OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Noelle Allen

Saturn's Shepherd (Green) (detail)
Resin, clay, plaster, wax, acrylic
30" around

Surface texture and color are major players in NOELLE ALLEN's cast sculptures, comprised of wax, resin, plaster, ceramics and foraged organic material. She expertly achieves a variety of familiar, terrestrial surfaces—various types of rock, moss, coral, wood and dirt—while her soft color palette evokes the otherworldly. Repeated use of the orb as a form in both drawings and sculptures reminds us of the natural connection between the earth and the cosmos. Noelle attended Wesleyan University and Smith College for undergrad and received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004. She teaches full-time at Domincan University in River Forest, Illinois and was a 2012-2013 HATCH Projects resident at the  Chicago Artists’ Coalition. With four upcoming solo exhibitions, the end of 2014 will be tremendously busy for Noelle. Thistle, an outdoor installation at Terrain South (Oak Park, Illinois) opens tomorrow (July 4th) and runs until August 1. Trellis at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina and Sender Channel Receiver Feedback at the Marquette Cultural Center on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan both run from August to October 2014. A currently-untitled show at Comfort Station in Chicago opens in November 2014. Noelle lives in Oak Park, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What's a stronger influence for you: the earth or the cosmos?

Noelle Allen: In 2012, my family and I moved into a bungalow in Oak Park with an overgrown garden that spills into the parkways. Before relocating, we lived in Chicago for 10 years, and my work drew inspiration from fossils, cellular and skeletal structures I studied in books and at the Field Museum. However, once we had our own place, I had an opportunity to use materials that were close at hand, materials that I live with. I was hoping to better integrate my life with my practice.

Now, my work incorporates all of the natural fauna and organic materials found in my own garden, both directly and indirectly. I like to garden with my sons. We gather roots, branches, leaves, weeds, tomatoes, flowers, abandoned birds nests and materials my boys scrounge up from the dirt or compost.

Although I draw immediate inspiration from the earth and my surroundings, the work also invokes celestial forms and structures. The visual patterns and recurring shapes and symmetries found in organic materials, like fractals and tessellations, also reflect larger structures in the universe. Hopefully, my work can invoke that bridge between the terrestrial and the celestial.

My childhood has also played a prominent role in my work. I grew up surrounded by farmland in the Sacramento Valley. In the fall, you could smell the rice fields burning. In the summer, there were lemons, plums, peaches and strawberries. My mother is also an artist, and she always had a drawing studio in our house. My earliest memory of her work is of very meticulous graphite rendering of a ball of boobs!

Astral Layer (Evanston)
Resin, wax, concrete, and ceramic
9' x 26'

OPP: I'd like to see that piece! Could you talk about the use of organic materials such as mushrooms, twigs, branches, thorns and driftwood, both in the final product and in the process of creating your work?

NA: I use a variety of materials and methods to directly and indirectly translate organic material into my work. An artist friend, John Harmon, has also given me many found objects: dragon’s claw seedpods, an entire half of a bovine skeleton and some roots and plant matter. I photograph and even photogram my materials, but never for a final product. Instead, the photographs become an alternative means of viewing or translating my sources.

For the larger installation and sculpture work, many of my methods have roots in traditional sculpture and ceramic techniques. However, I have developed some of my own mold-making techniques that I use with materials like sand, graphite, seaweed and latex. The positives are pulled in porcelain, concrete, wax, resin and plaster. Recently, I have begun flooding my molds with water, which ends up imprinting the surfaces of my materials with details that are both familiar and unknowable. For example, in the recent installation of Astral Layer at the Evanston Art Center, the sheets of resin, which I covered with water during the cure stage, were cast directly onto the floor of my studio, where they picked up years of clay, paint, dirt and plaster.

Iridophore (Green)
Resin and felt
30" around

OPP: My personal favorite pieces are the Iridophores, a series of colorful, globe-like sculptures made from resin and felt. Can you explain the title of the series, the process of creating these sculptures and why you choose to exhibit them sitting directly on the floor?

NA: The title refers to a type of iridescent cell found in some sea creatures and amphibians that allows the squid, for example, to reflect light and alter the color and contrast of the animal. Scientists call it “electric skin.” The mold is created from a tangle of roots and branches. This organic material, along with the introduction of water into the mother mold, a plaster shell, create the negative spaces in the resin and felt.The Iridophores are made with a marine grade resin and are intended to be both indoor and outdoor pieces. For the Osmia exhibit at Riverside Art Center, I placed four of them in the sculpture garden and over the course of the show, the colors shifted from the sun. 

I am reluctant to use a pedestal, which would add another sculptural element to the installation. I would rather have the work appear organically on the floor.

Sender Channel Receiver Feedback (Yellow and Cerulean)
Resin, felt and concrete

OPP: Thistle opens tomorrow (July 4, 2014) at Terrain, an outdoor exhibition space in a residential neighborhood in Oak Park, Illinois. Will you give us a preview of what you are planning? What's exciting and what's challenging about creating work for this environment?

NA: Sabina Ott, an amazing artist and the curator behind Terrain, asked me to do an installation in the Terrain South site, which is basically an empty, grassy lot between two residential homes that sits directly across from a grade school. It was important to me to carefully develop an outdoor, durable piece that children could run through but not climb on or get hurt by, if anything were to fall over. I also had to consider visual impact from the street. Since I do so much mold-making, I decided to create an installation of crazy multiples.

With the assistance of ceramicist Kate Pszotka, I am turning rebar, an industrial building material found in foundations, into an eggshell structure in porcelain. There will be a field of over 100 six-foot-tall, curved rebar “weeds,” bridging the gap between an overgrown lot and the possibility of construction.

In the process, the rust from the rebar has transferred onto the porcelain, so we have played with the color and glazes in response to both that transition and the summertime sun and grass. The color will catch the sun to create a horizon line at the top, where the porcelain shifts into clear resin.

Resin, wax, concrete, and ceramic
Each 56" x 17" x 17"
Installation view, Design Cloud (Chicago)

OPP: You made a global shift in your color palate around 2013. Before that, your work was almost exclusively on the grayscale. What led to this change?

NA: Yes, this is true. It mostly boils down to fun. I wanted to have more fun with my work. I was craving some levity and lightness in the studio. Perhaps also happiness? I have been a much happier—albeit more stressed—person since my children were born in 2009 and 2011.

OPP: Speaking of stress, you teach full-time at Dominican University, you have two children, and you have four upcoming solo exhibitions, not to mention several group shows. You’ve mentioned that your boys help you gather materials for your work. How else do you balance your roles of artist, teacher and mother? Can you offer some practical advice for first-time mothers who are trying to maintain their art practices?

NA: When my second son Zeke was born pretty quickly after Henry's arrival, I realized I needed more help. In order to manage, I had to build and maintain a solid support structure to handle all the different parts of my life. My husband Tim is incredibly supportive of my studio time and as my children get older, they can be more involved. Henry, who is very opinionated about my work, likes to come to my studio. He helps me unload kilns and operate the slab roller. I have also had wonderful part time studio help—hi, Tess and Andrew!—through a grant program at Dominican University. Do not try to do it all alone!

Also, some quality acupuncture goes a long way.

To see more of Noelle's work, please visit noelleallen.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lisa Nilsson

Female Thorax
Mulberry paper
24 1/2 x 15 x 1 1/2 inches

Detached investigation and emotional reverence collide in LISA NILSSON's beautiful, paper sculptures based on cross-sections of human—and sometimes animal—anatomy. She uses the meticulous technique known as quilling or paper filigree, which has historical roots in the Renaissance, when monks and nuns used it to decorate religious icons and reliquaries, and the Victorian Era, when the technique was popularized as a decorative craft practiced by ladies of leisure. Housed in shadowboxes, her sculptures refer to both religious relics and scientific specimens, highlighting the human need to understand our place in the world, whether through rationality or direct experience. Lisa received her BFA from Rhode Island School of Design (1985). She has had solo exhibitions at Wilson Wilde Gallery at Williams College (2008) the Lavender Door Gallery in Stockbridge, Massachusetts (2011) and Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York, where she is represented. Lisa lives in North Adams, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you learn the technique known as quilling or paper filigree? Did you pick it specifically for your current project on human anatomy or did you practice the technique before beginning this project?

