OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Charles E. Roberts III

from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2017. Video still.

CHARLES E. ROBERTS III's videos, photographs and sculptures seem to be coated in a shimmery, metallic wet rainbow. A consistent range of colors and textures—from slick and slimey body fluids to sparkly and glittery, crinkly plastic surfaces—create the sensation that his looped vignettes and video portraits all exist in the same world. . . a world which is not quite ours. Charles earned his BFA at The Art Institute of Boston in 1997. In 2017, his first solo show Oracles and Remains was on view at Show Boat Gallery, in conjunction with the 2nd Floor Rear Festival, and group show End of the World Part VII just closed at the Learning Machine in Chicago. He has screened his work at the Palace Film Festival (2015-2017) and exhibited at Zhou B Art Center, Naomi Fine Art and la Fundación del Centro Cultural del México. Charles lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s start with the dominant aesthetic in your videos. How has your visual aesthetic evolved over the years?

Charles E. Roberts III: This aesthetic has its roots in my very first attempts at making video. I needed an inexpensive option to light some sets that I had built in my studio, and a friend suggested using floodlights and clamp fixtures. The hardware store’s selection of colored floodlights was a little too tempting as I had just watched a bunch of Mario Bava’s color films. I didn’t leave that store with a single standard bulb, just a bunch of red, yellow, blue and green. I experimented with this palette for a couple of years, eventually adding some purple, pink and amber along the way.

Wet and metallic surfaces seemed to have the most potential for harnessing all these colors, so I just tried to push it to an expressionistic extreme. Eventually everything and everyone was covered in some form of metallic paint or makeup. . . and lots of baby oil! Using a combination of silver, gold and bronze facilitated an even greater range of hues and temperatures within this very limited color palette.

still from The Temple Theater of the Gruesome King, Act One, 2012.

OPP: How does your aesthetic serve your conceptual interests?

CER: I’ve always been more interested in using light to describe surface as opposed to space. There isn’t a lot of room for the viewer to enter my videos but I hope there is plenty to touch. The colors may be overtly ethereal and the subjects near-mystical, but I always try to anchor everything with an intense tactility. The Oracles videos are a good example of this. They are radiant and mystical beings but they are also grimy and encrusted with the materiality of their surroundings. We are a lot like them!

After that series I felt that I had exhausted the use of metallics, only returning to them briefly in order to shoot an Eighth Oracle this past year. More recently I have been using white light, the colored floodlights tend to be set in the periphery and used more as accents. Things have gotten slimier though!

The Sixth Oracle, 2013. still from video loop.

OPP: Are you influenced by 1980s fantasy cinema? I see Legend, Labyrinth, The Beastmaster and The Dark Crystal.

CER: All of those movies were released and consumed countless times in my formative years, so I suppose they are the filter through which all subsequent influences must pass. The filmmakers that probably have had the most direct visual influence on me are Sergei Parajanov, Carmelo Bene, Peter Greenaway, Ken Russell, Jan Svankmajer and some of Fellini’s earlier color films. The surrealist Czech films of the 60s and 70s are definitely a big influence. I also love a lot of the production design and special effects in silent films like Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan, Murnau’s Faust, Lang’s Die Nibelungen. . . and L’Inferno, an incredible adaptation of Dante’s Inferno from 1911!

OPP: Any other visual influences?

CER: My background is actually in painting and drawing. I spent a lot of time as a young, and not so young, adult immersed in the tomes of art history. Gustav Moreau, William Blake, Francisco Goya, El Greco, Caravaggio, Albrecht Durer and probably the whole of the northern Renaissance probably loom more profoundly in my imagination than motion pictures. Children’s book illustrators like Arthur Rackham and Maurice Sendak are some other early but unshakable influences on my visual vocabulary. Folklore, fairytales and mythology have also been a constant inspiration.


The Garden, 2014. Sound by Omar Padrón

OPP: Recent short videos like Last Kiss, Heal me, my darling and pink nail polish (I Can Never Go Home Again), all from 2016, seem to be vignettes that might be part of a larger narrative. Is this case? What’s the relationship between these individual works?

CER: These three videos actually have the most direct link to any fantasy films of the 1980s though they are a more recent influence. There was a genre of Hong Kong and Southeast Asian horror films around that decade dealing in a lot witchcraft and black magic. The gore and special effects in those films was by no means realistic, but it was highly imaginative, colorful and often truly repulsive. I thought it would be interesting to apply these outrageous aesthetics to some very intimate human scenarios. Maybe a kiss, a massage and a comedown could take on more mythical proportions and suggest a multitude of fantastical narratives. I also really wanted to play with scale. All three videos are shot in close-up and are incredibly claustrophobic in their framing, but the detailed makeup and prosthetics potentially suggest an epic landscape in motion.

The response to these videos is often “I can’t wait to see the finished piece!” Initially I was a little embarrassed and disheartened by these reactions but in the end I have to see this as some kind of success. If the viewer anticipates something beyond what I’ve given them, I’m probably doing something right.


pink nail polish (I Can Never Go Home Again), 2016. Music by Michael Perkins. Featuring April Lynn.

OPP: I’ve only seen your videos on the internet. What’s the ideal viewing space for your videos? What about scale?

CER: I definitely prefer most of my video to be viewed as loops on monitors, installed in a gallery or some public space. I’m not that interested in the captive audience of a screening or the inclination to continually move on to the next thing that occurs when we watch things via the internet.

Last Kiss, Heal me, my darling and pink nail polish are all intended to be viewed as continuous loops. When viewed online or at a screening the “second half” of the video is actually just the first half in reverse. This edit allows for the video to be seamlessly looped when displayed in its preferred context. I like to think of them as infinite moments that a potential viewer could walk away from, return to over and over again. . . or even just ignore if they weren’t interested. Maybe they are a little more like painting or illustration in that way.

Though I've been impressed with seeing a number of my videos projected on a larger scale I still prefer them to be viewed on monitors. I love that quality of the illumination coming from within, like stained glass in reverse. The Oracles especially benefit from this format, in fact it’s really the only way to experience them. They were all shot in such a way that the monitor that they are displayed on needs to be installed vertically.

from In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There, 2017. Video still.

OPP: You have a section of video stills from an in-progress project that you’ve been working on since 2011. When will In the Heart of the Wood and What I Found There be complete? What’s the overarching narrative? Has it changed over the years?

CER: I started this project in 2011, and it was initially intended to be a very short piece. After shooting the bulk of the live action material I started experimenting with some stop motion sequences. I was having too much fun composing and animating all these muddy landscapes with various branches, twigs, leaves, bones and skulls. I amassed an almost unmanageable amount of material and eventually put it aside to work on some projects that might have more immediate results. I didn’t return to In the Heart of the Wood until the spring of 2016. I edited continuously and even shot some more stop motion sequences over the course of about nine months. Again, I do not have any specific narrative in mind. The whole thing seems to be shaping up to be a sort of ambiguous folkloric fantasia that takes place in the haunted forests of my youth. I’ve yet again had to set this project aside to prepare for some shows and attend to some other muses. I’m not sure when it will be finished but there is definitely some thematic and aesthetic crossover with the piece that I am working on now. In fact, one might even consider my current project a more sexually charged Dark Crystal!

from Garbage Forests, 2014.

OPP: Well, now you have to tell us about that!

CER: A couple of years ago I was working on a series of photos under the working title of the Garbage Forests. I used a lot of repurposed latex Halloween masks, ratty wigs, plastci flowers, holiday decorations encrusted with mud, glitter and foraged urban flora. This is basically going to be a series of short videos with performers bringing all this stuff to life. Right now I'm building the costumes and prosthetics for a masturbating mushroom goblin and a woodwose murdering witch. It's sort of a confrontation between childhood and adolescence.

To see more of Charles' work, please visit charleseroberts3.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ellen Greene

Something Hiding in There, 2016. Oil on canvas. 30" x 32"

ELLEN GREENE's hand-painted, white gloves and tattoo tearsheets augment the visual vocabulary of vintage tattoos—which often objectify the female body—with empowering, female-centric imagery. Her hybrid creatures, like the many breasted jaguar-mermaid and the tiger-headed lady with a gaping, heart-shaped vagina, confront and complicate the objectified female body with new symbols of what it's like to have a female body. She has recently returned to her first love—oil painting—to explore the expectations surrounding the myth of the Ideal Mother. Ellen earned her BFA in Painting at Kansas City Art Institute in 1998. In 2016, her work was included in the group show Spiritual Garb—Collars at Aron Packer Projects (Evanston, IL). Her solo show Murder Ballads was first shown at the former Packer Schopf Gallery (Chicago) in 2014 and then traveled to Lindenwood University in Saint Louis in 2015. Other solo shows include Invisible Mother’s Milk (2012) at Packer Schopf and Ballad of the Tattooed Lady (2011) at Firecat Projects, both in Chicago. Her gloves have been featured in Bust magazine, Skin Deep tattoo magazine, Raw Vision magazine and online features at Mother-Musing, Lost at E Minor and the Jealous Curator. Ellen lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The aesthetics of vintage tattoos dominated your work from 2011-2013. What first drew you to tattoos?

Ellen Greene: Yes, tattoo imagery really began to dominate my psyche and my body much earlier than when it showed up in my work. It all began in the late 90s. I began to get tattooed in art school as a means of self expression and rebellion. I was determined not be just some girl. I wanted to be THAT girl—the one with the tattoos. There were several women in Kansas City who were heavily tattooed at that time, but it was still a rare thing to see. Tattoo parlors then were still part of underground culture. This was before reality TV shows and any sort of mainstream acceptance of tattoos. It was a real act of bravery to walk into a parlor let alone get tattooed especially as a woman.

Light Bringer, 2016. Acrylic on vintage collar, wood and steel frame.

OPP: What other aesthetic influences do you connect with the tattoos?

