OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Babinec

Golden Rule Mine (Glass), 2016. Acrylic on panel. 12 x 16 in.

AMY BABINEC's (@amybabinecdrawings, paintings and plaster casts are driven by the recovery of memory. Informed by her educational background in Archeology, she emphasizes the fragment and the excavated object as poetic stand-ins for all that is lost. Amy earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA in Visual Art from University of Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include Remnants (2015) at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois and Underlayer (2012) at Morton College Gallery in Cicero, Illinois. Amy's upcoming solo show Golden Rule opens at Riverside Arts Center’s FlexSpace (Riverside, Illinois) on June 2, 2018 and runs through July 7, 2018. The opening reception is on Sunday, June 3 from 3-6 pm. Amy lives and works in Evanston, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Generally speaking, how do fragments relate to the whole in your work?

Amy Babinec: My work uses fragmentation as a metaphor for memory and the failure of memory. So many of my memories are fragmentary, particularly of my childhood. Images such as a wallpaper pattern, a book cover, and the smooth texture of a rock, conjure up a host of memories of my family, and a reminder of their loss over the years. Objects isolated from their environments can become artifacts, evidence and mementos. Subtracting context leaves the object open to fantasy and speculation. These fragments embody the nostalgia and longing I have for family relationships for those who have passed on. The objects become substitutes for keepsakes and stories from my own family. 

Reenactment 6, 2009. Oil on canvas. 16 x 18 in.

OPP: In your 2017 artist statement, you say,"By combining elements of archaeology, personal history, and fiction, I set up an opposition between abstraction and figuration, past and present.” And I see this very much in the series Reenactment (2009-2010). Can you talk about this body of work in relation to this statement?

AB: I created the Reenactment paintings in graduate school at the University of Chicago. As an instructor of a beginning painting class, I found stacks of paintings that college students had discarded after the class ended. Many of the paintings were abstract, thus presenting an opportunity to use them as a free-association prompt. I selected and cropped the abandoned student paintings that had compositions, spatial relationships, or colors that reminded me of a place, person, or situation from my early life in Belleville, Illinois, the town in southern Illinois where I grew up. For example, a vivid orange geometric abstractioncould be turned into the orange brick cul-de-sac behind my elementary school. I intervened in the paintings with the minimum I needed to do in order to visualize that memory. The resulting paintings remain abstractions, but with my memories (the figuration) embedded within it.

Wildwood Mine, 2015. Plaster, 4 15/16 x 4 5/16 x 3/4 inches.

OPP: When did you first start making work based on artifacts found in abandoned coal mines?

AB: I started my research into this topic in 2009 when my parents discovered cracks in their basement foundation in their house in southern Illinois. The cracks were caused by subsidence, or the collapse of coal mines under the surface. Unfortunately, the area under their house, and most of the town, was undercut by underground coal mines which had been operated by individual owners or small companies from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Buildings and roads on the surface could prove unstable because of hidden processes under the earth and could cave in at any time. I was struck by the metaphorical possibilities of that phenomenon, that events in the past could affect the present, sometimes suddenly and drastically.

I used Illinois State Geological Survey maps, Google Earth maps and historical records, and triangulated the location of mines, then drove out to find them. These sites were largely on private land. Many had been completely erased from the surface, but some had pits, coal and slag piles, railroad tracks, and other evidence of the coal industry. I discovered that many of the abandoned mines had been used as a trash dump for domestic items such as plates and cups from the 1880s to the 1960s. As part of my studio practice, I visit the abandoned mine sites throughout the year, conduct surveys and digs and bring artifacts and documentation back to my studio in Evanston, Illinois.

Hill Mine Grid 3, 2013. Acrylic. 30 x 30 in.

OPP: You work in a variety of drawing and painting media, as well as cast plaster. How do you make choices about which fragments should be painted in watercolor or oil versus cast in plaster? Does the object dictate this?

AB: I am a materials and techniques nerd. I enjoy the process of experimentation (most of the time!) to find the technique that fits the idea. In the Subsidence project, I have used a variety of materials to interpret the data I have found. I document the mine sites through drawings, video, and photography, and collect personally resonant objects to bring back to my studio. My focus on particular facets of this process leads to the media that will reflect my investigation.

Abandoned, Golden Rule Mine, Lenzburg, Illinois, 2017. Watercolor, colored pencil, and charcoal on paper. 11 1/4 x 15 inches. 

OPP: In both Golden Rule and Remnants, the found objects are isolated from their original context in backgrounds of (almost) black or white. Is this an erasure of the sites that inspire your work? Why or why not?

AB: My background includes a masters degree in Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland and twenty years’ experience as a museum professional. I use archaeology as a touchstone throughout much of my work. The white background evokes the practice of archaeological illustration of objects uncovered at a dig, and the photographic documentation of objects in a museum. I also use the square format as a reference to an archeologist’s grid. I often show objects in a meditative, quiet manner echoing the precision of archaeological drawings. I repeat certain objects, such as a spoon, to provide a sense of scale, following the archaeological practice of including a ruler or penny in photographs of finds.

Unlike an archaeologist, I am selective about what I collect at a site and represent in my work. Recently I have been most drawn to domestic artifacts dating from my grandparents’ generation in the early to mid-twentieth century. For example, a small triangle of colorful glazed ceramic, which had been broken off from a figurine of a house, takes on further resonance for me. I feel the pathos of this object, once highly valued by someone, but now abandoned by its owner to be buried in the dirt and be subjected to the elements. 

To see more of Amy's work, please visit amybabinec.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). Her most recent installation Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hector Arce-Espasas

Dancers (Metallic), 2015. Fruits, Flowers and Porcelain. Dimensions Variable.

HECTOR ARCE-ESPASAS explores the relationship between desire and exploitation by employing the loaded symbols of tropical paradise in paintings, ceramics, and screenprints. Hector earned his BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA at Hunter College in New York. He has had solo exhibitions at Taymour Grahne (2016) in New York, Evelyn Yard (2015) in London, and Luce Gallery (2014) in Turin, Italy. In 2016, he was named one of 10 Exceptional Milennials to Watch by artnet.com. Hector lives and works in New York. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the myth of the Tropical Paradise and how you use it/subvert it in your work?

Hector Arce-Espasas: Throughout the history of mankind, different cultures, in their pursuit of the ideal, have invested symbolic meaning into objects and elements of their environment. In the process of exteriorizing inner quests, these objects have become sensuous representations, i.e. symbols that express intangible truths or states. A symbol corresponds to a precise time in history and it transcends history to become universal in its function as an image. Universality of the symbolic image enables the transformation and adaptation of the symbol by different cultures, but this process also carries numerous misconceptions, misappropriations and colonial fantasies.

The idea of the Tropical Paradise is the present day transmutation of the ancient historical myth of the Garden of Paradise. The concept of Paradise as a garden is found in most eastern cultures: a secure, everlasting place in which Man can transcend his frail human condition. In biblical terms the notion of Paradise became associated with the Garden of Eden. Its earthly representation became a walled garden with dominant water features and planted with date palm trees. In western societies, this idyllic garden idea was often associated with the Latin term Locus Amoenus, a pleasant place which in time became a poetic convention for a description of an idyllic setting where a romantic encounter could occur or which belies an impending threat. 

The transformation of the eastern idea of the Garden of Paradise into the western version of Eden as Paradise combined with the notion of the Locus Amoenus became the seeds for the creation of the new Tropical Paradise: an exotic, idyllic place with palm trees by the sea. Unlike its theological version, this Paradise is within easy reach, ready to be appropriated, consumed exploited and spoiled. In present times, commercial media and the advertisement industry have successfully reconfigured some of the Paradise images, within different contexts, transforming their traditional meanings, adapting them and making them trans-cultural, with far more reaching and readily consumable results.

Untitled (red) Clay Paintings, 2014. Stoneware and Acrylic on Linen. 60" x 72"

OPP: Palm trees and pineapples are recurring images in your work. Are these symbols stand ins for Tropical Paradise?

HAE: All the compositional elements from this garden are transfigured and transubstantiated to recreate the new Paradise. The river becomes the sea. The coconut palm tree, brought from the Pacific Islands by the Europeans to the coasts of West Africa and the islands of the Caribbean, replaces the date palm tree as the official iconic image for this new exotic landscape. The insertion of the pineapple as the attainable, sensuous new fruit of this Tropical Paradise emerges. My images visually demonstrate how easy the association and transition from the date palm tree to the pineapple might have occurred; thus becoming the fruit associated with the coconut palm tree. 

No, these are not paintings they are Pineapple Decor, 2015. Acrylic on Canvas. 60" x 79"

OPP: Can you talk about the abstract screen print works? I have a sense that this is representational imagery, but blown up so large that its referent disappears?

