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?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Felicita Norris

Ignorance Ain't Bliss When It Ends Up Like This, 2012. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 72 x 52 inches.

FELICITA NORRIS's large-scale, figurative paintings are disturbing, empathy-evoking and ambiguous. The intimacy of confined domestic spaces is the setting for power dynamics to play out. Physical bondage is mostly self-imposed, but hints at the possibility of violence. And yet, these haunting works are metaphors for emotional truths, not stories to be taken literally. Felicita earned her BFA at San Francisco Art Institute (2013) and her MFA at Stanford University in California. She has exhibited at Root Division (2014 and 2015), SOMArts (2014) and Glass Rice Gallery (2017), all in San Francisco. Felicita is currently Visiting Faculty at San Francisco Art Institute. She lives and works in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I can’t decide if I’m more concerned about the subjects’ bodies or their psychological well-being. How much of the visual signs of physical violence are intended to point to psychological violence?

Felicita Norris: This is an excellent question. When I give talks, I make sure to mention that the works are metaphors, or rather, dystopian fantasies. They are not literal; they’re paintings. The paradox in the work is that, at times, I choose to paint realistically and figuratively, which causes discomfort because it’s relatable and tangible. The works are interpretations of memories growing up in a tumultuous household and the effects of that, as well as my experience as a multi-racial woman, then and now. But again, they are not real. They are an altered reality, which is what painting is, in essence.

I often use myself as the character because, for one, I’m available, but even more so, I am given the opportunity to represent others like myself. Sometimes it’s hard to stomach, but I realize that I can be a voice for the past and the present. Is it my responsibility? I don’t know yet. I have looked to performance artists like Karen Finley for inspiration and use experiences of all kinds to examine the human psyche. I wonder, why do we do what we do? How do certain experiences affect certain people? My intention however, is not to advocate violence, but rather to allow room for introspection, if that’s what the viewer chooses to do.

Thank you for the worthless day. 2015. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 96 x 48 inches.

OPP: Plastic tarps or drop cloths show up in several paintings. In some cases, they seem mostly self-imposed, but no less disturbing. How do you think about these drop cloths in Thank you for a worthless day (2015) as opposed to About a Boy (2015) and Outlet (2015)?

FN: I appreciate the “self-imposed” comment. If you look closely, all of the actions in the works are self-imposed, yet escapable. The idea for Thank you for the worthless day started out as female body examination and ideas about shame with regard to youth versus age, mother and child, potentially, and how American media celebrates certain aspects of womanhood and not others. For me, the whole scenario is ridiculous because I know it is self-imposed, but the characters are faceless or “hooded” because it allows the viewer to enter the space without having to recognize the “who” - the viewer is left to decide whether they are the voyeur or the participant. The difference in the use of plastic from one painting to another is again, a metaphor for the act of painting itself. We don’t paint to document anymore, so the conversation remains, why is this so important? So I talk about the plasticity of the act of painting as well as the falseness of the content that at one time could have been “real.”

Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. 2014. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 84 x 56 inches.

OPP: Can you talk about other forms of confinement in your paintings? It’s not just in the drop cloths, but also in the tight spaces and the cropping.

FN: The idea of confinement is another contradiction. Of course it depends on how you view tight spaces. Some people are terrified and others feel a sense of security. It also depends on how you view life and death, in a way. For example, some cultures embrace death as part of life, so they celebrate it, not because they don’t feel loss, but because they hope for continuation; other cultures fear death and hide it or choose to prolong suffering. But this is all my opinion—I’m very in between how I feel about confinement; I like to be held by loving arms or blankets, but on the other hand, the idea of feeling trapped is terrifying to me. I’m still trying to figure out how to visually and mentally balance these two ideas…

OPP: Have you ever used trigger warnings in a show or been asked to?

FN: No, I have never used or been asked to use trigger warnings for a show. I think it’s implied that the works are not photographs, which could be taken as fact, but these are fantasies, not facts.

Untitled (hanging legs), 2015. Oil on linen. 50 x 24 inches.

OPP: How often does the content of your work lead viewers to tell you stories about their personal lives? Do they feel a permissiveness because of the intimacy? Or are they generally too shy to talk to you about the content?