EG: I loved early Northern Renaissance painting and the way that symbolic imagery was used to tell biblical stories without words. The themes in the paintings covered everything from redemption, love, victory and grace to the depths of evil, pain, loss and suffering. When I looked on the walls of the tattoo parlor, I saw all these little drawings—glyphs—that covered a similar range of meaning and emotion. It’s a visual language rife with subconscious meaning. When you see a snake, a pretty pin-up, a rose, a heart a dagger you intuitively know the emotional equivalence to those images.

Girls Girls Girls, 2015. Painted gloves.

OPP: How did you merge your own content with existing designs?

EG: Beyond being just an Western Christian visual vocabulary, traditional American tattoo revolves around a vocabulary of the sailor/hero. I was interested in Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey. I was fascinated by the hero, who it is and how he/she functions in society. In looking at my own hero’s journey, I realized that there was little imagery in our Western culture for women to take as their own. Sailors and biker outlaws had ways to mark their victories in their skin but when a woman put those images in her skin she was not a hero; she was a whore.

So I took the sailor tattoos and refocused them as female-centered. For example, I turned the pin-up into a she-beast with a multiple breasts all leaking milk in order to shift the narrative away from the male gaze to an embodiment of the mysteries of female life-giving powers. Giving birth to my two daughters was one of the most gnarly and exhilarating experiences of my life. I had to create images that reflected my personal journey.

Little Omie Little Omie, 2014. Acrylic on gloves. Approx 15"x 23"

OPP: Did you do a lot of research?

EG: I just drew and looked at and drew tattoo images until I could draw in that American tattoo style with my eyes closed. I wanted to have the technical skills of a skilled tattoo artist to really upend the vocabulary. It mattered to me that my friends who were tattoo artists really respected my work. I wanted to reframe the symbols while at the same time respecting the art form.

OPP: Why are tattoos conceptually ideal for exploring stories about and societal expectations placed on women?

EG: In many indigenous, non-Western cultures, women were the main wearers of tattoos, but they were symbols of status not rebellion. In Western culture tattoos are just understood as masculine. It was only recently that women began wearing them. But even today, a woman who is heavily tattooed is viewed as sexually deviant or rebellious by more conservative peers. A man is assumed to have his masculinity enhanced and to have “earned” his tattoos.

I put the tattoo imagery on white gloves initially as a fluke experiment. I just though of a glove as another white canvas to work on. But because the glove is such a symbol of pure, white femininity, the tattoo combined with the glove really had an interesting effect. It became an object that is somewhere between masculine and feminine. It felt like an accurate reflection of who I am and of my experience in my own body. Something unconventional.

Snake Girls, 2011. Acrylic on paper. Approx 11"x14"

OPP: Have you ever designed actual tattoos? Does anyone wear your drawings on their body?

EG: So. I am going to take you to task about the word actual. I am not a tattoo artist, but the designs I make are just as actual as any design hanging on the wall of the tattoo parlor. They have the same potential to be worn as any other tattoo design. But I get what you mean. :)

I have a tattoo of my own design on my body and, yes, several people have tattoos of mine. It’s incredibly cool to see people take these designs that I am using as this theoretical and make them “real” on their body. Maybe thats what you were getting at.

OPP: Point taken. I meant, have you drawn imagery with the intention that it was for skin instead of fabric? I’m curious about the possible difference between drawing for a shaped and moving canvas—the body—as opposed to a static, flat one.

EG: I appreciate your being generous with me on that. Yes, I think that there is a freedom in that I don’t need to consider the body in my designs. So you are right, there is something different about designing on a flat object versus a curved form. But because my designs are based on already existing formulas- i.e. traditional tattoo-they follow certain rules that look inherently look good or function well on a human body. Its why I am so drawn to this particular style of tattoo. There are a lot of trends in tattoo. I’ve been around long enough to see them come and go, but the traditional looks classic, it always will “read” properly. They transcend a certain time or trend, and that is the core component of why I use them in my work.

The Mother's Body, 2015. Painted gloves.

OPP: Tell us about the recurring visual motif of the droplet. It is alternatively a teardrop and a drop of breast milk.

EG: Yes, again, I was/am fascinated by early Renaissance paintings. There is a very famous painting by Dieric Bouts called Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowing Virgin). The way he painted those tears—holy cow! It just blew me away. They are so real looking. His painting skill with those tears allows the viewer to empathize with her suffering. I wanted to be able to use something so small and make it have an impact.

So in the context of my personal symbology the teardrop stands for: tears, milk and blood. These are the fluids of life. In my experience of being a new mother, I remember being so overwhelmed by the degree to which all of these fluids were coming out of me. It was comic and tragic but also amazing.

So I use the teardrop to remember that life-giving power of a woman’s body. Also within our consumer culture “wetness” is somehow related to something shameful. Different products (deodorants, pads, etc.) are always being marketed to us as a solution to “wetness.” These products can only be marketed to us if we buy into the shame of our natural bodies. So to give female bodies constant droplets is part of our heroic symbology. I own all that messy stuff and try to elevate it.

Painted Lady, 2017. Oil on board. 16"x 20"

OPP: You’ve recently shifted away from painting and embroidering on clothing and accessories. Past, Present and Future (2017) seems to be the bridge between the paintings on gloves and the new oil paintings on canvas. What led you to embrace the convention of the canvas?

EG: I began in art school as a painter, but when I had children it was increasingly difficult to have a home studio and oil paint around. I shifted to the gloves and acrylic and mixed media so that I could be efficient and less toxic. During the time that I wasn’t painting, I missed it so much. I dreamt about it; it felt like an essential part of me I wasn’t using.

What led me back to painting was a personal tragedy. In the simplest terms I had a massive emotional and mental breakdown the spring of 2015. My life and family was falling apart, and I was deteriorating mentally and physically to a point where I needed help. Without being too esoteric or spiritually “out there,” it was nothing short of divine intervention that started the healing process for me. So as I have gained a new life perspective I had to finally give myself permission to do my paintings again. And now that I am painting, I feel so healthy and whole. It’s really a testament to the old saying “its never to late to begin again.”

Mom, 2017. Oil on board. 18" x 24"

OPP: The thread of the painted body and motherhood connect these new oil paintings to the older work. How are the painted bodies in Mom and Painted Lady, both 2017, different from and similar to the “tattooed” gloves?

EG: So before I had formulated this elaborate tattoo vocabulary, I painted figuratively and mostly self portraits. When I started painting again, I began where I left off. It had been some 16 years since I had last oil painted. I found that I was not really who I was when I last lifted that brush. It was both exciting and terrifying to get in touch with myself and with the canvas as a creative space.

Mom and Painted Lady are part of a larger body of work still in progress. It’s a slow process, but I am working on weaving together the old imagery with the self portraits in a way that makes a conceptual continuous arc. The older work was more theoretical and based on these glyphs that were trying to gain a new meaning. They were autobiographical but also removed enough that I did not really have to identify too closely. But now, I’m painting my face and my daughters’ faces. It’s us unfiltered—well, filtered through my brain :)

With what I have been through, I am no longer afraid to be direct in expressing and owning my own experience. So with these new paintings I am searching for a kind of truth about myself and my life journey. Very similar in the way the tattoo imagery looked to upend the conventions of the form and to create a new dialog about power symbols, this on-going series of paintings looks to tear apart conventional forms of the ideal mother.

To see more of Ellen's work, please visit artbyellengreene.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Skiles

Am I Born to Die: Hadrian #7 (pink), 2016. Acrylic & Cloth on Paper. 15.75 x 13.75 inches, framed.

NATHAN SKILES' constructions—both sculptural and two-dimensional—are simutaneously silly and dead serious. In acrylic diptyches that reference target practice and the game of darts, he highlights duality. In foam rubber cuckoo clocks and reconstructions made from chopped-up foam rubber cuckoo clocks, he emphasizes synthesis. In collages that mash up familiar textile patterns like camoflage and plaid with the folk art form of the Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, he traffics in the abstract languages embedded in material culture. Nathan earned his BFA (2002) at Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida and his MFA (2006) at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He has had solo exhibitions at Green Contemporary (New York, NY), Hunterdon Art Museum (Clinton, NJ) and the Center for Arts and Culture at University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN). In 2017, his work was included in group shows at Tampa Museum of Art, Centre Gallery at University of South Florida and Highlands Museum of the Arts (Sebring, Florida). He is an is an instructor at the Ringling College of and Design. Nathan lives and works in Sarasota, Florida.

OPP: Can you talk generally about how think about and work with collage? This process also seems to be a metaphor in your work.

NS: There’s a lot to disentangle in this question. Growing up in a German Baptist home in rural Indiana, making was an integral part of my early experience. A connection was born out of a dichotomy of a pride found in self-sufficiency and the embarrassment of standing apart from culture at large, in ill-fitting handmade and secondhand clothes.

As an object, nothing quite exemplifies this like a patchwork quilt made of recycled scraps. These specific quilts, like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, are a strange, imperfect hybrid born from the remnants of whole beings. Previously intact, leftovers now lashed together to find a new life.

Seamless integration is often a noble idea fraught with rough edges and pushback. As artists, I think we need to embrace that collage might not improve upon the original, that corruption and contamination might be collage’s most effective and evocative qualities.

“Siphoning Sinew and Slippage” cuckoo clock, construction fence, dreamcatcher, spider’s web, and Dutch hex sign, 2010. Corrugated plastic and foam rubber. 38" x 21" x 19"

OPP: Up until recently, your dominant material was foam rubber. You used it in various early sculptures, in the Birdhouses, in the Cuckoo Clocks, and in The Clockmaker’s Apprentice (2011). What drew you to this material?

NS: I gravitate towards wry and knowing gestures. The earliest sculptural work started out as rather unconvincing ersatz replicas of overly aggressive props; swords, arrows, traps. As I became more familiar with the materials I began to drop the more problematic and fugitive elements and eventually landed on foam as a ubiquitous, malleable and convincing material. 

