Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
16" by 20"
DAN SCHANK's mixed media works combine painting, drawing and collage to reveal a desolate post-apocalyptic, but surprisingly decorative landscape. He uses aesthetics to balance a tendency to see only doom in his world of ruins, asking the viewer to also note the triumph of nature as it wins its territory back from civilization. His newest series Dropouts will be at Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art in Philadelphia from September 13th through October 20th, 2012. Dan Schank lives in Erie, PA.
OtherPeoplesPixels:Please tell us about the process of making your collage, paintings and drawings on board. How much is cutting? How much is painting? Does one part come before the other?Dan Schank: For about seven years, I've worked exclusively with cut paper on panel. Almost all of the painting is done on small sheets of paper (usually with gouache, pencil and India ink), which are later cut according to my specifications and adhered to the board's surface. Generally, at least two-thirds of the overall labor is done before I begin attaching things to the panels. The painting process takes the vast majority of my time, because the imagery is almost always repetitive and highly detailed. Cutting things out is time consuming as well, for the same reasons. On the other hand, the process usually comes to life for me when I finally get to arrange all the bits and apply them to the surface. This stage is the most intuitive, risky, and rewarding, despite taking the least amount of time.
Wrap It Up
Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
12" by 12"
OPP: What's most interesting about your work for me is the juxtaposition of the decorative with the post-apocalyptic. Your work is filled with walled-in, fortified dwellings that are partly built on old clothes and blankets and cushions. There's a lot of push and pull between soft and hard, protection and comfort. But the decorative elements don't only come from decorative objects. Sometimes the smoke, clouds and fire are patterned as well, as in Broken Eggs for Breakfast (2008). How do aesthetics, like pattern, color and flatness, relate to your subject matter?DS: There are a number of potential problems I encounter while working with apocalyptic imagery. For example, any time I aestheticize an image of social unrest, I run the risk of treating real-world inequality as something titillating and exotic. There's been an interesting conversation about this issue surrounding the rise of “ruin porn” photography—and the emergence of Detroit as the photographic emblem of contemporary squalor. At their worst, these images can supplement a growing fatalism about shared social spaces in America. When the visuals are too bogged down in death and decline, it becomes hard to recognize any need for social responsibility or potential for transformation. Many of the contradictions you've noted in your question (soft/hard, decorative/disturbing, etc.) are, in a sense, my attempt to transform my own ruinous imagery into something less distant and more intimate. My work is in large part a response to the physical landscape that surrounds me. For example, in the part of Philadelphia I lived in for nine years (Fishtown), gentrification produces as much waste as decay or neglect. In that part of town, old row homes are constantly being destroyed, dismantled or upgraded. These transformations produce plenty of discarded remains, and often make class distinctions in the neighborhood (which is an oil-and-water mix of working class families and aging hipsters like myself) explicitly visible. In Fishtown, ultra-modern, eco-friendly condominiums sit wedged between corner stores and boarded up buildings. It's not simply a landscape of desolation or abandonment—it's also a world of scaffolds, plywood and endless construction. Innovation, inequality, commerce and counterculture coexist simultaneously. I have conflicting feelings about this, some positive and some negative. Hopefully my approach to aesthetics reflects my uncertainty.Something that I think has been a bit lacking in the critical response to “ruin porn” is a real engagement with its depiction of the non-man-made world. When I look at the “feral houses” of photographer James D. Griffioen, for example, I don't immediately lament the “death of an American city” or whatever. Instead, I marvel at the ability of the natural world to reclaim human spaces. The images are, in a sense, full of life. It's just plant life instead of human life. Obviously, there's a danger here of reducing real social conditions to the sublime—if I lived beside one of Griffioen's specimens, I'm sure my aesthetic admiration for them would wear out quickly. Still, I really respond to his concept of nature—as something resilient, invasive, wild, and unwarranted. It's like “the return of the repressed” applied to botany. By decentralizing the human fingerprint, Griffioen's images force me to reconsider my place in the world's ecology, as well as my presumed hegemony over it as a member of the human race.My paintings are obviously and intentionally apocalyptic. But my work isn't only a response to urban decay. It's also a response to human innovation, “natural world” innovation, and my own weirdo anxieties. Its apocalyptic bombast is always tempered by the intimate circumstances of my everyday life. I think this is where the softness you recognize in the paintings fits in. I'm not interested in rendering some icy culture-in-decline. I've lived a life of considerable privilege and that's not my reality.
mixed media: colored pencil, gouache and paper collage on board
18" by 24"
OPP: These landscapes are completely unpeopled. In some pieces, it seems that the shirts and ties and blocks are just remnants of a dead civilization. But in others, like What's Next(2010), houseplants and smoke coming from the chimney makes me think that people have survived. Are there people inside the dwellings you draw? Do you have stories for them?DS: For me, it's more about rendering a universe than telling a story. There are no linear narratives hidden within my paintings, but I like to think they all take place in the same world. The artists who influence me most – like the painter Philip Guston or the filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liang—tend to produce work that exists within its own evolving, idiosyncratic (yet clearly defined) universe as well.I definitely don't look at my landscapes as remnants of a dead civilization for reasons listed above. But I do avoid depicting people directly. There are a number of reasons for this. One is a matter of scale. I love playing with different concepts of space—perspectival space, decorative space, isometric space, and so on—and this makes proportional scale difficult to comprehend. I like this uncertainty, and I fear that if I added a recognizable figure to my ingredients, the other imagery would automatically organize itself around it. In any landscape painting, it's always tempting to imagine oneself inhabiting the space depicted. I like the idea of someone looking at my work and having to really think through how (and where) that might be possible.I also try to bestow as much personality as possible onto the objects I depict. In a sense, I think of the “stuff” in my work (potted plants, laundry, deck chairs, etc.) as figures. When I was a kid, I always loved the fantasy of my belongings coming to life. This might sound sentimental, but I try to retain a bit of that spirit as an adult. When I think of objects having, let's say, a lifelike significance, it becomes harder to ignore them, discard them or take them for granted. I guess I want to live in a world where people are more eager to notice things in general. By denying the easy empathy of a face or body, I try to encourage more active engagement.
Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
30" by 40"
OPP: Your style evokes the flatness of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. Is that an influence for you? DS: When I first started seriously painting, a lot of my imagery was coming much more directly from a Pop Art aesthetic. By the time I got to grad school, my work was becoming much less of a response to pop culture, and I began looking for a different approach. One thing I've retained from my early days is an interest in drawing, line-work, and gesture. I struggled to find a way to renew the drawing flourishes I'd developed through comic book imagery and the like, while distancing myself from the ironic trappings that can come from it. The Ukiyo-e printmaking tradition is something I turned to to sort this all out. There's a disciplined elegance to the draftsmanship that I really admire, as well as a flat-but-panoramic sense of space that helps me to organize my imagery. I don't want to make too much of this, though. Ukiyo-e printmaking isn't something I've studied in great detail intellectually. And I certainly don't want my work to be seen as any critique of its ideology. But it's absolutely a style and practice I admire greatly. In fact, answering this question reminds me that I should devote more time to reading up on it!