FN: Early on, I noticed that many people enjoyed finding a way to relate to the content of my work. I think it makes people feel safer. I do get some personal stories, or “this reminds me of…” comments as well. I think what the viewer contributes to the work is just as important as the work itself. Artist Gregory Crewdson said as much about the content of his own work as well. And yes, the viewers who want to, will talk about how they feel about the work, and others, understandably, are too shy to talk about it. But I think any reaction is a good reaction, and for me, misinterpretation is expected.

Not White Enough, 2014. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 96 x 64 inches.

OPP: Not White Enough (2014) stands out for me from the other works in that it points to the collective psychological effects of white supremacy as opposed to the power dynamics within a domestic space among individuals. Is this a false distinction in your opinion? How does Not White Enough relate to other works painted in 2014?

FN: Not White Enough does stand alone because it represents a shift from the early melodramatic family portraits to something more subtle. I do like the drama of the previous works, but this type of work allows the viewer to enter because everything is not given at once. The viewer can easily place themselves into the scenario, and it allows for more questioning. The painting literally portrays a person who pulled a sheet over themselves and had their photo taken. But there is definitely something else going on. I chose to title this painting Not White Enough because for me, the concept of not being white enough comes from self-projected, self-critical, defensive and assumptive ideas based on observations that contribute to stereotypes about how white men view women of color. The persona of the white man functions as another important, yet undefined and even unseen character in my work, representing my personal desire and “his” perceived fetish for what is exotic or different: To him my “race” signifies ignorance, hyper-sexuality and disposability. Again, the viewer can see what they choose to see…

Folie à deux, 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 68 x 82 inches

OPP: That fetishization by the white male of the brown, female body is so clear in Folie à deux (2012), which is for me one of the most unsettling works. It's one of the most difficult to look at because my first read is one of sexual violation. I imagine that the woman is being held captive over a period of time, unable to escape. I want to help her escape. And yet, my eye keeps being drawn to the man's face, and I find myself wondering if he is feeling tenderness—which then infuriates me because he's holding this woman hostage! How do you see the relationship between these two figures? Do you see this painting differently 5 years later?

FN: Your read is correct in that the woman is being held captive; but again, it is not forced, instead, it is self-imposed. I purposely gave no real indication that the woman’s hands were bound, thus leaving her free to free herself… This painting is more of a reflection on "woman as martyr," much like the deposition and lamentation paintings of Christ by Baroque artists like Caravaggio and Rubens. Because she is a woman of color, the political implications to her potentially being a slave are heightened because of her white “partner.” And the man does look loving, because he is; the contradiction however, is that she is not his prisoner, but her own. As an artist, I find myself struggling to transcend the metaphorical and visual capacity that this painting embodies, but I do see it as having the same meaning as it did five years ago. I am in a different place now, mentally and emotionally, so sometimes I ruminate on the painting when I see it again, and sometimes I reflect on how much I have grown since then.

To see more of Felicita's work, please visit felicitanorris.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 Anna Martine Whitehead

Treasure, 2016. Performance at Fresh Festival 2016. Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco, California. Image courtesy of Robbie Sweeney.

Energetic, empowered joy and overwrought exhaustion permeate ANNA MARTINE WHITEHEAD's performances and choreography. Their interdisciplinary practice—which includes writing, dance, choreography, video and collaboration— investigates Black queer experience through deeply embodied movement. Martine earned a BA in Fine Art, with a concentration Black Women’s Studies, at University of Maryland (2006), followed by an ​MFA in Social Practice at California College of the Arts (2010). She is a 2014 Critical Fierceness Grantee, a 2015 Sponsored Artist at High Concept Labs, a 2017 LinkUP Artist-in-Residence at Links Hall and will be a 2018 Difficult Dances Resident Artist at University of Michigan. In 2017, they performed selections at the Elevate Chicago Dance Festival, Ragdale, and JACK, as well as S P R E A D at Chicago's Links Hall and FRESH Festival in San Francisco. Her book TREASURE: My Black Rupture is available through Thread Makes Blanket Press. In 2018, they will present Notes on Territory at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Martine lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Have you always been so interdisciplinary? Do you see any one of these creative forms as most to your work?