Golem #5; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011. Foam rubber. 16 x 12 x 12 inches.

OPP:  The Clockmaker's Apprentice (2011) included 68 Golems, 5 Shoggoths and 25 Frankenstein’s monsters. All of these creations combine cuckoo clocks with building tools—scissors, protractors, levels, painter’s tape and other measuring devices. What’s different about the golems, the shoggoths and the monsters?

NS: As the work became more refined, I began to feel it lose its contrarian edge. Instead of exploring materiality I chose to focus on developing the imagery. I decided to make images of objects aware of their lowly position, made of generic and common stuff and stuck in whatever idiotic gesture I, as a capricious creator, willed them in to.

(As a side note, I realize now that I find the weeping tragedy mask the more honest and acceptable of the twined comedy/tragedy images. The comedy version, stuck forever with its painful, gaping smile is an unnerving reflection on contradiction.) 

I separated the series in to three groups to delineate the structural differences of how the parts came together. First, the golems were created as one-off experiences. Simple, crude faces created as caricatures of facial gestures. Frankenstein’s Monsters were the golems taken one step further; each one is made from the pieces of former golems, cut up and recombined to create a three-dimensional version of a Surrealist’s exquisite corpse drawing. Like the eponymous coagulate in an H.P. Lovecraft story, the shoggoths were the mishmash of several sculptures fused together with little regard for structure or appearance.

Frankenstein's Monster #12; cuckoo clocks and birdhouse with tools, 2011. Foam rubber. 31 x 12 x 11 inches

OPP: How does this series speak to the relationship between the creation and the creator?

NS: I know a number of artists who are terrible stewards of their own work, and at that time I might have been the worst. As a pragmatist storage is always an issue; it didn’t hurt that the objects were lightweight and flexible. As an indifferent parent to the completed objects I have to contend with both the physical mountain of objects I create and the complex nature of mass proliferation. As much as I feel compelled to make, I also think it’s equally important to question the hubris of creating permanent gestures.

Eye of Providence cw, 2013. Acrylic on paper, with bullet holes. 33.5” x 25.5” each, framed diptych.

OPP: Will the Circle Be Unbroken is a series of collages made with acrylic, paper and fabric that refer to Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs. What do the hex signs mean to you and why do you render them as fabric and paint collages?

NS: The Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, a form of folk art and magic, are emblems and motifs painted on barns and homes to promote fertility and prosperity. I think of them as a container for intentionality.

I combined the standard motifs with patterns of pride— tartans, plaids, familial patterns—and protection—fencing and camouflage. As I continued to work on these pieces, it struck me how significant images of power are, not to the weak, but to those who are insecure.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken #22, 2014. Acrylic Collage on Paper and Cloth. 24" x 24", framed.

OPP: Were you thinking more about the possibility of secret symbols or pure abstraction in referencing the hex signs?

NS: Not to be too evasive, but I’m not sure I make much of a difference between pure abstraction and secret symbolism. Both are imbued with a creator’s will and, regardless of how succinct they are, it can be damn difficult to decode them without pre-knowledge.

Am I Born to Die Trammel #1 (violet), 2017. Acrylic & Cloth on Paper. 23 x 20.5 inches, framed.

OPP: Your newest series Am I Born to Die initially brought to mind the divided lunch trays I used to eat from at public schools. Is this an intentional reference?

NS: Not an intended reference, but I think the logic is sound and gets to the secret heart of the work—the maturity of a holistic meal shouted down by an impetuous child demanding to keep the peas out of their mashed potatoes.

OPP: What does this series do with pattern and its pride and protection connotations that the hex signs didn’t? 

NS: I have a strong belief that effective works of art avoid the need to decipher what the artist intends for it to be about and instead tend to wear their tone of voice on their sleeve.

Forcing myself to continue to cultivate the metaphor of the hex sign began to feel insincere, the constraints of the metaphor were overbearing, and in my mind its symbolic power had started to wane. 

It’s my hope that the new works, in their state of tenuous integration, more openly complicate the relationship between individuality and collectivism, pride and prejudice, protection and insecurity. Unmoored from the restraints of the hex signs, the new work can evoke a broader range of contradictions of compartmentalization inherent in rubble masonry, stained glass, malignant cell walls, and even lunch trays.   

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanskiles.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Deborah Zlotsky

Cottleston pie, 2017. Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 36 inches.

DEBORAH ZLOTSKY's paintings and drawings emerge from a process that embraces accidents, coincidences and contingencies. Whether she's working in powdered graphite, chalk or oil, her abstract, interconnected compositions explore "the necessity of change and the beauty and complexity of living." Deborah earned her BA in History of Art from Yale University (1985) and her MFA in Painting and Drawing from University of Connecticut (1989). In 2012, she won the NYFA Artists’ Fellowship in Painting. She has received residency fellowships at Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, the Saltonstall Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. In 2017, she opened two solo shows at galleries that represent her work: Fata Morgana at Robischon Gallery (Denver) and BTW, at Kathryn Markel (New York). Deborah’s most recent work was an outdoor, interactive work for Out of Site: Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood. Deborah lives in Delmar, New York and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does contingency play in your process?

Deborah Zlotsky: Contingencies and accidents fuel my process. I like to joke that my mother told me at an early age that I was unplanned, and that notion of accident probably permeated my thinking about being in the world starting in childhood. Certainly I never thought of being an accident as something negative—it was not presented that way, and the idea of hidden confluences of forces at work seemed important and revelatory.

As an undergrad studying art history, I loved the research part of scholarship, trying to gather and document all the forces at play to explain a particular decision or situation or mindset. But now I’m much more interested in harnessing or experiencing the variety of rules and responses that activate a process than explaining or describing,

After I research how to begin a painting, I’m buoyed by the thought that I’ve done my homework and feel equipped to start. However, I never know enough or am prescient enough to know how to proceed once I’ve started. Constantly assessing what in the painting is offering a way forward via a stray mark or an unanticipated proximity opens up possibilities and guides the way I value relationships and construct the painting. My reliance on contingencies and coincidences is hugely consoling. I need to work within a process that is, in a way, magnanimous. If I stick with the work long enough, not only am I not penalized for the fuck-up, but I’m actually indebted to the fuck-up.

Plan B, 2016. Oil on canvas. 60 inches x 48 inches.

OPP: A phrase that keeps popping into my head as I scroll through all your work is “abstract systems.” In some cases these systems seem bodily, as in the graphite drawings. In other works, non-uniform, angular blocks appear to grow out of one another, as in The inundation (2014). In paintings like The encyclopedia of obviously (2015), these angular blocks become more fluid and interlaced, evoking networks of air ducts. Does this resonate with you?

DZ: If you go back even further, my first serious paintings were figurative,  exploring the body as an intricate structure with complicated interconnections of form and movement and interval. I was interested in the poignancy of what the body could do, the weight and gravity of fleshiness,  and the complexity of color on and under the skin. Then, for a long period, I worked on a series of dark, invented still lifes, in which all the interconnected forms were cobbled together from disparate 17th, 18th, and 19th century painting sources. Combining still life and figurative imagery from diverse sources  and recontextualizing them somewhat surreally in one space created a new construction that straddled the past and present.  Even though I used a realist vocabulary in these earlier figurative and still life works, I treated the structures as abstract Rube Goldbergian configurations within the pictorial space.

Katchumpination, 2010. powdered graphite on mylar. 60 inches x 48 inches

OPP: Your on-going series of drawings with powdered graphite on mylar that you began in 2005 has such a different surface and line quality than the paintings. The forms are distinctly more organic and the edges are soft, almost blurred. They seem like bodies of creatures I’ve never imagined. Do you think of these as bodies?

DZ: In the drawing series, LifeLike, I manipulate powdered graphite on sheets of mylar through a particular Ouija board-ish  process. I like to say I draw what I imagine I see, as the velvety graphite is spread, painted, blown, erased, wiped and smudged on the surface. At the risk of sounding ponderous, when I’m responding to the graphite smears, I feel like I’m searching for signs of life. I don’t look at anything but the graphite, and I fabricate form and light from a muscle memory that comes from years of teaching observational drawing.

Munter, 2012.powdered graphite on mylar. 48 inches x 40 inches

OPP: Are the titles nonsense words?

DZ: Each drawing is named through soldering together fragments of sounds and grammatical parts to construct a whole, much like my drawing process. While the resulting descriptive drawings are fictitious forms developed from collaged, invented parts, I feel the concreteness of the illusion I conjure up blurs boundaries between documenting nature and inventing nature. The uncertainty between what is credible connects to what is identified as natural at a time when so much is researched and implemented to distort/exploit/mimic/redirect nature. I continue to make drawings through this process as it’s always thrilling to see what it yields, especially because the botanical/biological forms in the best ones acquire some of the irregularities, complexities and beauty of the natural world.

Pillow talk, 2017. Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 36 inches.

OPP: Your most recent paintings tackle the interplay of flatness and volume. Can you talk about the “process of accumulation, rupture and shift” in these new works?

DZ: In a general human way, my neural gravitational compass seems calibrated to discover the purposefulness and connectivity in things that initially appear disconnected and not quite operational. Finding that connective tissue launches a long and unpredictable process. For years, I thought of my role as a constructor, constructing relationships that perhaps weren’t that self-evident at the start. Now I see myself more as a repairer, patching up relationships that need a little TLC and introducing relationships to create a more nuanced infrastructure. That probably sounds overly anthropomorphic. It’s also rather biographical—my mother went to art school and my dad was an orthopedic surgeon. I always thought of my dad’s rarefied actions repairing bones, ligaments and tendons as super-smart and helpful, but grim and bloody, something alien to my squeamish, illusion-based, two-dimensional activities. However, the older I get, I seek remediation, creating flow and access by cementing together necessary relationships. Perhaps this is something I’ve inherited from my lovely dad.

