OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carlton Scott Sturgill

controledchaos8
2011
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
24 X 38 in / 61 X 97 cm

CARLTON SCOTT STURGILL's paintings, mosaics, and sculptures combine branded materials that evoke the upward mobility of the American Dream with appropriated imagery from amateur porn sites and Craigslist to explore the discrepancy between public persona and private desire. Sturgill received his MA from Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell me a little about your history as an artist… before you were working with paint chips as your palette.

Carlton Scott Sturgill: I started out as a painter, working mostly with oil, acrylic, and household paint. My first cohesive series of work consisted of paintings that juxtaposed pornographic images, which were concealed within color fields, with wholesome scenes appropriated from 1960’s advertisements. Third Date (2004) would be a good example from that series. I would paint the background image as a grisaille using acrylics, and then apply thin layers of tinted household glaze —the kind that you would use for faux painting techniques, such as ragging and sponging—until the background image was barely visible. I would then paint the 1960’s scenes in oils on top of the color field, further obscuring the background image.

When these paintings were seen in person, the viewers’ eyes were immediately drawn to the “top” image, so much so that a large percentage of the time people would walk away without having seen the more explicit “bottom” image. Only people that were patient enough to spend time with the paintings were eventually able to see what was concealed within the color fields. The paintings were like a one-way door; it took time to notice the background image, but once you did you would never be able to look at the painting again without seeing it. It was that observational shift that I became most interested in. I think that people looked at the paintings in much the same way they observed their friends, family, and others that populated their everyday lives. We often accept without question the public face that each one of us shows to the outside world, but if you look beyond the symbols that we use to piece together our personas—logoed clothing, nice cars, homes with manicured lawns—then you’re likely to see a very different person behind closed doors. My interest in the dichotomy between person and persona developed in this first series of paintings, and, to this, day, I’m still exploring it through my work.

Larry Flynt
2003
Acrylic and latex on panel
60 X 48 in / 152 X 122 cm

OPP: Could you talk about the specific materials you use now?

CSS: Yes. During the period I was just referring to, I started to place greater importance on the materials that went into creating my work. I began using Ralph Lauren brand household glaze, not because of a personal affinity for the brand, but simply because I needed large amounts of glaze and I could buy it at Home Depot in one-gallon cans. The first hint of meaning came when I realized that I was using interior household paint to separate the 1960’s images (the persona) from the pornographic ones (the person). To me, that thin layer of paint came to represent the barriers that we erect between our private spaces and the public sphere and the difference in behavior one exhibits depending on which side of the divide they happen to be on.

Working with a particular brand’s products enabled me to borrow and work with the associations inherent within the brand. I began working with Ralph Lauren paint by happenstance, but over time I realized that the brand was a symbol of many of the traits that people cobble together to create their personas: financial success, upward social mobility, suburban happiness—all the things that feed into the American Dream. By using their products as a medium, I’m able to connect with the audience at a gut level. They know what these signs, symbols and signifiers mean, because they’ve become part of the American vernacular. This urge to impart meaning through medium is another aspect of those early paintings that has become central to my work throughout the years.

Self-Pleasure (#1)
2005
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
48 X 48 in / 122 X 122 cm

 OPP: What are the sources for your imagery and titles? Are they the same?

CSS: The evolution of my source material closely tracks my change in medium, so much so that a shift in the source pushed me into dropping paint in favor of using paint chips. In that early series of paintings, the “bottom” images came mostly from Hustler Magazine. It was a nod to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the city’s rather complicated relationship with sexual imagery. After the obscenity trials of the late 1970s (portrayed in the film The People vs. Larry Flynt), the magazine was banned for over twenty years in the city and surrounding county. In 1999, the controversy was sparked again when Flynt decided to take on the city and was once again tried for pandering obscenity. (Ironically, the squeaky-clean married prosecutor in the case was later involved in a sex scandal with a subordinate, which only intensified my curiosity about the differences between public persona and personal behavior.)

After the first series of paintings, I began to question whether my source material was appropriate for the work, especially with all of the associations that come along with commercial pornography. In the hope of finding something more “genuine,” I turned to online sources and began appropriating images from amateur and swinger websites. I was often working with small pixelated thumbnail images, which when enlarged, reminded me of the beautiful in-store displays of perfectly square paint chip samples that I would see every time I went to Home Depot to buy glaze. Once the connection was made, I became excited about working with the material and began collecting them en masse. I liked the fact that they were part of the suburban landscape and almost anyone could recognize and relate to them. After I began working with the paint chips, I continued painting for a few years, but over time I came to believe that the chips were a better medium for the work, and eventually I quit painting altogether.

The websites where I source my images have evolved over the years. I’ve used images from websites that specialized in swingers [easygoing4424 (2006)], leaked celebrity photos [drlaura1.jpg (2006)], and amateurs [ba0606.jpg (2006)]. The titles have changed as well. Some reference the poster’s handle, while others are named after the computer file. For the last few years, I’ve been getting most of my material from the "Casual Encounters" section . The titles for these works come from the subject line of the post [Gorgeous Wife....ISO Stud Tonight – mw4m – 32 (North Cincy) (2011)]. Craigslist postings have become my preferred source for subject matter. They often include both images and text, so you get a better idea of the subject as a person looking to explore their sexuality.

Thinking about a threesome - mw4w - 28
2011
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
Detail

OPP: You've talked about the pixelation in earlier pieces, such as easygoing4424 (2006) and Self-pleasure #1 (2005). Newer works, like Muscles1111 (2011) and bananas725 (2009), are more posterized. Can you talk about this shift?

CSS: In 2004, I moved to London for graduate school and ended up living in the United Kingdom for three years. I had already started working in the pixelated style when I moved overseas, but not long after the move, a couple of factors converged, pushing my work in another direction. The first was a matter of process. I enjoyed the effect that the pixelated work had on the viewer: the images were completely invisible from up close and only became clear through distance. But once I developed a solid technique for building the image, the challenge of creating the works quickly diminished. There’s only so many ways that you can put one square next to another. To put it frankly, I began to find the studio work excruciatingly boring. I needed a technique that would challenge me throughout the creative process.

The second factor came about from the amount of travel that I was doing while I was living abroad. For the first time, I had the opportunity to see an incredible variety of artwork that spanned millennia. In London, I could spend the morning at the Tate Modern looking at the Young British Artists from the 1990s and then hop the tube to the British Museum to see the Elgin Marbles. I can point to two types of art that had a dramatic effect on my work, one ancient and one contemporary. The first were the Byzantine mosaics that I had the opportunity to see at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and especially those at the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. I found the craftsmanship involved in shaping and piecing together these intricately designed mosaics inspiring, and it helped me to break away from the square format that I was using at that time.

The other influence came from the street art that I was seeing in Paris, Berlin, and all around me in my neighborhood in east London. I grew up seeing New York-influenced freestyle graffiti. But in the mid-2000s, stencilled street art was really beginning to dominate the urban landscape, especially in Europe. It felt like you couldn’t walk down a city street without seeing work that was breaking down images in a new and interesting way. Once I began carving the paint chips using scalpels, my style landed somewhere between the two: a simplified image that still has the intricacy and attention to detail of traditional mosaics. I think that this is where that posterized effect first emerged.

OPP: Can you break down the current carving process for us?

CSS: It has changed dramatically over the years, which is apparent if you compare my first “carved” work born2boogie (2006) with a work like Muscles1111 (2011). Some of the changes are obvious: the expansion of the palate from four to hundreds of colors, the increase of the size of the overall work, and the reduction of the size of the bits of cut paint chip, which can sometimes be less than one millimetre square. Other changes came about simply because I had to create my own process; after all, I didn’t have a resource to teach me how to carve paint chips so that they fit perfectly together or how to adhere them to the board without tearing the painted surface and exposing the white backing. It’s a fairly detailed process, but basically it involves breaking down the image into an outline drawing, choosing a palate of colors for each section from the 700 or so in the Ralph Lauren collection, using the drawing as a guide to cut each piece using an extremely sharp medical scalpel, and fitting them together to build the image one piece at a time. It’s a slow process, but I will say that I never find it boring.

friday night fun - mw4mw
2009
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
12.5 X 17.5 in / 32 X 44 cm

OPP: The abstract color bar "paintings" are especially interesting, because they are more subtle than the recreations of porn imagery. They tie sexual desire to the art world in an unexpected way, because they reference modernist painting. They make apparent that aesthetics emerge as a result of desires—desires that aren't usually named in the work itself. Do you agree or disagree?

CSS: I agree . . . mostly, but for different reasons than one might expect. In order to explain, I’ll need to go into the evolution and a bit of the process of making stripped mosaics. If you’ve ever seen one of the Ralph Lauren brand chips, you might remember that it’s a solid square of color with the name of the hue and a cataloguing code printed on the front in a metallic ink. From the very beginning I was interested in utilizing the text. In the pictorial work, it allowed me to communicate to the viewer that the work was created using paint chips instead of paint, but I had always wanted the text to have a more central role. Seven Decorating Schemes (2007) was my first attempt to slice the chips and rearrange the letters. Color names like "Linen" and “Rust" were merged to become “Lust," and, in the process, I created a striped composition. Unfortunately, after I finished that piece, I didn’t really know where to go with the process. I considered using several sources for text, but nothing really fit so the process stayed on the back burner for a couple of years, until I began using Craigslist as a source and found the text just as fascinating as the images.

In order to create the work, I had to match each grouping of letters from the Craigslist text to a corresponding grouping from the paint chip names, which already had a hue assigned to them. Therefore, the Craigslist text helps to determine the colors used in the work. For example, there is only one hue name that has the word “sex” in it—“Essex Cream." So if a person (or a couple) used the word “sex” in their Craigslist post, the final composition would include a pale yellow. By adding color to black-and-white text it was almost like I was visually representing the personality of the poster through their words. So yes, I agree that the aesthetics emerge as a result of desires.

Having said that, it was not my original intention for the striped works to reference modernist painting. That was just a happy accident that came about as a result of the process, but it was something that I learned to exploit. You mentioned that these works are more subtle. I like the fact that if ten people walk into a gallery filled with the striped pieces, nine of them will think “modernist painting” and not investigate further. I’m interested in that small percentage of viewers that are willing to take the time to question their initial assumptions and dig a little deeper to find out what lies beyond the facade. In this case, the resemblance to modernist painting is simply a way to camouflage the sexual desire embedded within the work. I like the fact that someone could hang a work like this in their home, and, depending on the light in the room, almost no one would discover the text hidden within the composition.

OPP: I think you are right, but it's pretty sad that so many people have so little attention for detail. To me, if you haven't noticed the text, then you didn't really look at the piece. At the same time, this inattention to detail can also be viewed as turning a blind eye to hidden truths, and that resonates with some of the themes you've already talked about. Plus, in the context of your work, modernist painting becomes just like the Ralph Lauren brand: something that confers status on the owner.