Anna Martine Whitehead: When I was in college, I majored in Fine Art (there was no medium specification for the BA at the University of Maryland). I was painting and beginning to explore performance. But I did my minor in Black Women's Studies, which was a new program at the school then. So I was always thinking visually, textually, engaged in scholarly research but also material research. My thesis year, I ended up doing this series of large-scale acrylic paintings on wood panels that were all about the female body and sugar cane, which was directly related to what I was learning and thinking about around Black feminist geographies. That got me to start performing with sugar cane. All these things were always already integrated for me. I see this, also, as a reflection of my life, where teaching, moving, writing, making, being queer, being black and mixed race, etc, have always been all part of the same project. That project is me. When people find out I have a book called TREASURE, which is the same name as a piece I did at High Concept Labs in 2016 with Mlondi Zondi and Marie Alarcón, they are surprised. But this is how I've always operated: When I'm making, I'm writing, and writing makes me want to make.


Footage from selected performances from 2010 to the present for which I served as director/choreographer. Videography courtesy Chicago Dancemakers Forum, FRESH Festival, AUNTS, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, California College of the Arts, Links Hall, Marie Alarcón, Wafaa Yasin, Mark McBeth, and Hanh Nguyen.

OPP: What does the word embodiment mean to you, in your creative practice and in your everyday life?

AMW: This is such a great question! I try to teach this to my students, and it's an extremely difficult concept! For me, embodiment has become totally about an awareness of one's physical reality that also allows for an awareness of the metaphysical. It is the opposite of self-denial. It's not necessarily hedonism. It’s not, my body wants to lay here and binge watch instead of working in my studio—although that is an extremely easy place to slip into. Rather it’s an awareness and an acknowledgment of the body. I’m in the studio, I have some movement I need to work out, and I'm exhausted, so this movement is going to look like a tired person moving.


S P R E A D, 2017. Performed at Links Hall for the Link Up Artist Showcase. Video by Curtis Matzke.

OPP: Is exhaustion a theme in your work?

AMW: The piece I have been engaged with for the last two years (S P R E A D) comes directly out of being exhausted and needing nourishment. I think some people in this political climate get really energized. I have moments of that, but mostly it's like this constant struggle to not just feel totally run down, and I know that my people and my community are with me in that struggle. So a large part of the piece is me lying on the ground while Black people, especially Black women, share food together. It just so happens that lying down could also look like being dead, and I don't think that's just a metaphor. For me, embodiment is about holding both those things. It's like saying, I don't have to resist this reality. I can make my work about resting. And it also then becomes about death and the giving into death, which could be a type of relief.

The kind of funny thing about that is that after lying on the floor for 30 or 40 minutes, I actually have to get up... it starts to hurt my back. So then it becomes this dialectical thing between giving into the death/exhaustion and resisting it. That's what my body feels, and that's what the work is conceptually, too.

S P R E A D, 2017. Performance still.

OPP: S P R E A D (2017) was recently performed at Links Hall in Chicago. Tell us about its development.

AMW: S P R E A D was being developed at the same time that I was in this intensive devising process with Rebecca Mwase, Ron Ragin, and an ensemble of Black women dancers, singers, comedians, and spiritual workers in New Orleans. We were making a piece about Black women's experience through the Middle Passage. I also was teaching dance at Stateville Prison, a maximum security men's facility in Joliette. So the sense of being haunted, blackness, survival, long term struggle, unending struggle, a struggle that only exists by the grace of whatever gods and spirits and things hang around you... this was like ever-present. S P R E A D was a way for me to syncretize all this highly-collaborative work with my own perspective and experiences.

S P R E A D, 2017. Performance still.

OPP: Do you also create the sound pieces that you dance and choreograph to?

AMW: Sometimes. Sound in my video work is usually me. S P R E A D was the first time I worked so closely with a sound artist. Damon Locks joined the project early on and really changed the shape of it, actually gave it shape and form and a container through sound. Damon is live in S P R E A D, and that whole piece is primarily improvisation.