Peccadillo  2017  Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 60 inches

OPP: “The paintings materialize out of a friction between intention and coincidence, much like the daily processing and deciphering required to be in the world.” This is such a precise description of the process that drives the work. How does this investment in process gel with the finished piece as a discrete, complete object?

DZ: There is a moment when the process and product become enlivened together—enough of one and enough of the other to work together. A painting is also painting: both the noun and the verb, which allows for a certain simultaneity of being in the process and deciding that the process has reached a moment of synthesis.

My paintings are about figuring out relationships as much as they are about the relationships themselves: a process of continual revision, revealing the history and poignancy of the making/experiencing/seeing/sensing. Anoka Faruqee said that “a painting is finished when it asserts a presence that I can only describe as the right balance of discipline and unruliness, when its structure unravels in the act of looking.” Her definition connects to what I’m aiming for when I make the decision to let go of the painting and release it to others to look at and fill in the blanks.

To see more of Deborah's work, please visit deborahzlotsky.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Extended Practice

Sara and Angela with their sons

Extended Practice, founded by artists Angela Lopez and Sara Holwerda, is an artist-led curatorial project focusing on creating family accessible events, exhibitions and screenings that support and make visible the work and needs of artists who are also mothers. Upcoming events include the one-night exhibition Ways We Make - Mothers of Color Nurturing and Building Our Creative Communities. This is the second event lead by Wisdom Baty and it takes place on November 7th (5:30 - 7:00pm) at Experimental Station. Also at Experimental Station on November 19th, Extended Practice will host Empowered Production: An Afternoon for Artist Parents with Selina Trepp, which includes an artist talk and discussion by Selina Trepp, a brief break-out session and networking lunch, and a family-friendly performance by Spectralina (Dan Bitney and Selina Trepp). In Summer 2018, Extended Practice will host a new artist moms group at Roman Susan in Rogers Park. This will be an activated exhibition that rotates with work featuring and curated by participating artists. In this way, new moms will get direct social support, as well as an immediate space and time to show and discuss their work. Angela and Sara both live, work and parent in Chicago.

OtherPeoplePixels: How did the two of you meet and what led you form Extended Practice?

Angela Lopez: We met at a networking event at Chicago Artists Coalition. They set up something that was like a speed dating scenario, where the participants hopped from person to person with brief five minute introductions. Someone in that group organized a critique group with us and other participants that lasted about a year. We fell out of touch, then ran into each other again at a prenatal yoga class. It was a surprise because I didn't know that Sara was pregnant. Our kids are only a month and a half apart.


Sara Holwerda: We’re both a part of EyeSplice Collective, and the artist who founded that collective, Megan Hildebrandt, is a mom. She reached out to see how many of us that were moms wanted to organize an exhibition of artist mothers. It was literally a one sentence email that sparked this, and since Angela and I were both in Chicago and somewhat isolated brand new moms with infants, we decided to start meeting to work on it (and to get outside and talk to another adult!). The exhibition idea lead us to think about other kinds of programming we wanted to see, which lead to our DCASE grant application, which lead us here.

Megan Hildebrandt working with her daughter, 2017

OPP: How did you go about connecting with other mother/parent artists?

AL: We started with people we knew then began to branch out from there. Selina Trepp, for example, was someone I went to when I was pregnant so she was one of the first people we connected with. She then connected us with Christa Donner. I met Tracy Marie Taylor and Emily Lindskoog at a new moms group and was so happy to learn that they are also practicing artists. We have a growing list of more people that we want to connect with in the future. Some we already know through our artist networks and others that people have refered to us.
 
SH: Selina and Christa, who started Cultural ReProducers, have both been amazing resources, especially at the beginning of this project. Also, several of our artists are, or were, a part of EyeSplice collective, and these artists live outside of Chicago. Angela also had some connections to other moms in Chicago that she met at a new moms group that we started doing studio visits with. I stumbled on a manifesto by Wisdom Baty about being a single mother of color, so we reached out to her and she’s now leading an event series with us. We’ve got our ears to the ground and we’re slowly branching out. We have plans to connect with people we know in Kansas City, Detroit and New York City, to potentially do events in those cities. We’ve made some international contacts through our latest animation screening, including with some women that are active in the artist/mother groups in the UK.

Wisdom Baty with her daughter

OPP: Talk about how you highlight the artists on the Extended Practice website.

AL: A big part of the project for us was making artists who are mothers more visible. In a very literal sense we want to have actual images of artists with their children in the studio. There are not many images of this kind, and they can be very impactful to young parents or artists thinking about having children. Equally important, these images ideally bring attention to how many artists are mothers.

We plan on growing this page with many more artists. Before adding anyone, we really want to get to know the artists, visit their studio and understand their practice. These are artists that we feel are making strong and challenging work while balancing parenthood. 

SH: Angela and I are like loudspeakers for our artists. We hope more artists who are parents see this work and read these stories, and we’re glad to help facilitate this growing network. We act as curators, in that we’re making a lot of decisions—on and off the website. Most of these decisions revolve around presenting the artists’ work in the best light possible and making sure we’re aligning with our EP mission and best practices.

Christa Donner with her daughter

OPP: Why isn’t your own work as artists highlighted on the website? That seems like a very intentional decision.

AL: We actually do plan to add ourselves. We just haven't yet. Sara will select images and quotes from me, and I will do the same for her. Although there are many curatorial aspects to EP, it started with wanting to create what we needed at the time. We wanted to feel connected to and supported in an art world, that is not very receptive or understanding of the particular challenges of being a mother. In many ways, we really started this for ourselves but know that it needs to be much larger to work well. We will add ourselves because we are not separate from the people that we are working with.

Sara Holwerda. baby love, 2017. Mixed Media. 23" x 12"

OPP: Tell us a bit about each of your individual practices. Sara?

SH: My work is part auto-biographical, part social commentary, and has included performance, video, animation and performing objects. I am interested in the very rigid and socially-constructed ways women—and men—are expected to perform gender. It’s effectively a form of social control. My work is definitely figurative and usually centers around the female figure. I’m drawn to any hyper-feminine performing roles: the chorus girl and pop star, food service roles, burlesque dancers, drag queens. The fact that I’m raising a son now is making me think more broadly about gender expression, and similarly constrictive expectations for masculinity. In a lot of ways, gender expression for boys is much more limited than for girls.

Right now I’m working on a series of hand-fans that I started before I was pregnant. I saw a show in Paris at the Museum of Decorative Arts a few years ago that was a massive private collection of advertising paraphernalia dating back to the Victorian era and the first printing presses. I saw a set of “portrait fans” that were functional objects as well as advertisements. There was one fan in which all the tines of the fan were a human figure. I was like, “it’s a chorus line!” The repetition, the flattening and the reduction of the human figure to a decorative object that you can manipulate are threads from past work that have carried into this project. I just made one that is a selfie I saw of Kim Kardashian while she pregnant for the first time that I couldn’t get out of my head.

Angela Lopez. Living Prosthetic, 2017. Ceramic.

OPP: What about your work, Angela?

AL: My work explores embodiment as a way to reveal primal instincts, desires and fears. The surfaces are often slippery, gooey, fleshy and in flux. They move between various states of metamorphosis, exploring the familiar and the unknown of embodiment. I work in watercolor, video and sculpture.

I currently have a show up, Magic Like Death, at Indiana University Northwest Arts and Science Gallery (Gary, IN). The work is heavily influenced by my son, although not directly about him. Watching his senses develop and his body grow—including new knee caps and a closing fontanelle—is fascinating to me and reinforces the concepts in my work in new ways. He is strong and healthy, but I am always aware of his corporal and psychological fragility. This has highly reinforced and further developed the concepts of the familiar and unknown of embodiment in my work. There are many living prosthetics and crystals growing on dismembered body parts in my newer works.

Angela Lopez. Paula's Thumb. 2017. Watercolor on paper

OPP: Although I’m not a parent, I can imagine the biggest challenge for parent artists is having less time available for making. Is that true or is that a simplification?

AL: Yes, it is true. I used to have what I'd call “ramp up time.” I'd get to my studio, leisurely clean up, move things around, snack, stare, think, and/or read before getting started. That is just a silly thought now. Studio time is very broken up and squeezed in. The “ramp up” time is now any time I'm not in studio. When I get the time to work, I know exactly what I'm going to do and just get started.

SH: I actually find lack of sleep to be the worst part. You can adjust to the lack of time, but there’s no substitute for sleep! The magnitude of exhaustion is not something you can know without experiencing it. I think Angela and I had the same sort of expectations—that now seem crazy—for parenthood, like our lives and art practices would continue and there would just be a baby chilling in the room that wouldn’t take up all of our energy. NOPE.

Sara Holwerda. Chair Dance (Adagio), 2013. Performance Still.

OPP: Aside from exhaustion, what changed in your practice after your son was born?

SH: The lack of time has forced me to contend with some of my self-destructive thinking habits. As a new artist mom, I was afraid to waste time on failures. I spent a few months just sewing baby hats and quilts for other people’s kids because I could complete them in a few hours. Finally, I had to confront that I was avoiding the part of the process when you’re making things that aren’t good. I had to convince myself that if I went to the studio for three hours and all I did was make a bunch of seriously terrible stuff that I would never show anyone, that it was okay. I’ve never been so happy to not have any shows lined up! My studio is filled with failures and I am kind of proud of it.

In terms of content, the experience of pregnancy and parenting is yet another area in which women are expected to perform a certain way. It’s like everything I’ve done has been reaffirmed and amplified already by this experience. I didn’t even know the half of it before. I will return to the performance part of my practice when I sort through all the crazy things that have happened to my body. I’m not sure all my bones have returned to their normal places, if that’s even ever going to happen!

Sara Holwerda. Homemaker (climbing), 2013. Inkjet Print. 14" x 20"

OPP: Were there surprising benefits to your art practice that you didn’t anticipate?