CSS: I tend not to think of people’s lack of attention for detail as something sad, but instead as an opportunity to give the viewer a feeling of delight—or shock, or disgust, or arousal—when they finally see something that they hadn’t noticed before. The French street artist Invader is a good example of someone that is an expert at hiding things in plain sight. I remember seeing his work for the first time in a busy neighborhood in Paris. It was a small, brilliantly-colored mosaic that was placed on a building just above everyone’s line-of-sight. I felt like I was the only person on that crowed street that was seeing it. I had stumbled upon a secret that I could keep to myself or share with others, depending upon my mood. A few people noticed that I was looking up and glanced to see what I was looking at, turning the experience into a social activity. Since then, I’ve seen his mosaics in Berlin, London and New York. I look out for them now, so seeing his work has fundamentally changed the way that I view my surroundings.

The same thing happens when I show the striped mosaics. If there are only a few people in the gallery, then people are more likely to miss the text and stick to the work’s persona as a modernist painting. But if they see another person reading the text, then it usually prompts them to investigate further. Or better yet, a viewer might actually bring a friend over to the work and show them the text, making it an even more intimate experience. In a crowded gallery, it’s like a nuclear reaction. People discover the text and then show others what they’ve found; then they show more people and so on. So it really doesn’t bother me when someone doesn’t notice the text. I just think of them as someone who hasn’t seen it...yet. The delay in seeing makes the eventual discovery all the more interesting.

Cougar/Milf needs a boy toy – MW4M – 41
2010
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
12 X 18 in / 30 X 46 cm

 OPP: The Bridle Creek Casket (2008) stands out as so different from the rest of the work, although I see the connection to the bouquets made from Ralph Lauren shirts, because they look so funerary. What is being mourned in these pieces? What led to the building of the casket?

CSS: The casket and the flower arrangements came from a series of work titled Afterlifestyle, which I worked on after moving from London to Brooklyn in 2007. Living overseas during a time of war was an eye-opening experience. In the United Kingdom, I was constantly aware of developments in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Discussion of the wars was everywhere; you read it in the papers, heard about it on the radio, and it was a common topic of conversation amongst friends and colleagues. Ironically, the only time that I escaped the coverage was during visits to the United States. With the exception of the occasional faded yellow-ribbon car magnet, you could go weeks without realizing that you were in a nation that was embroiled in two wars. I would go to restaurants and stores or watch television and see very little evidence of shared sacrifice. It was as if everyone had taken the “go to Disney World” advice and applied it to their everyday lives.

With the Afterlifestyle series, I wanted to explore the theory that widespread over-consumption can result in a self-induced social blindness. I was questioning whether the pleasure that comes from excess can trump grief and anxiety, even in the most extreme circumstances. Can one really reflect on the geopolitical situation during a trip to IKEA? Is it possible to worry about your own mortality while selecting a sofa? Consumer products seemed to be the materials with which people build and adorn their own private suburban oases in order to separate themselves from the perceived dangers of the outside world. I wanted to see what would happen if you extended the good feeling that comes with the “Good Life” beyond the normal clothing, furniture and the other accoutrements of material success. It was my way of envisioning a society where the American Dream extended beyond life. If I could create a product that made preparing for one’s own death more like picking out a new pair of shoes or selecting a wallpaper pattern, would the experience become more enjoyable?

So to answer the question, I made The Bridle Creek Casket to see if purchasing a coffin has to always be a sorrowful experience or if it is possible to take the buyer’s mind off of their ultimate demise if the coffin is made from reclaimed heart pine siding with a 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton percale lining and hinges from a century-old barn in Maine.

The Heritage Pointe Spray
2008
Ralph Lauren Shirts, reclaimed barn wood, wire, floral tape
30 X 20 X 12 in / 76 X 51 X 30 cm

OPP: Anything new in the works?

CSS: Yes, in fact I’m in the middle of what might be the greatest periods of change since I stopped painting and started using paint chips. I’m on schedule to show with my gallery, Masters and Pelavin, in New York every other year, so I have a full two-year period to develop a body of work between shows. I haven’t had this much uninterrupted time in the studio since graduating with my BA, so it has given me the opportunity to completely re-evaluate my studio practice. Lately I’ve been fascinated with the role nostalgia plays in consumer culture, especially with brands such as Ralph Lauren and Anthropologie. I’ve made several road trips between New York and Cincinnati, stopping at antique stores along the way and picking up objects to incorporate into my work. When I show again in 2013 you’ll see many of the mosaics housed in vintage mirror frames, some of them double sided, incorporating both the text and images from Craigslist posts.

Sculpture is something I’ve dabbled in over the years, but in my current work, it has taken a starring role. With the sculptures you’ll see the flower arrangements made from Ralph Lauren shirts combined with micro-paint chip mosaics—often composed inside of R.L. gift boxes or on the back of shirt hang tags—and vintage items such as tables, shelves, and blown-glass taxidermy display domes. The palate of the entire collection of work is very floral, with lots of greens, pinks, violets, and yellows. I’ve also become interested in the variety of ways gardens have been depicted as sexual sanctuaries throughout the ages—from the more judgmental themes in Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to the lighter depictions of medieval Gardens of Love in 15th century art and poetry—so there are also strong religious themes emerging in this body of work.

To view more work by Carlton Scott Sturgill, please visit carltonscottsturgill.com.

What I Like about Artists’ Websites : by Jason Foumberg for OtherPeoplesPixels

OPP: Today we have something special for you! A guest post from OtherPeoplesPixels' pal: art critic, writer, curator & all-around gentleman, JASON FOUMBERG. We're excited to have his experienced take on what makes a great artist's website. If you’re interested in writing about artists’ practices for the OPPblog, you can send a proposed topic and links to work samples to blog [at] otherpeoplespixels.com

JF: Hi, I’m an art writer based in Chicago, and I often work on special research projects that detail currents in contemporary art. For example, I might get an assignment from an editor like this: “Report on radical approaches to contemporary sculpture. 500 words due Friday.” To begin, I’ll sketch a few ideas and then think about artists who expand the article’s concept. I love to write about emerging artists and to give them their first spotlight in print, so I don’t reach for the nearest contemporary art textbook for examples; I’m looking to the web. Websites are usually my first contact with an unfamiliar artist. If I like what I see, then I schedule a studio visit or attend a show. So here’s some tips for maximizing the effectiveness of your website:

New work: Differentiate newer work from old. Have a separate, changing section that shows me what you’re up to now. And update it often.

Image captions: Is that gouache or dried pig’s blood? Media descriptions are important. Dimensions and dates are handy too.

News: What’s going on in your life? Maybe you don’t have a current or upcoming show, but are you away at a residency? Relocating your studio to the forest? Geeking out on a new recipe for egg tempera? All of that is relevant.

Text: You think visually—that’s why you’re a visual artist (and that’s why we love you). But sometimes photo documentation of your work doesn’t quite capture the subtleties. Or maybe your project is concept-heavy, for which the viewer needs to know a lot of preliminary information. Text is helpful here, sometimes even necessary. It can even be as simple as: “This is a project where I painted every sweater that Bill Cosby ever wore.” Good to know.

Interesting digression: I read tons of artist statements and press releases (and occasionally sit on grant and exhibition jury panels). Too often, artists’ texts are terribly difficult to get through. It’s not just grammar or spelling that leaves a bad impression; usually there’s too much highfalutin verbiage, misleading introductions, or bland jargon. Here are some writing tips: put your main ideas up front, be clear, concise, and unique, and make it personal.

Links: I know it’s kind of a circa 2002 idea to put a links page on your website, but if I’m interested in your work and I want to know about other artists in your community, a links page is helpful. Share the love.

Organization: Don’t make viewers open 18 folders to finally see one image. Categories are fine, but think about streamlining your portfolio.

Websites are a good way for me to keep up with what you’re doing. After I see your show, I’ll want to stay informed about your latest projects. So keep it up(dated)!

Was this helpful? Jason collaborates with artists on exhibition catalog essays and design, artist statements, grant proposals, press releases and website texts. As an editor Jason works with artists to refine the message and intention of an artist’s project. You can get in touch with him though his site at jasonfoumberg.com

JASON FOUMBERG contributes art criticism to Frieze, Modern Painters, Photograph, and Sculpture. He is the editor of the art section and contributing columnist for Newcity, an alt-weekly based in Chicago. Jason serves on grant and exhibition panels, is a visiting critic for art schools, contributes essays for museums and university galleries, and curates contemporary art exhibitions.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Regina Mamou

Chartres Cathedral
2012
Digital C-Print
55 x 70 in.

REGINA MAMOU's large format photography explores collective and personal memory in relation to geography and space. Her conceptual practice revolves around extended research and time spent at her chosen shooting sites. Regina is currently an adjunct lecturer in the Art Institute of Chicago's Department of Museum Education and has recently been a study leader on AIC travel programs to Cuba. She lives in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work seems to teeter on the edge between conceptual and documentary photography. How do you identify as a photographer?

Regina Mamou: I identify as a conceptual artist working in photography with a practice that embodies the interests of a researcher and documentarian. I rarely photograph a location that I have not traveled to or spent an extended period of time investigating. I differentiate my work from travel or tourist photography in that I am cautious about taking photographs. My process is slow and methodical, as I am shooting in large format, using a Calumet 4x5 monorail view camera, and this technical process actually slows me down considerably. I appreciate the delay, however, and use it to my advantage.

For example, when I was in Amman, Jordan, completing the project Mapping Collected Memory (2009–10) on a 15-month Fulbright Fellowship, I was studying Arabic intensively for the first 7 months. I used my off-hours to conduct preliminary research. During this time, I mentally plotted my shooting locations while driving and walking around the city, memorizing different points of interest. Much of the work occurred as an attempt to visualize these key locations before they ever became still images. As a foreigner in the Middle East, I felt nervous about depicting and representing a place, without having a personal relationship to it first.

Most recently, I finished the project Pictures for Conceptual Living (2012), based on the utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana. I visited the town prior to creating the images, and I spent several months ruminating on the set-up of the images, as well as the area’s history, before returning to the location. 
Richard Meier's Vision for Athene, Night (Center Panel, Triptych)
2012
Digital C-Print
70 x 55 in.

OPP: What was your first experience as a photographer? 

RM: My first experience as a photographer occurred as a teenager. I would often photograph a subject just to see how it would turn out as a still image. I really did not have a particular style at this point. I was simply curious about the technical processes of the camera. I made many errors with the equipment, but I was often more interested in my outtakes than my composed shots. Over time, my practice has sort of flip-flopped, so that my images have become meditative and composed.

OPP: You have dealt with the themes of memory and trauma in relation to geography and the body. It seems like your earlier work was more personal, in that you used yourself more often as a subject, and now you are working with more collective memories. I'm wondering if the video Trying to Remember (2007) was a transitional piece for you? In terms of timing and because it links trauma to location, it seems that it might have been a turning point.