It was also the first time I made work that felt so explicitly about Black woman-ness and sisterhood. It wasn't only about that, but all the performers are cis and trans Black women and one of the opening scenes is Trinity Bobo (a dancer in New York who is such a joy to work with) lying on a table draped in whites and decorated lovingly with delicious food prepared by a local chef (Chef Fresh, who has been making food for the queer and trans Black community in Chicago for a minute). I was really on some BLM stuff as I was making this—and I mean that exactly as it was first coined, as a Black Feminist project.

Falling Queens, Image: Marie Alarcon

OPP: I often ask about intended audience, even when interviewing sculptors and painters. But with performance, you can see your audience. How do you think about audience?

AMW: S P R E A D helped me change my relationship to my audience, which is almost always at least 50% white. When I first started performing, I was usually angry at them, and then at some point I became more disinterested—like, this is for me and fuck all ya’ll—but S P R E A D was a way to be in dialogue and community with the audience. With the Black people and the POC, we were breaking bread together, dueting at some moments, and generally being with one another. With the white folks, it was an offering: Can you allow us to be together and feel okay? Can you even feel joy that we feel joy, even though our joy has nothing to do with you—may even be in spite of you? Can you be that detached from your own whiteness? And the fact that the whole show is set up in one row in a circle means everyone sees each other at all times. It's really a piece about Yo, here we all are! For better or worse! I guess it's kind of utopic?

Since the Links Hall show, I continue to collab with Damon and Trinity, and we're looking forward to several residencies in 2018 to continue developing what this work is.


Notes on Territory, in-progress.

OPP: What are you working on right now?

AMW: Notes on Territory! I'm so excited about this project, which is a solo project. It’s essentially a movement-based PowerPoint presentation about the architectural and affective links between gothic cathedrals, colonial forts, prisons and public housing. It's definitely a PowerPoint presentation—there’s a lectern.

I'll be spending the next few months at the Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University to do some archival research. It's also a lot of language-play; it's a poem. And it's a sort of game between technology and me because there's all this video and audio stuff. It’s a solo, so there's a lot of logistics to figure out there. And of course, it has all these auxiliary elements. Territory has gotten me back to painting. As I've been doing the archive and movement research, I've also been working with these gouache pieces exploring architectures, military maps, color, shape, etc. I'll be showing works in progress of Territory throughout the spring of 2018, and then hope to really solidify the work at a residency in the summer and hopefully premiere in the fall. We'll see about this timeline, though....

To see more of Martine's work, please visit annamartine.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 Gabrielle Teschner

Reach Key, 2017. watercolor and acrylic, cotton fabric, thread. 9 inches x 10 inches

Sculptor GABRIELLE TESCHNER creates pieced, fabric images of architectural forms from her surrounding environment. She pairs clean, sharp seams with raw, jagged edges, rendering columns, two-by-fours and bricks flexible and foldable. Gabrielle received her BFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2003 and her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2007. In 2016 she was an Artist-in-Residence at Irving Street Projects (San Francisco) and in 2017 at the Studios of Key West. In February 2018, she will begin a residency at the Tappan Collective in Los Angeles. Her work is included in the permanent collection of the De Young Museum (San Francisco), and Gabrielle has exhibited throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Gabrielle lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your background as an artist. What came first in your practice, painting or sewing?

Gabrielle Teschner: Sewing fabric was an early part of my sculpture practice. It was just one way among many that I used to manifest an idea. Back then, I was combining textile elements with wood and welded parts on a large scale. The painting department was one floor above, in a heaven I could not touch. When I moved to the West Coast from Virginia, I stopped using those heavy materials in favor of portable ones but I never stopped loving the physicality of them. I gesture to architecture and monumentality in my work, but even the largest of my sculptures (up to 14 feet long and 8 feet high) will fit in a carry-on. Sewing helps me make sculpture that moves.

Favela, 2013. acrylic painted on cotton. 15 x 22 inches

OPP: You identify as a sculptor, yet your works are nearly, but not exactly, two-dimensional. How do you think about form and dimension in your work?

GT: Space is very important to me. I think about the front and the back, and I think about the sides. I think of my artworks having relief and surroundings. I consider their environment.