AL: I’m much more focused and use my studio time more efficiently. I am more selective with opportunities and applications. I didn’t expect—or even want—my work to be so strongly influenced by motherhood. I’m really glad that in many ways being a mother has reinforced existing concepts in my work.

SH: This trajectory of EP is a huge one. We received the DCASE Individual Artist grant in the first few months of our sons’ lives, and I certainly hadn’t anticipated doing this kind of organizing and curating while my son was so young. Being able to connect to other artists through motherhood has been awesome. I love our studio visits and being able to extend the modest platform we have to help elevate other artists that I admire. In my personal practice, parenting has given me a bit more perspective. For one thing, I have been forced to place more reasonable expectations on myself. There are things I just can’t do, and it’s easier for me to not even try to do those things now.

Angela Lopez. Untitled, 2016. ceramic.

OPP: What challenges do artist mothers specifically face?

SH: Mothers still carry the majority of the burden of childcare, especially when their children are young. Even in more progressive parenting partnerships, this still happens. Same-sex couples have been shown to have the best chance at finding some equality within in their parenting roles. In the art world, there’s no question that a father who is an artist will continue to have a career, whereas motherhood is often still presented as a career-ender for artists.

We’ve talked to lots of women who were explicitly warned by colleagues, mentors and professors that having a child would hurt their art career. Luckily I didn’t hear this much myself, but I did hear that there was a “right time” to do this, which is basically when you’re already fully established (and maybe also at the age where getting pregnant is more challenging or riskier).

We’re also interested in supporting mothers in the current political climate. We are barely able to get health care, maternity or paternity leave. Childcare is so expensive, and preschool isn’t free everywhere. It’s crazy. The struggle lots of artists have to even get paid for their work and their time is combined with the struggle lots of working and stay-at-home mothers have to get any kind of support outside of their families.

We do our best to support our artists with childcare, opportunities, and stipends. The money we are securing through grants goes to mothers who are artists to pay for their work and time, to parents who own businesses or run arts spaces, and to childcare providers (many of whom are also mothers!)

Pop Up Exhibit: Accumulated Gestures and Speculative Futures, 2017. Present Place Chicago. Featuring artists and mothers, Christa Donner and Megan Hildebrandt

OPP: What makes an art exhibit or event “child-welcoming and family-accessible?”

AL: More daytime events are an easy way to be more inclusive to people with young children. And to get changing tables in all bathrooms. In an ideal situation , a venue would provide a space for kids to play while parents look around and talk with other artists. Even better, they'd provide a caregiver (with experience and background check) in that space for younger kids. Oh, and kids are seriously drawn to outlets! They will find them when you're not even thinking about it. So put some covers on the ones that aren't in use.

SH: I have a toddler, and right now every event I would want to go to is dependent on my paying for childcare, coordinating with my husband’s schedule or having family help. Maybe I bring my kid instead, but then I have to plan around sleeping, eating and diaper changing. So many art events fall right at a child’s bedtime. Some of this burden should be on the venues and organizers to create spaces that are accessible for artists with family obligations. The implications of not making events accessible are far-reaching and contribute to underrepresentation in the art world. The consequences of not making events family-friendly are that it is exclusionary for mothers, single parents, and low income parents.

Mock-up for Extended Practice: New Moms at Roman Susan Gallery (Chicago), Summer 2018. The gallery space itself will be divided in two “zones” from floor to ceiling. The bottom half will be designed for children and the top half will serve as the exhibition space for the artists. The installation will show visually both the separation and interaction of the two worlds: the art world and spaces for children and babies.

OPP: What’s different at your events and what would you like to see at other art events?

AL: Childcare is the biggest asset to our events. It gives parents the opportunity to focus on each other and the art. Simply showing up is a huge challenge when you have children. The art world, that we look to for critical thinking, new ideas and philosophies, excludes a large underrepresented part of the population. Taking steps to be more accommodating can significantly help with growing and expanding the points of view in art.

SH: We also explicitly welcome nursing mothers, children and families with intergenerational events and activities. We find venues that can accommodate families and children with play spaces and changing tables! We offer real food and drink options to help families plan meals. We also do our best to schedule daytime events or have nighttime events start and end earlier to accommodate bedtimes. Keeping parents in the room is huge! Sometimes museums and galleries try to accommodate children and nursing mothers, but end up shoving them way off to the side where there is no art and no interaction.

We have a super tiny budget for these events in comparison to many organizations, and yet we have been able to offer many accommodations for parents. Clearly, we are not able to do all of these at once, and some events and venues do not lend themselves well to these considerations, but we do it. It is possible, and it’s time for these larger organizations to make better choices.

AL: Although we really want venues to change, a lot of our workshops and the upcoming talk with Selina, focus on strengthening the networks of artists who are mothers and brainstorming alternative venues and support systems. The work needs to happen on both sides. We want to find ways to support artists who are mothers and empower them to have a voice, position and representation in the art world.

To learn more about Extended Practice and their upcoming events, please visit extendedpractice.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joshua West Smith

(walnut) screen. 2016. walnut, clay. 49" x 49" x 13"

Sculptor JOSHUA WEST SMITH makes to understand what he doesn't know. His objects are part of an ongoing investigation into the ever-shifting nature of time. To this end, he makes fixed sculptures that seem barely balanced, implying a next moment that never comes, one in which they tip or move or crumble. Joshua completed his BFA at Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland in 2008. He went on to earn his MFA at University of California Riverside in 2016. Joshua is currently preparing for two upcoming solo exhibitions in 2018, one at Northview Gallery (Portland, OR) and the other at Elephant (Los Angeles, CA). His work will also be part of From the Guts of Stars, a two-person exhibition with Jenene Nagy—another OPP Featured Artist! The show will open in February 2018 at Whitter College in California. He is one half of the curatorial team Tilt Export:. Joshua lives and works in the Inland Empire of Southern California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When I look at your work—and I sadly feel like my experience viewing them online is incomplete—I think about the poetry of physics. Your sculptures remind me of the beauty and the challenges of the physical world. How much are you consciously thinking about the laws of physics while creating your work?

Joshua West Smith: I think a way for me to start talking about physics and poetry is to point to my interest in the separation of our bodies and our consciousness. The body—to me—is a tool developed in the physical world, and that body is constantly struggling or working within the constraints of a specific environment, which according to popular belief and observation is ruled by the laws of physics. This fundamental experience which our bodies share with so many other bodies allows for us to have an empathetic response to physical gestures and materials. I think in some ways those responses are intuitive responses which may slightly precede language/consciousness.

This moment before we cloak something we perceive in language is of the utmost importance to me. I would say that my practice is immersed in the poetically observed reality of physics. It is a flow—at times smooth and at others irregular—where my focus shifts within the spectrums of time and scale.

side pony, 2015. paint, wood, wire, cardboard. 38" x 36" x 38"

OPP: When you talk about shifting focus, are you speaking about the moment to moment experience of making a single piece or across your practice?

JWS: At this point I'm trying for all of those things. . . I want to shift my focus within every discrete sculpture or temporary body I create, and I want to be consistently doing the same across my practice and in my efforts outside the studio. I'm trying to figure out how to stay open. A big part of that is not becoming engrossed with one thing or way. An analogy I have been using to describe my work has been to compare the pieces to musical compositions with materials and forms as notes. I want to create compositions that are at times pleasing, always texturally rich, and flirt with moments of discordance. As an artist I want to play with our focus while being sensitive to the empty spaces within each piece and between moments of making. These spaces are not empty but full of the world.

The Oracle. 2016. wood, vinyl pigment print, hydrocal, aqua resin, cast concrete. 104" x 58" x 18"

OPP: In your statement, you say “I strive to make shaky ambiguous things, whose imbalance and openness exemplify my belief in an unstable world.” But I would argue that your sculptures are very much balanced, just precariously so. They, however, don’t seem entirely stable. Are balance and stability the same thing?  

JWS: Words like balance and stability exist as fixed signifiers but truly represent concepts that are mobile or transitory. They function to indicate a temporary state. A stable geological formation erodes and becomes balanced before it crumbles, becomes sand, and is washed to the sea. I think my use of the words shaky and imbalance is an attempt to physicalize—through language—material differences in the works which become symbols for different states of time and my own understanding of it. Material operates in my work as a metaphor for our malleable perception of time. We live out time as one moment after another, but I want to prompt the viewer to cognize the uncanny ability to imagine time outside of the present and to think of nanoseconds alongside things like geologic and cosmic time. Balance and stability are transitory and dependent on the viewer's focus and their variable investment in a thing which is observed.

screen. 2016. cnc cut pvc, wood, steel, clay, gold leaf. 85" x 60" x 65"

OPP: Tell us about the repeated circles in nomad (2015), dummy (2015), (walnut) screen (2016) and screen (2016). At first I thought this was based on construction fencing (usually orange), but then I realized that these are perfect circles. Is this motif based on something found? Why do you return to it repeatedly?

JWS: I started this inquiry after a conversation with artist Hannah Karsen. We were discussing pattern, its history in textiles and its evolution in current fashion trends. I was struggling with color and mark making on a new body of work, Hannah suggested I look to other patterns for inspiration to avoid some of the pitfalls of the subjective mark and color choices that I was trying to avoid. I was trying to make things that were fixed but becoming. In essence what I was looking for was pattern that would in someways disguise the form and in other ways highlight it. nomad (2015) was an early piece that really relied on the viewer moving around it to resolve or dissolve the image and object. As I progressed, I realized I was more interested in pattern as a consistent system that could create a memory of something it had interacted with and communicate that thing’s essence with a minimum of information. dummy (2015) became a piece but also a model for photographs which became (walnut) screen (2016). For me, this use of pattern becomes an analog for language.

end of running line. 2013. constructed plywood tubing, wood, cardboard, plaster, acrylic paint. 60” x 64” x 66”

OPP: You work with a wide range of materials: wood, steel, concrete, resin, hydrocal, clay, cardboard. Do you have a favorite material?