Mixed media: pencil, gouache and paper collage on board
24" by 30"
OPP: Speaking of floating worlds, tell us about your newest series Dropouts.DS: This will be my second solo show with Rebekah Templeton. They've always been very gracious and open-minded about my ideas, so I decided to try something more thematically unified than usual for the exhibition. In a nutshell, the paintings in Dropouts all respond to utopian sea colonization projects. I'll try my best to summarize the admittedly (gleefully?) convoluted concept behind it...I got the idea for the series after reading an essay by the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, someone whose work and ideas I really admire. In it, Curtis tells the story of Knut Kloster, the co-founder of Norwegian Cruise lines. Kloster was apparently an extremely idealistic person who thought he could use his cruise ships as a way to introduce affluent communities to the third world, thus showcasing a more benevolent version of capitalism in the process. In Curtis' assessment, this proved disastrous, and the cruise ship industry slowly evolved in favor of the hedonism and escapism that defines it today, for better or worse.The essay got me thinking of the “cruise ship at sea” as an updated (and extremely sanitized) variation on the fantasy of the Western frontier. Frontier fantasies also tend to lurk beneath a lot of apocalyptic narratives. The romance behind both seems connected to the Hollywood Western mythos and the concept of manifest destiny. In the cruise ship fantasy, the ocean becomes a sublime terrain for tourists to venture off into. Instead of heading west in search of gold, one heads toward the Caribbean in search of rest and relaxation. In the apocalyptic version, a nuclear explosion or zombie epidemic transforms local space into a danger zone of potential catastrophe, thus rendering the familiar unfamiliar and promising foreboding, nomadic adventures of the kind John Wayne endures in Stagecoach. These ideas sent me off on a week-long googling adventure, in search of anything and everything about utopias-at-sea. Eventually my cyber-sleuthing lead to more recent organizations like the Seasteading Institute, which takes the frontier fantasy a step further. At the Seasteading Institute, a group of libertarians and “anarcho-capitalists” (funded in part by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal) are attempting to literally construct inhabitable islands in the ocean to escape the confines of government regulation. There's been a lot of press about the idea of “seasteading” recently, most of it taking its practitioners to task for being ridiculous (which is fair enough, in my opinion). But I also see seasteading as a perverse end game to the rise of extreme individualism that's occurred during my lifetime. These projects are like bizarro-world hippie communes, where all notions of social justice have been weeded out in favor of absolute self interest. Humankind becomes quite literally “an island unto itself.” As anti-establishment outposts, they're a far cry from the “property is theft” model of the 60's and 70's. Their utopia is my dystopia, I guess. Seasteading is emblematic of what I see as a growing inability to imagine social relations as something distinct from market relations.
In the Dropouts project, I've been combining some of the imagery pertaining to these utopian architectural models with my usual iconography. I'm also thinking a lot about the romance of the sea and its often melodramatic history in painting—through the imagery of the shipwreck, for example. It's been challenging to begin with source materials that are still, for the most part, an imagined ideal or fantasy. As I type this, with the exception of anomalies like the long-gone Republic of Minerva, no actual seasteads have been established. So the project stresses the fantasy element to a greater degree, and is more explicitly dystopic. For years, I've been painting ambiguously animate ruins of one kind or another. This time I'm beginning with ideological ruins in need of greater rehabilitation than usual.
Doppelbangers (holding hands we both abandon sorrow) 2010
DAWN FRASCH’s paintings, drawings and videos are intensely visceral, teetering on the line between the beautiful and the grotesque. Her work references both art history and pop culture, using the female form, not as an object, but as a vehicle to explore subjective experiences of trauma, desire, and horror. Dawn exhibits internationally and lives in Brooklyn, New York.OtherPeoplesPixels: You make paintings and drawings, but you also make videos that combine stop-motion animation with live action, and some of these make use of the imagery from the paintings and drawings. Could you talk a bit about your influences and how each of your media feeds into the others?Dawn Frasch: Artists I love, like James Ensor and Géricault, kept objects in their studio to work from. These guys use masks, dead fish, and exhumed body parts, all of which which inspire me as well. James Ensor combines dramatic narrative, comedic exaggeration, and relates it to the political and the daily. He inspired me when I was around 19 to start a practice like this. I tried painting fish from life, but that gets smelly so fast. I started making my own objects as well as collecting them. I always wanted to make movies, so it was natural to bring these objects to life that were alive in the paintings.Switching mediums also allows me to change the points of reference for the viewer. It expands my audience and venue possibilities. My video visually references TV and movies. The dialogue is part original/ part appropriation. Sometimes it’s from the Bible, the original epic drama. In my painting, I appropriate from narrative painting. In my drawings, I reference comic books. Working this way keeps a cyclical recycling of ideas. I got into art as a way to deal with depression and trauma. After making it out of a bad situation and going to art school, it was humiliating to find out the stories and creations that kept me alive were cliche and embarrassing. I recycle images, like fetuses and monsters, from this past, reinventing and expanding their context. I find the transformation of cliches to be very liberating. I know it's selfish to search for personal liberation through art, but it can also be a way to connect with people who are also searching for transcendence whilst relishing in the dregs of reality.
Behind your lips there's a nightmare no one sees (Medusa) 2010OPP: I don’t think that’s selfish at all. I think that’s actually always, at least partially, a driving force in making art. And people who won’t admit that are lying or simply not very self aware, in my humble opinion. Would you mind telling us about the first time art liberated you or a time when you became aware of art’s transformative power? DF: The one that stands out the most clearly is all the fetus art I did after my first abortion. I'm soooo glad I was able to have one. I was 16 and in a horrible situation. I had to go to Delaware because of Rick Santorum's "awesome" laws. I didn't have any regrets AT ALL. I was pretty obsessed with death at the time, but there was still this left-over energy that I didn’t know where to put. I made a lot of fetus art, and it felt really exhilarating. Also, when I was younger, I drew Garfield, and it looked "right.” That was magical.OPP: Your drawings from 2009 amaze, disgust, and excite me. I'm thinking of pieces like Manny Eater and Crab Snatch, in which the labia are grotesquely large and blob-like and take over everything around them. They are truly gross, but in exactly the right way to challenge assumptions about woman's bodies. I'd love to hear more about these pieces.DF: Those pieces are a spin on the Kuniyoshi prints of Tanuki from around 1844. Tanuki are a mythical racoon/human hybrid who can magically enlarge their testicles. In the prints they use this power to do practical things like make soup and cross rivers. It was fun to play with the cliche of bragging about giant balls to prove confidence. The mythical creature in mine was Lazy Pig, a character from one of my movies that I play wearing a muppet-like mask. She uses magic to perpetuate sloth, like grabbing a sandwich from the fridge instead of getting up.When I made those pieces, it was a summer break from grad school, and I was incredibly depressed. I couldn't get out of bed. My dog died, and my girlfriend dumped me. The sex with my ex was insanely consuming. I felt consumed by desire in a similar way that the labia consume and take over everything. I never planned to show them to art people. I definitely thought my comic loving friends would get a kick out of them. I also had bedbugs at the time. They were posted on my wall and my exterminator thought they were funny and gross. Humor can be a defense mechanism. It’s not only a survival skill, but also a relatable point of access for the viewer. Also it's one of my favorite parts of being alive. The connection between two humans laughing about something upsetting together is an amazing bonding experience. These pieces were a huge breakthrough for me. They solved a problem of how to deal with the female body and still carry on the themes of my earlier work. I think its important to retreat from an audience and try ideas without worrying about the response. These labia attacks have continued to operate in my work as a cyclical structure to talk about the masturbatory nature of expressing one's feelings through art with self deprecating humor.