RM: Trying to Remember was definitely a turning point in my work. It was one of the last pieces that I made as an MFA student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to this, I had spent most of my time producing still images and videos in domestic settings, e.g. my apartment or interior spaces, including underground pedestrian tunnels and warehouses. These enclosed spaces felt comfortable to me for a variety of reasons. There, I could take my time and configure the camera without being on public display. I could explore intimate and vulnerable subject matter in a private setting.

My earlier work deals with illness, specifically an experience that I went through when I was in my early twenties. As I became distanced from this period in my life, the experience drifted to the background in my work. I think of Trying to Remember as my debutante piece in a way. I literally stepped out in a public space, and produced my first video in an outdoor setting. It was incredibly challenging, both mentally and physically, because I was self-conscious in my new surroundings, and it was brutally cold. Even though the piece only lasts about 5 minutes, it took me over an hour to create the work. So, it was an endurance piece in the sense that I was determined to produce this out of doors; I would not leave until I was satisfied, even though I was positioned by a major road, and anybody driving by could watch me. The concept for the video was completely improvised, and when I arrived on location, I realized that the discomfort and dislocation that I felt in a new environment, and a sense of confusion, could be played up for the camera. This sense of trying to reclaim familiarity in an unfamiliar situation aptly described my desire to seek out a new shooting style in my subsequent projects, and led me to completely shift my interests. 

Trying to Remember
2007
Still from Digital Video, Single-Channel
5 min 17 sec (looped)

OPP: Could you talk a bit about the differences involved in shooting on site, responding to a location, and shooting inside with yourself as a subject? Do you prefer one way of working?

RM: Working inside with myself as a subject served me for a period of time: it was a necessary working process. But eventually, to put it plainly, I became bored with using myself as a subject. I felt that I had exhausted all of the angles, there was no nuance left in the process. I did not want to make self-portraiture my artistic oeuvre; it can be incredibly limiting and confining. Learning how to research a particular environment and planning an excursion to document a location excites me. There is more chance and spontaneity involved in the process. I cannot control an external environment in the same way that I can with my domestic setting, but this has been a positive outcome for me. All of these elements also fit with my current position as an adjunct lecturer at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Museum Education, and as a study leader on international travel programs. I research and plan lectures for a wide range of adult audiences. I am constantly learning and expanding my knowledge about particular periods of art and making new connections with the museum’s collection. I enjoy connecting the dots between my work as a lecturer and as an artist, as there are many overlapping elements and threads here. Incorporating extended research into my artistic practice is a fertile source. 

From top to bottom: 78 rpm (1s) (4s), 78 rpm (2s) (2s), 78 rpm (4s) (1s)
2011
Digital C-Print
28 x 66 in.; each image 20 x 24 in.

OPP: You've mentioned your 2009-2010 Fulbright Fellowship to Amman, Jordan. Why did you choose this site?

RM: I was born in the Detroit area to an Iraqi father and American mother. This experience has shaped my interest in learning the Arabic language and traveling to the Middle East. My extended family immigrated to the United States during the First Gulf War from 1990 to 1991. They had temporarily lived in Amman after leaving Iraq. I have childhood memories of my father watching CNN’s coverage of the war and calling his family in Amman after they had just left Baghdad. I grew up hearing stories about and seeing media coverage of the Middle East. I listened to the language between members of my extended family. But, I had never visited this place. I didn't have my own perspective and memories about it. After graduate school, I decided that it would be important to visit Amman and to live there. I wanted to have an extended experience with Jordan, not just as a tourist.
Circles 1–8
2010
Digital C-Print
40 x 50 in.

OPP: Tell us about the project you completed there called Mapping Collected Memory.

RM: I became drawn to the concept of forming my own perspective and memories in the Middle East. As I began studying the Arabic language and researching my proposal for the Fulbright, I came across “Urban Crossroads,” a regular column written by Mohammad al-Asad, the founding director of the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) in Amman. In one particular article by al-Asad, “Amman Street Maps: A New Frontier,” he details the process of navigating the city using visual aids, as opposed to formal house numbers and street addresses, which were only recently implemented in the city in 2007.

Through my Fulbright project I developed Mapping Collected Memory (2009–10), a project based on navigating Amman using verbal directions and visual aids. When I arrived in the city, I sent out a call for participation through various art organizations for informally guided tours of the city, where I could learn about popular and unusual landmarks and points of interest in Amman. I would document this process through video, and later, I would return to the locations to document the landmarks, and to make portraits of my guides. So, you see, the project was conceptual in nature, it was an ephemeral experience of navigating the city, a process that could only be traced through documentation: the product of these guided tours became the photographs and videos. The conundrum of this action is that the imagery explicitly speaks to my experience of the city, not necessarily of my guide’s actions, as I am deciding what to photograph, how to compose the images, etc.

OPP:  Did the resulting project end up in line with what you proposed? What kind of unexpected things changed the project as you went along?

RM: In some ways my final work lined up with what I had proposed, but in other ways it did not. Mainly, I had not considered that Amman is more of a driving city than a pedestrian city. I had conceived of the project around walking tours, and I realized that most people did not walk from their starting to ending points; they drove or took a taxi. So I had to fit vehicular transportation into the project. I shot a lot of video footage out of taxis, in addition to walking around. Also, I shot most of my work starting at 4:00 a.m. on Friday mornings, which is the start of the weekend in Jordan. The reason being that I was incredibly self-aware when I was using a large format camera and wanted to be able to take 20–30 minutes to compose an image. As a result, the light usually indicates that the images have been taken at sunrise, and the spaces are very still and unpopulated. I think this is an interesting contrast to the city, which is normally bustling and full of traffic during the day. It imbues the images with a sense of calmness that I didn’t necessarily experience on a daily basis.

When I Arrived I Came Here First
2008
Digital C-Print
64 x 48 in.

OPP: You've also done some curatorial projects. Was this something you set out to do or something you were invited to do? How does curation fit into your art practice as a whole?

RM: The curatorial projects that I have participated in, both in physical space and cyberspace, were invitational opportunities. I have really appreciated these experiences to curate, which leaves me with a newfound appreciation for the amount of work that goes into producing an exhibition. For example, I co-curated with Scott Patrick Wiener, Remember Then: An Exhibition on the Photography of Memory at Harvard University. This was an incredible learning experience, and a challenging one. For Remember Then, Scott and I were both abroad at this point; he was in Germany and I was in Jordan. The exhibition coordination was complicated, as we were working with 20 artists based in the U.S. and abroad, and we worked out most of the details via Skype. But I learned a lot about the process, many dos and don’ts. I have found that being an artist has its major advantages as a curator, since I think about how I would want my work to be treated or handled in many situations; I am able to put myself in the artist’s position. I have been wearing a lot of hats over the past two years – curator, artist, writer, lecturer – and all of these roles have contributed to developing a wider, more diverse and informed practice as a visual artist; one always informs the other.

To view more of Regina's work, please visit reginamamou.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Doug Crocco

Turn Your Back On The Hate They Want You To Become
2008
Color Pencil on Paper
32"x40"

DOUG CROCCO uses color pencils to create detailed drawings which reveal the uncertainty of our cultural and ecological moment. He uses pithy text and pop culture visuals to explore where we are as a culture in relation to the precarity of crumbling structures. He received his MFA from Claremont Graduate University in 2003. Doug lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work in exclusively color pencils. How did you start using this drawing medium?

Doug Crocco: I've always drawn with color pencils. As a child, I would redraw things like garbage pail kids and cartoon characters with them. In undergrad I played around a lot with assemblage and painting and built a large body of work that was heavy and hard to manage. All the while, I habitually maintained intense sketch books. Since I move a lot, eventually the weight of the paintings lost out to the transportability and ease of storing works on paper. I can put 100 works in a box and that equals a win for me. :)

OPP: What do you love about the medium?

DC: I love drawing period. I love the activity, the hand to surface interaction. I love the freedom of the line. The line can go anywhere and become anything. I also love how color pencils, which are wax, become like paint when you build up the surface. It can become like liquid if you know how to manipulate it.

The Prism of Narcissism
2011
color pencil on paper
17"x14"

OPP: What are some of the limitations?

DC: I don't believe drawings have limitations. In fact I believe the opposite: drawings are transformative, in the sense that you can draw anything. I can draw a sculpture or an abstract space. I can draw a landscape or a flat text piece. Technically I can create the feel of printmaking, painting, or images that are loose sketches of ideas or movements. To draw is to be liberated and to know no limitations.

OPP: Your 2008 series Entropy is a juxtaposition of visuals and text which represent seemingly disparate modes of operating in the face of uncertainty. The colorful drawings with Winnie the Pooh backgrounds evoke a (potentially) overly-sunny disposition, while the black and white drawings evoke heavy metal and hard rock, leading me to think of anxious aggression. Can you talk about this juxtaposition?

DC: This body of work was meant to create a dialog between the images which you have picked up on. The Poohs, as I call them, aren't purely saccharin. I actually find them quite sad, as they plead the viewer to contemplate archetypal idealism while simultaneously being confronted with images that celebrate aggression and dark energy. For example, VIVA DEATH is based on a Bush era campaign button that read "Viva Bush." It was used to target the Hispanic American vote. I turned it into black and white and inserted death, so that it reads live to die, or long live death. I also liked the yin-yang feel of it, conceptually and visually. So when you have an image that reads HOLD ON TO OUR LOVE which implies love is escaping you, next to VIVA DEATH, you are simultaneously engaging polar paradigms that may seem disparate but are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. It is up to the viewer to identify with the imagery. These works also reference the ideas in two books I would recommend, The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff and Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace by Gore Vidal.

Executive Power
2008
Color Pencil on Paper
40"x32"

OPP: A lot of your work seems to be about the idea that something is falling apart, both in terms of nature and culture. I see an underlying sense of anxiety peaking through a thin coat of optimism. I can't decide if the optimism is real or just sleight of hand, as used in the advertising you reference in the graphic text you draw. Are you more anxious or more optimistic about the state of things?

DC: Well, if one reads the newspapers, it's easy to come to the conclusion that, yes, in fact, things are falling apart. There are more global crises than I have fingers to count them on, and someone mentioned to me the other day that the end of the world was in December. As every day on the calendar ticks off, people are becoming more and more anxious for good reason. I recently made a piece called Cliff Notes on The Rise and Fall of Western Civilization, because the book would take to long to read, and I only have the attention span to read headlines anyways. I have some musician buddies that made an album called Americas Idle. Brilliant.

In general, I am optimistic, because I think you can't suppress or pervert the good nature of humans forever. I also believe that there is enough money and brainpower on this planet to fix anything, despite the ambitions of a few to hoard wealth and dictate the course of history. Yes, I have a degree in advertising and employ some of the tricks of the trade. I like to think of it as my brand of inverse MK Ultra. But, at the end of the day, it is important for all art to maintain some sense of mystery.
 
Sea Change
2012
color pencil on paper
17"x14"

OPP: Can you talk about the shift to abstraction in your newest drawings, Quantum Structures?