Lisa Nilsson: I started experimenting with quilling after being inspired by an antique, quilled crucifix I saw in a junk shop. I first used it as an element in the box-assemblages I was making. At the time, quilling was just another technique to include in these tiny curiosity cabinets.

Mulberry paper
19 x 22 x 1 1/2 inches

OPP: Could you talk about the historical associations of this technique as they relate to your anatomical studies?

LN: In doing a bit of research about quilling, I encountered a collection of 18th and 19th century French quilled reliquaries. They employ a great deal of decorative filigree made with gilded-edged paper and velvet backgrounds. I started using gilded paper in my anatomical work, in part, because it looks cool, but also to reference the precious and the divine. The device I used was to make the bones of my anatomical pieces with gilded paper. And later in Angelico (2012), the section of the head is surrounded by a large gold halo.

Mulberry paper

OPP: Admittedly, I know very little about anatomy, but the meticulous detail in your Tissue Series gives the impression that these are pretty accurate renderings of the landscape of the body.

LN: Thanks, I do my best. I’ve maintained that my goal is not to annoy the people who really know what they are looking at, but not to hold myself to the standards of a medical illustrator. 

I made my first two anatomical pieces, Female Torso and Head and Torso, in 2010, then took a year away from the studio to become a certified medical assistant. This actually wasn’t prompted by the artwork. Rather, I had a strong urge to do practical work outside the studio and around people. In the end, I found that the solitude and impracticality of the studio suited me best, but the anatomy and physiology study in school was helpful in introducing me to the basics of what I was looking at in the images of cross-sections.

OPP: Do you work from source imagery?

LN: Yes. I work from a combination of medical illustrations (typically older), 19th century prints and photographic images from the government-sponsored Visible Human Project, in which a cadaver was frozen, encased in a block, then photographed at very fine intervals as it was gradually ground away. The stunning images are a main source of information and inspiration for my Tissue Series.

Head II
10 x 12 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches

OPP: Tell us about the process of moving from two-dimensional image to paper sculpture.

LN: This is the interesting and challenging part. . . to interpret what I see in my source material as little paper coils in a way that honors the materials as well as the subject matter. I strive to increase the repertoire of shapes and textures I can make with the paper. It’s been an evolving process. 

I typically start in a central place and work my way out, hoping for the best. I make each little piece as I go. Some are single coils; others are compound coils (several, or many individual coils gathered and wrapped with an outer strip of paper and shaped as needed). I also make some pieces that start out as large loops that fold in on themselves, then I insert other coils if there are gaps—this has been my technique for brain matter. I glue each new element to its neighbor, and the sculpture comes together like a jigsaw puzzle. I work on top of a sheet of styrofoam insulation so that I can pin the coils in place. As the sculpture progresses, the pins migrate to the periphery. When I'm finished, I remove them, and the piece tends to spread a bit. Then I turn it over, re-pin the outer edge to the shape I want and brush PVA (bookbinder's white glue) onto the back. It now has enough rigidity to hold its shape and to be moved about.

I’ve worked on anatomical studies for about five years now. I’ve developed some interesting means of manipulating the paper that I haven’t had the opportunity to fully explore yet because they didn’t make sense within the context of anatomy. But recently, I’ve been moving toward allowing the paper take the lead. I’m making pieces that are more geometric, inspired by textiles, plant forms and leather book bindings among other things. This has opened up my color palette as well.

Abdomen (detail)
15 x 12 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches

OPP: In your 2012 talk at TEDMED, you spoke of common initial responses from viewers. Initially they say the work is "beautiful" and "kinda creepy," then they start looking more closely. Could you talk about using craftsmanship and beauty to get viewers interested in their own bodies?

LN: It’s a very nice side effect. Craftsmanship is what most interests me and drives my work. If it also draws people in and interests them in something they would otherwise find yucky—I’m delighted. But this wasn’t by design.

My love of craftsmanship seems to be hardwired and life-long. As a kid, I often craved more precise, pointed, accurate tools than I was handed. I remember my Dad, a graphic designer and all-around-inventor, talking to me about making drawings that had to be so accurate that the thickness of the pencil's lead had to be taken into account. I thought that was just the coolest thing! I love a snug fit, a clean line, and I'm happiest when monotasking

I've always been attracted to small things, and I feel a rush of pleasure when I look at things that have a quality I've come to think of as contained complexity. . . lots of detail in a very sharply and clearly defined space. However, I derive much inspiration from artists who are my opposite, those who work with an uninhibited abandon. Robert Rauschenberg is a favorite art-hero.

OPP: The overlap of religious relics and scientific specimens is a theme in both your Tissue Series and in older works from 2006 like The Ants are my Friends, The White Cabinet and Hillside Cemetery, which are like curiosity cabinets that include found objects, drawings and photographs. How are relics and specimens alike? How are they different?

LN: As I see it, relics and specimens are alike in that they are actual objects that are collected, protected, preserved and observed or displayed. But the relic is typically revered, while the specimen is studied. 

I like blurring the distinction. In my mind, this has to do with the amount and type of attention paid to the object and its context. If I treat a dead ant with enough reverence, surround it with velvet and gold leaf and imbue it with importance, can it be a relic? If I recognize the common biological and material nature of a saint’s bone can I release it from its lofty responsibility and view it as a “mere” specimen?

The White Cabinet
Plywood support, glass and grout with found objects and mixed media, including Q-tips, aspirin, smalti, and skunk's tooth
12 x 12

OPP: Exactly! I completely agree. I love the way this makes clear that it is not the objects themselves, but rather the way we see them and think about them. The spiritual teacher Krishnamurti, who is not affiliated with any particular dogma or religion, says that if you pick up any random stick and you stare at it for several moments everyday, soon it will become a sacred stick.

LN: Yes, yes. . . I love the way this is stated here. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I've got a friend who refers to the "culturally imbued object." His kids start fighting over some random thing because one of them has paid attention to it, and now the other thinks it's hot stuff.   

OPP: The point is of course that it is our attention that makes an object sacred, which makes me think of all the time you spend creating your objects. Do you ever think of your studio practice as a spiritual practice?

LN: Yes, in that the work is focused and meditative. Words like dedication and seclusion come to mind. I feel a strong affiliation with the people who work like this—the nun in the convent, the monk in the monastery, the scientist in the lab. To put oneself in the service of making something as well as one can for the glory of. . . here's where I part with religion. It's not god for me. I'm happy with the stick.

To see more of Lisa's work, please visit lisanilssonart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jason Judd

True North
Digital print (Installation view)
16" x 20"
Photograph always depicting the flight of geese as flying north in the gallery

Subtlety is a strategy in JASON JUDD's photographs, videos and sculptural arrangements. Using the contemplative space of the white cube as a context, his quiet gestures revolve around the "boring, infuriating, troublesome" experience of a natural, human longing to stop life from moving, to hold on to this moment, even as it passes away. In 2013, Jason had three solo exhibitions: Adjustments: One Through Five at Open Gallery (Nasvhille), Essays in Navigation, Baltimore at Lease Agreement (Baltimore) and Example: Compass Deviations at Gallery 215 (DeKalb, Illinois). Jason is a Co-Director of the Chicago-based art and contemporary practices website Make-Space.net and Art Editor for BITE Magazine. Along with artist Iga Puchalska, he has recently launched Public Practice, an new initiative aimed at expanding engaging art programming in Rockford, Illinois, where Jason lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could talk about framing nature inside the gallery in works like Shooting Star, Horizon Series and True North? Are these works about the sublime?

Jason Judd: I think my work is more about the finite world than the sublime. I have read a lot on the sublime and existentialism, only to find myself knowing nothing more about it. We have many experiences in our lifetime: the sublime is probably not one of them. I am looking at the limitations of our everyday. They are boring, infuriating, troublesome and can provide a different kind of poetics than speculation of the grand.