JWS: I really do love working with wood. It is beautiful and surprising and a little unforgiving if you have the wrong goals. At this point in my history of making, I enjoy working intuitively and avoid measuring as much as I can. I think it brings out some of my favorite aspects of living—being sensitive and perceptive while ready to improvise, being excited to be surprised and challenged.

Hand shaped white lacquered custom shelving uni, 2009. enduro lacquer, wood. 80" x 98" x 14"

OPP: Aside from your sculpture, you also design and build custom shelving, benches, tables, etc. Is the creation of functional furnishings just a way to support your sculpture practice? Or can you accomplish something in this work that the sculpture cannot do?

JWS: In the past I did support myself and my sculpture habit by making furniture, but that was hard living. Now I only do about three or four commission pieces a year and view it as a way to remember what it is to be humble. Every time I make a piece of furniture it feels like I’m doing it for the first time. It’s different clients different locations, different objects and different materials. It’s always fresh and stressful but invigorating and inspirational. Furniture making is a hard reality of form and function with the added stress of my desire to create long lasting, good objects that are truly in service to their users.

I guess what keeps me engaged with furniture is my love of material and my desire to have another way to share that with people. If I make a sculpture I am usually one of the few people to touch it, but when I put a furniture piece into someones home it lives a life with them that is intimate in a way that an art object rarely is. Furniture is touched and known. I like having a dual practice which comes from the same hands and experiences but works in different ways.

To see more of Joshua's work, please visit joshuawestsmith.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Marnia Johnston

TENDr Pod, 2016. Ceramic, Electronics, Plants.

MARNIA JOHNSTON combines a very old technology—ceramics—with new technology—electronics and robotics—in interactive works that tend to exist outside the white cube. Her TE+ND Rovers and TENDr Pods roam through the landscape, engaging bystanders to help them find light and water in exchange for education about native and non-native plants in the area. Marnia earned her BFA from San Jose State University (2007) and her MFA from the California College of the Arts (2007). She has been an Artist-in-Residence at John Michael Kohler Center for the Arts (2016), Kala Arts Institute (2015), Anderson Ranch (2014). Her numerous exhibitions include shows at Paragon Gallery (2017) in Portland, OR, Portand Museum of Contemporary Craft (2016), Richmond Center for the Arts (2015) in Richmond, CA and The American Museum of Ceramic Art (2015) in Pomona, CA. Most recently, Marnia participated in a Disaster and Climate Risk Artathon over the summer with Stanford doctoral students to create artworks that illustrate ecological resiliency. The results from that event will be shown at the Stanford Blume Earthquake Engineering Center from October 4 - December 1, 2017. Marnia lives and works in Concord, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk generally about how you use technology in your work as an artist?

Marnia Johnston: I think that people forget what technology is. It’s the zipper on your jacket, your shoelaces (or Velcro/elastic for those of us who like slip-on shoes), a fishing net, very basic stuff that we no longer consider technology because it’s so ubiquitous. When we talk about technology today, we neglect our history, our long culture, our techne. That’s why I like to use ceramic techniques, some of the oldest surviving technologies we have, and mix them with rapid prototyping techniques, motors, Raspberry Pi, and various sensors.

I’m not an engineer, but for the TE+ND rovers I had to learn the iterative engineering design process. This meant learning how to design robot parts using a variety of CAD programs, learning CAM programs that transform my models into gcode and then learn how to use 3D printers, CNC mills and water jet cutters. It’s been a long process.

TE+ND Rover Ceramic Version, 2014. Ceramic, PLA, MDF, Electronics.

OPP: You mentioned the TE+ND rovers. “The rovers are robotic fostering environments that care for their own garden of native plants by interacting with participants and actively seeking out light and water.” How do they tend their own gardens? Where do they rove?

MJ: TE+ND Rovers, designed after space exploration vehicles, are intended to investigate a range of environments, from cityscapes to less urban locales. Locations for deployments have included Mt. Diablo, Joshua Tree, and Briones Park (all in California) and the Kohler factory in Wisconsin.

I refer to the audience as participants for this project. The participants are encouraged to assist the rovers by watering their plants and herding them (using their obstacle avoidance systems) toward the resources they need—light and water— to keep their garden healthy. In the future, rovers will use an optical sensor to locate water. In an urban setting, rovers will find water in sprinkler systems, drip irrigation, rain, fog, and from participants. In helping the rovers, participants learn about cultivating native California habitat and stretch the limits of human-robotic empathy and engagement.


Rover field test

OPP: Do you monitor them or just release them? How do other humans encounter the rovers?

MJ: The rovers are currently monitored during deployments. I would like to just let them roam but there are obvious complications to that. For example, how to inform participants of the project efficiently when a monitor is not present or how to keep people from just taking them home. The rovers are usually deployed along popular hiking routes and participants encounter them without previous knowledge of the project. TE+ND monitors are on hand to answer questions and to initiate dialog about what participants consider “native.”

Succulent Surrogate: Legs2010. cast porcelain, steel, plants.

OPP: What kinds of assumptions do participants make about the plants surrounding them? What do you hope participants will understand about “native” plants?

MJ: From my experiences, most participants don’t really have an opinion until they remember that the Eucalyptus trees they see are from Australia or that most of the grasses underfoot are brown during the summer because the majority of them come from Europe. The non-native grasses grow so quickly that they’ve crowded out the native grasses, making it hard for native grasses to compete. I’d hope that the experience leads participants to understand that when they try to go for a hike to get back to ‘nature,’ what they are experiencing is managed landscape; that their opinions and actions help shape that landscape. I hope their experience with the project enables participants to make conscious decisions about local habitat that will benefit future human and nonhuman populations.

Swarm. Robotics.

OPP: SWARM is another robotic project that you’ve been involved with since 2007. What is your role in this collaboration?

MJ: SWARM was the brain child of Michael Prados and is funded by the Black Rock Foundation. Many people have contributed to its design, construction and presentation. In the beginning, we needed lots of volunteers with specific skill sets to help with R&D. We needed every type of labor, from building electronics to designing control interfaces. I helped to weld the aluminum shells, helped design a performance laser perimeter, presented the project to the public, among other things. In 2010 we were lucky enough to be invited to India to perform and give a presentation to students at the Indian Institute of Technology. I’ve also helped perform at Coachella, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, at NASA Ames, and in New Orleans as part of the Multispecies Salon. I’ve been involved with the project for 10 years now.

TENDr Pod, 2016. Ceramic, Electronics, Plants. Detail.

OPP: Tell us about DIYbio and how it impacted your current practice.

MJ: DIYbio was established to create a vibrant, productive and safe community for people who wanted to work on their own biology projects. Projects range from creating cheaper equipment that could be used more efficiently and effectively in the field, to synthetic biologists working in community labs to develop medicines (the Open Insulin project), food (Real Vegan Cheese), and renewable energy (biofuels).

I’m currently looking at cultivating oyster mushrooms and how they can be used for soil remediation as part of an art project. The Bay Area, where I live, had an important ship-building industry in World War II. There were over 30 shipyards, and their supporting industries covered the bay shore and estuaries. This industry, along with the use of lead paint, contaminated the local soil with lead. I’ve been going to Counter Culture Labs, a wonderful community lab in Oakland, where Bay Area Applied Mycology (BAAM) meets and has begun the soil remediation project. It’s a valuable resource and the Bay Area is lucky to have such an amazing and giving group of DIY biologists.

Orchid: Cast Clone, 2014. Translucent porcelain, steel.

OPP: Most of your work seems to make more sense outside the white cube. Can you talk about the role the site plays in your projects?

MJ: Unfortunately, because the projects are so conceptually tied to the site, they can be difficult to present in a gallery. For example, many of the native plants on the TE+ND rover growing platform can’t tolerate being inside where they dry out or don’t have the correct light level to flourish. It also just doesn’t have the same impact. Rolling along the California hills, you have a little rover laboring over vast, sometimes difficult landscapes. The rover’s size is diminished in this environment, compared to being situated in a white room.

It’s also encouraging to interact with people who are not prepared for art, as they usually are in a gallery. I get a wholly genuine response when people interact with my projects outside. Besides, who doesn’t like going for a hike?

See more of Marnia's work at marniajohnston.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by Chicago-based artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennie Ottinger

It's Just For Fun, 2017. Oil on panel.

JENNIE OTTINGER's paintings explore power dynamics, hive mind and social belonging. Uniforms—both official and casual—indicate group belonging, while the faces of her figures point to the complex emotional experience that belonging entails. Their expressions range from stunned to disgusted, pleased to anxious, dumbly triumphant to horrified and grotesque. After earning a BA (1994) at University of the Pacific and a BFA (2000) at California College of the Arts, Jennie went on to earn her MFA at Mills College in 2008. Recent solo exhibitions include Spoilers (2016) at Conduit Gallery (Dallas, Texas) and Letters to the Predator (2015) at Johansson Projects (Oakland, California). Rabble Rousers (2017), a two-person show with Megan Reed, closed recently at Johansson Projects. Jennie is a 2017-18 Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts, which will host an Open House on October 15, 2017 (12-5). She lives and works in San Francisco, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What are the major themes in your paintings of cheerleaders, clubs and secret societies?

Jennie Ottinger: I’m interested in that complexity and ambiguity of power dynamics. Each of us expresses power in the ways available to us and I try to depict some of these in my paintings. I’m also interested in the role clubs and organizations play in our society. We develop rituals and indicators to signify belonging. Where do we each belong and what is expected of us?

Whoooo!, 2017. Oil on canvas

OPP: The faces are all pretty equally grotesque. At some moments, these figures and the power dynamics they seem to stand for, are horrifying and I feel Schadenfreude at their suffering. Then, a second later, I feel pity and sadness for those cheerleaders and bros in neckties cause they are so desperate and trying so hard. Tell us why you paint the faces the way you do.

