BRENT FOGT courts the unknown in an intuitive exploration
of materiality, accumulation and, more recently, the tension between
organic and designed form. The foundational gesture in his practice is the slow build-up and evolution of marks, evident in tiny, drawn
circles, crochet stitches, cut up bits of paper or unique prints of
twigs and leaves. In recent sculptures, he adds the marks of urban life (found
furniture fragments) and of nature (fallen branches). Brent earned his
BFA in Studio Art with Highest Honors from University of Texas at Austin
and his MFA
from the University of Michigan. His work has been featured in New American Paintings and Art in America
and in solo shows at Terrain Exhibitions (Chicago, 2014), Austin College (Sherman, Texas, 2012),
Emory University (Atlanta, 2009) and the Lawndale Art Center (Houston,
2009). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at the I-Park
Foundation (2015), the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2014), Yaddo
(2013) and the Vermont Studio Center (2009). Brent has recently reviewed
Chicago-based exhibitions for New City and Bad at Sports. He lives and works in Chicago.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a difference between the marks you make and the ones you allow to accumulate?
Brent Fogt: In all of my work, I am driven by the question: what would happen if…?
I love to experiment with new processes and techniques, and when I
think I’ve been repeating myself, I try to complicate the process or
come up with a new one.
There is an organic quality to almost all of the work I create, whether I am making the marks or I am using a process that removes my hand from the equation. When I started making rain drawings, I was amazed at how much they looked like my Circle Drawings. By drawing circles over and over I was imitating natural processes.
What I like about work where my hand is more present—whether it is my collages, drawings or sculptures—is the presence of imperfections. A close inspection of my Circle Drawings, for instance, reveals oblong circles, overlapping lines and ink smears. The rectangular pieces of paper I cut for collages are always slightly askew, and my crochet stitches range from too tight to too loose.
OPP: What’s more important in your practice: yielding to your materials or controlling them?
I probably yield to my materials more than I try to control them. When I
begin working, I don’t know how a final piece is going to look. Rather,
I take cues from my materials. With my most recent sculptures, for
instance, I think a lot about how pieces fit together. I try many
combinations until it becomes obvious that, say, the V shape of this
branch perfectly complements the curve of another branch.
With many of my rain drawings, I yield completely to them, not adding any extra marks. With others, I am interested in seeing what would happen if I add my own marks or transform them into collages.
OPP: Can you explain the process for your Rain Drawings and how they feed into your shingled collages?
BF: I actually wrote out the instructions for making rain drawings for some friends who were interested in making them.
a) Place some sturdy paper in the rain (you’ll be handling it when it’s wet so the paper needs some heft).
b) While the paper gets wet, go foraging for leaves, twigs, pine needles (these work really well), grass, bark, anything organic really.
c) spread the organic materials all over the paper.
d) sprinkle ink over the organic materials and the paper. I like to start with diluted ink (the ink doesn’t have to be black; can be any color) in a 10-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
e)Sprinkle darker ink, a 4-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
f) Let the paper dry. If you’re outside, leaving the paper in the grass is a good idea, because air will reach the bottom of the paper and aid in drying.
g) Once the paper is completely dry, brush off all the organic materials, and you’re done!
The process is pure joy, because you never know how they are going to turn out. After a while, however, I started wondering how I could combine this process with a secondary process that was more rooted in geometry. I experimented with cutting up the rain drawings into squares and collaging them, but these first efforts seemed to reference pixels and computer screens, which I did not intend. The best solution I found was to cut the rain drawings into rectangular pieces and arrange them according to value, going from darkest in the middle to lightest on the periphery. This strategy maintained a strict geometry, but visually has more in common with weavings than computer screens. And since I placed each rectangle based strictly on value, it took color decisions out of the equation.
OPP: Speaking of color, it is generally—with a few exceptions—very sparse in your work. How do you make decisions about color in other projects?
BF: Color is tricky for me because I was diagnosed pretty early on in my life with mild color blindness. As a result, I don’t trust that what I see is what others will see. At times, I avoid color altogether. In my early circle drawings, I used black pens on white paper and nothing else. After a couple of years, however, when I was looking to add another variable into the work, I took tentative steps into color, using blue and green pens and some graphite.
One strategy I have is to use “found color.” With my very latest sculptures, for instance, I photographed the floors of the space where I eventually will be showing them, opened up the photos in Photoshop and used the eyedropper tool to figure out how I could mix them. It turned out that I could make one of the colors with four parts yellow, two parts light blue and one part magenta. I made that color and then mixed it with white gesso. A long time ago, I made paintings in a similar way, finding color combinations in magazines that I liked, then figuring out how to mix them. My assumption is that someone with a better color sense than I have made them, so why not try them.
OPP: You’ve been using crochet in your practice since 2008. Earlier installations—at Chicago Artist Coalition, at Dominican University and at Terrain—evoke
other-worldly hanging plants or hives. They emphasize the capacity of
crochet to grow organically as stitches accumulate. More recently in
discrete sculptures like Last Leg or SonRisa,
the crochet becomes a skin, bandage or clothing, stretched taut to hold
found fragments of discarded furniture and fallen branches together.
Can you the discuss this shift and the introduction of hard lines and
angles into your visual vocabulary, which used to be dominated by
circles and organic lines?
BF: The hanging pieces got bigger and bigger over the years until I started thinking about them less as otherworldly objects and more as potential containers for people. At an exhibition at the A&D Gallery at Columbia College, in fact, I invited people to get inside of them, and many did. My own experience getting inside the pieces was really interesting. I felt a real sense of calm and felt totally safe and protected.
The next step might have been to make the crocheted sculptures even larger so that multiple people could have gotten inside them. I made lots of sketches and thought I was going to move in this direction, but when I started thinking about how to create more sophisticated substructures to support the larger pieces, I changed my mind. The substructures themselves— the bones of the piece— became more intriguing.
Right around that time, I also started collecting discarded furniture. I began cutting up the furniture and combining it with fallen branches to create armatures for sculptures, playing up the tension between the mass-produced, hard-edged pieces that I was finding and the more organic shapes of the branches. The pieces you mentioned, Last Leg and SonRisa, are two of about five works in this category. As with the earlier, more organic work, I still relied on crochet as a skin to cover the bones or substructure.
The work I have underway in my studio right now represents another shift. I am leaving much more of the bones uncovered, but I am strategically crocheting or wrapping the places where the bones connect as if I were symbolically healing or repairing the sculptures.
The pieces are becoming increasingly vulnerable. They began as fully formed hives, homes, nests and have evolved into sculptures that are increasingly fragmentary, tenuous and fragile.
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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.