HAE: Some of the work deals with the deconstruction and recombination of images of the pineapple, in order to demystify its meaning as a fruit representative of the Tropics. The images lure and repel while playing with the idea of the pineapple as the easily attainable commercial fruit of the Tropical Paradise. This idea is extended metaphorically in regard to having viewers question their expectations of a Tropical Paradise in itself: at what cost, to their own reality or to that of the place to stand for their fantasies.

Still of Paradise (Purple Shade of Light), 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 24" x 29"

OPP: You’ve recently shifted into more painterly representations, whereas in the past, the palm tress have been more graphic and reproduced through printmaking processes, which connects them to mass produced media. What led to this shift?

HAE: After a few years of working with printmaking, I wanted to take a shift from the mechanical to the hand-made process without loosing the elements that I was working from. The paintings that I did in the past are created by photographing palm tree leaves then zooming in to create an abstraction. Then the images were made into transparency that get exposed into a screen. The end result is painting with acrylic and the use of large format screen-printing. I use a similar process with the derriere paintings. First a model derriere wearing jeans gets directly painted, later she makes a mono print using her derriere in the canvas leaving the in prints by her moves (similar to Yves Klein). Later these are photographed and altered using the same method as the palm tree paintings.

Dancers (White), 2016. Fruits, Flowers and Porcelain. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: It’s really jarring to see the body—well, the hips and ass, in particular—as a vessel for serving fruit. How does this work speak to exploitation of the Caribbean world?

HAE: My intention is to leave interpretation open to the viewer. Sometimes I like to ignite dislike, discomfort, disagreements with the elements I choose. A good example is the derriere sculptures. Its an image we constantly see exploited, usually direct in the Latin culture. As once the pineapple or this idea of the tropical paradise was a coveted and luring concept, in today’s culture it is the derriere. My last installation of the sculptures, named Ode to Paradise was made into a pyramid like stage/shape with a lot of tropical foliage on the top with the idea of empowering the figure, which I feel is what our culture has greatly done.

To see more of Hector's work, please visit hectorarceespasas.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). Her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? is on view at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois) through April 20, 2018. In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text Where Do We Go From Here? Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Zoe Hawk

Dreaming As The Summers Die, 2017. Oil on aluminum.

ZOE HAWK's allegorical paintings and drawings are populated by adolescent girls in knee-socks and and Peter Pan collared dresses. Matronly women in veiled funeral garb sometimes stand guard, representing an oppressive and depressing future. These paintings point to a dominant narrative of idealized American girlhood and the nuances of  navigating inherited gender expectations. In these paintings, growing up female is an unfolding process of resisting and participating, subverting and submitting. Zoe earned her BFA in Studio Art from Missouri State University and her MFA in Painting from the University of Iowa. Her work has been included in exhibitions both in the United States and abroad, and reproduced in publications such as New American PaintingsThe Oxford American, and ArtMaze Mag (London). She has attended artist residencies in Belgium, Norway, and the United States. Her latest residency experience was at the Doha Fire Station in Qatar, which culminated in group exhibitions both in Doha and Berlin. Her work was recently included in the current issue of Create! Magazine. Zoe lives and works in Doha, Qatar.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you think of your paintings as allegories? If so, for what?

Zoe Hawk: I do see them as allegorical. Ultimately my work is about the experience of girlhood, the transition to womanhood, and ways we learn our roles in society. The paintings are like stage sets, or dollhouses—little social microcosms where various stories can play out. All of the poses, facial expressions, colors and scenes are carefully chosen to represent different aspects of the girlhood experience. Many of the decisions are made to function as metaphors, and I often include references to classic stories, films, games, folk songs, etc. I want the narratives to seem sweet and familiar, like a story in a children’s book, but at the same time cause a bit of unease in the viewer, as if something is not quite right. 

In Her Willows, 2017. Oil on aluminum. 17.5" x 23"

OPP: Can you talk about the difference between girls and women in your work?

ZH: Most of the girls in my paintings are at the transitional age of adolescence, when the realization hits that womanhood won’t be all excitement and romance, but that there will be violence, fear and unrealistic expectations to bear. This is where my depiction of the veiled women in black funeral dresses comes from. They are mourning the death of their childhood freedom and innocence. But from the point of view of the young girls, the women are something mysterious and unknown, both alluring and foreboding. Often the women are confining the girls, trying to rein in their wild energy, or looming over them with a watchful eye. Other times they are leading them by the hand towards the inevitable.

Aqua Culture, 2016. 11 x 16.5"

OPP: Very few of your paintings feature girls alone. This Way Over Obstacle (2016), Aqua Culture (2016) and Dream Home (2014) really stand out. In each case, the solitary girl is totally focused on something that has nothing to do with the group. How are these girls different from the rest? 

ZH: The girls in groups are learning how to navigate their social environments. They sometimes work in tandem, like a flock of birds, while other times there is frustration, rebellion and contention between them. The solitary girls are more about introspection and curiosity—showing that girls have scientific minds, deep inner lives, and a sense of self that maybe conflicts with social expectations. Aqua Culture is about an intense moment of awe, wonder and a dark realization about the future. The girl in Dream Home is engaged in an act of curiosity, peeling back the artifice of her environment, exposing darkness, while symbols of domestic perfection are looming over her. I think the isolation of the figures feels much more stark and dramatic when seen in contrast to the group images. It becomes less about interactions and more about the potency of one singular action, and about the impact of the surrounding environment. 

Cry, Sally, Cry, 2014. Oil on aluminum. 15 x 17"

OPP: Tell us about the clothing in your paintings. Lots of white knee socks, white collars, skirts and dresses. I don’t think a single pair of pants. They seem like school girls, but not contemporary teenagers.

ZH: The clothing the girls wear represents different modes of feminine identity: the uniforms are a metaphor for socialization, institutional power and conformity, while the floral patterned dresses and white bridal/baptismal dresses represent femininity, purity and innocence. I like to reference clothing from the 1930s through the 1960s—like the white collars and pastel dresses—because to me it is the epitome of American idealized girlhood, and represents the gender ideals that are still woven into the fabric of contemporary culture. I think imagery from the past functions well as a stand-in for the current social climate, because it allows distance from our daily lived experience. And as much as the paintings are a critique of these gendered constructions, I acknowledge my own pleasure that I take in these things—the childhood joy I felt as a girl in a puffy, pink dress—and the internal conflict I feel as a result. 

Waterway, 2015. Oil on aluminum. 16.75 x 18.5"

OPP: I think about these paintings as about the conflict between wanting to belong and wanting to assert individuality. Sometimes the girls fall in line and sometimes they rebel. To what degree do these characters have choice in the matter?

ZH: I think adolescence is so interesting because of this conflict between the desire to fit in and a need to rebel. I want that tension to add to the overall sense of uneasiness in the paintings. I often like to paint the girls’ faces and actions in a way that expresses their curiosity, sadness, fear and frustration, in spite of the rigid idealism of their clothing. The question of choice is interesting, because I think we are all a product of environment, upbringing and circumstances. But I love the idea that some of these girls can break free. 

Rite of Passage, 2014. Oil on aluminum. 16.5 x 19"

OPP: I agree about each of us being a product of our environments, upbringing and circumstances. So how does that fact relate to the dominant cultural narrative of “idealized American girlhood,” which seems to be predominantly white, middle class and suburban? How do we deal today with this inherited—and limiting—storyline about how girls should be?

ZH: Yes, I definitely see that idealized narrative as a misrepresentation of the broader girlhood experience, and something that has been an oppressive force for many. It certainly differs from my own experience growing up, but it is a narrative that I consumed along with most other girls because it was the only one offered by the mainstream. For me, the discovery of alternative female voices in books, music, comics and art was essential. I think diverse options are more accessible to girls now, thanks to the Internet and social media, but we still have far to go. Representation is important, so I think we need to amplify the creative voices of women—especially women of color, trans women, immigrant women, and others who have traditionally been denied a place at the table—in order to culturally redefine what it means to be a girl. 

To see more of Zoe's work, please visit zoehawk.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 Andy Mauery

patriarchal orifice #2: Boloria frigga (Frigga Fritillary), 2016. Thread stitched on human hair, insect pin, styling products. 18”h x 16”w x 1”d

ANDY MAUERY constructs delicate crownscurtains and clouds from human, acrylic and horse hair. Shed regularly and replenished anew by the body, hair highlights the impermanence of life. In her recent work, human hair is just barely held together by thread drawings of extinct and endangered species. These fragile objects point to our interconnectedness and remind us that we, too, are not immune to extinction. Andy earned her BFA from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her MFA from West Virginia University. She has been at artist-in-residence at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Vermont Studio Center and Tesuque Glassworks. In 2017, she won an Artist’s Resource Trust Fund Individual Award from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, which funded the work in her upcoming solo exhibition devolve. The show opens in the summer of 2018 at the Lord Hall Galleries at The University of Maine. Currently she is an Associate Professor of Art and the Foundations Coordinator at The University of Maine. Andy lives in Veazie, Maine with her husband, son and two nocturnal kittens.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve worked with hair for many years. When did you first use it in your practice?