Pussy Intimidation 2010 watercolor on paper 12"x15"OPP: There's so much awesome grossness in your work: zombies, blood, disembodied breasts, fluids of all kinds, mashed-up food covered in fur and maggots, the endlessly-expanding labia mentioned above. It's clear to me that you are dealing with the Abject, but most interesting to me is that there is a particularly feminist flavor of the Abject (as opposed to what Mike Kelly or Paul McCarthy does), The gross things you do to the female body don't read as a reiteration of the male gaze, but rather as a challenge to it. Are you coming from a feminist point of view?DF: I do personally identify as a feminist. Whether or not my art is feminist art is up to the viewer. My use of the Abject is an attempt to feel empowered to transcend my body and mortality, so reflecting back to my biography and identity can be frustrating. Before I had the female image in the work, being a female artist was always part of the dialogue anyway. Literally, dudes would say, it's pretty good for a chick, and shit like that.I didn't feel connected to feminism until I moved to the bay area. The Riot Grrrl version of feminism made so much sense to me. If women feel they have no voice in their local scenes, they can take it upon themselves to represent their own interests by making their own zines, music, and art. Of course, I really loved the taking back of the meaning of derogatory terms for empowerment. That's super fun. I was really lucky to be discovered by one of the bay area's legendary geniuses Janelle Hessig. She eyed up my sorry-ass scrabblin’ in my sketchbook on the street and started chatting me up. Her way of looking at the world was unapologetic and hilarious. Learning from her was like when Roddy Piper puts on the glasses in They Live. Coming back to the east coast with those glasses was challenging. The crazy sexist shit that comes out of people's mouths can be laughable because of the cluelessness. I've said really thoughtless things about women, too, but sometimes I still wanna smack those garbage mouths.
OPP: Give me an example of the cluelessness.DF: I had a fancy dinner with a gallery owner that teaches media culture at a prestigious university. He denied the existence of the male gaze, and his proof was "chicks love horror movies where women are degraded; it's all fun.” I argued with him a bit, but he was power-trippin’ pretty hard, because he knows I'm not represented by a gallery. He's obviously just a foolio, but it's good to know these voices are in the art industry, so I can be prepared and ask galleries the right questions.
Free Love is creepy 2011 DetailOPP: What’s your relationship to the male gaze and how does your work add to the discourse around it?DF: It’s shaped by being a queer woman who is seduced by these images and repulsed by the obvious fallacies. I feel empathy with others who are seduced by these images of women. Images of hardcore porn are virtually unavoidable, making the pornographic a part of our daily routine. It's insidious how these images of hairless airbrushed idealized female forms warp the societal view of sexuality. It perpetuates this myth of a static beauty, when the reality of beautiful things is that they evolve and decay. I'm really enjoying expanding and flipping cliches of the male gaze. The labia monsters transform from a passive female into an active more phallic monster. I have also been taking venus paintings and making the lounging beauties more passive by dismembering them. They have ovaries on the outside which was related to an absurd idea I had that men have to act so macho because they have these vulnerable sacks hanging out. I was imagining how vulnerable it would feel to have my ovaries dangling outside my body. It's all very playful and ties into the many themes in my work. My work is about human issues as well as female issues. Armchair Anarchist 2009OPP: Could you talk about the sandwich with olives for eyes? He/she/it shows up in several drawings, in your video Armchair Anarchist (2009) as a main character called Sandwich and in In the Ancient Brain of No Memory(2011) as a reincarnation of Peter Paul Rubens. When did you first use this character/image? How has he/she/it evolved in your work?DF: I've love comics and comic exaggeration. I love finding comedic expression in daily life, like found objects and found faces! I use this as another strategy to connect fantasy to the daily. I use tomato seeds for teeth, floppy meat for tongues. The olive eyes specifically is a Sesame Street reference. Sesame Street was my first relationship with media and is integral in my relationship with fact and fiction. The way I use food is connected with intimacy and desire. Whenever I am really happy, my appetite is insatiable. I talk to sandwiches while I'm eating them because I love them so much. Sometimes I talk to imaginary sandwiches that I wish I had. They are meant to be held in your hand, and they look like a little face. My movie Armchair Anarchist uses this relationship between the main character lazy pig whose best friend is a talking sandwich. The desire for sex and food is blurred, and lazy pig eats her best friend. Getting lost in desire and destroying the thing you desire the most has resonated with a lot of people I chat with. I'm continuing with talking food in the comic book I started which is a prequel to Armchair Anarchist. The impending Apocalypse is caused by women using bone marrow stem cell reproduction to eliminate men from the human race....all rational systems break down, emotions rampage....an unusual side effect happens... the birthing of living sandwiches!!!! It's called Pussy Intimidation. I told this to a guy friend recently, and he said he wouldn't have the balls to use the word pussy. Then he went on to talk about cocky male artists, how he looked up to them, and how he was gonna get tattoos of them by his balls. He actually pointed to his balls. The more I gave him the blank stare, the more he talked about his balls! Hahahah. So hilarious.
Cake and eat 2009OPP: What's going on in 2012 for you, either in terms of upcoming exhibitions or new work you are excited about?DF: I'm currently printing and binding/stitching copies of my the comic. It will be available on my website soon. The amazing artist Josh Bayer let me sell some at his table at MoCCA recently. The whole event was packed with inspiring artists. I'm silkscreening and getting prints and shirts available, too.I’m also really excited to have 10 new paintings in a group show about female sexuality at Ten Haaf Projects in Amsterdam. That show opens June 2. I have a new video in the works called Easter Special, which is based on the story of Mary Toft. In 1726, Toft tricked doctors into believing that she had given birth to rabbits by inserting dead animal parts into her uterus. I found out about this story through a book of etchings. So yeah, lots of new forms and projects, as always.
Simulacrum Series Family Portrait 18" x 24" photograph
KEARY ROSEN is an interdisciplinary artist working in drawing, photography, video, performance and kinetic sculpture. He often references science fiction narratives and imagined technologies from the past, exploring language and its associative meanings, as well as how our relationship to technology reveals our emotional experiences as human beings. Keary Rosen received his MFA from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts in 2000. He currently lives in Raritan, NJ.OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you acknowledge the influence of sci-fi on your work. Tell me about your personal history in relation to sci-fi. What's your favorite sci-fi text of all time?
Keary Rosen: I naturally gravitated to science fiction writing because I appreciate the sometimes fantastic and covert ways the genre attempts to grapple with certain philosophical quandaries that I am interested in (issues of racial equality, issues of quality of life, issues of power, issues of surveillance, artificial life vs. organic life).
There are a number of novels and short stories that I’ve read many times. I don’t have a single favorite… I’ll give you a list of works that never fail to inspire me: 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, R.U.R. by Karel Capek and the whole Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.
In addition to written works, I’ll geek-out even more by divulging that I’m also a huge fan of sci-fi television and cinema.
I’ve begun paying homage to my favorite sci-fi works in the drawing series M-Class Planet. In these drawings, I’ve inserted myself into imagery I’ve either appropriated directly from a visual source or gleaned from specific narrative descriptions. (I am a droid. I am Dave Bowman piloting the space pod. I am Powell on the back of the of the robot chasing Speedy. The robots rebelling against humankind are modeled in my image.)