JO: I’m glad you experience that fluidity of reaction to the subjects. I love the variety of human faces and even though the ones I paint all look the same in a lot of ways, it demonstrates how with the slightest differences, people look different and expressions change. And when there is so much similar, you do notice the small differences between individuals. I guess it addresses that intersection of individuals and groups which is always on my mind.

I use uniforms (both formal—cheerleaders and causal—preppy) as short hand to signal a certain type. I like to play with the baggage that those preconceptions bring to the story. Preppy boys mean different things to different people, and it might be very different than how you feel about that one preppy boy you know personally. It’s like that “some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” phenomenon.  We can separate how we feel about a whole group from how we feel about one member of that group.

Are You Buying What We're Selling?, 2013.

OPP: Are you laughing at or empathizing with the figures you paint?

JO: Maybe a little of both. I use humor as a way to talk about issues I’m interested in. I present them as if I’m laughing at them but try to leave hints that I take their situation seriously. This ambiguity again is why I’m so interested in cheerleaders and sororities. Both are considered frivolous in certain circles. But though there is a case that they are outdated, they both relied on the relative feminists of their times.

On the one hand cheerleaders traditionally exists for the benefit of men—to help the men succeed in their endeavor—but cheerleaders have evolved to be mostly women and girls because at one time, only men and boys could participate in sports. Before Title IX, there wasn’t much girls could do in the way of extracurricular sports, so they flocked to cheerleading. It has further evolved into something that stands on its own. Cheerleaders are amazing and tough athletes who are not valued as much as they should be in the culture—or would be if they were men, I suspect. In fact, pop culture narrows them down to a few different types creating an almost virgin/whore dichotomy of the mean girl or the wholesome over-achiever.

Full disclosure, I tried out for my freshman cheerleading team but didn’t make it. I think you should know that. I was, however, in a sorority and although I do totally understand the criticisms of sororities, women started them because they weren’t allowed into the secret organizations that men were members of. After three years as a member, I still don’t understand exactly why they exist, but if fraternities exist, it seems feminist to start a club for women. And, for what it’s worth, I loved my time there.

Trustfall Among Taxidermy, 2015.

OPP: Many of your recent paintings refer to fictional stories, both novels and movies. What's your relationship to stories in general?

JO: I love books and almost always read fiction. A while ago I started to panic because there were so many books I wanted to read, but I felt like I would never get to them. So I started Read the Classics, a series where I painted new covers for books that were considered classics or modern classics and wrote summaries so that if you didn’t have the time or attention span for say Moby Dick, you could just read my summaries. They won’t get you through even a middle school class but they will get you through a cocktail party conversation. Which also ties into the themes of being in the club or not.

I learned a lot from this project (which is ongoing as I still do commissions of these). As you can guess, whenever you look at the western cannon of anything, it is obvious how white it is and to a lesser degree how male dominated the list is. It led me to seek out classics by women and people of color, and I read several amazing books I wouldn’t have gotten to. It also made me notice the way women were portrayed and their ultimate fates in the novels by men over the centuries.

Spoiler: He’s Already Married (Scene from Jane Eyre), 2016. Oil on panel. 16 × 20 in.

OPP: What about the Spoiler paintings? I love the reframing of the classics through the lens of contemporary television.

JO: I was looking to see if I could notice any patterns in the plots of classic novels and one thing that stood out was that many of them end either happily with a wedding or tragically with the female protagonist dying in torment. I made the Spoiler paintings as a way to take the summaries to the next level and just telling the viewer how the book ends. I also always think it’s funny when you get a book and the cover is so vague and has nothing to do with the actual story, but then the jacket summary gives the whole plot away.

There Must Be a Clover in the Atmosphere (Scene from Bring It On), 2016. Oil on panel. 18 × 14 in

OPP: What do texts like Bring it On have in common with Jane Austen, Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre?

JO: I love Bring It On because it is dealing with serious issues in the guise of a silly cheerleading movie. It doesn’t try too hard to broadcast that it is dealing with profound social issues like cultural appropriation, race and feminism. Jane Austen is similar in the way that she is interested in class and feminism but conceals these issues in a pretty, pleasant, intimate story. It’s interesting to me when something seems frivolous, but you discover it’s actually profound instead of just assuming something’s profound because that’s the way it’s presented.

I also see Bring It On as one of the very few films that presents cheerleaders as actual human beings. Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre, as different as they are from Bring It On's Torrance and from each other, were all treated a certain way because of who people thought they were from surface judgements. As I was saying in the earlier answer, I like to use stereotypes to challenge the viewer to reassess what biases come up for them. It might be easier to admit to ourselves that we're a little dismissive of cheerleaders than it is to admit we might also be a little dismissive of a marginalized group in society.

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

JO: I’m still working on cheerleading and sororities. I’m planning on sewing some cheerleader uniforms and want to include a performative element mainly so people will have to let me do their hair and makeup.

To see more of Jennie's work, please visit jennieottinger.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Julio Cesar Rodarte

Be Still My Soul, 2013. Acrylic on Shaped Panel. 22.5 x 24 inches.

Both figurative and abstract threads run throughout JULIO RODARTE's colorful paintings and illustrations. In work that celebrates sex and pleasure, he counters prudish taboos by rendering the body in geometric abstraction. Other works explore balance, symmetry and the interconnectedness of natural systems through pure, geometrical pattern. Julio earned his Associate Fine Arts degree at Glendale Community College in 2007. He has had solo exhibitions at A.E. England Gallery, Practical Art and the defunct One Voice Community Center, all in Phoenix. Two paintings will be included in Present Tense, a group show that opens on September 1, 2017 at MonOrchid Gallery (Phoenix, Arizona). You can purchase prints of his work here. Julio lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona.

OtherPeoplesPixels: First let’s talk about the queer, sex positive works like Friends Forever (2015) and Sit On It (2014). There’s a lightness, fun and joy in these paintings. Can you talk about how the bodies seem to merge into one another through your use of geometric patterns?

Julio Rodarte: The idea behind this series was to express that sex is not something dirty and perverse. It should be talked about it, rather than kept quiet. I remember when I was taking art classes and going to the museums and looking at these beautiful paintings of couples kissing. Sometimes they were naked, but there were no paintings of sexual intercourse because obviously sex is still a taboo. So, in my life drawing classes I would draw the human body by using shapes. That helped me draw better. By using geometric patterns, shapes and color I made something “dirty” look fun. I want the viewer to engage with my artwork, to take a deep view of what is in front of them. Sometimes people don’t quite get it first until they analyze it deeper and that’s when I know I have succeeded. Friends Forever was quiet a challenge, sometimes colors and shapes don’t get along with others and I go back and change things. The funny part of these works is when people ask me, if I get an erection by working on these type of paintings. I just think to myself “If you only knew all the work I put on it” and laugh. People are funny!

You Really Are My Ecstasy, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 60 x 80 inches.

OPP: Symmetry plays an important role in many of your paintings. What are your visual influences in works like Encounter (2011), Be Still My Soul (2013), Invasion (2013), The Pyramid of Love (2015) and Anahera (2017)?

JR: Symmetry is balance and balance is harmony for me. My first experience with symmetry was when I was a kid. My mom would make these beautiful cross-stitched designs for tablecloths or handkerchiefs, mostly flowers. She was so meticulous about her work, she would make in one corner one design and then another. Her work was extremely symmetrical and very addictive. She would use vibrant colors, red, blues, greens, yellow. My mom was my first art teacher, now that I think about it. She taught me beauty and balance. So in college, you explore painting and get to go to museums. I went to the Phoenix Art Museum and there was an Al Held painting on the wall. This painting was gorgeous, more beautiful than any realistic painting there. So when I got home that day I looked online for more of his work and I discovered other artists working in geometric abstraction like Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland and artists from Argentina working with geometrics, among many others. Every time I discovered a new artist, I fell more in love with pattern and color and that’s when it hit me that’s what I wanted to do.

ANAHERA, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 20 X 24 inches.

OPP: I can totally see that connection to embroidered tablecloths, especially in When it Ends, It Starts Again (2014). I also see pinball machines, video games and sacred geometry. I was thinking a lot about the presence of sacredness in play and in the everyday. Is this something you are interested in?

JR: I have never been a spiritual person. But I like to listen to a lot of vocal trance music, which in a way is spiritual and very uplifting. I like the progressive beats of this music, the melodic parts which combine vocals from mostly female singers. The title for the painting When It Ends, It Starts Again was actually a title by the DJ ATB from his album Contact released in 2014. My latest painting Miracle Moment was inspired by Andy Duguid's song "Miracle Moments" featuring the vocals of Leah. Parts of the lyrics are in the painting. so I guess vocal trance music is a source of inspiration for me. Some other paintings are also titled after vocal trance songs such as Higher.

TOGETHER AS ONE, 2016. Acrylic on Canvas.

OPP: Can you talk about balance in non-symmetrical works like Together as One (2016), Where Life Begins (2016) and Overenthusiastic (2016)?

JR: These paintings are so different from the rest. They don’t have symmetry but they have balance. Overenthusiastic was a really hard painting. I was adding pattern on one side but then I would do something on the other side, and it quite didn’t get along. I was going back and forth. Sometimes color helps to balance everything; sometimes it just ruins everything. I didn’t start with a sketch like I did with Together as One and Where Life Begins. Together as One I had a simple linear sketch with no color. So when I was painting it some colors were not getting along. The blue background was initially lighter and it looked awful. I went back and changed that and I decided that it was done. Where life Begins was an interesting process because it went by so fast. I knew how the outcome was going to look because I did my preparatory work. I didn’t go on an adventure like with Overenthusiastic.

OPP: Can you talk a bit about the imagery in Together as One and Where Life Begins? These aren’t entirely abstract.