Andy Mauery: I think the first fully realized works that used hair came near the end of grad school, although it had been part of my sketching practice longer. I’ve always had braids lurking around—in hair, different fibers and drawings. One series of pieces was based on fishing lures, but spoke more to luring human attention, looking at some cisgender society roles and mating rituals with a bit of skepticism/cynicism, and some humor. So I made people-sized lures of steel and fibers and turned the hair/fur—pretty common on fly fishing lures—into human hairdos. 

With the more recent rapunzelsI went back and indulged myself in making bigger versions of works that I have been repeatedly remaking for years in smaller, varied formats.  

little red rapunzel, 2013. Acrylic fiber, scissors

OPP: How do you think about the hair materially?

AM: As a material, hair is simultaneously an extremely personal part of each of us and a widely shared mammalian feature. There’s my hair, which I groom in a manner that culturally address a sense of self in many ways. And then there are more than 5,000 species of mammals that, yeah, all have the same stuff, yet it’s considered so completely, utterly foreign and “animal.”  Many artists have tapped into the politics of hair. It’s complex and very real. I have frizzy auburn hair, and it has garnered a surprising amount of attention, both positive and negative, from the time I was very young. My paternal grandmother had a beauty shop, too, and I loved it when she let me style this one ratty, mod auburn wig. 

patriarchal orifice #1: Vertigo morsei, 2016. Thread stitched on human hair, insect pin, styling products. 16”h x 19”w x 1”d

OPP: The most recent hair work is crowning glories. Can you talk about the juxtaposition of human hair with the stitched outlines of extinct butterflies, snails and mussels?

AM: The crowning glories, an ongoing project, took shape when I was trying to clarify the relationship I have with these species works and simplify my approach. I wanted the works to resonate personally with each viewer, without presupposing an existing empathy with the critters being pictured. I started with really direct representations of or symbols for the central subjects or ideas: power, you/your human body, the species we humans are harming. I worked with this straightforward equation; the human is [combined with] the other species. I was drawing from photos and graphics of various endangered species, including some plants, and started creating tracery layouts and patterns. 

I experimented with different techniques to hold the works together, including hand and machine stitching, knotting, wrapping, some felting. The first of the series that survived my experiments was an actual crown made of human hair, whose form is created entirely of simple silhouette drawings of protected and endangered (and some extinct) species stitched in thread, on/through/around the hair. 

The hair is this actual DNA record of a person, a wearable memento mori and a self-portrait, all those things and more made into this delicately drawn version of an object representing power. I’ve actually under-engineered the pieces a bit, too, to make sure that they aren’t permanent: they are meant to come apart eventually. I liked the crown works when they were flattened out as patterns, prior to being shaped, so I’ve moved some of the later versions of the series into wreath-like wall pieces, where the repeated butterflies and snails can be more clearly seen. So they are also these contemporary versions of the Victorian mourning jewelry, lamenting the mussels, plants, moths that we are wiping from the earth.  

A Species of Special Concern: Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens), 2017. Human hair, mirror vinyl, petri dish, water, watercolor pencil, soluble starch. Frog is life size.

OPP: What role does fragility play in your practice? 

AM: Plural roles, definitely, as it is entwined in so many aspects of my practice. Addressing the physicality first, at times I am so intent on working right up to the edge, as if I have to find out first just how far a material can be pushed before it fails. I have so many examples of objects that didn’t survive their own making, when I pushed just a bit too hard. Or sneezed on them. It turns out that a frog made of starch does, indeed, dissolve in those circumstances. 

The crowning glories are the husky, strong works in my oeuvre, comparatively. I was talking with an artist friend about having a hair work badly damaged in a shipping accident, and when she suggested some tougher materials, I said, “oh yes, on it already. I’m doing a collaboration in glass.” Then I heard the sentence outside of my head, through her laughter: when glass is your “tougher” material. 

I’m drawn to materials and structures that are vulnerable, and delicate, and ephemeral. Of course it’s lovely when they are paradoxically strong and fragile, too. Horsehair is a great example. That seeming contradiction is what I keep poking at with each sculpture, drawing, installation. I want materials that degrade and age, that have a life span, that need to be cared for to survive, that are analogous to the subject matter or theme of the work. Fragility and mortality are really driving the train, so to speak. 

Years ago I worked with these same ideas through the lens of boundaries, how we imagine, create, enforce boundaries out of ignorance/unknowing/fear, instead of trying out new ways of experiencing where we as individuals start/stop within our world. Now I continue working on those same concepts but with a shift in perception, still acknowledging my impulses toward the phenomenological and ontological, but now stepping more firmly into what a friend identified as, “good, old-fashioned ethics.” I sometimes wonder if my approach has led me to materially working my way through my own clumsy understanding of Philosophy 101 coursework, manifested through studio practice. If so, I embrace it, with general apologies to philosophers everywhere.

crowning glory 2 (hopping mouse), 2013. human hair, thread. 7"h x 7.5"w x 8" d

OPP: Human mortality and animal extinction are themes in your work. Does one concern you more than the other?

AM: Is it too irreverent to say my level of worry between the two is comparing apples and oranges? Human mortality became more of a concern when I became a parent and as I lose a continually and irreversibly larger number of friends and family to human mortality. We get such a short time on earth, even the most long-lived of us; it’s healthy to use that time well. At this point, I don’t worry about it every day, but it certainly shapes my actions. The human condition, you know…we work our way outward from our biological and self-concerns to eventually—in theory—worrying about how our societies work and how they impact the environment. 

OPP: Are you concerned with human extinction?

AM: I do have real, daily concern with animal and human extinction, and those two are inextricably linked. After an incalculable number of animal species die, we humans die. I believe that they have a right to live whether their deaths impact our future survival or not. But for those who don’t think that bats, for example, deserve that consideration, perhaps you could get behind supporting them as a part of the biodiversity that sustains all life? 

Science has made a very strong case that humans are primarily responsible for the current extinction crisis, this “sixth wave” being unlike the naturally occurring mass extinctions in the sheer numbers of species lost to avoidable conditions like the introduction of invasive/exotic species, habit loss due to a wide variety of land practices that result in pollution and destruction. And of course there is global warming. Our ability to address those big questions involved in the human condition—are we made to be selfish, can we be altruistic, should we live in hierarchical societies, how do we treat the environment—affect our chances of making it as a species. We can’t really survive as humans without non-human species. There is no realistic scenario that supports that; we are part of a vastly complex system of living things.

extinction as parlor game, 2017. Wallpaper, endangered Maine butterfly stitched in thread on human hair, insect pin, styling products. paper is 11' high.

OPP: How do viewers respond to your work?

AM: Some people are really drawn to them and find them beautiful and strange. Others get very angry with these works in gallery shows. They say things like, You’re allegedly so upset about this, but you’re showing bats made of hair in a gallery. This is terribly—choose one—entitled, mercenary, elitist, timid, limited, inefficient, preaching to the choir, naïve … Social and political activism takes place in many venues. It must. It has a lot of different forms; it must. These works are not my only actions towards halting species extinction, habitat degradation, but they are a portion of it. 

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece by another artist?

AM: So many favorites. . . there’s an ever-changing list of faves for different reasons, I will give you  some currents. An artist and scientist who works with the threat of extinction, Brando Ballengée’s Collapse is so beautiful and threatening and sad. It’s thousands of preserved species in gallon jars stacked in a pyramid, in response to the damage to the Gulf of Mexico following the Deep Horizon spill. Leonor Antunes' I stand like a mirror before you (2015) for her her brilliant riff on Modernist forms and her deep forays into structure, I love grids, nets, knotted strings and often use them as well. Her work is often so clean and restrained, and politically on point about women artists’ roles to be both practical in effect and socially/politically radical. Speaking of socially active artists, I am really looking forward to showing this summer with elin o’Hara slavick, she does stunning work including a series of cyanotypes done in Hiroshima with objects that were left after the A-bombing in 1945. They are like exquisite, blue x-rays of loss.

Artificial Simplicity 2, 2009. acrylic fiber, steel, plastic. fiber 12' length

OPP: What's your favorite piece of your own work? Consider the difference between most successful in terms of audience response versus your personal experience making the piece.