A Roland Barthes quote in Camera Lucida has always resonated with me: “I was like that friend who turned to Photography only because it allowed him to photograph his son.” I find myself, as an artist, in the role of that friend—sharing a desperation and urgency to capture something—the metaphor of the son is, at the same time, growing closer and farther away from us. I am not skilled enough in any particular medium to make something that is “beautiful”—by beautiful, I mean capturing the essence of the subject through heightened skill of a medium—nor am I interested in being skilled. Like the friend, my skill is born only out of necessity.

The gallery is one of the few places where technical skill is not a requisite factor for judgment of quality. And yes, quality is a strange word to use while describing a sense of de-skilling of an object. But the conventions of the gallery offer a contemplative space where quality is malleable and the viewer is asked to participate. It is a place where I can say, I have personally spent some time with these images or objects, and these are the conclusions I have come to.

Genesis (a haunting)
Looping video

OPP: You've used yourself and your family members as a subjects in several video works like Genesis (a haunting) (2012), Acts of Consciousness and Other Longings (2011) and Into the Son (2012), all of which emphasize the familial. More recent works involving sculpture, installation and photography center around experiences of nature in the gallery. What led to the shift in focus and means? How are these works more connected than might be assumed upon first glance?

JJ: Both bodies of work are based on the tension between longing and the tangible. In other words, what does longing look like? The videos involving me and my family were becoming very theatrical. I decided I did not want to personify my metaphor. I wanted the medium to be just as important in the metaphor as the subject and the subject not to be overtly autobiographical. If there were to be any theatrics in the new body of work, I wanted it to be made in the gallery. 

In Horizon Series, for example, I confront the space where the mountains meet the sky as metaphor for longing. I force the horizon line to be tangible by cutting it out of the large photograph. The image and medium become one entity. The image dictates the shape of the thin cuts, and the cut line reveals the tangibility of an otherwise romanticized and unattainable visual cue. With these cut pieces, I make physical and abstract decisions about how to deal with them as objects. When they are installed around the gallery, the scale is initially obscured. At first, the viewer experiences the line forming the cube at a one-to-one scale. Upon closer investigation, the immensity of what the thin line represents is revealed. The act of forming a cube with the lines is a physical manifestation of the idea of a three-dimensional illusion. The horizon line is actually something we can experience and understand only in the abstract, just as we experience a drawn cube.

Horizon Line (detail)
Cut digital print of a landscape that is cut where the mountains meet the sky and installed around the gallery wall
Variable dimensions

OPP: You have your hands in a lot of pots. Aside from being a maker, you work at the Rockford Art Museum in Rockford, Illinois, you are Co-Director of and a regular contributor to Make-Space.net, as well as Art Editor for BITE Magazine. How do you balance so many different roles?

JJ: Balancing all these roles can be time consuming, but they allow me to maintain a productive and creative frame of mind. They keep me thinking rigorously and critically. Collaboration acts as motivation—others are depending on you as much as you are depending on them. It takes a lot of mutual respect, patience and vision to sustain a productive collaboration.

My other two co-directors from Make Space, Etta Sandry and Lynnette Miranda, are two of the hardest working people I know. I can truly say that I look up to both of them in many different ways. BITE is a great experimental, online collaboration because I have never met my Features Editor, Daniel Griffiths—or any of the other editors, for that matter. They live across the globe, spanning New York, London and Singapore. The Rockford Art Museum is a comfortable place for me because it is a collaborative atmosphere with passionate people. Everyone at the museum has welcomed my ideas, skills and experience that have came from these other roles. But how do I really balance all of these roles? Barely.

Road brick, plaster casts of road brick
Bricks set in new formation at each exhibition

OPP: And how do these other roles relate to or inform your studio practice?

JJ: I have thought about the relationship between the projects I am involved in and my studio practice many times. Sometimes I throw up my hands in frustration and say, “I guess all of it is my practice!” But that’s not true. That is too easy—it is a simple way to avoid being critical about my interests and myself as a person.

Honestly, I believe the most important aspect of the relationship between the roles and my studio practice is the tension and flux. The very thing that inspires me is the thing that keeps me away from the studio. Visiting other artists’ studios is wonderful. Afterwards, I feel like I not only understand the artists’ work on a personal level, but it also reveals a strength or weakness in my own work. That fact is, I have learned more about what art is and what making means through conversations, interviews and studio visits than I ever have in academia.

Bird, Boat, Now (Detail)
Photograph, cigarette burn
9 x 12 inches

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

JJ: I think Boat, Bird, Now is my favorite piece, probably because it is still fresh to me. It tackles a lot of the same issues that Horizon Series does, but in a more compact, poetic way. The cigarette burn forces a connection between the boat and the bird while intersecting the horizon line. I am trying to control a beautiful image or moment in a physical way, or trying to relate to a moment that has passed but has been captured.

OPP: You've also recently launched a new initiative called Public Practice. What's your mission?

JJ: My wife Iga Puchalska and I moved to Rockford in July 2013. We immediately saw a need for more contemporary art and programming. Rockford is pigeonholed as one of the most “dangerous” or “miserable” cities in America, but it is gaining a lot of energy from creative people who are starting from the ground up.

Public Practice is not a physical site; rather it is a collection of culturally relevant, interdisciplinary projects. Our mission is to provide smart, engaging, challenging art programming to the Rockford community and beyond. These projects materialize through the collaboration between Public Practice and other organizations, spaces, businesses and artists. Each collaborator utilizes its own strengths and resources to formulate a project that is aimed at exposing the public to contemporary art with the goal of developing new social perspectives while expanding dialog between Rockford’s community and contemporary art practices.

We aim to be an educational entity, to the public as well as to the collaborators and ourselves. We invite the public to work with us, not as a means to an end, but in order to emphasize the practice of exchanging ideas through creative foundation. Iga and I are approaching Public Practice with a sense of sincerity, experimentation and resourcefulness. We are very excited because this project can have a very real impact on the community.


OPP: Do you have any projects lined up yet?

JJ: We just had our first successful project called Parade on June 13, 2014. In the spirit of collaboration and public engagement in the arts, we organized an art exhibition with artist Jesus Correa and Rockford Art Deli. We considered the parade as an art medium and the floats as art objects. Parade started in the public and invited the public to participate. Local and regional artists were invited to create "floats" to accompany them during the parade, which ended at an art exhibition at Rockford Art Deli. Along with the artists, the public was encouraged to join our sidewalk parade—which they did in great numbers! We had well over 100 people in the parade, representing the very diverse Rockford community. We hope to make this a yearly occurrence.

We are also teaming up with Conveyor, a space for live storytelling, to create a programming-heavy exhibition series. Because the aim of the project is to approach the artist’s practice as transparent, invited artists will be asked to create an alternative approach to programming. This programming will act as a springboard to demystify or intensify contexts within the work that is being exhibited. We are happy to have James T. Green as our first artist!

To view more of Jason's work, please visit jasonajudd.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joell Baxter

Magic Carpet, detail
Screenprinted paper, glue
5 x 96 x 96 inches

JOELL BAXTER's practice combines screenprinting, weaving, sculpture and color theory in an exploration of visual perception and physical response. The placement of her multicolored, paper weavings-turned-sculptures on the floor evokes minimalist sculpture and interior design staples like carpets and couches, while the simplicity of the weave structure brings to mind grade school craft projects. Beginning in September, she will be an Artist-in-Residence in The Space Program at Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation. Her solo project Coverer will be on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut until June 27, 2014. Then it travels to Greensboro, North Carolina to be part of the group exhibition Art on Paper 2014 at Weatherspoon Art Museum from September 27-December 21, 2014. Joell lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your trajectory as an artist and your influences.