DC: Yes. It's actually a nice transition from your last question. While not completely separate from my other works, these are more about the invisible. I wanted to create a group of conceptual abstractions that dealt with things that were governed by the laws of nature and not men. They were also a nice break for me to create visual mathematical puzzles. For example, I made an image I called An Algorithm For Fire, which is a fun idea. I recently read The Grand Design, or, as I call it, Stephen Hawking's quest to rationalize why a computer talks for him. Before this, I read a bunch of books on M-theory. I'm fascinated by the superstructures and laws, whether man-made or omnipresent, that govern our lives. I am also interested in the here and now; perhaps I'll draw some nano tech snow flakes next.

OPP: When you talk about the laws of nature vs. the laws of man, I think of an older body of work called New Forms (2006). The hybrid animals could either be the result of man's muddling in nature or the result of some kind of evolution that we can't understand yet. Can you talk about your intentions in this body of work?

DC: I grew up in Miami, but my mother is what you might call a Los Alamos Baby. Both my grandparents worked at Los Alamos Laboratories for over 30 years. When I was a kid, my grandfather told me stories about what was going on there. Beyond all the nuclear research, they are also heavily involved with genetic engineering. I have been making work referencing those stories and these sort of ideas since 2000. However, they are more mainstream now. I just read how scientists have altered cows so that they produce milk that lactose intolerant humans can ingest. I also read about how Monsanto recently made corn that explodes the stomachs of insects. While the possibilities of bio engineering are mind blowing, I feel we are playing with fire. My last piece of that series was entitled Serpents, which is also the title of my favorite Jeff Koons piece. Both have a candy-coated, creepy feel that I get when I think about whats going on.

Rabbidillo
2006
Color Pencil on Paper
19"x24"

OPP: Do you have an overall favorite piece by another artist? 

DC: I love art. I am a self-described looker, and, in saying that, I can back it up. I go to a lot of the big art fairs and, having lived in NYC and LA, I have seen hundreds of gallery and museum shows. I also look at tons of art online. I'm telling you this to justify my answer of no. I have no favorite piece, because there are hundreds that I love. I think the easiest way to appreciate my taste is to take a second to look at my other website: www.cult2vader.com. It's a visual image bank of things that I'm looking at, and I update it often. The images are all hyper-linked, so if you see something you like, you can easily get more info. I often refer collectors who I consult for to it as a starting point.

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

DC: It's usually the one I just made. Right now it's a toss up between my latest flag piece and an abstract piece Mr. Hawkins could appreciate called The Possibility of Infinite Possibilities.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Giselle Hicks

And Then It Was Still
2012
Vitreous China, Glaze, Wood
Detail

GISELLE HICKS makes sculptural objects and installations, which reference emotionally charged sites within the home, such as the bed and the table. Her intricate inlaid surfaces echo her belief that "their surfaces [are] absorbent, retaining traces of our presence and our histories." Hicks is a long-term resident artist at The Clay Studio and will soon begin at short-term residency at Red Lodge Clay Center in Montana. Her work is on display through the summer at the Ferrin Gallery in a show called COVET. Giselle Hicks lives in Philadelphia, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you identify yourself a ceramicist or as a sculptor? Is this distinction even relevant?

Giselle Hicks: I identify as a ceramic artist. I used to think that was a limiting distinction to make, but clay is a complex material. It has taken a long time to understand enough about it to be able to say what I want to say with it. I think of it as learning a language: with practice, you start to think in that language. At this point I think with the clay. I don’t see that as limitation. Rather I am getting closer to being able to clearly articulate my ideas with this material. 

I am conscientious about the material being conceptually appropriate. I often wonder if I could express my ideas through another, more immediate or less complex technical process. But there is something about the weight and density of the material, as well as the labor and time-intensive process that appeal to my artistic sensibility and concepts. Making, particularly with clay, is a way for me to feel located in my body and in a space. I value manual labor, working with my hands and body.

I was drawn to ceramics on a basic, sensorial level. I liked the way it felt, smelled and looked. It seemed to offer endless possibilities for transformation. I could make it look like fabric, wood, metal, paper, or mud. As a student, I wanted to learn everything about the material or—to follow the language metaphor—I wanted to be fluent in this material. Eventually, I became enamored with the expansive history and its place within our material culture.

Pattern Language
2010
Slip cast porcelain, terra sigillata, wood, graphite
Detail

OPP: You've been an ARTS/Industry resident artist at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Wisconsin in 2005 and in 2012. Tell us about this program and how it has expanded or changed your work.

GH: The ARTS/Industry residency at the John Michael Kohler Art Center provides artists with time, space, materials and exposure to technical knowledge within the factory. The studio space is on the factory floor adjacent to the associates casting toilets and sinks. Artists use the same materials, glazes, kilns that are used in the factory to make their own work.

It is a fantastic and strange environment to work in. It is big, loud, and hot. I marveled at the scale and complexity of the systems engineered to produce and distribute toilets and sinks. I loved walking through the factory every day. The novelty never wore off.

The first time I applied, I wanted to learn more about slip casting in order to create multiples as a means of increasing the scale of my work. Since then, I almost exclusively use the slip casting process to make my work. The technicians and engineers at the factory were incredibly generous with their expansive knowledge of the material and helped me to troubleshoot throughout the process—whether it was building a mold, casting, glazing, firing. There is a big learning curve in that environment, and the material is engineered specifically to cast toilets and sinks. We were working with the same material, but in a totally different way and for different purposes.

The residency changed my understanding of what is possible with this material and what I am capable of doing with it. My imagination continues to expand when I daydream about work. I am so incredibly grateful for my time there.
The middle is where we begin
2010
Slip cast porcelain, glaze, wood plinth
13 x 2’ (height variable)

OPP: Does access to facilities affect what you are making at any given time?

GH: Absolutely. The times I was able to work on a larger scale were at Kohler or in grad school where I also had access to large kilns, appropriate equipment, and a large studio to produce the work. The scale of the work is important to me. I want the work to be the size of a real bed, quilt, table, or curtain, because though I refer to them as ‘beds’ or ‘quilts’, for instance, they really are abstractions of those things. I want the viewer to recognize them through their scale and proportions, then understand or experience the work from there.

OPP: You have a body of work called Textiles. Many pieces refer directly to quilts in their titles, such as White Quilt (2005) and Floral Quilt (2011). Others, like Floral Panel with Horizontal Tiles (2011) remind me of folded linens stacked up after doing the laundry. What's most interesting about this work for me is the tension between the hard and the soft. You are referring to functional things that carry a lot of emotional weight in all our lives. Quilts and pillows and linens embody care, comfort, and warmth. They are very connected to our bodies. But porcelain is hard and often cold. Can you talk about the opposition of hard and soft in this series?

GH: When I first started making these pieces in 2005, I was thinking about seduction. I wanted the viewer to be drawn to the familiar objects because of the beautiful pattern and material sensuality—they invited touch, appearing soft and pliable. But when the viewer came within an intimate proximity of the work, s/he found the work to be hard, unyielding, and cold. I was skeptical of the power of beauty and the false expectations that it could create.

Now I think about wanting to translate that emotional weight that you mention into a physical form or presence—to make it take up space, permanently. I imagine that the surfaces of the bed and table absorb and retain the traces of our presence. Stories, secrets, voices and gestures become part of their structure. As I use these objects or inhabit these sites, routinely and ritually, they take on a symbolic charge. The weight and density of the symbol increases as experiences layer over and weave into one another. I want to give form to that symbolic weight. And I want it to be beautiful as well as strong and dense and permanent.

My recent and most general artist statement, which describes my compulsion to make things, speaks to this . I know we all hit the snooze button as soon as artists mention memory in their artist statements, but here goes… Memories have a weight that can be felt within the body. Though they change over time, fading or shifting, there is often a sense or a tone associated with them when they surface. This is something difficult to name, but I am compelled to give that weight a form, to move it out from within my body. My work is an attempt to manifest that sense visually and physically.
Embedded
2010
Slip cast porcelain, glaze
Detail

OPP: There is some intensely intricate drawing on the surfaces of most of your pieces, as seen in the Textiles and in Embedded (2010).  Please explain the process by which you add the designs to your porcelain sculptures.

GH: The patterns I use are inlayed into the surface of the clay using a technique called mishima. First I make a prototype of the form out of plaster or clay and make a mold of that. I then cast the forms using a porcelain slip. When the hollow form comes out of the mold, I draw the pattern into the surface with a sharp stylus. Once the carving is complete, I paint a colored slip over the whole design, then sand the entire form with steel wool once the form is bone dry. The colored slip remains in the carved line. I use a glaze over the design formulated to run in the firing, but cool to a matte, sugar-like surface. The form looks soft and the pattern is softened and blurred and often looks aged or weathered. I also want the pattern to be embedded in the surface of the clay so that it is part of the object, just as embroidered thread is woven into the fabric of a quilt.

With a piece as large as Embedded, I carved the line into the original prototype so I wouldn’t have to carve the intricate pattern into each of the ninety-one pieces. It saved quite a bit of time. But usually I enjoy the time it takes to draw on each piece. I gravitate towards processes in my studio that are labor-intensive, repetitive, and rhythmic. Repetition provides an element of predictability, which allows space for the unpredictable and the uncontrolled to enter my realm without being overwhelming or destructive. It opens up space where my imagination can roam around.
 

And Then It Was Still
2012
Vitreous China, Glaze, Wood
50 x 80 x 24"

OPP: Your most recent sculpture And Then It Was Still (2012) is a 3D still life. In your statement about the piece, you talk about the "struggle to hold on to and make still the complex beauty […] in the small, fleeting, everyday moments." This piece made me think instantly of Memento Mori, although it doesn't have any of the traditional elements like skulls, hour glasses or dying flowers. There is something about the flowers frozen in their living state, but it this hard, monochrome material that seems almost funerary, like a gravestone or monument. Does this resonate with you?

GH: Yes. The idea for this piece came from wanting to hold on to something beautiful that had passed. That desire had elements of both mourning and celebration.

In Elaine Scarry’s book, On Beauty and Being Just, she says that when one encounters true beauty, it incites the desire to replicate as a way of possessing the original beautiful thing through a new language or form. The act of replication provides a new sensory experience by which to experience or re-experience the original beautiful thing. When we see a beautiful flower, we want to draw it, make it, or take a picture of it. When we meet a beautiful person we want to write a song or a poem about them. Beauty, by definition, is self-generating. Beauty begets more beauty.

But I think there is something kind of sad about this pursuit to replicate or hold onto the beautiful thing. It is a vain and futile pursuit, in that you can never truly have the original beautiful thing, moment, or feeling back. The futility is balanced out by the hope that propels us forward towards replication of the beauty. In the 17th century European Still Life paintings, the fragile beauty of flowers is made permanently still in the exquisitely painted object and, thus, shared across time as a concept of beauty.

The beauty I find myself chasing is in the small, fleeting moments of human interaction —the characteristic or sense of a person, an exchange with a loved one, or an exuberant meal shared with family and friends. I want to make those things still, to give them form and make them take up space. Even though they are invisible and ephemeral, they are so powerful upon impact. They are dense and layered, and I want to study them, marvel at them, and re-live them. My work gives me a way to do that.