AM: The crowning glories are ok with me right now. I’m pretty invested in them, and audiences are responding in varied but strong ways, which is pleasing. But I feel some of my curtains have been the most successful in terms of audience response, such as the two installations in the Atmospheric Conditions exhibit. They are large, visually transparent screens that sway with air currents, can be touched, they reference the body in somewhat odd but still accessible ways. My personal experience making them has, well, pros and cons. For example the materials are very tactile and pleasing to handle, which is great because they take some time to construct so there is plenty of handling opportunity. They are also quite frustrating to make because in most of the studios I’ve worked in, and certainly in my current studio, the ceiling is not high enough to build one vertically, or hang it after initial construction to work on; so the logistics are somewhat involved, and I don’t get to see if it’s really worked until it’s installed into the taller gallery space. I’m currently making a crowning glories version of a curtain, may as well go all in and try to merge the two.  

To see more of Andy's work, please visit andymauery.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 Jenn Smith

Untitled (Flashlight), 2017. Acrylic and oil on panel. 22" x 20"

JENN SMITH's paintings and drawings feature Adam and Eve, a very chill Jesus Christ and a silly serpentagainst a rural Midwest background. Corntractors and signs of worship also populate her oeuvre. Her style is simple, evocative of a child's Sunday school drawings. But her exploration of evangelical belief and her own upbringing as an evangelical Christian is anything but simplistic. Humor and sincerity are both present, proving that you can take something seriously without believing in it. Jenn earned her BS in Studio Art at Illinois State University and her MFA in Painting from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited at Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), the Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food (Chicago) and Julius Caesar (Chicago). Her work was most recently on view in Winter Romance at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (Chicago). Jenn lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s your relationship to Christianity?

Jenn Smith: I was raised evangelical Christian in the rural midwest. We attended the kind of church where people would spontaneously begin speaking in tongues or fall down in a trance-like state. They call it being “slain in the spirit.” We thought we were living in the end times and the Rapture would happen at any moment, so there was a lot of excitement and fear. I’m no longer a believer, but many of the ideas and images from that time in my life continue to fascinate me.

Book of Acts, 2017. Acrylic and oil on panel. 20" x 26"

OPP: Your painting style is silly, cartoonish, and evocative of a child’s drawings. Have you always painted this way? Or is it a style that is particularly suited to the content of your recent work?

JS: I learned how to draw and paint representationally as an undergraduate, but pretty soon after that I started making abstract paintings, drawings, and collages. I continued to make abstract works off and on for about ten years. Then, in grad school, I decided I needed to paint figuratively. It was a big jump. I was pretty sure I’d forgotten everything I learned as an undergrad, but I knew it was the only way I could wrestle with more personal content in my work. So, I started to paint figures, animals, cars, cornfields, angels and snakes from my imagination, very simplified and without too much fuss. I’m not very interested in realistic representations of things. I like diagrams, game boards and flat, matte shapes and symbols. I look at a lot of medieval paintings. I like how they’re so often flat with a confusing sense of space. A too-short arm, an awkward gesture, or foreshortening gone wrong keeps things interesting. 

OPP: More than just being visually interesting, it seems to suggest that the reality you think you know is a lie. . . which brings me to the recent snake drawings, like Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #16) and Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #3). How do your goofy snakes relate to Eden’s snake?

Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #7), 2017. Colored pencil on paper. 11" x 8.5"

JS: I found the inspiration for the snakes in a deck of Bible character memorization cards a friend gave me as a gift. The cartoon serpent was depicted on the Adam and Eve card, slithering in and out of oval-shaped holes in a flat green cartoon tree. The cards were meant to be straightforward educational materials, but I felt there was some level of (unintentional?) sexual innuendo. . . I mean, snakes going in and out of holes and so on. . . It was kind of funny, but it also hit on my interest in the complexities of what is hidden and what is visible in a painting or drawing. My snake drawing series has allowed me to explore these ideas within a very limited framework, in almost a diagrammatic way, using a set of symbols including snakes, boxes, holes, lines, dotted lines. 

OPP: And what about your version of Jesus? Does he have a different backstory than what the bible taught?

JS: Well, he retains his biblical backstory—there’s no way to separate him from that, even if I wanted to. But it’s interesting to put him in other contexts to see what happens. There’s so much emphasis in evangelical culture that we should strive for a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. So for believers, they don’t think about him as a historical figure or a far-away savior; they think of him as their best friend who they talk to every day. So I feel like I got know him pretty well when I was growing up. When I first started to include a Jesus-looking figure in the work I wasn’t exactly sure why I was doing it. But now I’m starting to wonder if the Jesus in the paintings is actually a version of me, in the same way the Jesus a Christian talks to every day is actually just a part of their own mind. 

Untitled (figure and Jesus), 2016. Oil on canvas. 22" x 20"

OPP: What does the word irreverent mean to you and do you consider your work to be irreverent?

JS: I think irreverence and a sense of humor have served me well in my life, but I’m still getting used to the fact that they’ve made their way into my work. As I said, I was making abstract paintings, which were pretty safe (also sort of boring) before grad school. I know that people find my recent work irreverent, and I think it probably is. But I also try to make it complex and layered and to allow a lot of space for the unknown.

OPP: Tell us about the Demons. They are the most abstract works. I interpret the titles as referring to dates, so I imagine that these works represent some kind of event or “dangerous influence.

JS: That’s a good guess! I usually don’t say much about the demon paintings because I think part of what makes them interesting is their ambiguity.

Demon '87, 2016. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 22" x 20"

OPP: You’ve been out of grad school for a little over a year. I remember my own first year out as particularly difficult. How’s it been? Has anything changed in your practice?

JS: It has been a real rollercoaster, but I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to continue making my work and have had opportunities to show it. I draw a lot more now, as a way to develop ideas and plan paintings, but also as an end in itself. I have intensified my practice of collecting Christian ephemera, which I share on Instagram. Painting is still the center of my practice and I don’t think that will change. I’m still excited about it every day.

OPP: What are you excited about in the studio right now?

JS: I’m working on a series of paintings on the front sides of wooden boxes about the size and shape of cereal boxes. They are hollow inside and have coin slots on top. They resemble the collection boxes we used to have on the walls of our church. I’m interested in the idea of having these paintings/boxes on a gallery wall where anyone can drop a coin or a folded-up note or anything else into the slot, and whatever is dropped inside becomes a permanent part of the piece forever. 


To see more of Jenn's work, please visit thejennsmith.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 Lauren Carter

The One with the Rainbow, 2016. Ceramic rainbow, broken mug, peach pit, Shrinky-dinks, beads, toothpicks, foam tubing, hydrocal, expandable foam, acrylic paint, silicone, epoxy clay, glitter, pigment, steel rod. 26” x 16” x 14”

LAUREN CARTER transforms found objects and personal possessions into kitschy and profound assemblage sculptures. These memorials to sentimentality are both serious and silly. Her effort to preserve and honor discarded, once-loved objects shows up in the marks left by her hand in the hydrocal, silicone, expandable foam and epoxy claycast plaster that holds these works together. Lauren earned her BFA from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her MFA with Distinction from the University of New Mexico. She has exhibited at Non-Fiction Gallery (Savannah, Georgia), Chicago Art Department, Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago) and Chicago Artists Coalition. She was a 2013-14 HATCH Projects Residentand a 2017 Center Program ArtistSurface vs. Sap, a two-person exhibition with Nico Gardner, opens March 31st at Comfort Station in Chicago. Lauren is a teaching artist at Marwen in Chicago, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your most recent body of work, Offerings or Clusterfucks, seems to be more about material culture and its detritus than earlier bodies of work like Flux (2015) and Pre/proscribed (2012), which are more bodily and visceral. What changed?

Lauren Carter: A lot, actually. Pre/proscribed is a body of work from grad school that was mostly introspective. I was examining a subconscious desire to preserve a notion of myself while unpacking ideas of othering, unmaking, loss, vulnerability, and nostalgia. My mother has a chronic illness that was directly influencing my work and research at this particular time in my life. I spent a lot of time thinking about pain and identity, and the work was really personal and kind of tough to talk about. I was also spending a lot of money making these things that were process oriented and took a lot of time to complete. So when I moved to Chicago immediately after finishing my master’s program, I figured it was a good opportunity to change my practice a bit, and make objects that are more financially and emotionally sustainable for me.

Effigies, 2015. Beeswax, pigment, hair, satin, wood. Approximately 8'w x 11'h

OPP: Was Flux the transition?

LC: Yes. I was looking for a way to continue to communicate the corporeal experience, but by utilizing symbols I found outside of my personal realm and the body. For example, I think deflated balloons found tied to mailboxes and fence posts are super loaded metaphors for loss and nostalgia. They are a kind of memorial for whatever celebratory event has passed. They’re incredibly sweet and sad things to me. It’s most likely that the person who put them up just forgot to take them down after the party, but I tend to assign sentimental meaning to just about anything. So the installation Effigies is a funeral or sorts for what those balloons signify. 