Droids 25" x 31" Graphite on 4 ply Bristol Paper
OPP: One of the interesting aspects of sci-fi movies and TV in particular is the way the visual representation of the future is quickly dated. Like, in 80s movies, the things the computers could do were amazing and fast, but they still had an MS-DOS interface, which is laughable now. It seems that your work is exploring specifically these outdated projections of future technology in your life-size sculpture 1.530R The Robot. That's no Cylon! It's more like Rosie from the Jetsons. I'd love to hear more about this piece. What was the video projected on the belly of 1.530R The Robot?
KR: 1.530R The Robot is an amalgamation of many atomic age tin toy robot designs from the 1940s -1960s. I’ve always been interested in automata, and tin toys are a modernist/contemporary continuation of that tradition. I like the idea that a simple or low-tech device can generate movement.
It’s true, 1.530R is no Cylon. I chose to create a form that looked dated because I wanted to reference a time period that began using media and commerce to popularize this kind of image as a symbol to represent a preoccupation with the technological advancements that were taking place and how they might impact the future.
1.530R The Robot is a seminal work for me. Within this work was the genesis of a lot of the conceptual ideas and working methodologies I’ve explored. It was the first time I used the robot as a form, and it was the first time I worked collaboratively on a film.
The 16mm black and white film that is projected onto the belly of 1.530R The Robot was conceived as a B-Movie style horror story/critique of our current mental healthcare system. 1.530R The Robot was an actor in the film. In the installation, 1.530R The Robot doubles as a film artifact and projection screen.
The Atomic Treatment Installation Installation includes: an antique iron and marble theater table, two antique theater chairs, a 1950’s 16mm film projector, a 1960’s reel-to-reel tape player and 1.530R The RobotOPP:The Barker is a kinetic sculpture with sound. It appears to be an alien life form, either kept alive or imprisoned in a glass vitrine with a speaker. The viewer is able to hear its booming voice spout "excerpts taken from an early 19th century American Dictionary." It's gross, in an awesome way, to watch this creature speak, and the timbre of its voice creates the sense that what it is saying is very important, despite the fact that it doesn't seem to be. Why did you choose the dictionary as a source, and how did you decide what it would say?
KR: The Barker was a real breakthrough, in terms of technology and studio process. Up until this piece, the kinetic devices in my work were mechanical in nature (gears, motors and belts) and the forms were generally composed of rigid materials such as ceramic and steel. I would spend a great deal of time tracking down parts or fabricating custom gadgets. In The Barker, I began working with cast silicone and, most importantly, digital technology.
I was invited to participate in the testing/evaluation of a new user-friendly and multi-functional robotic motherboard through an outreach collaboration between The Pittsburgh Art and Technology Council and Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Laboratory. The robotic motherboard made function control and response a simple matter of programming. I had gone from analog to digital! The motion range inherent in the robotic motor and motherboard naturally suggested speech patterns and I went from there.
There is an inherent absurdity of this grotesque form doing anything, much less giving advice or information. I culled its script from a 19th century American dictionary, because I wanted to work with codified, authoritative, precise, and potentially dated definitions of words. The words I chose to look up included: origin, creation, death, reason, aggression, animal and breed. I selected excerpts from those word definitions and their lists of examples for The Barker to blurt out. The statements ultimately become disjointed tidbits or morsels of much larger abstract concepts we have attempted to explain.
The Barker put me on a path that ultimately led to the work I am currently creating. It is an installation that consists of a landscape environment inhabited by three Komodo Dragons that have the ability to sense and speak to viewers (I am utilizing the same digital technology used in The Barker). Each creature will have a unique voice and perspective, both literally and philosophically. They will be on top of and surrounded by rocks of various sizes and shapes. These rocks are cast out of urethane resins.
The Barker 28” x 38” x 63” Birch Plywood, Oak, Poplar, MDF, Naugahyde, Acrylic, Silicone, Qwerk Robotic Unit, Motion Sensors, Speaker, Light Unit.OPP: You've done several collaborative videos with Kelly Oliver, in which you write and perform the text and she films and edits the visuals. How did this collaboration evolve? Is there any back and forth, or do you each stay in the roles you've chosen?
KR: Kelly and I met in art school. At the time, she was studying painting before gravitating toward film. We’ve been married for 10 years. Her method of making video is very poetic and indirect, based on edits of disjointed and mysterious images. The pacing and narratives emerge and submerge. My text pieces work within these same parameters. An important part of my process is to establish a rhythm and character that feels appropriate in regard to the content. It seemed like a natural progression to collaborate on work together, and the results have shown around the world at film festivals, galleries and museums.
Second Firing Running time: 2 min 30 secOPP: Writing and language is a recurring part of your work, whether it is the monologue of The After-Dinner Speech, the appropriated statements of The Barker, or the non-sensical poetry of First Firing or the Lincoln Library of Essential Information Volume I and Second Firing, in which the audio is a running list of words that are linked more by sound than meaning. (My favorite phrase is "placenta polenta placebo gazebo.") Has language always been a part of your art practice? Could you talk about how you approach writing?
KR: I created my first pieces built around words and the spoken language as an undergraduate. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in oral and written communication.
I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about my writing process. Whether I start with research, accumulated stream of consciousness writings or wordplay, it always eventually transitions to a process of editing and composing.
When I complete a written work that I know I will read for a recording, I begin to experiment with voices. The voice I choose determines the speed, emotional responses and mood.
OPP: Tell me about a piece from your past that you think was a failure, but taught you a lot about your work.
KR: Why? What did you hear? Were you at that opening where the Mars Rover’s battery died?! Seriously though, I’m that person who likes to work through the burn. If something isn’t working, I have to keep at it until I am satisfied.
Drank 2011 Acrylic, felt, pom poms, silver leaf, and wiggle eyes on canvasDAVID LEGGETT’s paintings and drawings synthesize the personal and the cultural. His egalitarian use of craft materials, paint and ink emphasizes the balanced treatment of his subject matter, which ranges from the silly to the profound. He has tackled such topics as the history of painting and the high/low divide, race and our perceptions of ourselves in relation to the images presented to us by pop culture, sex and desire as they relate to self-esteem and carnality. Leggett received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. He lives and works in Chicago, IL.OtherPeoplesPixels: When asked how you would describe your work to a stranger in an interview you did with LVL3 last year, you responded with a great tagline: "it’s everything wrong with the world with bright colors." How do the bright colors (as well as the craft materials like pom poms and glitter) function in your work? Is it about a kind of optimism? Or is it a deflection of all the bad stuff?David Leggett: Color has always interested me. The artists that I was interested in as a child and as an adult had vibrant color palettes. All the cartoons I loved as a kid use vibrant colors as well. I do not think of the colors I use as being optimistic. I see color as a tool to bring the viewer in for a closer inspection. I work with subject matter that can turn some off. Color can be used to make medicine go down if you will. That could also be said about craft materials. I started using craft materials in order to problem-solve in my painting. I felt my painting was very rigid before I used craft materials. I wasn’t trying to figure out one painting from the next. When you work with craft materials you have figure out how to use them, so it doesn’t look like craft materials on canvas. It’s too easy for those materials to look like a child at play.
That Where They Made Me At 2012 acrylic and shoe polish on canvasOPP: Who are some of the artists you love? And what were your favorite cartoons growing up? DL: Pedro Bell, Gary Panter, Sigmar Polke, Harvey Kurtzman, Jim Shaw, and Mike Kelley were a few of my favorites growing up. I loved the Smurfs, Ren and Stimpy, and Thundercats.OPP: You often use the form of the tondo, a large round painting historically used for religious subject matter. Could you talk about this formal choice, either in general or in relation to a specific piece?DL: I don’t shy away from any subject. I cover religion a lot. Tondos are interesting. They are a part of art history, and I like using that reference in my work. In Uncle John, I’m making a memorial to all the Johns of the art world. The idea of a gold leaf tondo with just the name John referenced Christianity even though that wasn’t my intent. Working with more than one meaning is one of the many things I use in my work.