To see more work by Giselle Hicks, please visit gisellehicks.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dan Schank

Top Model
2011
Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
16" by 20"

DAN SCHANK's mixed media works combine painting, drawing and collage to reveal a desolate post-apocalyptic, but surprisingly decorative landscape. He uses aesthetics to balance a tendency to see only doom in his world of ruins, asking the viewer to also note the triumph of nature as it wins its territory back from civilization. His newest series Dropouts will be at Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art in Philadelphia from September 13th through October 20th, 2012. Dan Schank lives in Erie, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Please tell us about the process of making your collage, paintings and drawings on board. How much is cutting? How much is painting? Does one part come before the other?

Dan Schank: For about seven years, I've worked exclusively with cut paper on panel. Almost all of the painting is done on small sheets of paper (usually with gouache, pencil and India ink), which are later cut according to my specifications and adhered to the board's surface. Generally, at least two-thirds of the overall labor is done before I begin attaching things to the panels. The painting process takes the vast majority of my time, because the imagery is almost always repetitive and highly detailed. Cutting things out is time consuming as well, for the same reasons. On the other hand, the process usually comes to life for me when I finally get to arrange all the bits and apply them to the surface. This stage is the most intuitive, risky, and rewarding, despite taking the least amount of time.
Wrap It Up
2009
Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
12" by 12"

OPP: What's most interesting about your work for me is the juxtaposition of the decorative with the post-apocalyptic. Your work is filled with walled-in, fortified dwellings that are partly built on old clothes and blankets and cushions. There's a lot of push and pull between soft and hard, protection and comfort. But the decorative elements don't only come from decorative objects. Sometimes the smoke, clouds and fire are patterned as well, as in Broken Eggs for Breakfast (2008). How do aesthetics, like pattern, color and flatness, relate to your subject matter?

DS: There are a number of potential problems I encounter while working with apocalyptic imagery. For example, any time I aestheticize an image of social unrest, I run the risk of treating real-world inequality as something titillating and exotic. There's been an interesting conversation about this issue surrounding the rise of “ruin porn” photographyand the emergence of Detroit as the photographic emblem of contemporary squalor. At their worst, these images can supplement a growing fatalism about shared social spaces in America. When the visuals are too bogged down in death and decline, it becomes hard to recognize any need for social responsibility or potential for transformation. Many of the contradictions you've noted in your question (soft/hard, decorative/disturbing, etc.) are, in a sense, my attempt to transform my own ruinous imagery into something less distant and more intimate.

My work is in large part a response to the physical landscape that surrounds me. For example, in the part of Philadelphia I lived in for nine years (Fishtown), gentrification produces as much waste as decay or neglect. In that part of town, old row homes are constantly being destroyed, dismantled or upgraded. These transformations produce plenty of discarded remains, and often make class distinctions in the neighborhood (which is an oil-and-water mix of working class families and aging hipsters like myself) explicitly visible. In Fishtown, ultra-modern, eco-friendly condominiums sit wedged between corner stores and boarded up buildings. It's not simply a landscape of desolation or abandonmentit's also a world of scaffolds, plywood and endless construction. Innovation, inequality, commerce and counterculture coexist simultaneously. I have conflicting feelings about this, some positive and some negative. Hopefully my approach to aesthetics reflects my uncertainty.

Something that I think has been a bit lacking in the critical response to “ruin porn” is a real engagement with its depiction of the non-man-made world. When I look at the “feral houses” of photographer James D. Griffioen, for example, I don't immediately lament the “death of an American city” or whatever. Instead, I marvel at the ability of the natural world to reclaim human spaces. The images are, in a sense, full of life. It's just plant life instead of human life. Obviously, there's a danger here of reducing real social conditions to the sublimeif I lived beside one of Griffioen's specimens, I'm sure my aesthetic admiration for them would wear out quickly. Still, I really respond to his concept of natureas something resilient, invasive, wild, and unwarranted. It's like “the return of the repressed” applied to botany. By decentralizing the human fingerprint, Griffioen's images force me to reconsider my place in the world's ecology, as well as my presumed hegemony over it as a member of the human race.

My paintings are obviously and intentionally apocalyptic. But my work isn't only a response to urban decay. It's also a response to human innovation, “natural world” innovation, and my own weirdo anxieties. Its apocalyptic bombast is always tempered by the intimate circumstances of my everyday life. I think this is where the softness you recognize in the paintings fits in. I'm not interested in rendering some icy culture-in-decline. I've lived a life of considerable privilege and that's not my reality.
Be Quiet
2006
mixed media: colored pencil, gouache and paper collage on board
18" by 24"

OPP: These landscapes are completely unpeopled. In some pieces, it seems that the shirts and ties and blocks are just remnants of a dead civilization. But in others, like What's Next (2010), houseplants and smoke coming from the chimney makes me think that people have survived. Are there people inside the dwellings you draw? Do you have stories for them?

DS: For me, it's more about rendering a universe than telling a story. There are no linear narratives hidden within my paintings, but I like to think they all take place in the same world. The artists who influence me most – like the painter Philip Guston or the filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liangtend to produce work that exists within its own evolving, idiosyncratic (yet clearly defined) universe as well.

I definitely don't look at my landscapes as remnants of a dead civilization for reasons listed above. But I do avoid depicting people directly. There are a number of reasons for this. One is a matter of scale. I love playing with different concepts of spaceperspectival space, decorative space, isometric space, and so onand this makes proportional scale difficult to comprehend. I like this uncertainty, and I fear that if I added a recognizable figure to my ingredients, the other imagery would automatically organize itself around it. In any landscape painting, it's always tempting to imagine oneself inhabiting the space depicted. I like the idea of someone looking at my work and having to really think through how (and where) that might be possible.

I also try to bestow as much personality as possible onto the objects I depict. In a sense, I think of the “stuff” in my work (potted plants, laundry, deck chairs, etc.) as figures. When I was a kid, I always loved the fantasy of my belongings coming to life. This might sound sentimental, but I try to retain a bit of that spirit as an adult. When I think of objects having, let's say, a lifelike significance, it becomes harder to ignore them, discard them or take them for granted. I guess I want to live in a world where people are more eager to notice things in general. By denying the easy empathy of a face or body , I try to encourage more active engagement.
Public Relations
2011
Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
30" by 40"

OPP: Your style evokes the flatness of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. Is that an influence for you?

DS: When I first started seriously painting, a lot of my imagery was coming much more directly from a Pop Art aesthetic. By the time I got to grad school, my work was becoming much less of a response to pop culture, and I began looking for a different approach. One thing I've retained from my early days is an interest in drawing, line-work, and gesture. I struggled to find a way to renew the drawing flourishes I'd developed through comic book imagery and the like, while distancing myself from the ironic trappings that can come from it. The Ukiyo-e printmaking tradition is something I turned to to sort this all out. There's a disciplined elegance to the draftsmanship that I really admire, as well as a flat-but-panoramic sense of space that helps me to organize my imagery.

I don't want to make too much of this, though. Ukiyo-e printmaking isn't something I've studied in great detail intellectually. And I certainly don't want my work to be seen as any critique of its ideology. But it's absolutely a style and practice I admire greatly. In fact, answering this question reminds me that I should devote more time to reading up on it!
Ride Lonesome
2012
Mixed media: pencil, gouache and paper collage on board
24" by 30"

OPP: Speaking of floating worlds, tell us about your newest series Dropouts.

DS: This will be my second solo show with Rebekah Templeton. They've always been very gracious and open-minded about my ideas, so I decided to try something more thematically unified than usual for the exhibition. In a nutshell, the paintings in Dropouts all respond to utopian sea colonization projects. I'll try my best to summarize the admittedly (gleefully?) convoluted concept behind it...

I got the idea for the series after reading an essay by the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, someone whose work and ideas I really admire. In it, Curtis tells the story of Knut Kloster, the co-founder of Norwegian Cruise lines. Kloster was apparently an extremely idealistic person who thought he could use his cruise ships as a way to introduce affluent communities to the third world, thus showcasing a more benevolent version of capitalism in the process. In Curtis' assessment, this proved disastrous, and the cruise ship industry slowly evolved in favor of the hedonism and escapism that defines it today, for better or worse.

The essay got me thinking of the “cruise ship at sea” as an updated (and extremely sanitized) variation on the  fantasy of the Western frontier. Frontier fantasies also tend to lurk beneath a lot of apocalyptic narratives. The romance behind both seems connected to the Hollywood Western mythos and the concept of manifest destiny. In the cruise ship fantasy, the ocean becomes a sublime terrain for tourists to venture off into. Instead of heading west in search of gold, one heads toward the Caribbean in search of rest and relaxation. In the apocalyptic version, a nuclear explosion or zombie epidemic transforms local space into a danger zone of potential catastrophe, thus rendering the familiar unfamiliar and promising foreboding, nomadic adventures of the kind John Wayne endures in Stagecoach.

These ideas sent me off on a week-long googling adventure, in search of anything and everything about utopias-at-sea. Eventually my cyber-sleuthing lead to more recent organizations like the Seasteading Institute, which takes the frontier fantasy a step further. At the Seasteading Institute, a group of libertarians and “anarcho-capitalists” (funded in part by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal) are attempting to literally construct inhabitable islands in the ocean to escape the confines of government regulation. There's been a lot of press about the idea of “seasteading” recently, most of it taking its practitioners to task for being ridiculous (which is fair enough, in my opinion). But I also see seasteading as a perverse end game to the rise of extreme individualism that's occurred during my lifetime. These projects are like bizarro-world hippie communes, where all notions of social justice have been weeded out in favor of absolute self interest. Humankind becomes quite literally “an island unto itself.” As anti-establishment outposts, they're a far cry from the “property is theft” model of the 60's and 70's. Their utopia is my dystopia, I guess. Seasteading is emblematic of what I see as a growing inability to imagine social relations as something distinct from market relations.
In the Dropouts project, I've been combining some of the imagery pertaining to these utopian architectural models with my usual iconography. I'm also thinking a lot about the romance of the sea and its often melodramatic history in paintingthrough the imagery of the shipwreck, for example. It's been challenging to begin with source materials that are still, for the most part, an imagined ideal or fantasy. As I type this, with the exception of anomalies like the long-gone Republic of Minerva, no actual seasteads have been established. So the project stresses the fantasy element to a greater degree, and is more explicitly dystopic. For years, I've been painting ambiguously animate ruins of one kind or another. This time I'm beginning with ideological ruins in need of greater rehabilitation than usual.  