From there I started looking at flower bouquets and roadside memorials, which leads to this new work. I’ve continued to explore vulnerability and nostalgia, but now through personal items and found objects that embody ambiguous narratives of commemoration.

The One on Astro-turf, 2016. Ceramic seashell, broken ceramic lady, amethysts ribbon, beads, plastic flowers, pantyhose, broken glass flower, metal brooch, old earrings, ceramic swan, parts of a stuffed animal, picture   frame, glitter paper, a cut up old exhibition card, acrylic paint, expandable foam, marbled shelf paper, hydrocal, epoxy clay, expandable foam, wreath stand, Astro Turf. 30" x 24" x 20"

OPP: What role does kitsch play in this newer work?

LC: Formally, I use kitsch as a medium, just like the other materials I use in my work.  But I’ve been a collector of kitschy things since I was a kid, which I’m sure is something I share with many people. It started with those stupid Precious Moments figurines that I’d receive every birthday from a member in my family. Then it was porcelain dolls and unicorns. Then Treasure Trolls. . .  and the list goes on. Keeping a gift from someone is a way to preserve a memory of a person or of a specific time. And I think that we end up collecting things because objects become symbolic. No matter how tacky or worthless they may be, sometimes they’re just too precious to throw away. Because the things we collect and keep carry a lot of weight, I think of the objects I use in my work as signifiers for a universal language of sentimentality that anyone can draw from or relate to.

OPP: I imagine you shop at thrift stores. Is that true? What’s your collection process like for the found objects?

LC: Yes, very true! I have a slight obsession with obtaining other people’s discarded possessions. I’m always drawn to objects that spark my own memories or remind me of someone from my past, but I have a couple rules that I’ve made for myself when gathering materials. I’ll choose an object that has a nice form, color, or texture; but it must be mass produced, and either be broken in some way, or have some kind of obvious history attached to it. If it doesn’t prompt me to ponder who owned it and how it ended up where it is, I put it back on the shelf.

The One with all the Pearls (If You Need It), 2018. Peach had cream container, ceramic jesus, fake roses, jewelry display, tape, pearls, expandable foam, epoxy clay, silicone, acrylic paint, plastic wrap, found table. 36” x 12” x 16”

OPP: Can you talk about your repeated use of furniture as pedestals?

LC: I think of collecting as a domestic ritual of the act of remembering. Using found furniture instead of traditional pedestals reiterates that idea. The cabinet or table that supports a sculpture has its own history and is a necessary component to the work. Also, finding a piece of furniture that’s perfect for a specific sculpture is way more fun than building pedestals.

I Sincerely Appreciate the Gesture, 2017. Paper pulp from greeting cards I received from loved ones over the years, found frame, gold gilding wax. 53" x 28" x 9"

OPP: I deeply LOVE I Sincerely Appreciate the Gesture (2017), which is made from all the greeting cards you’ve received from loved ones over the years. I’m interested in the excess of it, the weight of it, the desire to both honor the gesture and to get rid of the cards. Will you talk about how you conceived of this piece?

LC: Oh thank you! You definitely described exactly what I was trying to achieve with this piece. I think a lot about honoring the vulnerability in the act of giving. I think we are just as vulnerable when we give as we are when we grieve, it just looks much different. Maybe that’s another reason it’s so hard to purge our homes of the things we don’t want, but feel obligated to keep because they were given to us with love. Greeting cards are just that. They are so cliché, but yet filled with so much thought and sentiment and history. And they’re a tricky thing for me because, in theory, they don’t take up much space. Unless you never throw them out and you end up with this burden of lugging around a box containing every card anyone has sent you in the last decade, and that box just keeps getting bigger and heavier. Which is exactly what was happening. I’ve lived in four states over the last ten years, and I’ve taken some of these cards everywhere with me.

OPP: What was the process like?

LC: I took the box to my studio, sat on the floor, read each one and ripped it up, and of course cried the whole time. I found this process pretty cathartic, and it’s probably the most important part of this piece for me. Because the content is literally in the material, I decided to create a self-portrait of sorts that honors the material made by my loved ones’ vulnerability, while simultaneously conveying the burden of sentimentality that I often feel. 

The One with the Little Owl, 2018. Ceramic owl, alligator foot, part of a stuffed animal, vase, rubber grapes, beads, rubber ball, fuzzy ball, old jewelry, expandable foam, epoxy clay, brass rod, Plastidip, acrylic paint. 13” x 11” x 6” 

OPP: You have an imminent two-person show with Nico Gardner. What can you tell us about it?

LC: Surface vs. Sap is our first collaboration together. Nico and I continuously shift between the personal and the general, the specific and ambiguous, creating new work in conversation with one another. With a primary focus on desire, ritual, identity, and the expression of human need, Surface vs. Sap addresses the power and persuasive nature of mundane, domestic objects. Our use of found or purchased items is a starting point to explore themes that ultimately result in a collaboration of both material culture and making. The exhibition features wall mounted and freestanding mixed media sculptures that engage the floor, ceiling and walls. Independently created, the works echo each other's voices through the nature of consumer objecthood, both domestic and commercial. Household artifacts lost in the hurricane of one of my arrangements is excavated and embodied into one of Nico’s new works. Simultaneously, an object in its prime depiction in one of Nico’s reliefs finds itself mirrored and absorbed into one of my clusterfucks. It should go without saying, but Nico's the Surface, and I'm the Sap.  We are incredibly excited about this opportunity to work together, where we are continually throwing wrenches into each other's practices. And we get a chance to do it again in the fall! We'll have a second, larger, exhibition with additional works at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.  

To see more of Lauren's work, please visit laurencarterart.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 Shanti Grumbine

Permeable (Broken Clover), 2017. Cast FGR 95. 5 x 10 feet.

SHANTI GRUMBINE transforms everyday objects including broken castoffs found on the side of the road and the New York Times, which is both revered and thrown away daily. Through the slow, repetitive actions of cutting, gluing, screen-printing and casting, she leaves the impression of her hand to be the lens through which the viewer can reconsider systems of value and knowledge dissemination. Shanti earned her BFA in 2000 at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA in 2005 at Penn Design, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). She has attended numerous artist residencies, including those at the Saltonstall Foundation (Ithaca, New York), Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, Nebraska) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont) with a full fellowship. Most recently she was a 2016-2017 RAIR Fellow in Roswell, New Mexico. In 2017, she presented two solo exhibitions: Zeroing at Smack Mellon (Brooklyn) and pilgrim, approaching wordlessness at Roswell Museum and Art Center in New Mexico. Her work will be included in Summer Reading, an upcoming group show at The Woskob Family Gallery at Penn State. Shanti lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve worked with The New York Times as material for years. Where did you start and how has the work changed over the years?

Shanti Grumbine: I started using the New York Times newspaper as source material in 2011. In 2009, I was diagnosed with late stage neurological Lyme Disease and I spent much of the following two years in bed, isolated and not capable of continuing the sculpture practice I’d finally found my footing in. My world slowed down, and due to cognitive difficulties, so did my reading. I wasn’t able to hold onto information, my word recall was impaired, and my focus was shot. My experience of reading had shifted into something so slow and non-linear that it no longer resembled reading. I wondered how to recreate this experience visually. At the same time I was really trying to get out of my own head and connect with the world at large. Newspapers create a simplified/organized microcosm of the world. Computer screens hurt my eyes, so I had to stick with reading the paper version. I wondered what it would be like if each word disappeared after being read. Would I, the reader, hold onto the words more dearly out of desperation? Would my comprehension increase? Would the authors approach to narrative or information sharing shift? Would language become more meaningful? At first I wanted to create a stop motion animation of a newspaper article disappearing word by word. But the pain I dealt with in my joints made the action of erasure difficult. So I started to excise each line with an X-Acto knife. Because what we read inevitably affects what we see, I started to cut away at the images as well. What started as a personal gesture grew into a much larger exploration of censorship, marketing and the historical precedents for western journalism. 

Surplus, 2017. De-acidified New York Times newspaper, matte medium, UV spray coat, newspaper stick, spray paint.

OPP: Transformation is important in your work. And there are many different kinds of transformation—redaction of text, material and scale shifts, recreating two-dimensional images as three-dimensional objects. Is transformation content or process? 