Unforgivable Blackness 2012 acrylic on canvasOPP: Many of the tondos also feature recognizable figures from pop culture, as in Silver Dechanel (2010) or Rick Rossing It (2010). What about in a piece like Chocolate Rainbow Connection (2010), which features Kermit the Frog? Are there religious connotations here?DL: I don't think of them having that meaning, but I'm aware that some viewers have taken that from the work. I like things being open for the viewer.OPP: My favorite thing about your work is the way the tone continually moves back and forth between the sweet and the profane. I see this especially in the recurring motifs of boobs and balls on heads and scoops of ice cream. Does this resonate with your interests?DL: Yes it does. There are many thoughts and ideas that go through my mind when I make work. My personality is very much a part of my work. I have a dark sense of humor, and it comes out often in the things I do. I also bounce back to being more practical at times and that also reflects. I feel everyone has the same way of thinking to an extent.
How to get to Grape Street Blog drawing 2011OPP: You currently have an exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago called Coco River Fudge Street, which consists of 152 drawings from your blog of the same name. How are the blog drawings different from other drawings? Has the digital form of the blog affected your analog work?DL: The only real difference is the time. I have very limited time to work on the blog drawings. I’m always trying to beat the clock. I also find myself making things I might not have if I didn’t have to produce a drawing a day for the blog. It was a fun challenge. It made me keep things simple. Certain things wouldn’t work on a blog. Colors and textures wouldn’t show up as clear due to my using a scanner. This changed the direction I originally had for the blog. I wanted to do all paintings which is nuts. OPP: Tell us about your process. DL: There isn't really a process to the blog drawings. It's whatever comes to mind within that day. I will use whatever trials I have, but I try to keep it simple so I'm not spending the entire day on one thing. That is the opposite of my other paintings and drawings. I have materials and subject matter planned ahead of time. I'll also gather source materials.
Old Negro 2011OPP: Will the blog keep going now that you’ve had the show?DL: I was thinking about doing a fan appreciation month in the near future. As for another entire year of blog drawings, I don't have it in me. It's a lot of work, and I would like to travel. You have to stay put when you are doing a daily drawing blog. OPP: What were your drawings like as a child?DL: It was all pen and ink. I wasn’t a huge fan of color back then. I would go through hundreds of sheets of typing paper to draw on. I would draw my favorite comic characters and cartoons. I later realized I was good at making caricatures of kids I didn’t like in school. It’s funny how things never change.
You tell people you're working really hard on things these days (detail) 2010 graphite, charcoal, ink, acrylic, paper on panel 7 ft x 25 ft
DEB SOKOLOW creates large-scale drawings that combine text and image in complex narratives with multiple beginnings, endings, and course-changes. Weaving together facts and fantasy, her signature 2nd-person narrator expertly pulls the viewer into her paranoid musings. She ultimately leaves us with an entertaining and profound experience of doubt, questioning the nature of reading in the gallery and the function of art in general. Sokolow lives and works in Chicago, IL.OtherPeoplesPixels: The first time I saw your work was in 2003. It was Rocky and Adrian (and me), a 9 ft long drawing which catalogs the love story of Rocky and Adrian scene by scene while inserting alternate scenes in which the narrator becomes the love interest for Rocky. Since then, you have become well known for your use of a paranoid 2nd person narrator in your drawings. What precipitated the switch from me to you?Deb Sokolow: What precipitated this switch was a desire to tell a story in a way that would immerse a viewer/reader in the narrative. This is hard to do with text-y art that exists on a wall and not in a book, because I think most people are resistant to doing a lot of standing and reading. So I decided to switch from narrating everything in the first person (i.e. “I have an uncomfortable encounter with my neighbor, Richard Serra, the failed-sculptor-turned-body-butcher-for-the-mob”) to the second person (i.e. “you have an uncomfortable encounter with your neighbor, Richard Serra, the failed-sculptor-turned-body-butcher-for-the-mob”). The idea is for the viewer/reader to take on the roll of the protagonist when reading the story, and hopefully develop a connection or some level of personal investment in it. Also, I’ve never wanted to make diaristic work, so the decision to switch from I to you was a way to move the story out into the world, so that it could be about anyone’s real or imagined experiences, and not just my own. OPP: Were Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 1980s an influence for you?DS: Absolutely. I’ve attempted to work in a Choose Your Own Adventure type format, but can only manage to create 3 to 6 possible endings. I’ve discovered that it is so much harder to do this with a story that hangs on a wall as opposed to a story that resides in a book.
Whatever happened to the Pentagon (restaurant)? 2007 graphite, ink, acrylic, correction fluid on multiple papers, pins 5ft x 4ftOPP: And you have experience working in both formats. Whatever Happened to the Pentagon (restaurant)? (2007) is both a large-scale drawing and an edition of 100 accordion-fold books. Could you talk more specifically about the differences in creating a text drawing that evolves linearly as opposed to one that is more of a rhizome, as is more common in your large-scale drawings?DS: People will usually read a book from beginning to end, so for the most part I know how they will experience the story. When I’m working in a less linear format, such as with some of the large drawings, I am less certain of the path a viewer/reader will take when following the story. It’s so much harder to make the work because I’m constantly struggling to develop a strong enough visual hierarchy so that there is one or a few obvious entry points in the piece, but not too many so that it runs the risk of being too chaotic and unreadable. Writing for a book is also difficult because there is less space for tangential story lines. Recently, I’ve been working with footnotes in the books as a way to organize some of those tangents.
How do these people manage? 2011 graphite, ink, acrylic, collage on paper 11 x 8 1/2 inchesOPP: You never try to hide erasures and edits in the drawings. These changes are integral to the visual aspects of the work. You even made these changes a performative part of your 2010 installation You tell people you're working really hard on things these days at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, adding and removing elements over the course of the exhibition "as contradictory evidence and new observations were acquired." Could you talk about how this aspect of your work developed?DS: Initially, when I started making large drawings with a significant amount of text, I was frustrated with myself for making a lot of mistakes on the paper and using quite a bit of correction fluid. But then I came to terms with the mistakes when I realized they were as important to the drawing as the final product. And lately, I’ve been thinking about this writing process, its erasures and edits and indecisiveness, as a type of time-based drawing process.