JR: Together as One is a painting inspired by connectivity. The first sketch I did was very similar to the final result. It was a very spontaneous drawing on a sunny day in Phoenix by the pool. I used to go tanning by swimming pool and take my sketchbook. I would draw nonsense drawings. Some never survived, but others like this one did. I guess I tend to relate how all things in this world all connected somehow. As for Where LIfe Begins is a painting that deals with nature and how it hangs on to survive in a very busy world full of human construction. I have a geometrical-looking star that represents the sun, a cloud watering three plants that represents nature and life. An empty building that symbolizes the darkness in humans and how we destroy natural beauty with the things we make and expand.

ELECTRIFY, 2016. Acrylic on shaped panel.

OPP: When and why did you first begin painting on shaped canvases? What makes you choose the conventional rectangle for some pieces and a shaped canvas for others?

JR: My first shaped painting was This or That Way? created in 2008 after discovering Elizabeth Murray, who’s artwork deeply impacted me. She inspired me a lot to be wild and adventurous. So I went to the woodworkers store bought my self some big pieces of MDF. I drew shapes, cut them carefully, assembled and gessoed them, and started to draw. It was a very spontaneous process but very detail-oriented. In 2010, I had my first show at Practical Art. The show was titled Shapes and it included all these shaped paintings. It was quite an experience and a very successful. Overenthusiastic was the last shaped painting I did, and the reason why is because I have not bought anymore MDF and cut new shapes. But I have a sketchbook full of shaped paintings I want to do, I just need a day or two to fully do all of these. If I don’t do it at once, I just not gonna do it because it’s time consuming just to prepare the surface.

1937-PINK TRIANGLE, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas.

OPP: One of your newest works is 1937—Pink Triangle (2017), referencing the pink triangles homosexuals were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps. Why paint this right now? Do any contemporary viewers not get the reference and simply see this as abstraction?

JR: You know, I was invited to participate in a show about the LGBTQ history organized by the Phoenix Public Library back in March. The show was titled LGBTQ: Rights and Justice. Looking at what the other artists were putting together, I realized that we were omitting gays that were put in concentration camps, humiliated, raped, starved and murdered. I needed to paint that Pink Triangle that identified them from the rest. People were taking pictures of it. I think most people know what that symbol means, even young generations. But my painting was meant to be more educational than artistic. Somebody offered me money for it, but I didn’t sell it. I won’t make money from the pain of others.

To see more of Julio's work, please visit juliorodarte.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ryan Pierce

Revisionist History, 2016. Flashe and spray paint on canvas over panel. 72 x 96 inches.

RYAN PIERCE's large-scale paintings operate more like pictoral diagrams of the interconnectedness of nature and culture than representations of the physical appearance of our world. In his most recent solo exhibition, Dusk is the Mouth of Night at Elizabeth Leach Gallery (Portland, Oregon), he continues his ongoing investigation of the "the historical links between natural history exploration and conquest." Ryan earned his BFA in Drawing at Oregon College of Art & Craft in 2003 and his MFA in Painting at California College of the Arts in 2007. In 2016 he was the Keynote Speaker at the Thin Green Line Conference (Oregon State University) and an Artist-in-Residence at the invitational Crow’s Shadow Institute for the Arts (Pendleton, Oregon). He also had two shows with artist Wendy Given: Nocturne at Whitespace Gallery (Atlanta) and Eyeshine at Portland State University. Ryan is a cofounder of Signal Fire, a non-profit that "builds the cultural value of the natural world by connecting artists to our remaining wild places." Ryan's home-base is Portland, Oregon.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The relationship of nature and culture is a primary theme in your work. How do you see this relationship?

Ryan Pierce: Dominant society tells us that nature and culture are separate and perhaps even mutually exclusive. It may sound simplistic, but I think this is at the root of so much injustice in our world. Judeo-Christian creation myths teach us about being cast out from The Garden, and capitalism builds on that binary to encourage the plundering of the Earth. Everything the European settlers of this continent associated with wildness (Native Americans, women’s bodies, predators, intact ecosystems) was simultaneously romanticized and denigrated to allow for its exploitation. Now climate change, in the form of more extreme and unpredictable weather events, is forcing the messiness of nature right into our lives and living spaces, breaking down our walls against the outside in very literal ways.

Retrospective, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 72 x 96 inches.

OPP: In paintings like Retrospective and The Free Museum, tree branches seem to have grown through the walls and floors. Is nature reclaiming cultural spaces, returning them to the wild? (Or do the trees just want to see the art?)

RP: In these paintings, the floods and fallen tree branches have ruined the gallery’s climate control, but they’ve also possibly liberated these stuffy spaces. I often think about Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 novel Housekeeping, in which the eclectic aunt Sylvie allows weather and animals to move through the open doors and windows of the home, the sort of radical embrace of natural systems that eventually compels CPS to intervene. The Free Museum addresses an additional idea: What if all the sacred objects that were never intended to be “art” in a Western sense— objects stolen from their cultures of origin and housed in museums— what if they are all just sleeping, and the storm that destroys the museum walls and floods the galleries allows these things to become re-enchanted and primed for magic in the present day?

The Free Museum, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 72 x 72 inches.

OPP: It often seems that your compositions move back and forth between depth and flatness within a single work. Can you talk about that perspective shift?

RP: That shifting perspective is probably related more to my stylistic impulses. I’m no minimalist, and ideally a viewer would look at my work for awhile and experience multiple levels of visual interest. Like many artists of my generation, I’m influenced by a panoply of picture-makers, including self-taught Balkan painters, comic books and probably the video games of my youth. In a sense, approaching a painting more as a diagram than an illusionistic space allows one to try to impart the essence of an aspect of nature, as opposed to its appearance. I jump back and forth between those approaches, or both in the same composition.

Mask for the Venomist, 2016. Flashe and collage on canvas over panel. 24 x 24 inches.

OPP: Masks show up in works like The Free Museum and Stanley Falls, where I take them to be literal masks, as exhibited in museums. But what about the series of paintings from 2016 with “mask” in the title? Mask for the Venomist, Mask for the Bandit Queen and Mask for Night Farming are just a few.

RP: I had a transformative art viewing experience some years ago, at the mask collection of the Museo Rafael Coronel in Zacatecas, in Mexico. The collection exceeds 13,000 masks from different Indigenous groups of Mexico, with maybe a third of that on display at any time. They often include imagery from animistic spiritual traditions, cloaked in biblical guises to survive the Spanish laws, and they're innovative and debaucherous and meticulous and funny.

I fixated on the mask as a formal starting point for the paintings where they're singular in the composition, piecing together objects that, along with the title, suggest a loose narrative. In the larger works like The Free Museum, the masks are stand-ins for looted archeological relics but I invented them all without source material because I didn't feel that it was my right to recreate any culture's holy objects.

Mask for the Welfare Rancher is a direct jab at the bozos who orchestrated the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a couple years ago. The degree of entitlement necessary to seize Federal land for any reason other than to return it to its original Paiute caretakers, let alone to claim it for a bunch of ultra-rightwing Mormon militiamen. . . ugh! I hope they're just a plastic bag hanging on the cruel barbed wire fence of this decade, soon to degrade and blow away.

Casta, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 46 x 42 inches.

OPP: Tell us about Signal Fire, which you co-founded in 2008.

RP: Signal Fire’s mission is to “build the cultural value of the natural world by connecting artists to our remaining wild places.” Public lands activist Amy Harwood and I started Signal Fire as an attempt to merge our respective communities, to get artists outdoors for inspiration and to fall in love with public land, as well as to provide activists with new, open-ended strategies for their campaigns.

Eight years and 350 artists later, we have a real community of people who are sharing critical dialogue about wildlands and ecology, and our role as culture-makers is catalyzing social change. We offer a residency in wall tents, backpacking and canoe retreats, and an immersive arts and ecology field program called Wide Open Studios. Our Tinderbox Residency sponsors artists to work as temporary staff among environmental groups and our Reading In Place series offers a day hike book club in the Portland area. We highlight the work of our alumni in exhibitions and events, such as a film festival this coming fall.

Amy and I share the administrative work with our Co-Director Ka'ila Farrell-Smith, a splendid painter and activist, who brings her work in support of Indigenous survivance into everything she does. Amy and Ka'ila's leadership has helped our organization to evolve from a mix of arts, ecology and recreation, to highlighting the social justice issues that should be integral to any conversation about public lands in the American West.

The Mountain That Devours Us, 2016. Flashe and spray paint on canvas over panel. 42 x 46 inches.

OPP: It took a while to get in touch with you to do this interview because you were actually out in the wilderness, with no reception for long stretches of time. I think many contemporary artists believe they need to stay connected to social media all the time, posting on Instagram and checking Facebook. Why is disconnecting a good idea for all humans? What about for artists specifically?

RP: I’m actually writing these answers in a tent in Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, on week one of a four-week trip. The stars are brilliant tonight and I can hear a rushing, glacier-fed creek, about fifty feet away. Some of the students on our Wide Open Studios trips are young enough that they've never gone a week without a cell phone before.

I'm not a technophobe, but I believe solitude is healthy and increasingly hard to find. Disconnecting is good for building one's attention span and patience to work through a challenge without clicking away. It's reassuring to feel a lasting sense of surprise and the profound smallness that comes with living outside, away from the built environment. It cultivates wonder.

The friendships forged while backpacking through bugs and storms are precious and enduring. The internet is the gold rush of our day: sure, a few artists’ work goes viral, but most of those people are either a flash in the pan or they were damn good to begin with. For the rest of us, myself included, it's a mildly unfulfilling time suck. Every time I hear the little voice encouraging me to scan around for obscure things to apply to, or to sign up for new ways to network online, I try to redirect that energy back into the work itself, or else go do something IRL.

To see more of Ryan's work, please visit ryanpierce.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.