Joell Baxter: I studied painting as an undergraduate, and I still think about what I do in relation to that tradition. But I have always made work that sits between disciplines and actively engages the viewer in different modes of looking. All of my work strongly references minimalism, in terms of its approach to space and to creating a one-on-one relationship between the viewer and the work. I use very basic processes and forms that are reminiscent of grade school arts and crafts projects like weaving potholders. I want to evoke an immediate sense of familiarity, almost a muscle memory of how the work was made. But after that initial response, I hope that what at first seemed familiar becomes strange and more complex.

My most important art historical influences include: Sol LeWitt’s visually complex works created from seemingly simple ideas; Agnes Martin’s meditative focus; Josef Albers’ articulation of the relative nature of color; and Anni Albers’ writings on the historical importance of textiles as a kind of portable architecture.

Untitled (Rolled)
Screenprinted paper, hand cut and woven; glue
5 x 17 x 40 inches

OPP: All the paper that you work with is screenprinted, but most of it is solid-colored paper. Is it significant that you don't purchase existing colored paper for use in your sculptures? 

JB: My decision to print all of my own paper is largely practical. I use a carefully calibrated pallet of 12 hues in 8 different degrees of saturation. It would be hard to find these 96 exact colors in a commercial paper. In more recent works—Magic Carpet and Coverer—I have been printing blends of complimentary colors, so the color isn’t solid anymore. After printing full sheets, the paper is cut down, glued into long strips and woven by hand.

I also really love the process of screenprinting. Printing flats and color-blends in particular is a very meditative act, and I find the repetitive action of flooding the screen and pulling the ink to be extremely conducive to thinking through ideas. I like the fact that, as a technology, screenprinting sits in this strange spot between handmade and mechanical. The screen and squeegee are mediating the application of color to the paper, but it still requires a very physical, human action.

Stack Overflow (detail)
Screenprinted paper, hand torn and stacked; tape
1 x 72 x 72 inches

OPP: Is the color distribution in your work more influenced by color theory or intuition? Is this planned in advance of beginning a piece?

JB: I am interested in understanding how light and visual perception work together to create an experience of color. My basic mode of using color is very systematic. As much as anything, it comes from the basic color theory one learns in elementary school: the color wheel, mixing secondary colors from primary colors and mixing compliments.

In planning my work, everything is extremely orderly and can be diagrammed as a set of instructions. I typically use colors in the order of the visible spectrum, so red follows orange follows yellow, and so on. But by weaving these colors together, they start to interact and become harder to name and distinguish. This is due to the inherent nature of weaving, where color relationships are constantly alternating through the pattern of over and under. So there is a kind of glitch introduced into the plans, forcing me to let go of absolute control over the results.

Endless Day, Endless Night (for g.m.b.)
Screenprinted paper, hand cut and woven; glue
2 parts, 5 x 46 x 46 inches each

OPP: Could you talk about the woven, pillow-like form you have repeatedly executed in paper and your choice to exhibit it on the floor?

JB: The pillow pieces are human in scale, about the right size to sit in comfortably, and the sunken void in the middle seems to invite the viewer in. Placed directly on the floor, they share real space with the viewer and could almost be functional. But then the opticality of the work and the fragility of the paper take over, and they become more like paintings or drawings that are holding themselves up in space. So you move between a very empathetic and physical response to the work, and a very visual one, without ever settling on one or the other.

Coverer, detail
Screenprinted paper, hand-cut and woven; glue; push pins
8 x 25 x 25 feet

OPP: Tell us about Coverer, your first solo exhibition, which is on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut until June 27, 2014.

JB: The installation at Real Art Ways is the first opportunity I’ve been given to use an entire room, so the work has really taken advantage of that. I began with the premise creating a visual experience of color in space that viewers could enter and explore and that makes use of the architecture. 

I use the same screenprinting and weaving process as the earlier pillows, but this piece is comprised of a modular series of flat, mesh panels laid directly onto the floor and walls in an intersecting pattern. Because of the gridded structure, the work functions as a kind of marking system that measures and diagrams the room. The diagramming is destabilized by an illusion injected into the color pattern of the woven panels; the edges blur and the colors fade as they move across the space. On close inspection, it becomes clear that the color is printed onto the woven paper. But when perceived as a whole, the weaves seem almost prismatic, as if they are catching and dispersing the light or, alternatively, as if the color is emanating from them, like a digital screen. So on the one hand the work clarifies and maps the physical space, but on the other it confuses and destabilizes the viewer’s perception. I am interested in this kind of toggling back and forth between visually grounding yourself and then losing your way again.

The viewer can actually walk into the work, stepping into the voids between the woven panels. In doing so, your view is reframed with every step. While I felt that it was conceptually important to be able to enter the piece, I was surprised by how active the work feels from a distance. The work is almost cubist in the way it constructs space. Just the act of moving your eyes around makes you aware of the way the images in your mind are constantly shifting and recombining. There is a bench in the room, and when you sit still, this constant shifting takes on a filmic quality. The piece seems to keep moving, and the light seems to flicker. So a viewer can move between active and passive modes of looking or watching the piece.

The last aspect of the work that felt important and new for me was its mutability and portability. The piece conforms absolutely to the architecture, while simultaneously affecting the experience of the space. But if the site changes, the piece can adapt and the conform to its new site in a modular way, and it can repeat this process indefinitely. I will be reinstalling Coverer in the fall at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The floors there are a different color and material, and there is natural light. It will be part of a group show, so the way that the work interacts with the space will be completely different and I am looking forward to seeing how that changes the piece.

To view more of Joell's work, please visit joellbaxter.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

The 2014 Maker Grant Recipients

Chicago Artists' Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels are proud to announce the recipients of the 2014 Maker Grant, an award opportunity for two Chicago-based contemporary visual artists who demonstrate a commitment to a sustainable artistic practice and career development. 

Thank you to the 2014 Jury
Greg Lunceford, curator of exhibitions, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events
Cesáreo Moreno, chief curator, National Museum of Mexican Art
Lori Waxman, Chicago-based critic and art historian.

This grant is funded in part by a portion of proceeds from Chicago Artists Coalition’s annual Starving Artist fundraiser and a matching contribution from OtherPeoplesPixels.

The Beast at Hyde Park Art Center

This year’s $3000 award was granted to John Preus, a Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist. Preus holds an MFA from the University of Chicago (2005), and studied furniture-making in Minnesota (1996-99) with celebrated furniture-maker John Nesset. He founded Dilettante Studios (2010), co-founded SHoP (2011), and Material Exchange (2005). Preus was the creative director of the Rebuild Foundation shop until 2012, and project lead for Theaster Gates' 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, at Documenta 13. Preus is currently the Jackman-Goldwasser resident at the Hyde Park Art Center, with a current solo exhibition, The Beast, now on view through August 3.

Sound Installation Proposal for Making the Unknown, Known #1 (Site-Specific projects for Little Village, Chicago)
Digital Rendering

This year’s $1000 award was granted to Maria Gaspar, who is engaged in transdisciplinary practices that individually or collectively mediate or occupy different sites to create ephemeral and permanent scenarios. Gaspar has presented work at the MCA Chicago, The Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art. Her performance work includes presentations at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson with La Pocha Nostra, the Athenaeum Theater in Chicago, and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San Antonio, TX. She is currently leading a series of long-term site-responsive projects, 96 ACRES, about the Cook County jail, the largest structure in her native community of Little Village. Gaspar is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the departments of Performance Art and Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Congratulations, John and Maria!

(Reposted from our partner on MAKER grant, Chicago Artists' Coalition)

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Courtney Puckett

Sea Lady
Metal, wire, wood, string
20 x 60 x 18 inches

COURTNEY PUCKETT’s work is an exciting collision of color, pattern and texture. Drawing on the history of the Fiber Art Movement, she employs traditional techniques such as wrapping, coiling and sewing to transform cast-off elements from furniture and domestic decoration—frames, fans, coat racks, table cloths—into unexpected abstractions. Courtney earned her BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art (2002) and her MFA from Hunter College (2007). She is a recipient of several National Endowment for the Arts project grants and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center, Buffalo National River in Arkansas and the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony in Woodstock, New York. Solo exhibitions include Mountain High (2011) at Central Utah Art Center in Ephraim, Utah and Recycled, Wrapped and Sewn (2010) at Valencia Community College’s Anita Wooten Gallery in Orlando, Florida. Courtney lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptures oscillate between formal abstraction—for example, Bug (2011) or Snail Potion (2012)—and "useful" objects, as in the walking sticks and lassos. But in both cases, textile materials and the traditional fiber techniques of coiling and wrapping are center stage. Could you talk generally about your interest in these techniques?