To see more of Dan's work, please visit danschank.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Laurel Roth

Plumage
2010
Mixed media including fake fingernails, nail polish, barrettes, false eyelashes, jewelry, walnut, Swarovski crystal
61" tall, 37" wide, and 22" deep

LAUREL ROTH uses such diverse art practices as carving, crocheting, weaving and assembling to make sculptures in an even wider range of materials. Her work explores parallels between humans and animals, using the cultural codes of her materials to reveal the nuances of the human impulse to modify ourselves and the natural world around us. She has been a long-term collaborator with last week’s Featured Artist Andy Diaz Hope. Roth exhibits internationally and currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your history as an artist. How has your earlier career as a park ranger influenced the work you make?

Laurel Roth: What drew me into natural resource conservation, even before I was a park ranger, was the idea that humankind and nature could work together and that I could be a part of that process. It was a mediation between society and the wild, a spot that felt somehow very fitting to me, and I continue to explore it in my current work. It’s also very focused on interactive systems and adaptation, both of which I’m interested in.

OPP: How is being alone in the studio similar to being alone out in nature? How is it different?

LR: I would compare it more to gardening, which I love, in that there is an element of collaboration and control that I don't feel if I'm just spending time in nature. I guess that you could say that being in nature is a learning from observing experience and gardening or making art is a learning while participating in experience.
Lap of Luxury: Persian Cat
2007
Hand carved and polished Polysulfone industrial plastic, base (not shown) walnut, Swarovski crystal, aluminum
2.5 x 3.25 x 4 inches

OPP: Man's Best Friend is a series of hand-carved and polished sculptures of dog and cat skulls in walnut, acrylic and Polysulfone industrial plastic, adorned with Swarovski crystals. What makes this work interesting to me is that these sculptures are so beautiful, but there's also a critique of human attachment to animals as objects. Can you talk about this place where beauty and critique meet?

LR: Beauty can be a snare that opens people up and makes them more receptive to things they might otherwise dismiss or become defensive about. No one wants to be clubbed over the head with someone else’s opinion—and I actually intend most of my work to be more of an exploration of something that troubles or intrigues me than a diatribe against it. I love animals. I’m kind of obsessed with them as pets, in the wild, and as metaphors in art for aspects of ourselves. I love the variety of ways in which they seem to experience the world, and it makes my world a bigger place to try and understand that. There’s a beauty in the humanity of people yearning for animal companionship in a world where we’re so separated from nature, but there’s also a willful selfishness to breed them to the point that they are physically uncomfortable or unhealthy for our own aesthetic pleasure.
Food #5, Pig
2009
Walnut, gold leaf, Swarovski crystal
11 x 6 x 7.5

OPP: Peacocks is a series of mixed media sculptures made with fake fingernails, nail polish, barrettes, false eyelashes, jewelry, walnut, Swarovski crystal, to name some of the materials. What came first: an interest in these specific materials or an interest in the peacock as a metaphor? Can you talk more about the idea of plumage and how the peacocks relate to us as humans?

LR: I had been doing work about birds and adaptation to urban living when I began the Peacocks series. In this case, the material came first, seen in a 99 cent store, but the rest came naturally. The first one I made, though smaller than the rest of the series, was the largest sculpture I had made at that point. Like a lot of my work, it took so long to make that I had plenty of time to think about and refine the ideas while I worked, so the sculptures became progressively more refined. It started with peacocks as a fairly recognized symbol of beauty. I’m interested in the choices that humans have about what they eat, with whom/when/if they mate, etc. So, looking at fashion and beauty accessories as a means of communicating mating status let me look at society in a whole new light. The fake nails and barrettes represent not just the beauty of the feathers but also the concept of humans donning mating plumage voluntarily. Many of the sculptures show two birds in mid-fight, but I work to keep it slightly ambiguous as to whether they might be mating or fighting and which one might be dominant.

OPP: Swarovski crystal and polished walnut are expensive materials, while the barrettes and fake nails are not. This leads me to thinking about the social constructions of economic class and how taste develops in relation to it. How do these ideas play out in your work?

LR: I didn't want those pieces to focus on one economic class too much, because that conversation can easily subvert the subtler one about collective human behavior that interested me. The colors and some of the materials—the fingernails and barrettes—can almost bring an element of kitsch that I tried to temper with the richness (no pun intended) of the forms and other materials.

OPP: You have worked collaboratively with Andy Diaz Hope for many years. How has the work the two of you make together influenced the work that you make alone?

LR: Having each other to collaborate with allows us to tackle more complicated themes and projects. Hard as it can be, we both have to be receptive to questioning from each other, which expands concepts in exciting ways but also keeps them more rigorously examined. That spreads into my solo work, too. It’s also inspired me to be more interested in engaging the viewer (Andy is a very sociable guy who likes interactive work).
Allegory of the Infinite Mortal
2010
Woven jacquard tapestry
76" x 106"
A collaborative tapestry woven through the Magnolia Tapestry Project, designed by Andy Diaz Hope and myself.

OPP: One of you collaborative projects is a series of tapestries woven with a Jacquard Loom through the Magnolia Tapestry Project. Could explain for viewers about the Jacquard Loom and MTP? What was it like to design these pieces collaboratively?

LR: Andy and I were inspired by the Unicorn Tapestries of the late 15th century while we were working on a collaborative show called Future Darwinist. We wanted to create a tapestry that stayed true to that inspiration and used the more formal tapestry structure and motifs to explore current scientific themes—namely, the end of Darwinian natural selection and the beginning of human-centric evolution. We realized that we couldn’t weave it ourselves and were fortunate that the folks at the Magnolia Tapestry Project decided to work with us. We spent months taking botanical illustration, reading and studying, painting, and compositing the individual elements into a massive Photoshop file. Magnolia had the expertise to help us translate that into a weavable file with an appropriate color palette—each color is made of a selected palette of woven threads with carefully controlled color changes. It’s then woven on a computer controlled Jacquard Loom in Belgium. Jacquard looms were the first machines to use punch cards for programming and were an important step towards the invention of computers, so that fit perfectly with our theme of exploring current science and technology through aesthetics and practices from the Age of Enlightenment.

The collaboration went pretty smoothly, both between Andy and myself and our partnership with the Magnolia Tapestry Project—so well, in fact, that as part of our current fellowship with the de Young Museum we’re working on the third tapestry in what turned out to be a triptych! People often ask whose idea a piece was or which of us worked on which aspects of our collaborative work, but it really doesn’t work that way for us. It’s a fairly free flow of ideas back and forth that constantly change and evolve until we’re both satisfied.
Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons: Carolina Parakeet (detail)
2009
Crocheted yarn, hand carved pigeon mannequin, walnut stand
8 x 9 x 13 inches

OPP: What new idea are you excited about in your individual practice?

LR: I’m looking forward to developing two bodies of work that I started in the last few years but haven’t had a chance to develop as fully as I’d like—Biodiversity Suits for Urban Pigeons and the Hominid series. The Biodiversity Suits are a series of small crocheted suits that disguise pigeons as extinct birds. Two of them will be on display later this year at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The Hominids are hand carved and polished wood sculptures of various hominid skulls, one of which will be part of a show at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC and then the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.


To view more of Roth’s work, please visit loloro.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andy Diaz Hope

the Void (interior)
2010
Wood, mirror, 2-way mirror, novelty light bulbs, lead
38 x 24 x 36 inches

ANDY DIAZ HOPE’s background in physics and engineering informs his work as an interdisciplinary artist. Scientific investigation and philosophical contemplation are equally present in his sculpture, photography, and installation. He is a frequent collaborator with next week’s Featured Artist Laurel Roth. He exhibits internationally and lives in San Francisco, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have an interesting background. You entered Stanford as a PhD candidate in physics, but ended up with an MS in a collaborative program between the engineering and art departments. How did you end up switching? How does this start in science influence the work you make nowadays as an artist?

Andy Diaz Hope: I was raised by artist scientists and scientist artists. When I was 5, my dad left. My mom, who is a painter, my brother, and I moved in with my grandparents. My grandfather had his PhD in applied physics, and my grandmother had a chemistry degree, though she preferred painting and working in the garden. We had a really nice balance of scientific inquisitiveness and artistic creativity at home, but the general wisdom of the family was that art doesn’t pay, so go into the sciences. I chose applied physics, because it was the foundation of all the different types of engineering, so I reasoned that, if I had a good grasp of that, I could keep my options open.

Once I was in school and immersed in science and math, I realized that I needed more. I took a course in Visual Thinking that was a requirement for most engineering programs as well as the gateway to the Joint Program in Design and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. A program that focused on science and art? and I’d get an engineering degree? Awesome! I think I might have pursued the sciences had I been born during the Age of Enlightenment, but having missed that window, product design seemed more satisfying. Bill Moggridge and David Kelly were both fully involved at the time, and, while pragmatic on some levels, the program was steeped in the idealism that enlightened designers and engineers could really solve the world’s problems. In practice, product design didn’t satisfy me. I found that I wasn’t a believer of wanton progress and technology. From there, it was a gradual acceptance that I should commit to making art. Along the way I designed and built furniture, consulted on new technologies development, designed interactive spaces, and made large expensive interactive art works until I finally accepted my fate.

I think I approach art as a scientist might. Each body of work begins with a question that I begin to explore conceptually and test with various theories before giving it a tangible form.

the Light (detail)
2010
Mirror, lead, wood, video of tunnels and lights
12.5 x 14 x 74 inch

OPP: Morning After Portraits and Better Living are two bodies of mosaics made from gelatin pill capsules filled with pieces of deconstructed photographs. Illuminated Being is similar but with glass vials. 
How did you first start displaying your photographs in this way?

ADH: I have always been interested in photography and video and have incorporated them into my work. I feel that the power of a photographic image has been devalued by the explosion in the number of photographs taken as a result of the digital revolution. There is no cost to taking a photo anymore and very little cost to printing one even at a very large scale. I still believe that there are amazing photographs that stand on their own, but I think the viewers who appreciate and really take the time to contemplate the image have been desensitized.

I began working with capsules and breaking down and reassembling an image as a metaphor for how we are modifying our biology with recreational and pharmaceutical drugs, often with very little thought about the consequences. We are no longer just the whole of our heredity, but a sum of our heredity and whatever drugs we are taking to augment or ignore our heredity.

Monkey's Reentry
2005
C-prints, U.V. treated gel capsules, artist frame
15 x 18 inches

OPP: Do you experience the process of cutting up the photographs and inserting them into the capsules and vials as tedious or meditative or something else?

ADH: The process of creating the pieces is very time intensive but gives me a space of time to really think about the work I am doing. It also gives me a job to do when the act of making art as my primary activity is overwhelming. I can sit in my studio and put in 8–12 hour days while seeing tangible progress.

I think of the work I do as creating artifacts that will color the interpretation of our current times when future archeologists discover them. It’s a subversive act, and I’ll never know if I was successful. In order to create an artifact capable of surviving until its rediscovery, the object needs to show the time and effort invested in it so that it won’t be flippantly discarded. I think that this also works for the art viewing audience. People are attracted to the pieces because the process is mysterious and because they look difficult to create. The hope is that they will then further engage with the piece and try to understand why it was made.