You are one step closer to learning the truth 2008 graphite, ink, acrylic on wall 141 feet long installation shotOPP: You have exhibited widely in Chicago, nationally, and internationally. Does any one exhibition opportunity stand out as having been particularly suited to your work or particularly transformative for your work, pushing it in new directions?DS: There was this one project, Dear Trusted Associate, which was first installed at the Van Abbemuseum in The Netherlands, and then exhibited again a year later at the Smart Museum at University of Chicago. Both times, the piece existed primarily on a forty-foot scroll of paper with some amount of writing and drawing spilled out over the edges of the paper onto the wall. Showing the project a second time was a real challenge for me. Not only did I have to re-create the parts on the wall, but I actually had to re-do everything that was on the paper, too, so that the story would fit within a different wall configuration. Also, the Smart Museum asked me to add a new chapter to the end. So, in the end, I decided to re-write the entire piece, and came up with a more edited-down piece that included additional commentary of a contradictory nature from a more jaded, older version of the narrator who, looking back in time, disagrees with his/her initial version of how the story is told. This playing around with tenses was something new for me. I don’t think I would have experimented in this way if I hadn’t had the extra time or reason to fine-tune an existing story. OPP: Could you tell us a bit about how each piece evolves? Is the story fully formed in your mind before you start drawing? DS: The basic story is formed in my mind before I start figuring out how it should exist visually, but the tangents happen as I'm physically making the work, and I don't usually know how a story will end until I'm almost finished with the piece.OPP: Do you have a favorite piece from your own work? Is your favorite piece your best piece in your opinion?DS: Someone tell Mayor Daley the pirates are coming might be my favorite piece. I don’t know if it’s the best piece I’ve ever made, but I’ve always liked how ridiculously naive the narrator is - so much more naïve than the way I write the narrator’s voice in other projects. I keep thinking I should revisit that level of naivety again.
You tell people you're working really hard on things these days (detail) 2010 graphite, charcoal, ink, acrylic, paper on panel 7 ft x 25 ftOPP: Have you heard anything from Richard Serra about your inclusion of a fictionalized version of him in your 2008-2009 drawing Dear Trusted Associate? DS: Not yet. I’m still using him as a character in the work, still playing around with this idea that his life as an artist would be so completely different if he’d come to Chicago to try and make it as an artist, but failed miserably and had to take on a day job butchering bodies for the mob in order to maintain a studio practice. I’m starting to write alternate versions of the lives of other larger-than-life individuals, most recently Willem de Kooning and the cult leader, Jim Jones. My father was a political scientist, and one of his former students, (now Congresswoman) Jackie Speier, was part of the delegation that had been shot at while visiting Jonestown in 1978 to investigate allegations of human rights violations. Jackie was shot five times and still managed to survive. Her story and that of Jim Jones have always loomed large in my mind.OPP: That sounds like the basis for a new story. Is it a piece you are working on right now? DS: I am starting a project about Jim Jones, and Jackie Speier might be a character in it, but it's in the initial planning stages, so I'm not entirely sure how it will all pan out. I'm also trying to figure out which, of three upcoming exhibitions, would be the most appropriate venue for the project, since the nature of the project might be fairly disturbing. I can't install a piece about evil, torture and death just anywhere!
Untitled lure (raspberry & blue), detail 2009 Mixed media
OtherPeoplesPixels: Your body of work contains two dominant modes of production: paper collage, as in Horizon Utopias, Paper Lures, and Tiny Utopias, and assemblage-based sculpture, as in Lures and Nets. What's similar about these different media? What's different?
Anne Roecklein: Whether I’m working two- or three-dimensionally, I work with found images and objects, because they have had a life before I find them. I’m interested in the conceptual, historical, and physical residues that materials bring with them. I can recombine and leverage these materials in new and meaningful ways. Both the assembled Lures and the collaged Paper Lures explore physical as well as conceptual aspects of fishing lures. Why are certain colors and shapes, such as the form of an egg cluster, so appealing? What does it mean to put something out there that will attract what you want? The assembled Lures are made with materials from actual fishing lures, faux flowers, plastic aquarium plants, and cast hot glue—materials that attempt to replicate nature, but don’t quite succeed. The elements for the Paper Lures come from health, biology, and embryology textbooks, as well as cookbooks—sources that deal with different kinds of potential and fulfillment. Here, I’m interested in the mini-tragedies of discarded books, and I’m using the visual vocabulary of science to address some questions about biological desires.So, these different modes of production are addressing similar questions but coming from different directions with different processes and material associations.
Untitled Paper Lure 2010 Collage on paper 18" x 24"OPP: From a strictly process-oriented perspective, what body of work is your favorite? Which did you enjoy working on the most? AR: The Paper Lures are my favorites right now, which could be partly because this is some of the newest work. It’s still shiny and new to me. These pieces evolved out of the assembled Lures so they’re rooted in the same ideas, but the paper pieces are less about materiality and are a little more formal. I spend a lot of time exploring subtle color relationships. Sometimes it almost goes to a nerdy extreme, but this is an area where I find pleasure in my studio practice. I also spend a lot of time with scissors making this work; it’s contemplative, until I get hand cramps. I’m currently working on a new version of Constant Lake that’s over twelve feet long. This is pushing some scale boundaries for me, which is exciting. OPP: In your statement, you say that your work focuses on our desires. What do our desires say about the world we live in? AR: Desire is the central topic of my work. It’s also a jumping off point from which I explore related ideas like possibility, wistfulness, longing, and need. I’m looking at the world around us through the lenses of biological desires, desires involving objects, and desires for the unattainable. Investigating these topics can tell us so much; desires are what motivate us to take action. They elucidate our relationships with what we find pleasurable. They may drive some neurological pathways dealing with learning and reward. Processing or not processing desires can have a lot to do with individual happiness or frustration.
Pop Song, detail 2010 Collage on paper
OPP: How is collage particularly apt as a medium to address issues of desire?AR: Collage and assemblage are processes that I have chosen very deliberately for this work. They embody fragmentation, hybridization, and appropriation. They are perfect vehicles for addressing desire in a world where images and objects overwhelm our lives and spaces and where consumerism is presented to us as the fastest path to satisfaction.These processes are especially well suited to creating fictions that escape the everyday. The individual components are like little “facts,” but when they’re added up and recombined, you get a rubric in which every element is potentially relevant to every other element. This creates countless parallel narratives. When you work with found objects, there is a weird sense that these are “real” objects, because they come from the world and not from art. So when you combine images into an impossible landscape, for example, the viewer is constantly suspended between what is possible and what is impossible. Collage is perfect media for dealing with nostalgia or the longing for utopian places that are simultaneously perfect and nonexistent. OPP: I, personally, find both the paper and sculptural Lures very visually compelling. They do pull me in, like a fish on a line, and leave me wanting more. In that sense, when looking at them, I engage directly with my desire to possess one. But on the other hand, looking is enough. I notice my desire, and I become aware of pleasure of looking as I contemplate the work. I see your work as an opportunity to contemplate seductiveness and desire through the decorative. Is this a common response? AR: Yes, that’s it! Sometimes I wonder whether making work about wanting impossible ideals is indulgent daydreaming or a way of curbing my own desires. Perhaps making an object or image about something I cannot have is a way of neutralizing the longing for it. And other times, I find I just need certain things to be possible. It does not matter if those things can’t be real or can’t be mine or are highly unlikely—I just want them to be possible, and it’s through my studio practice that this can happen. OPP: Are viewers ever dismissive of the content of your work, because of its seductive, eye-candy quality?
AR: I have encountered a few viewers who have been a little dismissive about some of the over-the-top aesthetics in works like Popsong or the Lures like the one covered in pink flocking. I was asked once if “something that is pink and fuzzy can be serious” and my answer was and still is “of course.” Our culture is full of eye candy, and dismissing seductive, opulent, or even campy ornamentation is a missed opportunity for deep understanding.