Courtney Puckett: Before I knew about the Fiber Art movement, I studied painting. As an undergraduate, I had reached a technical level of realistic painting that no longer interested me. I could have continued in this vein and found subjects to paint or forced myself towards abstraction. But instead I made a discovery that permanently subordinated paint as a medium for me. While experimenting with alternative painting surfaces, I came across a large, ripped, black duffel bag. With the intention of painting on it, I cut it up and sewed it back together flat. But when I hung it on the wall, I knew it didn’t need paint. The form and physical material already had everything in it that I was searching for. It satisfied my desire to find an alternative approach to painting and to align myself with women artists, particularly those in the 60s and 70s who challenged the (predominantly-masculine) rules of painting. What began as an intuitive gravitational pull toward soft materials has become a intentional reframing of techniques associated with “women’s work” in order to disrupt hierarchical and categorical divisions within art.

Lasso 32
Miscellaneous fabric scraps, string, yarn
19 x 10 x 2.5 inches

OPP: Could you talk specifically about your Lasso Series (2004-ongoing) Is your attraction to this form conceptual or formal? What does the lasso as a form mean to you?

CP: I began the Lasso Series in 2004 while living in New Mexico. I recycled scraps of unused fabric and discarded components from sculptures into long, coiled ropes and hung them in groups on the wall. The lasso is a metaphor for our persistent attempts to acquire, achieve, control, fulfill, capture. But often we fail. These aren’t Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso.

OPP: Looking at all the lassos together reminds me of Sheila Hicks' amazing book Weaving as Metaphor, in that she has a daily practice of exploring the aesthetics of one simple form—for her, the handheld loom. The variety is astounding. Sheila Hicks is probably the most well known artist who uses coiling and wrapping as a technique. Is she an influence for you?

CP: It is exciting that Sheila Hicks is receiving so much attention right now. I went straight to her work at the Whitney Biennial. However, I only found out about her work about five or six years ago. I took a bus to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia to see her 2011 retrospective, which was the first time I saw her work in person. I was totally jazzed. At that moment, I felt very proud to make the work I make. Her work gave me the permission—that for years I thought I needed—to work primarily with fabric and textile techniques. People have suggested to me a more mixed media approach, so as to not get labeled or pigeonholed. But Sheila Hicks’s work is powerful in its embrace of fiber mediums and disregard of categorization.

Back Yard Boogie Woogie 1
Fabric, wire, wood, yarn
94 x 14 x 19 inches

OPP: What role does time-tracking play in your work?

CP: The act of recording time is not an objective. My goal is more to lose track of time and enter a meditative, quiet, contemplative zone, often with nothing to listen to but the sounds outside my studio window. Time is obviously quite evident in the process; the labor evident in the work. This is more a result of the kind of intuitive physical relationship I have with the materials and processes—cutting, pasting, ripping, knotting—than as a subject itself. I like that the viewer has access to this intimate space that rewards slower reading.

OPP: Could you talk about your drawings on graph paper? Many of them are titled “Study for . . . .” Are the drawings just plans for the sculptures or something else?

CP: The drawings are like epilogues of the sculptures; they only reveal segments of the story. Typically, I do not begin with drawing. When I get lost or am not sure what move to make while working on the sculptures, I draw. It either sends me off in a new direction or helps me find my way back to the original logic of a piece. I think two-dimensionally like a painter, and drawing really helps to flatten things out. Recently, graph paper has been the most useful blank page for working out patterns and formal systems.

Cricket Comb (detail)
Fabric, wire, wood, yarn
108 x 28 x 15 inches

OPP: Materiality is clearly a driving force in your practice. You incorporate fabric, thread, wood, wire, yarn and found textiles like table cloths and men's ties. Are you more of a hunter, seeking out specific materials for your work, or a gather, saving whatever comes your way until you have a use for it?

CP: Both roles as you describe them appeal to me. I have been scavenging thrift stores for cast-off gems since the age of twelve before vintage stores popped up everywhere. It is still one of my favorite things to do when traveling to new places. Red, White & Blue Thrift outside of Trenton, New Jersey, where I teach, is one of the best I have ever been to. I have fantasies about supermarket sweeps there. I hunt cast-offs (usually textiles) that have aesthetic value and character that can play into one of my pieces. Often, I take in the trashed furniture parts from the alleys around my live/work space in Brooklyn. It is important for me to have plentiful fabric and furniture scraps on hand for spur of the moment re-workings. I’m not a hoarder though, and I do take time to toss things back to the curb.

OPP: Could you speak generally about this reworking of cast-offs you’ve mentioned? It’s more than a practical way to get materials or a clever way to recycle. How does this relate to the “reframing of techniques associated with ‘women’s work’”?

CP: I am drawn to art that recycles waste, that makes something extraordinary out of something ordinary, that examines the detritus of everyday life and, in particular, of domestic life. One early influence for me was Art Povera. I will never forget, while studying in the south of France, seeing Dieter Roth’s boiled-over stove at a museum. This was around the time I stopped painting and started using the refuse around me. Another important influence has been my mother, an interior designer, and the home I grew up in, which was an evolving experiment in the decorative arts. There was little distinction between material object and aesthetic experience. Her resourcefulness and creativity built a colorful living space for our family and special, meaningful objects that held a kind of magic. With sculpture you can use the physical, tactile energy of things. You can also transform them. In my work, I try to reconcile the perceived inferiority of fiber and craft materials with the assumed superiority of paint, concrete, steel and the still-hyper-masculine disciplines of painting and sculpture.

To view more of Courtney's work, please visit courtneypuckett.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Frank Oriti

Danny II
Oil and acrylic on canvas
48" x 60"

FRANK ORITI paints psychologically and emotionally honest portraits of “blue-collar, middle-class individuals returning to the hometowns and neighborhoods that they originally attempted to escape.” The juxtaposition of meticulously-detailed figures with flat, hazy backgrounds conveys a sense of limbo and highlights a nuanced experience of conflicted resignation and bold confidence in the face of uncertainty. Frank received his BFA from Bowling Green State University (2006) and his MFA from Ohio University (2011). His solo exhibitions include Return (2011) at The Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland and Homeland (2013) at Richard J. Demato Gallery in Sag Harbor, New York. In 2013, he was the recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize Emerging Artist Award. From September 13, 2014 to January 4, 2015, his work will be included in the group show Get Real: New American Paintings at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida. Frank lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was born and raised.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many of your paintings are based on your friends and family. These paintings are portraits in the traditional sense. But the individuals can also be viewed as symbolic of the "psychological state of settling," which you identify as a major theme in your work. Did this theme emerge from the individuals you chose to paint or did you seek out subjects that embody the theme you were interested in exploring in your work?

Frank Oriti: Originally the theme came from my own realization of what it was like to return home. After I received my BFA from Bowling Green State University, I didn’t really have a plan for the next chapter in my life. Things just seemed very uncertain. Around the same time, I realized that a lot of friends and family had also returned home from college and the military. So naturally, I wondered if they were experiencing the same thoughts and feelings about this return that I was having. Because the theme was sparked by my own sentiments, I think of these paintings partially as self-portraits.

Oil on canvas

OPP: Your blue-collar background and the fact that you worked at Cleveland's American Tank and Fabricating between undergrad and grad school are often cited in the intro paragraphs of interviews and reviews of your work, and I'm obviously bringing it up, too. The return home is a theme in your work, so your personal biography is relevant. Do you think critics, collectors and viewers romanticize these details? Or is this just a reasonable reference to details that inform the content of your work?