Centering Device #1
2010
Mirror, lead

OPP: Over the last few years, you have been working with mirrors and kaleidoscopes in a series of "mirrored sculptures based on geological formations, reflecting fractions of their surroundings—some with infinite loops of light and video." I've read that these sculptures are intended to provide the viewer with an opportunity for contemplation, and there seems to be a shift from focusing on social issues (like drug culture or the contemporary impulse to label others as terrorists) to focusing on philosophical or mystical concerns. What precipitated this new work? How does it grow out of the older work?

ADH: All of my work stems from a desire for people to think more critically, to understand that the information we are getting is not unbiased or infallible and that the only way to be sure you lead a well examined life is to ask a lot of questions and figure things out for yourself. In this way, the mirrored pieces evolve directly from the older work. In the clamor of our capitalist-driven world, very few people are asking you the truly important questions. It’s not whether your deodorant will keep you drier or your phone is smarter, but are you leading a life that will live up to the scrutiny of your final hours. Maybe all you ever wanted was dry armpits. I sometimes wish I did.

All of my work is a reaction to my surroundings. I began the terrorist series in the early 2000s when the fear of terrorism was being used as a bludgeon to silence all sorts of people. I began the series dealing with drugs at a time when the pharmaceutical industry was beginning to directly market to consumers and many friends were teetering on the edge of turning their recreation into a lifestyle.

OPP: Can you talk about how the mirrors act as metaphors in the new sculptures? I’m seeing a connection between the form itself and the idea of the “well examined life” you speak of.

ADH: The mirror plays different roles in different pieces. In the Centering Devices, the pieces are created to negate the viewer from the reflection they see when they stand in front of the piece. People expect to see themselves when they stand in front of a mirror, and the hope is that the cognitive disconnect of seeing one's surrounding without oneself in the mirrors surface might lead to a moment of contemplation. What does it mean? I am nothing? I am everything? I am my stuff? I am a vampire? In other pieces, the mirror acts to camouflage the piece and make it blend into or disrupt the environment it is in. Some of the forms are abstracted representations of crystal structures or geologic formations. Other pieces feel like portals to me, creating a ripple in the geometry of our living space. The original installation of the work at Catharine Clark Gallery in 2010 sought to create a version of the Philosopher's Cave that Plato referenced in his Allegory of the Cave. I think of caves as cathedrals of time and geology—representative of both science and spirituality.

Reflection Engine
2011
Hand-carved walnut, mirror, candle light bulbs, brass, gold leaf
36 x 61 x 92 inches

OPP: You've worked collaboratively for a long time with Laurel Roth on several tapestries woven with a Jacquard loom as well as a series of chandeliers made from hypodermic needles, U.V. coated gel capsules, and Swarovski crystal, and most recently, Reflection Engine. How did this collaboration begin and how has it evolved through the years?

ADH: We’ve always discussed our work with each other and helped each other on pieces, but our real trial by fire was when, early in our relationship and art careers, we both quit our jobs and moved to India to collaborate on designing India’s first wine tasting room. Living in Mumbai, trying to get things done in a country with very different business practices, and being in over our heads was a great way to knock all the rough edges off our collaborative process. Our first collaborative art piece was the first installation of Pharmacopeia at the Headlands Center for the Arts. It gave us an opportunity to play with materials we had been using without the pressure and weight of an art show. My work tends to deal with humanity’s impact on ourselves, while Laurel’s work often deals with humanity’s impact on our surroundings. Our collaborative work allows us to bring both of these foci together and explore ideas in a way neither of us would on our own.

OPP: Has the work you make collaboratively with Laurel changed the work you make in your individual practice?

ADH: One of the benefits of our collaboration is that it forces us both to adhere to a higher standard of intellectual rigor. You really have to be able to understand and communicate the concepts you are working on or the other person will call you on it. I think this intellectual rigor carries to my personal work and helps me get through moments of weakness when I get lazy with my concepts.

Trinity (detail of Grandma's mandala)
2007
Custom chromed chandeliers, hypodermic needles, gel capsules, Swarovski crystals
96 x 96 x 72 inches
Collaboration with Laurel Roth

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

ADH: Collaboratively, Laurel and I are working on the 3rd and final tapestry of the series as part of our fellowship at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The tapestries are very involved both visually and in terms of research, and I’m really excited about the ideas we’re coming up with.

We are also working on an artist residency program we are creating at Double Down Studios in Sonoma county which involves first building the living space and the studio.

In my solo practice, I am working on some new mirrored video pieces similar to the Light, and Geode, and, when inspiration fails me, producing new editions of sold work from Better Living for a show we will have in Rotterdam later this year.

OPP: The fellowship program at the de Young is in its second year, right? Tell us a little about the program and the experience of being part of it.

ADH: We're just getting started with our fellowship and are excited to take full advantage of the opportunities it offers. So far, the experience has been great. The staff is incredibly supportive and helpful. On top of having access to the collections at the de Young and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, which have an amazing depth and breadth, the fellowship comes with a stipend that has really given us the peace of mind to be able to focus on our work and not struggle with the economics of trying to be artists for a little while. We're also very excited to be able to discuss the themes of the new work with the curators in the various departments within the Museums and bring their expertise into the work.

To view more of Andy’s work, please visit andydiazhope.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Hall


BCS, FT-FC, H88
2010
Oil on canvas
60"x 72"

MICHAEL HALL’s paintings, sculpture and video are concerned with the contemporary reinterpretation of history and historical artifacts. He examines the struggle between control and protection, nostalgia and the mythic image, often using animals and objects as symbols for emotional experiences. In 2010, Hall was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant. He has an upcoming exhibition (Fall 2012) at Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco, CA, where he lives and teaches.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In 2009, you were in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin, CA. Reclamation, the body of work that emerged, examines the now defunct military bunkers which dot the coastline in painting, sculpture and video. Tell us a little about how the project developed and about how the bunkers play into your interest in "the contemporary reinterpretation of history and historical artifacts."

Michael Hall: When I was at the Headlands I was looking for a way to bring together two divergent influences in my life—art and the military. I was born into a military family and grew up on bases all over the world. I had been exploring the ideas of protection and control in my work but wanted to shift to dealing explicitly with the military. I do a lot of research into my subject matter. I began to read about the history of these sites, their function, their decommissioning, etc.

At first, I constructed a replica of one of the structures and made a video where the bunkers were disappearing from the landscape. The paintings followed. The tradition of coastal landscape painting depicts a peaceful, serene and undisturbed landscape, but I wanted to inject the reality of the bunkers and their forgotten histories into those idyllic spaces. What struck me as I hiked around the Headlands and the coast was how these structures had just been left to rot and were largely forgotten about (though there are a few that have been restored and are run by the NPS.) Scattered about this picturesque California coastal landscape were these traces of two world wars, impending threat and the history of a complicated military influence. I strongly believe that if we ignore our past we wind up repeating it. I also wanted to highlight the importance of Nature in their history. These man made structures, built both in an effort to protect people and its land, will ultimately succumb to the elements, and the land will reclaim and redistribute its parts. Given time, it will be erased, and its history, if unattended, will be forgotten.

Surrogate
2010
Lumber, concrete, grass sod with sound of field recordings from the California coast
39"H x 60"W x 66"L

OPP: Several bodies of work, such as Ephemera, This is Not Your Beautiful Life, and Search Results, not only use photographs and digital images as source material for painting, but meditate on photographs and digital images as historical artifacts. I'm very interested in the way your work gives the personal history associated with photos equal footing with the collective history associated with the bunkers. It's really smart and complicates how we think about the discarded and the forgotten. Have you ever exhibited these bodies of work together?

MH: I’ve never shown them together, but I’m very glad you drew that conclusion. Most of my work is concerned with history and it’s collision with the contemporary. With the photo-based work I’ve collected old photos and the ephemera, like processing envelopes, for years. I find them at paper sales, yard sales, junk-yards and just on the street. Like the bunkers, they are often discarded and forgotten, but as you pointed out, they are far more personal in nature. I get lost in thinking about these discarded memories sometimes, imagining the lives of the people in the photos: where they are now and how whole family albums end up in the trash.

But there is also a larger significance to these photos and ephemera like the processing envelopes. They are cultural touch-points. So much can be revealed about a time or location by a single snapshot or the graphics on a local developers envelope. Despite their small and personal scale they can be monumental—more than just anthropological. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about them as the physical objects—as relics, in a way. Chemical based photography, and to some extent printed photography, is becoming more artisan, boutique and rare—which I think is an exciting moment in the history of photography. However the antique photo, the snapshot— even those from the early 90’s—are still physically with us. They are huddled in piles at junk yards and antique paper sales or they are carefully kept by family members. I’m interested in these objects and the images and questions they bring up. Is it nostalgia, anthropology, an archive? Is it an ongoing dialogue between painting and photography? Yes.

How they stack up
2009
Oil on canvas
18" x 18"

OPP: "Bete comme un peintre," the title of one body of work based on photos, is a quote from Duchamp, right? Could you translate it for us and talk about why you chose this title?

MH: The basic translation is “Stupid like a painter.” Duchamp threw that gauntlet down in his pursuit of redefining what art could be—trying to remove the authority and hierarchy of painting in the Arts. As one who identifies largely as a painter, I’m thankful for this. It freed up painting in a lot of ways. Many were understandably insulted by this phrase (some continue to be), but it also became a badge of honor for some painters that gave importance to the emotional or intuitive response in painting. At one point, I identified with that, but when I titled that show I was also feeling very self-conscious, having just come out of graduate school. My head was full of theory and justifications, and here I was painting from my collection of old photos. It was a way to acknowledge that self-consciousness and allow myself to paint from what I was intuitively drawn to. Since that show, I’ve come to engage in a close relationship with photography. I take photos and video and use it as a tool but have found it to be a compelling subject matter for painting. There has always been a back and forth between painting and photography since photography first liberated painting from being a tool of replication. I think there is an amazing ongoing dialogue in its historical battles and dependence and the freedom both mediums share now.
Held Together
2011
Watercolor on paper
32"x 37.5"

OPP: In Embattled, a series of watercolors of humans battling animals or animals battling each other, and Banded, a series of watercolors of the process of banding birds for tracking, you explore the "dynamics of protection and control." This is a recurring theme in your work. I'd like to hear more about how the animals in these paintings become allegories for human emotional experiences.

MH: There’s a long history of giving animals anthropomorphic qualities. I’ve always been drawn to it, because it allows you a way of approaching a subject without over-explaining it. The image can become metaphorical and open. I’ve spent a lot of time observing animals. I get transfixed by them. I always had animals like dogs, horses and birds growing up and went regularly to zoos, aquariums and animal parks. Maybe because of that, I anthropomorphize human behavior with my observed behavior of animals as well. I think there is a lot of wisdom in the animal kingdom. Sometimes we just have to reframe it.

When the Sea Surrounds
2005
Oil on panel
24"x 30"

OPP: On your website, you have an archive section of older work that is visually quite different from the work you've made in the last 5-6 years. You acknowledge "Often things have a way of coming back around. Others are strong works, but from a train of thought that will not be pursued again. These works took me somewhere though and that should not be forgotten." I couldn't agree more. Could you talk about some of the themes or images that had a way of coming back around?