SG: I think it’s both, a process that leads to content. I believe strongly in the way that the body can think—I discover the world around me with my hands. My mind is curious, and my hands investigate. It’s no different from when I was a kid taking things apart to see what they were made of. So to redact text is also a way of trying to understand how the page functions. Through that type of removal, the margins become more visible and so does the structure of the page. This redaction of the newspaper page led me to a project called Score, where I translated redacted newspaper pages into a musical score. When I redacted the individual lines of text, the words and shapes of the pull quotes became more prevalent. When I screen-printed the redacted page – I saw the pull quotes as medieval square notes asking to be translated into a melody. By turning the pages into a score and performing them, I was able to experience the flow of information more clearly from when a story breaks to when it disappears from the public eye. I could hear how journalism functioned. This type of transformation is a very slow, very elemental way of knowing that isn’t appreciated in today’s digital, fast paced information age. By allowing for slow repetitive processes, I tapped into the systems of western information dissemination that preceded journalism including illuminated holy books and oral traditions of information dissemination such as Gregorian chant. 

In my newer project, I focus on the act of walking and the collection and recreation of broken things. When I am drawn to a random object on the side of the road, I have a choice. The moment of finding can remain my own personal discovery, a fleeting momentary but unconscious encounter, or through its recreation and enlargement, it can become something permanent, and more monumentally visible. Through the transformative act of recreation, I commit to a bent piece of metal, privileging the margins of culture and the throw away. 

Melt, 2015. screen print. 22 x 30 inches.

OPP: In Zeroing (2017), your solo show at Smack Mellon, what’s the relationship between the fashion accessories rendered in print and sculpture—watches, jewelry and shoes—and the news images that point to serious problems in our world—guns, melting glaciers and refugees seeking asylum

SG: In Zeroing, I wanted to focus on the ways we establish and maintain value through advertising and how those techniques affect our ability to seek, communicate and understand “truth.” I’m interested in the black and white advertisements for luxury items that congregate in the margins of news journals providing a peripheral narrative. Even in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Mrs. Maisel, an upper class 1960s house-wife turned comedienne has the epiphany that the shoe ads are strategically placed to distract women from the content of the articles. The New York Times is a truth seeking institution and it’s also a commercial product, funded by advertisers and aimed toward a specific class, which is made more obvious by its advertisements. The pieces of jewelry, watches and vases are intended to be passed down from generation to generation, reinforcing the relationship between profit, media and legacy. 

Throughout the show I created relationships between the news images and the luxury items in the advertisements. For instance, in front of a screen print of a melting iceberg in Antarctica, I placed a Baccarat crystal vase as if to ask, “Which crystalline structure will last longer?” And I paired a Chanel pump with an image of women and children escaping from Syria in Turkey, pointing out the blatant irony of functionality as well as gesturing toward the mythic quality of alienation and longing in Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Cinderella’s glass slippers. I was interested in desire in general, how it functions and what types of insidious forces shape that personal landscape of longing. I wanted to understand these luxury items at a more formal level. By enlarging, inverting the values and screen-printing them to look like X-Rays or ghosts, I was able to uncouple them from branding. By recreating them by hand as white objects and presenting them in a non-profit gallery space, I shifted their materiality, context and value. 

Asemic Prayer #2, 2015. New York Time plastic delivery wrapping

OPP: You call Brooklyn home, but you spent 2017 in Roswell, New Mexico as a RAIR Fellow. What was surprising, difficult or thrilling about New Mexico? How did the environment affect your work?

SG: I’ve loved New Mexico since I first went hiking and camping there in my 20s. I love the vast, dry expanse of high plains and desert that surrounds Roswell. When the land is endless and quiet, your mind attunes to that. Roswell is equidistant from the Southern parts like Carlsbad and White Sands and northern towns like Santa Fe, Taos, Abiquiu and Ojo Caliente, so I got to explore many different aspects of the New Mexican landscape and culture. But mainly I was in Roswell, working, reading, writing and learning my own internal rhythms. In Roswell, there was time for everything. Time for stretches of disciplined studio time, time for feeling totally lost, time to be supported by friends, time to start over and lots of time to see things through. 

Since I was diagnosed with Lyme, my main source of exercise, well-being and pain management has been walking. Every residency I do, I establish my 2-3 mile daily walk. It’s my top priority, and everything else—food, studio, socializing—organizes itself around that. In Roswell, I started to think and read more about pilgrimage and the history of walking. Though I spent my first four months focusing on Zeroing and some other group shows in New York, my next project was forming itself in my daily walks and reflexive collection of detritus from the side of the road. That winter, I found out about an annual holy pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo, a small adobe Church in Chimayo, that occurs on Good Friday and was grateful to incorporate that experience into my research. Rebecca Solnit described pilgrimage in her book Wanderlust as a “liminal state – a state of being between one’s past and future identities and thus outside the established order, in a state of possibility.” Despite moments of hopelessness, this is often how I felt when I first got sick, and it is also how I felt in Roswell. Witnessing that pilgrimage affected the content and format of my work for the rest of the residency.  

Liminal, 2017. Gel pen on black paper. 20 x 28 inches.

OPP: Tell us about your most recent solo show at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, pilgrim approaching wordlessness (2017).

SG: pilgrim, approaching wordlessness was comprised of two distinct but related parts dealing with aspects of liminality. One part consisted of drawings and wall sculptures based on the ubiquitous and overlooked decorative architectural features such as breeze blocks that can be found in almost any rural or urban community regardless of class. With Trump commissioning border wall prototypes, I couldn’t help but start thinking about borders and boundaries, who and what we let in, how and why and who gets to decide. I started thinking about permeability and rigidity, the power of empire and the incredible risks people take to create sanctuaries. And the visible role that architecture plays in creating these various value systems. These layered thoughts are bound up in my material explorations of breeze block patterns, an affordable and aesthetically pleasing decorative concrete block, originally designed to keep out the sun and let in the breeze. The other part of the show consisted of drawings and sculptures based on the broken, rusted things I found on the side of the road. A collection turned collective as friends and neighbors began dropping off bits and pieces of broken things found from their own walks.

C, 2017. Foam core, fiberglass veil, FGR 95, taxidermy clay, iron B metal coating, patina, found object.

OPP: In what way are those objects “souvenirs [that] point forward toward something still becoming?” 

SG: While I was working toward this show, I re-read parts of Susan Stewart's book, On Longing where she talks about the souvenir. I was trying to understand what these broken rusted objects were to me, why I felt drawn to picking them up and why I wanted to trace them as drawings and remake them as larger sculptures. Souvenirs are a reminder of something. They are “by definition always incomplete” because they are a trace of the original event and are therefore inherently nostalgic. The objects that I find are similarly incomplete, and hold a trace of what they used to be. But they aren’t a part of a whole, the way a bit of hair or cloth reminds us of the person or dress. And they are not the replica of anything such as the Eiffel Tower, nor do they feel nostalgic, not even for the particular walk or place in which I found them or the person who gave them to me. In their rusted brokenness, there is the sense of something new, something caught in the act of becoming. They become signifiers of transition, idols of possibility. According to Bill Brown, an object becomes a thing when it breaks, no longer neatly fitting into a category of functionality. We only see the window when it becomes dirty. In my act of collection, I came to understand my own objectness and as a result my own transformation into thingness. When the body is sick or broken, it no longer disappears into its functionality. We are all at one time or another, a thing among things, a liminal vessel straddling where we were and what we will become. 

To see more of Shanti's work, please visit shantigrumbine.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 Liz Tran

Lightspeed Five. Mixed Media on Panel. 24" x 24"

LIZ TRAN's paintings and installations hum with vibrant, synthetic color, hovering between abstraction and representation. The versatility of her visual language—replete with circles, paint drips and swooping, sagging lines—allows the forms themselves to constantly shift meaning. Explosions become flowers. Party streamers become tent tops. Wreathes and beaded necklaces become an expanding and contracting universe. Liz earned a BFA in  Painting and Print Art at Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle) in 2002. In 2017, her work was included in exhibitions at The Brain Project (Toronto) and Parlor Gallery(Asbury Park, New Jersey). Also in 2017, her solo show JaWbReAkEr was on view at ZINC contemporary in Seattle. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Babayan Culture House (Ibrahimpasa, Turkey), Baer Art Center (Hofsos, Iceland), the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists (Reykjavik, Iceland) and Vermont Studio Center with a full fellowship from the Clowes Foundation. In March 2018, her work will be included in Elation Station at Russo Lee Gallery in Portland, and she is working on multiple installation projects across the country. Liz lives and works in Seattle.

OtherPeoplesPixels: A defining element of your work is its multi-coloredness. It’s not just colorful, but rather explosively colorful. What do you love about color? How do you think about color?

Liz Tran: I make paintings that, because of their vibrancy, are extremely difficult to ignore. I love the emotions evoked by color and how the injection of color can completely change the way a space is read, even more so in my installation work. Adding vibrant pattern to monochrome structures and landscapes forces the audience to pay attention to something that would otherwise go unnoticed. I wrote a statement for the Seattle Art Museum Gallery’s Color Excursion exhibition that accurately sums up my feelings on the subject.