FO: I don’t really think it’s my place to say whether or not my personal history is being romanticized. I think any time a writer is doing a piece, it’s up to them to write something that will hopefully entertain and keep a reader’s interest. All I can do on my end of interviews and in talking about my work is be honest and tell my story. I was taught that, as an art-maker, it’s important to be honest about where your work is coming from and why you’re making it. I DO think that my post-undergrad time at home really sparked something. The thoughts and feelings I had during that time became a great reference point for what I was trying to say in my work when I started these portraits in graduate school at Ohio University.

Living Like Teenagers
Oil and acrylic on canvas
70" x 46"

OPP: Now that viewing artwork online is so common, one of the details that sometimes gets lost is the impact of scale. I experience so much artwork contained within my computer screen that I can only imagine what my physical response to seeing the work in person would be. Could you talk about the significance of scale in your work?

FO: I originally made these portraits at a true-to-life scale. I wanted the viewer to be drawn in to the gaze of the subjects. It was important for the viewer to relate to them as actual people, as much as possible, just by looking. Since the beginning of this series, I’ve always made portraits that gave off the presence of an actual person—portraits that were more life-like than a photo but stayed true to my representation of the individual at that time the work was created. More recently, I’ve found that by changing up the size of the painting, I’m able to experiment and have more fun with the format as well as the actual application of the paint.

There Is No In Between
Oil and acrylic on canvas covered panel
20" x 16"

OPP: Clarity (2014), Uniform (2013) and Without (2013)—among others—stand out because the subjects are painted in profile, as opposed to confronting the viewer with their confident gazes. These immediately brought to mind mugshots, although nothing else about the subjects evokes criminality. Could you talk about your choice to paint these subjects this way?

FO: I’ve always loved looking at the way portraits have been depicted through history in painting, and I wanted that appreciation to show through. I was thinking about how the figures in this series previously had their backs turned to the whited-out houses that represented our suburban landscape. Painting them in profile reveals the position of uncertainty: they are neither heading towards the landscape nor heading towards the viewer.  

OPP: In 2013, you won the $10,000 Cleveland Arts Prize for Emerging Artist. What was your first reaction when you heard the news?

FO: It sounds extremely cliché to say I really did not expect to win, but. . . I REALLY DID NOT EXPECT TO WIN! It was only my second year submitting. After seeing winners from previous years, I understood the winners were chosen from a very wide selection of the different categories of arts in town. As someone who is constantly submitting to competitions, shows and magazines, I try not to get too worked up about entering these sorts of things. You have to do your part to enter and then forget about it and get back to work so that you’re not stressing over it. When I received the call last year that I had won, I was speechless. It was a great thing to be recognized by my peers, especially in my hometown. It’s overwhelming to be a part of such a prestigious group of past winners.

Oil on panel

OPP: Practically speaking, how has this prize affected your art practice?

FO: When the art prize came along, I had just left my part-time job to concentrate on painting full time. I had also just moved into a studio space in Cleveland. So winning the prize was perfect timing. It helped out financially, allowing me to concentrate only on my painting as I was getting ready for my first solo show at Richard J. Demato Gallery in New York.

OPP: Now that you are a few years out of graduate school and many of the subjects of your paintings are also older, has the overall level of uncertainty shifted? Have you experienced anything new that might change the emotional nature of the portraits?

FO: I think now that I've become a little more settled in Cleveland and a little more comfortable with the work I'm creating, some of the issues I was dealing with when this work began have shifted slightly. I've gravitated more towards finding people I know who apply a blue collar work ethic to whatever it is that they do. I really enjoy connecting with hardworking people who know what it is like to put in a lot of time and effort into their jobs, even if they aren't the most glamorous jobs. It's that type of work ethic that I use daily in the studio, and I find it extremely inspiring.

To view more of Frank's work, please visit frankoritijr.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Cristi Rinklin

Migration 1
Oil and acrylic on aluminum
36" x 48"
Photo credit: Stewart Clements

CRISTI RINKLIN’s luscious landscapes are dense with undulating forms that hover somewhere between smoke, clouds, waves and vines. Beginning with digital collages constructed from details of existing landscape paintings, she seamlessly combines opposing styles, highlighting the “virtual reality” that has always been present in painting. Cristi graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BFA from Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1989 and earned her MFA from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1999. Her numerous solo shows include Diluvial (2012) at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire and Paracosmos (2010) at Boston’s Steven Zevitas Gallery, where she is scheduled to have another solo exhibition in January 2015. Before then, you can see her work in Forecasted: Eight Artists Explore the Nature of Climate Change at Northeastern University in October 2014. Cristi lives and works in Boston.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I would describe your style as a mash-up suggestive of illustration, painting, printing and digital manipulation. Your hard, graphic lines evoke Japanese Ukiyo-e landscapes, commercial illustration and comics, while soft fields of color remind me of watercolor landscapes and pictorialist landscapes. How does this amalgamation of styles get at your conceptual interests?

Cristi Rinklin: There definitely is a mash-up of painterly vocabulary happening in the work, and the references you identified, especially Japanese Ukiyo-e and pictorialist landscapes, are among the various works I’m sourcing. I start with elaborately orchestrated, digital collages combining details of paintings and backgrounds that are manipulated to create a seamless, yet impossible space. At times some of the objects in the paintings are in complete opposition to each other: flatness collides with atmospheric depth, and graphic linear forms overlay fleshy, voluminous shapes. I’m working towards a dreamy ambiguous space that is reminiscent of landscape, a familiar place where we feel grounded but which is in flux. It is either being created or being destroyed—or both.

Oil and acrylic on Dibond Aluminum
48" x 36"
Photo credit: Clements/ Howcroft, Boston, MA

OPP: The recurring, visual forms in your work border on abstraction while still evoking ambiguous landscape forms. Billowy, organic shapes appear in some works to be smoke. In others, these forms evoke waves and waterfalls, clouds and vines. Did you set out to create this ambiguity of form or did you discover the versatility during the process of painting?

CR: I’m interested in referencing landscape as something that is part of a deep memory, as if it no longer exists, and our impression of it is ambiguous, abstract or hard to pin down. Because the paintings start as digital collages, the manipulation and ambiguity is achieved in the studies that I create. I use a collected vocabulary of imagery and forms that I’ve been compiling over many years. The studies resemble the final paintings, but they don’t have the fleshy surfaces and great depth that the paintings have. Although the paintings are more or less predetermined, there are certain decisions and outcomes that happen during the process of painting, However, it’s less about improvisation and more about continually nudging the painting towards the thing I want it to do.

OPP: Take us back to the first time you made a painting based on a digital collage. Why did you first start working in this way?

CR: I first started working from digitally manipulated images in grad school, which was in the late 90s. At the time, it was a relatively new tool for art making, and I found that scanning and manipulating source material was a very convenient way to generate images for paintings. At first it was very basic and perfunctory, but the more I experimented with Photoshop, the more I became interested in how the computer has such a specific pictorial language that the way we see has become calibrated to screen space. I intentionally push colors to look synthetic, rather than organic, and I want the images to retain this feel of an artificial space.

Flashe on Duralar
32" x 24"
Photo credit: Clements/Howcroft, Boston, MA

OPP: I have to admit that I can't stop thinking of the black smoke from the television show Lost (2004-2010) and the title sequence from Dr. Who when looking at your work. Are either of these a visual reference for you? Can you give us some specific examples of non-painting influences? 

CR: That’s awesome that you thought of Lost. The black smoke was fascinating to me because I have long been interested in the physical representation of ephemeral things. The best example I can give of this is smoke and clouds in Renaissance prints. They always look solid and fleshy, and often times they’re carrying people, angels, saints, etc. It’s like the divine transportation vehicle. A lot of the billowy forms in my paintings look as if they are sentient, like they’re consciously advancing, sometimes in a menacing way. When the Iceland volcano erupted a few years back, I was enthralled by all of the images in the news and on the Internet of all that billowing smoke. While it was so beautiful to behold from a distance, it was also a reminder of how powerless we are against the fury of nature.