Untitled 2011OPP: Your most recent collages from the series Rustbelt are very different in their source material and overall composition. It looks like you are using scientific graphs and illustration, maybe from textbooks or manuals of some kind. How does this new work differ from the Horizon Utopias made with old postcards and the Lures, made with images of plant life? AR: The images and objects I make can be organized into three categories that address desire from multiple directions: strategies, spaces, and systems. The Lures (both collaged and assembled) and Nets are in the strategies category—they’re about tools of desire. The Speculative Plans, Horizon and Tiny Utopias are in the spaces category—they’re exploring amalgamated landscapes and the longing we have for more perfect places.The new Rustbelt series and older pieces like System with Yellow Tubes, If you can graph it, then it’s true are in the systems category—these pieces are exploring the desire we have for knowledge and the need we have for things to work. I’m looking at very broad areas like science and statistics—methods for acquiring information. I’m interested in the optimistic promise of these activities and their inevitable disappointing breakdown. Ideas like the scientific method suggest that, if we’re careful and organized in our research, we’ll arrive at useful and correct answers. But this isn’t always true.OPP: Where did your interest in this new source material come from? How do these technical drawings play into your overall project about Desire?AR: I’ve spent the last seven years living in Michigan, Indiana, Pittsburgh, and now western Massachusetts—areas often associated with “the Rustbelt”. The pieces in this series are new, and I’m obliquely exploring how places like the rustbelt used to function. These pieces include things like batteries that don’t connect to anything, light bulbs on dysfunctional circuits, and graphs that don’t really tell us anything. The functional circuits or data are lost. It’s now about the aesthetic information, which is a different kind of truth and a different kind of answer.
OtherPeoplesPixels: In your interview with Little Paper Planes you mention a compulsion to make work and the meditative experience of painting. Repetitive tasks can be both soothing and monotonous. They can engage your mind or they can free it. In general, what do you think about while you paint cupcakes and presidents over and over again?
Justin Richel: If all is going well while in the act of painting, I am thinking of only line, color and the emotional response. It’s a very interesting and blissful place for the mind to be.
OPP: How does your experience of repeatedly drawing similar objects shift over time?
JR: I usually have a specific image or sense of a particular painting or piece that I set out to create in my mind’s eye before hand, but through the process of translating that idea or wisp of an idea, from a thought to the physical paper, I am always a bit disappointed by the outcome. I feel that with each remaking of a particular idea, the message becomes more clear for me, as though I am able to communicate my idea more clearly with each attempt; understanding my own motivations through the repetition of the imagery. It also gives the image a life of sorts; you see it evolve over time.
When I was at Maine College of Art my major was in printmaking. I never really liked the process of printing very much. I felt that it was too limiting and often monotonous as well as a very dirty process. A lot of energy was expended with the only real benefit being that you can produce multiples of the same image. However, through the print making process, I realized the strength of the multiple. Images, if they are successful, do proliferate either by a cultural embrace or by the interests of a few, they are integrated and bent, changed and imposed upon, and I think it is this phenomenon that urges me to revisit these compositions again and again, manipulating and changing them to suit my own needs. In a sense creating my own iconography.
Whirling Dervish (Detail) 2011 Gouache on cut paper, nails, adhesive 5.5 ft x 10.5 ft
JR: I have actually been working with most of these themes since the early 2000s and continue to find the rehashing of subjects and compositions completely engaging. I’ve found that the small work draws you in, engaging the viewers’ imaginations, encouraging them to lean in for a closer look, and allowing them to revel in all the fun details. The large work consumes the viewer wrapping them in the imagery. Most people find the miniature works very cute and whimsical, which they are. But there are darker undertones embedded in the work that I really want to be seen and understood.
With the larger work my hope is to dwarf the viewers sense of self with the compositions so that the audience feels like a part of the piece.
OPP: Do you see any of these as more successful than the others, in terms of communicating with your audience?
JR: So far I think that through the use of various sizes and approach, the work’s message is communicated more clearly, each painting or installation telling a bit more of the story. As of late I am most excited about creating the installation works. They provide me with an opportunity to create an image that just isn’t possible in the confines of my tiny studio. The installation works are composed of hundreds of tiny parts and pieces that allow me to change the overall composition, keeping it a fresh exploration through each evolution.
Precarious 2008 Gouache on paper 22 in x 30 in
OP: The theme of precariousness is very present in your works, as depicted in the columns and unstable piles of sweets, household goods, presidents’ heads and birds. You’ve written in your project statement: "The stack can only exist so long as all of its pieces are cooperating together, to shift or remove a piece would inevitably send the whole thing crashing to the ground." But, because your main medium is painting, you can endlessly stack objects in more impossibly complex ways without any real danger. You hold the viewer in an endless state of expectation of collapse. Do you have any interest in addressing what happens after the balance is actually lost, when things come crashing down?
Justin Richel: No, not so much. I think it is much more interesting to play with tension—I like creating that suspense and having the viewer’s own imagination complete the story. My hope is that the work communicates the sense that through cooperation of disparate parts and pieces acting as infrastructure, this odd stack or structure is able to exist. Just looking at the structure of present day society, it becomes very clear how precarious things really are. There is a real feeling that you have to hold up your end of the bargain. I think everyone is afraid of what might happen when it all falls apart and you don’t want it to happen on your watch. So we keep adding to and building the “system” so that it holds up, even as it falls apart during the process.
Died For Want Of Lobster Sauce 2010 Gouache on paper 22 in x 30 in
OPP: Looking at your various projects together, I see a strong sense of the interconnectedness of nature, culture, and the personal. Just like with the stacked furniture and sweets, nature and culture are precariously intertwined in our lives. You’ve worked simultaneously on the series Sweets and the series Big Wigsover the last few years. Could you talk about the differences between these two series, as well as how they inform each other?
Justin Richel: The Sweets series is concerned with society as a whole: its behavior, its morality and constructions, the general state of things.
I like to think of the sweets and household detritus as characters or stand in for the figure, humans, and their relationships to one another. Creating scenarios that speak to the fragility of circumstance and the consequence of actions. I like to imagine them as functioning, dysfunctional infrastructures.
The Big Wigs are more concerned with those who are in power and, in contrast, the resiliency of nature. Quoting my project statement: “These men sit rigid and firm in their positions of power and deeply entrenched in their glory, so much so that they essentially become living “monuments” of their own making. Meanwhile nature takes its course, birds move into their wigs, fungus and lichen grow on them freely and fires threaten to engulf them. All the while they struggle to save face and maintain their proud and victorious posture, ignoring their surroundings and the ensuing predicaments.”
I get a certain amount of pleasure creating the Wig paintings. They’re about the idea that if anything sits still long enough, nature will take root and treat that object as though it was simply landscape, a foothold, claiming or re-claiming the space as it’s own. I find the regenerative process of nature very comforting. It takes care of itself of it’s own volition. It’s a feeling of security and trust and one of relief. Nature’s design is one of perfect balance. In contrast, our own brand of design leaves so much lacking; not everyone is represented or even figured into the equation. Nature is both simultaneously finite and infinite.
It is necessary for me to have the two distinct series as a way of communicating this complex relationship.
OPP: What’s next for you? Any upcoming shows or new directions for your work?
Justin Richel has also recently released a beautiful print through The Endangered Species Print Project, which is sponsored by OtherPeoplesPixels. 100% of the proceeds from Justin's print support the endangered Guam Micronesian Kingfisher depicted in his charming work.
