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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.