Site Specific Installation, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH
Lambda Duraclear prints, wallpaper and wall mural
Photo credit: Jeffrey Nintzel

OPP: In 2012, your installation Diluvial at the Currier Museum of Art (Manchester, NH) was an immersive environment that included printed wallpaper and a wall mural and used the existing window as a light box for your Lambda Duraclear prints. Could you talk about the site-specificity of this installation and how the imagery portrayed a "world undergoing creation and destruction?"

CR: That was an amazing opportunity! I was invited to create this installation specifically for the Currier, in response to its history and its collection. I had done other installations like this previously, and I was excited to take on another large-scale immersive project. The Currier’s collection originated with 19th century American landscape painting, and since I had already been looking at and sourcing a lot of this work, that resonated with me. When I began brainstorming for Diluvial, I also heavily considered the New Hampshire region that was represented in a lot of the paintings in the collection. In my research, I found that many of the artists of this period, such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, were deeply interested in geology. Their contemporaries in the Earth Sciences were attempting to prove that the American landscape was forged by the Great Biblical Flood, therefore giving it divine status. The word diluvial refers to geological formations and deposits that are forged by flood or glacial activity. Because I’m interested in cataclysmic and catastrophic phenomena, this idea really resonated with me, so I set about creating an immersive experience that had the feel of the landscape being swept away by a huge force of water. It’s beautiful as well as terrifying, as great change always is. I often think about what it will be like in a post-human world. What will be gone and what will remain? While it’s scary to contemplate, there is also something poetic about nature surviving beyond human existence.

Orphan Series
Oil and acrylic on aluminum
9 individual panels hung in grid, each 18" x 15"
Photo Credit: Stewart Clements

OPP: In your newest work from 2014, there's a distinct collision, not only of painting styles, but also of opposing ethics from painting history: flatness meets perspective. The smoke is now utterly flat to the degree that, had I not seen your previous work, I would not interpret it as smoke. What led to this shift?

CR: If you go back to some of my very early work in the Archived section of my website, you’ll see how the new work has actually come full circle. While making Diluvial, I researched scenic wallpapers and designed one for the installation. I became intrigued by the idea that these scenic wallpapers were created to psychically transport viewers to idealized, pastoral landscapes. I decided that after the installation, I would explore the simplified and idealized space of scenic wallpaper, in which fragmented chunks of landscape float throughout the space. While I was experimenting with sketches and studies for these paintings, I began to ask myself, “what is essential, what is unnecessary and what can I leave out?” When I arrived at the large, flat cloud-shapes in these new paintings, they felt fresh to me. It referred to cloud, but also to a void; it became both positive and negative space. The cloud formation has been a part of my work for a long time, and in these new paintings, it’s simply a new evolution of this form.

To see more of Cristi's work, please visit cristirinklin.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Menchaca

Ondersoort Onderlijnen Bo
25" x 19"

MICHAEL MENCHACA’s signature graphic style combines the aesthetics and recurring visual motifs of cartoons and Mesoamerican iconography. He re-imagines current events along the U.S.-Mexican border as part of a mythic allegory in his screenprints, installations and digital animations. His work is on view until July 27, 2014 in Estampas de la Raza/Prints for the People: The Romo Collection at the North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh). You can also see his work in Galeria Sin Fronteras at the National Museum of Mexican Art (Chicago) through August 2014. Michael currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he is an MFA candidate in Printmaking at Rhode Island School of Design.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do cartoons and Mesoamerican iconography have in common and how do they support your conceptual interests?

Michael Menchaca: The Codex Migratus print series is my attempt to chronicle contemporary events involving drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal immigration in the format of an ancient Mesoamerican codex. Codices are pictorial manuscripts that documented ritual, bloodlines and social class. They often depicted supernatural imagery with bold outlines and flat graphic representation. By combining the format of an ancient Mesoamerican codex with Modern-era cartoons, I aim to present a hybrid, pictorial narrative that transcends time and space, allows for multiple perspectives and reflects the complex nature of migration to the U.S.

Spics 'N' Dip
11" x 14"

OPP: In a 2012 interview with mysanantonio.com, you said “I never wanted to do anything that had to do with my cultural heritage because I felt that was just expected of me. I just ended up drawing a cat and then added a mustache. . .  I started researching Mexican folk art, and I realized how out of touch I am with my own culture. I started asking my mom how she was raised up and how I was raised up. I saw how different it is for me in the States because she was raised in Mexico. I grew up like a regular American kid.” When did you first experience this expectation that, because of your Mexican heritage, you should make art about being Mexican?

MM: I don’t think that it was ever a concrete expectation. I never explicitly had anyone say to me in school, “you should make art about your Mexican ancestry.” However, early on in my art education, I did feel an implication directed towards me to make personal expressions that reflected my cultural heritage. The impulse for me at that time was to go in the opposite direction and try and reconcile with a conventional, bourgeois art aesthetic. It wasn’t until my time at Texas State University where I earned my BFA that I began to work out how to address a history pertaining to me in a way that was true to my experience.

OPP: Your project Codex Migratus (2011 - ongoing) uses allegory and the form of the codex to chronicle current events along the U.S.-Mexican border. Rats with machine guns represent the border patrol and cats with mustaches represent the Mexican immigrants. But don't cats usually chase mice? Is this a subversion of the Tom-and-Jerry trope?

MM: Yes. Tom and Jerry has been a great influence. This role-reversal is integral to the allegory I’m working in. However, I prefer not to expand on how natural laws work within this realm, as I’m keen to keeping a level of mystery intact. I am fascinated by mythical stories, and there’s a lot of play and wiggle room when interpreting myths. This, in no small part, contributes to their lasting appeal. I’d like my work to exist within this framework.

Creatio Episodium Megafauna I
Digital Animation

OPP: You've also explored the same themes, allegories and imagery in digital animation. In Codex Vidiot Vidi (2013) your recognizable iconography is combined with what sounds like audio from video games. In Creatio Episodium Megafauna I (2012), I hear music and sound effects that remind me of old-timey cartoons. Could you talk about how audio and animation changes the tone of your static imagery?

MM: There is a sense of infinite space in the prints; the viewers are free to animate for themselves. In the videos, the moving figures and sound create a new level of experience and interpretation. I’m very new to working with sound and am currently invested in it as a means of orchestrating a narrative. For example, sound is the defining factor in Codex Heterogeneous. It carries the story and acts as the container for the content.

Crooked American Boarders: The Beaner Express
Mixed media installation

OPP: You shifted the scale of your iconography dramatically in a three-dimensional installation called Crooked American Boarders: The Beaner Express (2011) and in Autos Sacramentales (2013), a window installation at Artpace in San Antonio. Did viewers respond differently to the work at this scale?

MM: The shift in scale allowed the audience to walk inside a narrative structure. In that sense, these pieces explored the possibility of audience interaction in the physical sense. I could never have anticipated the capacity of a younger generation to see these installations as photo opportunities. I think that’s something worth considering for a future project.

OPP: From a purely process perspective, how was the experience of creating imagery at this scale different than drawing and screenprinting? What did you like? What did you not like?

MM: Working on a larger scale requires more time, a huge substrate and a lot of pigment. It can sometimes get expensive so that’s the part I’m not too fond of. I enjoy the exaggerated, physical interaction between your body and the final piece. For these installations, I had the opportunity to work with vinyl, plexiglass and insulation foam, which are normally used for commercial advertisements. I like the way these signage materials inform the content of my work.

Oculus Ceremonia
Site-specific installation
Photo credit: Jane Long

OPP: You are smack dab in the middle of graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design right now. What's changed about your work since you've been there? What's the most unexpected thing about grad school?

