R. Lippard (On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art, and Place)

To view more of Hope Hilton’s work, please visit hopehilton.com.