Specters / Bloodwrath; At my end I will take you with me 2008 Graphite, acrylic, colored pencil on paper 60" x 48"
OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you think the concept of “going feral” shapes your work? It seems to factor into a number of your works dating back to your 2006 video Centaurides, in which a computer modified child—like voice shares her fantastical observations and dreams; most of which involve a desire to break—free from the mundane, civilized, or unjust.Molly Schafer: Yes exactly! “Going feral” is my out to the mundane daily human life. As I see it back in the day we had it all—tons of time outside, traveling around with the seasons, NOT MULTITASKING, self-reliance, physical strength and endurance, being in the moment and more connected to nature/each other/other animals/Earth/the universe… and then we decided to live in dark, dirty cities buy stuff from stores and sit in offices all day. Blah who wants that? Well it turns out lots of people do. And the idea of “going feral” becomes threatening to society. Perhaps it partially represents everyone’s underlying longing for freedom and/or fear of that desire.
Feral is a term referring to a domesticated creature that has returned to a semi-wild state. In a way, a hybrid state of being—not truly wild, no longer domesticated. I related that to the work I was doing with lady centaurs, themselves a hybrid of woman and horse.
While in graduate school I received feedback that people had trouble relating to the centaurs since they didn’t reflect their own human bodies (unimaginative, no?) so I decided to take that wildness and hybridity I depicted through the physical body of the centaur into a fully human body having gone feral. A major influence on this work is my first entry point into this theme: young adult novels featuring a girl who has isolated herself from society, lives in the wild with an animal companion.
I have had a life-long desire to live in one of those narratives, and I do realize it is slightly silly but I am sincere in that longing. My journey to and stay on Asseateague Island with my cat was my attempt to access a bit of that world. The trip resulted in a body of work Dawn Horse. The drawings in that work reflect the iconic images on the cover of such novels, often the only image in the whole book, their function is to only tell part of the story.
Clan of the Cave Girl (We went feral y'all) 2009 Graphite & watercolor on paper 20" x 20"
OPP: Hearing a child-like voice narrate Centaurides makes me curious about what you liked to draw as a child. What were your early sketchbooks like?
MS: Ha. Yes they weren’t too different from now. Animals, girls/women. More penguins (I was into penguins way before it was cool). My brother and I grew up drawing while we watched TV. Our parents were/are artists.
My junior high sketchbooks featured pencil drawings of awesome punk girls playing guitar. Lots of piercings, Mohawk hairdos, Tribe 8 shirts, L7 tattoos. The boys I knew were into drawing dragons, wizards and punk dudes. They always had trouble getting that we were into the same things. The gender difference or concept/awareness of gender (dragons vs unicorns) was so huge they couldn’t see past it. Not to mention they were intimidated by my skills. Lame.
I dunno I’ve always liked drawing mice. I guess I’ve always fell somewhere between Beatrix Potter and fantasy novel art. Which may explain my limited successes.
Still From Barrier Island 2007 digital videoOPP: Your arctic-looking house cat plays a prominent role in your video from your Barrier Island series. In reviewing images from your subsequent solo show, Dawn Horse, at Lump Gallery in Raleigh, NC, I noticed at least three other pieces that include visual references to your cat; one that even lists “my cat's fur” in the material list. Can you speak about the role your cat plays in your artmaking? Where does your house cat fit in your work’s relationship to real and imagined animals like centaurs what you describe as “similar hybrids”?
MS: Well I’m glad someone is reading my detailed descriptions of media. Yes that is my boo. His name is Sid and he has been my dawg for 18 years now. I’ve always tried to let him be a cat and as wild as he wants to be.
Once I took Sid to hang out in a park in Pennsylvania (where we both were born and raised) after an hour or so of us just chillin in some woods he started loosing control. He ran around, ate some rabbit poop and got this crazy look in his eye—shiny and wild, like he didn’t recognize me. There are moments—the realization there is no leash and he can run far, when he is at the top of the tree and is considering leaving me—when I dare say he is hearing the call of the wild. Those moments were fascinating and frightening. I related to them and was inspired by that to make this work.
As I mentioned earlier I wanted to live like the characters in my favorite novels—Reindeer Moon, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins. These characters all had a faithful friend/sidekick who was a non—human animal. I had Sid. And I wanted to see how feral he would go. So we went to Assateague Island to get weird.
Also I mainly make my objects out of whatever I have around with a nod to the materials used by and usefulness of the characters in those novels. Often they validate the killing of animals by using all of it’s parts. I don’t really kill anything for parts but do want animal parts in my work. Sid has plenty of fur to spare. And he and I are linked in a way that it adds meaning and magic to work parts of us into objects.
OPP: Your drawings of animals, centaurs and similar hybrids are often incredibly detailed. What kind of research goes into creating each piece?
MS: Hmm looking at books— field guides, pony guides, Equus Magazine. Reading about how their parts work. I also spent time with and photographed my aunt’s horses. Observing creatures in the wild or growing up around them helps. Just getting to know them. Repeatedly sketching. Honestly I have one trick that I think works best but I consider it a trade secret. Let’s just call it “becoming animal” because I like phrases that sound like the cover of hilarious fantasy novels.
Endangered Species Print ProjectOPP: Your own art practice is hybrid in nature. You maintain an individual art practice exhibiting your work widely but also operate outside of the gallery system using your artistic talents to directly support conservation efforts and biodiversity as the co-founder of The Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). Let’s talk about what ESPP is, how it got started, and how it relates to your work as an individual artist.
MS: Sure. The Endangered Species Print Project, according my collaborator Jenny Kendler, is our brain-love child. We both have strong feelings about conserving biodiversity on this planet. We had been fumbling around looking for a way to use our artistic talents and skills to benefit a cause we cared about and to make an impact. ESPP is our best version of those efforts. ESPP sells limited-edition prints of critically endangered species. Prints are editioned to reflect the remaining population count of the species depicted. For example, there are only 37 Seychelles sheath-tailed bats remaining in the wild. So only 37 prints of my drawing of this bat will ever be made. Currently 100% of the proceeds from print sales are donated to a conservation organization working to conserve the species on the front lines.
When we started it was only Jenny and me. We have grown to include many guest artists, a blog, and an ESPP extended family which includes artist Christopher Reiger, OtherPeople’sPixels, who sponsors the project, Michael Czerepak of the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) Service Bureau who masterfully prints our work (and who asked me to marry him), and P.O.V. Evolving in Los Angeles, who handle our large print orders. Our work would not be possible without the help of the conservationists and organizations that we partner with nor without the many people who buy ESPP prints!
How it relates to my work as an individual artist? Well, for awhile it has taken over most of my studio time! Jenny and I do ESPP in our spare time. It quiets questions that may interrupt my concentration while drawing like “Why didn’t I go back to school for mammology instead of studio arts?” and “Shouldn’t I be doing something less selfish than this?”
OPP: What are you working on now?
MS: I’m in one of those stages were I am doing lots of little stuff, working up to the next big thing. So I’m slowly working on some books, maybe they fall into the graphic novel category with the chimp hybrid women I was drawing a few years back, I still have a few paintings to make to round out the Dawn Horsework. I’m also working on a collaborative project with artist and pal Tory Wright. I’ve collected a bunch of video and text to make a new narrated video, but at the moment I’m planning the piece to incorporate a good amount of hand drawn animation so I predict this will be a years long project. I’m fascinated/jealous of large predators so I collect pics of them on my blog Megafauna .
I’m moving into a new studio soon so I’m looking forward to that! Honestly, I’m designing my wedding invitation. Is that lame? So far it features an eagle, a hawk, a peacock, a fox, a bear, a badger and a hare. I think someone else but I’m not sure. Oh! That’s right a slow loris.