“The use of color in my work is an unapologetic form of escapism from the long stretches of grey weather that continually blankets my Pacific Northwest home. Each year my palette of luminous, unnatural hues provides a defiant objection to winter’s approach. Pulsing fluorescent paints massage the naked eye with ultraviolet light, creating an energized glow impervious to dull environments. Maroon does not belong to me. Tubes of brown remain unopened. There is safety in muteness. My paintings speak to extroversion, experimentation and play. Through color, I aim to activate.”

Current. Mixed Media on Canvas. 48" x 60"

OPP: That injection of color into a bleak landscape is present in much of the work you've done during residencies, especially in Iceland, where you've done at least six. What is it about Iceland that kept you returning year after year? How did the environment affect the work you made there?

LT: What draws me to Iceland is the sense of solitude, of being at the edge of the world. The naked shapes of the volcanic landscape create a vastness that leaves space for the mind to wander. There are few trees or structures obstructing the view, which makes it difficult to discern distances. What appears to be a short walk can turn into hours. The hot pots, the steam, the sulfur, the 24 hours of daylight in the summer and the harsh, low angle of the sun in the winter are all things that I can’t experience back home. I could wax poetic about Iceland for hours but, ultimately, the country is very conducive to creativity.

Extreme Boulder Makeover. Completed while in residence at Samband íslenskra myndlistarmanna / Reykjavík

OPP: What is more important in your process: control or surrender?

LT: The process is a constant conversation between control and surrender, push and pull. Surrender is the preferred action (or rather, inaction), where “flow” and intuition lives. However, control must step in occasionally, before things get completely out of hand. It’s not one of my strengths, but without control my work would bleed into complete chaos, which it often does. With the multitude of media and layers I work with, it’s easy to overwork. Quite a few of my paintings are sacrificed to complete surrender and therefore make their way to the burn pile. 

Swell. Mixed Media on Panel. 24" x 30"

OPP: The same recurring forms read differently in different paintings. What looks like a planet in one piece is a bauble, ornament or balloon in another. Sagging lines look like party streamers in Last Call but they become tent tops or waves in Swell. To me, this points to the connection between human culture—in the form of decoration and celebration—and the cosmic. Thoughts?

LT: Forms repeat and are re-purposed naturally and intuitively. This is my visual language, developed over decades and just like any language, there is repetition.

Not only does the work refer to the human connection, it refers to interconnectedness. In some ways, I’m reaching for an accurate portrayal of that universal connection, which is completely impossible but keeps me challenged. Interconnectedness IS something to celebrate. We are all in this together. 

Big Bang One, 2014. Mixed Media on Panel. 36" x 36"

OPP: What keeps you painting circles in particular?

LT: Circles are the shape of infinity, the world, the moon, the feminine, wholeness, self and to some, God. It’s the shape that comes most naturally to me. I’ve never been drawn to hard edges, geometric forms or angles. Circles leave things up to interpretation. 

OPP: About a decade ago, trees, especially with gnarled, curvy branches were recurring images in your paintings. Can you talk about how that body of work shifted into what you are doing now? Was it a slow evolution or an abrupt change?

LT: Although I still love the tree series, it came to the point where I couldn’t push it any further. It was time to move on. I became much more interested in imagery that couldn’t be defined as a particular object. Stripping away the trunk and branches left me with the rich material that I am still exploring today. Taking away the “tree” gave me unlimited possibilities.

From Whence We Came. Mixed Media on Panel. 60" x 144"

OPP: My favorite piece on your website is From Whence We Came. Can you talk about that central void in the composition in relation to the title?

LT: That’s one of my favorites as well. Because of the large scale (60” x 144”), there was automatically a physicality in the making of the piece. The title refers to the place where we all originate, the womb. To a certain extent, I am creating my own womblike environment and celebrating it. 

To see more of Liz's work, please visit liztran.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 Bryan Schnelle

I Want to Believe X I Will Pour Out my Spirit, 2015. Hand-cut paper collage on wood. 36 x 24 inches.

Glossy printmedia tell us a lot about capitalism, consumerism and even religious fervor. BRYAN SCHNELLE cuts, collages and manipulates fashion magazines, gossip rags and posters in order to expose the emptiness of the promises of these dominant forces. He uses strategies of masking, selective erasure and juxtaposition—ordered and random—to create compositions that allow the biases of the viewer's brain to determine the meaningBryan has had solo exhibitions at Kana Manglapus Projects (2013) in Venice, California, Phone Booth Gallery (2009, 2011 and 2012) in Long Beach and the now defunct White Walls (2009) in San Francisco. His work has been featured on fecalface.com, on beautifuldecay.com and in Studio Visit Magazine. Bryan lives and works in Seattle, Washington.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve worked with glossy magazines for many years, mostly fashion magazines. What was your relationship to magazines in general before you started using them in your art practice?

Bryan Schnelle: Well, as a child, magazines like Transworld Skateboarding and Thrasher were important and exciting. I remember my dad would take me with him when he would go grocery shopping every Friday evening and I would just hang out in the magazine aisle the whole time. This was before the internet, so that's how I got information about skateboarding and the world outside of my safe and boring little suburb. And they were just simply always around. I was always drawing as a child, and then in high school I started getting into realism and would draw images I tore out of common pop culture magazines or National Geographic or skate magazines.

How To Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue), 2010-2013.

OPP: Please talk about erasure and masking in How to Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue) (2010-2013) and other Works on Print Ads.

BS: The sharpie and white out on print ads stuff is something I arrived at fairly organically, over a period of time. I was thinking about common art supplies and their cost, and I just grew bored of drawing and painting in general. I liked the idea of "correction" implicit in the use of office supply mediums like white out. Using them on print ads from common magazines was a way of exploring notions of identity, normalcy and complacency. 

How To Lose Yourself Completely (The September Issue) was a response to the documentary film about the September 2007 issue of Vogue, but also to the insane amount of importance placed on the unimportant, meaningless and temporary in our society. It was sort of a visual cleanse, I guess. But also a bit of a meditative experience for me. It took four years to make, and I'm not a particularly patient type of person. So it was definitely a challenge for me, but as weird or corny as it sounds, I sort of feel like a stronger person, or like I gained something from going through that experience and sticking with it. It's definitely a piece I'm really proud of.

Fade Out, 2010. Permanent marker on paper and enamel on canvas. 76 x 72 inches.

OPP: In Sunday (2016) and Megachurch (2015), the psychedelic fractal imagery and recognizable movie posters mostly dominate the religious imagery—although Crown of Thorns X Spiral Mind Warp is an exception. Is this an accident of the process, a very intentional critique or a symptom of my own visual bias towards pop culture?

BS: That’s interesting. I would have to say it must be your own visual bias, because those works are all exactly 50 percent of one image and 50 percent of another image. When visual information is missing our eye tends to sort of try to fill in the blanks, so it would make sense that at first glance our eyes would kind of gravitate towards the more easily recognizable image, the one we have all seen a million times, possibly giving the illusion that that image is more dominant in the piece, but they are equal parts. 

Crown of Thorns X Spiral Mind Warp, 2016. Hand-cut paper collage on wood 36 x 24 inches.

OPP:Tell us more about the 50/50 works. How do you choose what two images go together? Is this more visual or conceptual?

BS: It's a little of both. Most of the 50/50 work I've made so far deals in some way with religion, so one image is some sort of religious imagery, and that's paired with an advertisement or some other kind of "pop culture" image, depending on which series you're looking at. I'm very picky and take my time figuring out which 2 images to combine. Of course the conceptual relationship comes first, then things like color and composition are considered afterwards. And I don't do any sort of computer generated mock-ups or anything, so there's still a fair amount of surprise involved. No matter how much you think you have it figured out in your head how it will look, it always ends up a little different. It's hard to predict, but I kind of like that. It keeps it exciting.

Untitled, 2014. Paper collage. 10 3/4 x 8 inches.

OPP:Your hand cut paper collages on wood evoke the blockiness of a plain weave structure. Have you considered literally weaving these images together? What is important/what do you like about the cut and paste method of mixing these images?

BS: I have considered weaving them, the squares would work with that, but if I want some of the pieces to use a different shape like a triangular grid then I'm back to the collage method. So it would have to be an entire series using just square grids. I like the idea, my only problem with it is that I'm aware of a couple of artists already using that weaving technique with photography, and I don't want my work to end up looking like anyone else's. That's important to me. However, I feel that the idea/concept should always dictate the medium and scale. So if I had an idea that I was really excited about and knew that it absolutely had to be woven, then I'm sure I would just go for it. 

Untitled Color Study (Pink), 2014. Hand-cut paper collage on wood. 20 x 20 inches.