MH: It’s funny because I had forgotten about that section of my site, so I recently looked back over it. I think there are a lot of similar things going on, just a different approach. I was steeped in mythology when I was making that work and heavily influenced by ancient, esoteric text and imagery like Masonic symbols, Aesop’s Fabels, the I Ching, early Christian symbology, Tibetean tangka paintng, etc. What I came to realize was that I was overlaying too much and creating overly complicated fields of imagery that sometimes made it impenetrable for the viewer. They were more successful when they were simple and direct. The interest in history is still there though, but I’m really enjoying the sense of the mythic in that work now.

To see more work by Michael Hall, please visit www.michaelhallpaintings.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dawn Frasch



Doppelbangers (holding hands we both abandon sorrow)
2010

DAWN FRASCH’s paintings, drawings and videos are intensely visceral, teetering on the line between the beautiful and the grotesque. Her work references both art history and pop culture, using the female form, not as an object, but as a vehicle to explore subjective experiences of trauma, desire, and horror. Dawn exhibits internationally and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You make paintings and drawings, but you also make videos that combine stop-motion animation with live action, and some of these make use of the imagery from the paintings and drawings. Could you talk a bit about your influences and how each of your media feeds into the others?

Dawn Frasch: Artists I love, like James Ensor and Géricault, kept objects in their studio to work from. These guys use masks, dead fish, and exhumed body parts, all of which which inspire me as well. James Ensor combines dramatic narrative, comedic exaggeration, and relates it to the political and the daily. He inspired me when I was around 19 to start a practice like this. I tried painting fish from life, but that gets smelly so fast. I started making my own objects as well as collecting them. I always wanted to make movies, so it was natural to bring these objects to life that were alive in the paintings.

Switching mediums also allows me to change the points of reference for the viewer. It expands my audience and venue possibilities. My video visually references TV and movies. The dialogue is part original/ part appropriation. Sometimes it’s from the Bible, the original epic drama. In my painting, I appropriate from narrative painting. In my drawings, I reference comic books. 

Working this way keeps a cyclical recycling of ideas. I got into art as a way to deal with depression and trauma. After making it out of a bad situation and going to art school, it was humiliating to find out the stories and creations that kept me alive were cliche and embarrassing. I recycle images, like fetuses and monsters, from this past, reinventing and expanding their context. I find the transformation of cliches to be very liberating. I know it's selfish to search for personal liberation through art, but it can also be a way to connect with people who are also searching for transcendence whilst relishing in the dregs of reality.
Behind your lips there's a nightmare no one sees (Medusa)
2010

OPP: I don’t think that’s selfish at all. I think that’s actually always, at least partially, a driving force in making art. And people who won’t admit that are lying or simply not very self aware, in my humble opinion. Would you mind telling us about the first time art liberated you or a time when you became aware of art’s transformative power?

DF: The one that stands out the most clearly is all the fetus art I did after my first abortion. I'm soooo glad I was able to have one. I was 16 and in a horrible situation. I had to go to Delaware because of Rick Santorum's "awesome" laws. I didn't have any regrets AT ALL. I was pretty obsessed with death at the time, but there was still this left-over energy that I didn’t know where to put. I made a lot of fetus art, and it felt really exhilarating.

Also, when I was younger, I drew Garfield, and it looked "right.” That was magical.

OPP: Your drawings from 2009 amaze, disgust, and excite me. I'm thinking of pieces like Manny Eater and Crab Snatch, in which the labia are grotesquely large and blob-like and take over everything around them. They are truly gross, but in exactly the right way to challenge assumptions about woman's bodies. I'd love to hear more about these pieces.

DF: Those pieces are a spin on the Kuniyoshi prints of Tanuki from around 1844. Tanuki are a mythical racoon/human hybrid who can magically enlarge their testicles. In the prints they use this power to do practical things like make soup and cross rivers. It was fun to play with the cliche of bragging about giant balls to prove confidence. The mythical creature in mine was Lazy Pig, a character from one of my movies that I play wearing a muppet-like mask. She uses magic to perpetuate sloth, like grabbing a sandwich from the fridge instead of getting up.

When I made those pieces, it was a summer break from grad school, and I was incredibly depressed. I couldn't get out of bed. My dog died, and my girlfriend dumped me. The sex with my ex was insanely consuming. I felt consumed by desire in a similar way that the labia consume and take over everything. I never planned to show them to art people. I definitely thought my comic loving friends would get a kick out of them. I also had bedbugs at the time. They were posted on my wall and my exterminator thought they were funny and gross. Humor can be a defense mechanism. It’s not only a survival skill, but also a relatable point of access for the viewer. Also it's one of my favorite parts of being alive. The connection between two humans laughing about something upsetting together is an amazing bonding experience. These pieces were a huge breakthrough for me. They solved a problem of how to deal with the female body and still carry on the themes of my earlier work. I think its important to retreat from an audience and try ideas without worrying about the response. These labia attacks have continued to operate in my work as a cyclical structure to talk about the masturbatory nature of expressing one's feelings through art with self deprecating humor.
 
Pussy Intimidation
2010
watercolor on paper
12"x15"

OPP: There's so much awesome grossness in your work: zombies, blood, disembodied breasts, fluids of all kinds, mashed-up food covered in fur and maggots, the endlessly-expanding labia mentioned above. It's clear to me that you are dealing with the Abject, but most interesting to me is that there is a particularly feminist flavor of the Abject (as opposed to what Mike Kelly or Paul McCarthy does), The gross things you do to the female body don't read as a reiteration of the male gaze, but rather as a challenge to it. Are you coming from a feminist point of view?

DF: I do personally identify as a feminist. Whether or not my art is feminist art is up to the viewer. My use of the Abject is an attempt to feel empowered to transcend my body and mortality, so reflecting back to my biography and identity can be frustrating. Before I had the female image in the work, being a female artist was always part of the dialogue anyway. Literally, dudes would say, it's pretty good for a chick, and shit like that.

I didn't feel connected to feminism until I moved to the bay area. The Riot Grrrl version of feminism made so much sense to me. If women feel they have no voice in their local scenes, they can take it upon themselves to represent their own interests by making their own zines, music, and art. Of course, I really loved the taking back of the meaning of derogatory terms for empowerment. That's super fun. I was really lucky to be discovered by one of the bay area's legendary geniuses Janelle Hessig. She eyed up my sorry-ass scrabblin’ in my sketchbook on the street and started chatting me up. Her way of looking at the world was unapologetic and hilarious. Learning from her was like when Roddy Piper puts on the glasses in They Live. Coming back to the east coast with those glasses was challenging. The crazy sexist shit that comes out of  people's mouths can be laughable because of the cluelessness. I've said really thoughtless things about women, too, but sometimes I still wanna smack those garbage mouths.
 
OPP: Give me an example of the cluelessness.

DF: I had a fancy dinner with a gallery owner that teaches media culture at a prestigious university. He denied the existence of the male gaze, and his proof was "chicks love horror movies where women are degraded; it's all fun.” I argued with him a bit, but he was power-trippin’ pretty hard, because he knows I'm not represented by a gallery. He's obviously just a foolio, but it's good to know these voices are in the art industry, so I can be prepared and ask galleries the right questions.
 
Free Love is creepy
2011
Detail

OPP: What’s your relationship to the male gaze and how does your work add to the discourse around it?

DF: It’s shaped by being a queer woman who is seduced by these images and repulsed by the obvious fallacies. I feel empathy with others who are seduced by these images of women. Images of hardcore porn are virtually unavoidable, making the pornographic a part of our daily routine. It's insidious how these images of hairless airbrushed idealized female forms warp the societal view of sexuality. It perpetuates this myth of a static beauty, when the reality of beautiful things is that they evolve and decay.

I'm really enjoying expanding and flipping cliches of the male gaze. The labia monsters transform from a passive female into an active more phallic monster. I have also been taking venus paintings and making the lounging beauties more passive by dismembering them. They have ovaries on the outside which was related to an absurd idea I had that men have to act so macho because they have these vulnerable sacks hanging out. I was imagining how vulnerable it would feel to have my ovaries dangling outside my body. It's all very playful and ties into the many themes in my work. My work is about human issues as well as female issues.


Armchair Anarchist
2009

OPP: Could you talk about the sandwich with olives for eyes? He/she/it shows up in several drawings, in your video Armchair Anarchist (2009) as a main character called Sandwich and in In the Ancient Brain of No Memory (2011) as a reincarnation of Peter Paul Rubens. When did you first use this character/image? How has he/she/it evolved in your work?

DF: I've love comics and comic exaggeration. I love finding comedic expression in daily life, like found objects and found faces! I use this as another strategy to connect fantasy to the daily. I use tomato seeds for teeth, floppy meat for tongues. The olive eyes specifically is a Sesame Street reference. Sesame Street was my first relationship with media and is integral in my relationship with fact and fiction. The way I use food is connected with intimacy and desire. Whenever I am really happy, my appetite is insatiable. I talk to sandwiches while I'm eating them because I love them so much. Sometimes I talk to imaginary sandwiches that I wish I had. They are meant to be held in your hand, and they look like a little face.

My movie Armchair Anarchist uses this relationship between the main character lazy pig whose best friend is a talking sandwich. The desire for sex and food is blurred, and lazy pig eats her best friend. Getting lost in desire and destroying the thing you desire the most has resonated with a lot of people I chat with. I'm continuing with talking food in the comic book I started which is a prequel to Armchair Anarchist. The impending Apocalypse is caused by women using bone marrow stem cell reproduction to eliminate men from the human race....all rational systems break down, emotions rampage....an unusual side effect happens... the birthing of living sandwiches!!!!  It's called Pussy Intimidation. I told this to a guy friend recently, and he said he wouldn't have the balls to use the word pussy. Then he went on to talk about cocky male artists, how he looked up to them, and how he was gonna get tattoos of them by his balls. He actually pointed to his balls. The more I gave him the blank stare, the more he talked about his balls! Hahahah. So hilarious.

Cake and eat
2009

OPP: What's going on in 2012 for you, either in terms of upcoming exhibitions or new work you are excited about?

DF: I'm currently printing and binding/stitching copies of my the comic. It will be available on my website soon. The amazing artist Josh Bayer let me sell some at his table at MoCCA recently. The whole event was packed with inspiring artists. I'm silkscreening and getting prints and shirts available, too.

I’m also really excited to have 10 new paintings in a group show about female sexuality at Ten Haaf Projects in Amsterdam. That show opens June 2.

I have a new video in the works called Easter Special, which is based on the story of Mary Toft. In 1726, Toft tricked doctors into believing that she had given birth to rabbits by inserting dead animal parts into her uterus. I found out about this story through a book of etchings.

So yeah, lots of new forms and projects, as always.

To view more of Dawn’s work, please visit dawnfrasch.com.