MM: My time at RISD has so far been incredibly resourceful. I’m working amongst a community of extremely talented artists and have a good feedback situation. I have a sense of direction that I haven’t had in a while. My studio practice has embraced working in new technologies that wouldn’t be otherwise accessible. It’s also given me freedom to explore, to spend time, to waste time, to discuss, to write, to read, to study, to fail miserably without hesitation. There’s a lot of digesting taking place, and I look forward to the part where I finally get to excrete it all out.

OPP: You were awarded a travel grant to visit Sri Lanka in January 2014 through RISD’s DESINE-lab. Can you tell us about the program and what you worked on while there?

MM: DESINE-lab@RISD is an initiative founded by Elizabeth Dean Hermann, Professor of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at RISD. The lab focuses on developing solutions for communities in economic, social and environmental need. Following a civil war, Sri Lanka is undergoing a state of transition. Along with a group of very talented RISD students, I engaged with local organizations to address social issues and sustainability. The grant allowed me to visit textile initiatives, sacred Buddhist sites and temples as well as historical sites across the country. I learned the art of Batik, a wax-resist method of dying fabric. I also had the opportunity to host a screenprint workshop for children and widowed women at an orphanage in Kilinochchi. This grant has sparked an interest in global religious practices.

OPP: Is that what led to your most recent piece Oculus Ceremonia? Can you explain the installation for our readers and talk about the connection between the immersive technology you use and ceremonial practices?

MM: Oculus Ceremonia is a piece that uses a virtual reality headset, known as the Oculus Rift, to submerge the viewer into a 360 degree digital space. In order to enter the digital world, the person must put on a mask. I think of the piece as ceremonial in that it gives an individual viewer limited access to a transcendental space where they then perform for an external audience much in the same way as a shaman. I had a platform for each "performer" to stand on and had a looping projection behind them. Luckily no one fell off the stage and got injured.

To see more of Michael's work, please visit michaelmenchaca.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Serena Cole

Black Mirror I (detail)
Colored pencil and gouache on paper
35" x 28"

SERENA COLE positions herself as a “hopeless outsider and wary researcher,” as well as as “a cultural anthropologist and an obsessive, self-aware consumer of highly seductive imagery.” Her drawings in colored pencil, gouache, watercolor and ink explore both the repulsion and attraction to an unattainable fantasy promised by fashion advertising. Serena received her MFA (2011) from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is currently an instructor at the Art Studio at UC Berkeley. Her solo exhibitions include Through the Glass Darkly (2012) at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis and I Wanna Be Adored (2009) at Triple Base Gallery in San Francisco. Serena lives and works in the Bay Area.

OtherPeoplesPixels: According to your bio, "[An] extreme isolation from culture and civilization created a fetishized association with anything perceived of as high art, fashion, or wealth. [Serena] can still recall every page of the only Vogue she was ever given as a child. This incurable affliction followed her into adulthood and her art career. . ." How does your personal experience of fashion magazines influence the art work you make based on this source material?

Serena Cole: I cite this little snippet from my childhood to offer anyone interested in my work the specific root of my obsessions. In many ways, my reaction to a lot of this imagery was similar to that of any other teen girl. It's almost ingrained in girl culture to rip a picture of a something you like out of a magazine and stick it to the wall. However, because I was so far removed from the reality of anything I wanted—a pair of jeans or being at a cool art party or buying even a new album at a record store—my obsessions and fantasies became my dreamscape. I lived in them entirely to avoid the fact that I was physically in the middle of nowhere. I didn't need the real thing, so particularly unattainable images like fashion ads weren't and still aren't problematic for me. I much prefer to live in the fantasy of the images I am drawn to. It’s like living in the Matrix. My drawings allow me to stay there as long as I want, but I can also completely control the dream. I can change the colors, change the composition, change the facial features. I can be outside, looking in. But I also create the fantasy from the inside out in my drawings, allowing me to have pure dominion over all my desires. 

I'm Dead, I'm Dead, I'm Dead
Watercolor, colored pencil, ink, gouache, photo transfer, and gold leaf on paper
46" x 36"

OPP: Are your drawings recreations of specific images taken from magazines? How much do you modify the image in your process? What kinds of images are you most attracted to?

SC: I am mostly drawn to images of people. I am interested in the psychological aspects of the facial expressions and of the gaze. I find all the sources for my drawings in expensive fashion magazines because I am deeply fascinated by the model or celebrity as a vehicle for fantasies. These images of people are made to be looked at, but not only that. They are made to exist as avatars. A glimpse of what kind of you is possible with the right merchandise. It is fascinating that the people in these high-end fantasy images are often emotionally distraught or completely vacant, almost dead. It suggests to me that we don't always fantasize about being one kind of person, but many fucked-up versions of ourselves. I modify these images only slightly, sometimes making these avatar creatures even more emotional, dark or sickly. It comes from a need to control them, instead of feeling that they are superior to me in some way. They become an army of versions of me.

OPP: Why do all these women seem so sad? Do you consciously avoid the fashion campaigns that employ images of joie de vivre?

SC: I have no interest in happy paintings in the same way I can't listen to the Cure past 1989 because they suddenly cheered up. I am interested in telling a subtle story with the expressions in my work, and there is no story in happy. It's boring to me because I am still an angsty teenager stuck in my room.

Ecstasy Face V
Watercolor, colored pencil, and gouache on paper
24" x 20"

OPP: The titles in your Tropes (2010-2012) are really successful at highlighting your position as a self-proclaimed "wary researcher," a cultural anthropologist" and "an obsessive, self-aware consumer." You've identified recurring visual tropes in fashion advertising in works like Ecstasy Face IV, We Wish We Could Find the Sublime I (2011) and I'm An Animal, I'm Going to Eat You I (2010). Do you think the average consumer of these magazines is oblivious or savvy to these tropes nowadays?

SC: I'm not sure what the average consumer thinks. I don't feel it is my job to teach anyone anything that they are not already picking up on. I might not even be right about the armchair psychology findings that I'm presenting. I do find that, in talking to people about my source material, I am always asked to choose a side: am I for or against fashion? This comes from a variety of political beliefs that people are entitled to have. But I would really rather be talking with people about the nuances and hypocrisies of our own dreams, fears and desires. I am 100% aware that I am drawn to sick, unlivable, sexist images. It doesn't mean that I REALLY want it. I just want it for a second. Advertising is highly sophisticated and complex, and there's no surprise that what I want is unattainable. That is practically the definition of desire. But I feel like the difference is owning up to those desires, of being able to admit that you sometimes DO want to be comatose, sexually sublimated, socially deviant, etc. Most people are not honest enough with themselves.

Black Mirror II
Colored pencil and gouache on paper
24" x 36"

OPP: Tell us about your most recent body of work Black Mirrors. What are these drawings reflecting?

SC: I was mostly thinking about my relationship and reaction to specific images I gathered of models who were acknowledging their own positions as subjects of desire. As idealized magazine figures, they were photographed for the purpose of evoking someone else's desire. However, they don't give you exactly what you want from them. These are not pin-ups with come-hither expressions. These are images of subjects choosing to confront the viewer. They look back, essentially making the viewer into the subject. This complicated relationship between desiring/being desired/seeing yourself as being desired is an example of Lacan's psychoanalytic theory of the Mirror Stage (a greater 'gestalt' figure versus reality). I found myself looking at these models as versions of who I wished I was. I also wanted to give them more autonomy than they have in the original photos. These mirrors of me as my fantasy selves are also pissed at being made into subjects, so I gave them all I-don't-give-a-fuck expressions.

OPP: What's going on in your studio right now?

SC: I have my hands in a lot of different cookie jars at the moment. As an experiment, I've been taking my own photographs to paint from, researching objects and figures I desire or find intriguing. I'm working on two series, one of people I know and the other of floral still lives I find. I also have a body of work of narrative, fucked-up, slightly surreal large-scale paintings that are taking a very long time to finish. And I am working on experiments with more three-dimensional, paper headdress projects. It's difficult to prepare for any kind of show working in this way, but all these projects inform each other. With more time, I hope to have a number of paintings I am happy with.

To see more of Serena's work, please visit serenacole.org.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.