OPP: The Color Studies (2014) seem to be a bit of an anomaly, despite using the exact same materials and processes as other bodies of work. They seem purely formal, while the fashion magazine work and collages using religious imagery have an implicit critique—although it is somewhat ambiguous—through juxtaposition. Agree or disagree?

BS: I can definitely see how they may look a bit out of place right now, but they're actually not an anomaly. They were the first step in the direction of the body of work I'm currently working on, and will probably make a lot more sense to visitors of my website once this new work is finished and on the site as well. It's an ongoing series/project/experiment that runs parallel with the 50/50 stuff. I have a lot of ideas and due to other responsibilities, I'm having kind of a hard time physically keeping up. So I kind of work in cycles, based on some sort of internal sense of urgency. I don't like to be doing the same thing all of the time. So once I've extended one arm in a certain direction, I'll go back and elaborate on or further push a parallel arm in another direction. I guess maybe it's a way of trying to give a sense of where I'm headed overall while also fulfilling my own need to keep things interesting/fun for myself.

Untitled works in progress, 2018

OPP: Well, you are certainly not the only artist pulled in a million directions! I relate to that. What can you tell us about the new project?

BS: I wanted to make some more work that was purely abstract, like the color studies, but a bit more involved, and limiting the palette to just black and white this time. No figure, nothing being depicted, they just are what they are. Some use squares, some use triangles, and some use rectangles in sort of a brick-like pattern. Some are all one solid color (either all black or all white), and some use both black and white. For the black and white pieces, I removed myself from the composition determining process by flipping a coin for each space. Heads meant it was going to be black, tails white. Additionally, I shuffled all of the pieces and glued them down in the order that I picked them. On the other hand, the single-color pieces are not random, I allowed myself to intervene in the picture building process a bit until they felt finished. So the works that at first glance may appear random are actually not, while the ones that may seem to have some direction in fact do not. I had become interested in Michael Shermer's idea of patternicity after reading his book The Believing Brain, and thought it might be funny to do kind of a literal visual interpretation. The result is these very simple and honest works that have sort of a digital quality to them, bringing to mind pixelation and QR codes. They exist somewhere in between a painting and an advertisement. 

To see more of Bryan's work, please visit bryanschnelle.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 Christi Birchfield

How To Remain Human, 2015. Installation view. MOCA Cleveland.

CHRISTI BIRCHFIELD balances control and surrender by using various printmaking techniques and tools in unconventional ways. Whether she's running fresh flowers through an etching press or bleaching dyed canvas, her work points to the impermanence of nature and human mortality. Christi earned her BFA in Printmaking from The Cleveland Institute of Art and her MFA in Visual Art from Columbia University. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Skowhegan, Vermont Studio Center and SWAP Residency at SPACES Gallery. Solo shows include Above the Fold, Below the Surface (2014) at Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and From the Inside Out (2014) at William Busta Gallery in Cleveland. In 2017, Christi won an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council and the Cleveland Arts Prize, Emerging Artist Category. Christi lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work primarily in printmaking, including traditional techniques like lithograph and etching. But your toolkit of mark making is way more expansive. What other techniques do you use to make marks?

Christi Birchfield: Printmaking tends to be a starting point for my work. I have been immersed in the tradition of the medium for many years. I majored in printmaking in both undergrad and graduate school, and I’ve worked as a master printer at Zygote Press Inc. Somewhere along the line, it became interesting to not only use printmaking presses as a way to produce multiples but also as simply a method for creating marks. During graduate school, I began exploring monoprints, which do not originate from a reproducible matrix. The etching press began to function as a way to imbed materials (smash stuff) into paper. I started running bouquets of flowers and house plants through the press. The way the press would flatten while at the same time morph and stretch the plants became very interesting to me. I liked how the object that I was running though the press became an abstraction of itself. The single, directional push of the material held relationships to both the industrial and the digital world.  Additionally, the juices in the plant would squeeze out, staining the paper, resulting in a painting that I orchestrated but did not control. These chance operative techniques for making a mark challenged my previous approach to printmaking. Monoprinting is how I approach textile works as well. I use a sod roller to print bleach paste onto black canvas. 

Sagittal Plane, 2016. Bleach Paste on Canvas. Photo Credit: Jerry Birchfield.

OPP: Is the distinction between printmaking and drawing important to you as a maker?

CB: Yes, that distinction is important. For me, drawing is very much about a one-to-one relationship between the maker and the surface that is being marked. It’s also about intentional decision making and forethought. Printmaking can have the same attributes as drawing, but it is more about a distance between myself and the thing being created. I set up situations where I put materials into motion without fully controlling the shape, pattern or color those materials will make. It is a way to stay present in the process but also remain distant. My role hovers between the maker and the observer of my own work. I think about painters like Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler who developed approaches to stain painting where color was allowed to flow based on gravity and absorption and not based on how those artists moved the brush across the canvas. 


High Tide, 2014. Flowers and burning on paper. 39” x 27.5"

OPP: Does color in the flower works only come from the flowers themselves? Is this color fugitive? 

CB: My practice consists of various levels of control. Choosing how and when to apply color is one of the factors that I negotiate as I work. The color does come from the flower. When I first started working with the plants, it was important for me that the color only come from the flower with no additive pigment. It seemed conceptually necessary at the time that nothing contaminate what would naturally occur from the plant itself and the process I was administering. In more recent works, I’ve started exploring the application of watercolor.

Total Optimism, 2014. Flowers, graphite, ink, and enamel on paper. 78” x 60”

OPP: What role does symmetry play in your practice?

CB: Symmetry is a way to create a sense of order among marks that are otherwise chaotic. Symmetry has a very practical application for me. There was a time when I felt the work was just a gloopy-gloppy mess. It felt out of control. The symmetrical image was a way to create an automatic order while still staying true to the process and materials. The shapes immediately called to mind the human body and it’s interior. While the plant material references fluids that could perhaps come from the body, it only made sense that compositions also reference something bodily as well. 

Lord and Lady, 2014. Flowers and watercolor on paper. 31"x 28"

OPP: Pieces like SurgentBelvedere and Lord and Lady, all from 2014, at first appear to be symmetrical, but when I look closer, I realize that it isn’t pure symmetry. Is this simply a symptom of the process or an intentional part of the content?

CB: Yes, the symmetry is faulty. There is nothing exact about the process. The works are made by simply folding the paper in half to create a print on both sides simultaneously. I’ll often times shove flowers, inky plates, and some paint within a folded sheet of paper and crank it through the press. The result of how all these materials relate after the press has done it’s work is more interesting to me than whether or not both halves of the composition are identical. 

In fact, the slight differences between both sides of the print reveal a bit of the process that I rather enjoy. We as humans are thought of as more or less symmetrical. However, have you ever mirrored your own face in Photoshop to see what you would look like if you were actually symmetrical? The results are a bit unsettling and confirms that the differences between our two halves make us appear human and not as digital constructions. As my pieces are made by hand and very much about the process and materials, the slight variations that serve as the non-symmetrical indicators clue the viewer in on the fact that this work is a result of something outside of modern technology. 

Slab, 2015. Bleach Paste on Canvas. 65" x 20" x 8"

OPP: In recent work you’ve shifted away from the rectangle of paper and cut out the bleached marks in the works like Sagittal Plane (2016) and Reconfiguration (2015). These slumping sculptures read sometimes as hanging foliage and other times as collapsing skeletons. Can you talk about destruction in relation to the forms?

CB: Lately, I’ve been working a lot with textiles. The works are made by printing bleach onto canvas and then hand-cutting around the marks to produce complex shapes that have been cut out and through. Canvas is a common surface on which to create a painting, but I am very interested in the material of itself and its hefty qualities. 

I’ve always considered the posture different works of mine take on. Some pieces are tired, some casual, some doing backbends. The way the canvas sags and slumps seemed to suggest something very human. The works tend to mirror the scale of a person and the material of canvas is a versatile fiber that I can manipulate in various ways. 

There is a constant theme of time running through my practice. The pace of time and the fragility of the human existence underlie much of my work. My daughter is ten months old. In becoming a mom, I suddenly had a deeper connection to the generations of women that have come before me. My grandmother, my mom, myself and my daughter—we are all part of a continual line. Layering of fabric cut-outs, printed elements overlapping, collage pieces all serve as a way to see everything at once and also not quite be able to make sense of everything ever. I relate this to a constant sense of both temporality and permanence. Our bodies are material taking up space yet mortal, impermanent. The fabric cut outs look like skeletal fragments, like pelvises and ribcages, evoking the body and it’s transience. The first medical X-ray was of Wilhelm Rontgen’s wife’s hand. Her response—“I have seen my death”—suggests that seeing our inner selves, our material essence, confirms our own mortality.

To see more of Christi's work, please visit christibirchfield.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?