In the beginning I was thinking about two things: flags used to stake territory and what it would mean to make a wall that could be folded and unfolded in different places. A lot of my artworks have traveled with me. It’s a little comical to me to continue to insist that these somewhat flat, painted things are sculptures, but it keeps me honest to my intuitions.

After Bacon's Freud (triptych), 2013. acrylic ink on muslin. each 10 inches x 7 inches

OPP: Tell us about your process of cutting, coloring, ironing and sewing. Are you a planner or an intuitive maker?

GT: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. The plans are intuitive. Sometimes I just use my scissors to draw out the work. There is a point when you get so accustomed to a process, that doing the individual techniques are the last thing on your mind. Now you can focus on other things. I get so anxious and excited about seeing the finished work because for all my planning, I will never ever be able to predict the end result. I like the planning and letting-go to be at odds with one another. Those seams in the fabric remove a large portion of my plan, especially in the smaller pieces. I can make pictures in my head, I can draw them out, I can fold them from paper to mock them up, but in the end, the work is completely foreign to me, a new thing that now exists in the world because of my urging.

Broken Law and The Builded (installation view), 2014

OPP: Geometric abstraction dominates your work. Sometimes that abstraction refers to existing symbolic forms in the world, as with The Fly Side Project, or architecture, as with the works that are based on the tile work of an Iranian mosque. More recent works seem way more open ended, with no clear material referents. Can you talk about this shift?

GT: Actually, my current works make reference to building materials: two-by-fours and bricks and concrete blocks. All the folding-under does abstract those forms, but they are still pointing to objects-in-the-world. I construct everything with straight lines. Even when I want to suggest curves, I just use more lines. This means that any form I depict will necessarily be a composition of polygons. If there are bends and multiple planes in the original image, there are more seams, and therefore more of the image is lost in the seams.

I think that true representation is abstraction. Our experience of the world is not confined to a single vantage point. Our relationship to objects is never fixed. I’m moving, it’s moving.

The Great Weight, 2016. Watercolor and acrylic, cotton fabric, thread. 12 inches x 27 inches.

OPP: You've just revealed the bias of my Fiber and Material Studies background! I was looking at works like The Course of the Early Shore (2016) and Dade County Pine (2016) through the lens of piecing and patchwork. I was thinking about the fold/join itself, the line it creates and the disruption of the surface. I also imagined each piece as one piece of fabric that was cut down and folded down, so I was thinking about the loss of space in relation to the seam allowance—that lost part of the fabric. But I didn't see the image, in the same way I saw it in West Chair (2016). Can you say more about the objects you choose to render through this process?

GT: You’re right, the loss of fabric in those smaller, more complex works create so much loss of space that the original drawing becomes nearly unrecognizable. Every sewn work contains that loss at a varying degree, like stages of ruin, so that a larger piece like West Chair is still distinctly a chair, even if the edges are not perfectly aligned.  

While I don’t have a specific criteria for the objects I choose, they tend to be parts of the buildings around me. They are architectural. Each brick and stair-step are parts of something larger, but are in themselves complete. I like to isolate these parts—to see what they do on their own.

Tile Floor Tile, in situ, 2016. acrylic painted on cotton. 44 x 44 inches

OPP: Do you think about your work in relation to quilting as a practice or quilts as textiles?

GT: I am making an effort to claim textiles as a building material. I relate to quilting only in as much as it is a method for joining together two pieces of fabric. I do use the language of quilting in my work but only as a woodworker uses joinery to push two boards together. The first time I made a “tile wall” out of fabric, I was so committed to the idea of building a soft mosaic wall that it wasn’t until I’d sewn 500 squares together and stepped back that I realized I was doing quilt-work.

The Path, 2016. watercolor on muslin. 92 inches x 168 inches.

OPP: In recent years, your works have been monochromatic. How do you make decisions about color in your studio?

GT: I used gray for a long time because it was the color of concrete and of shadows. It looked heavy sometimes, and immaterial at others. In thinking about three dimensional objects, I’m interested in the way they are suggested by the shade of their planes. Even the shadow suggests that the thing exists. When I walk past a lamppost, I think “lamppost,” and when I walk past the shadow of a lamppost, I also think “lamppost." In a way, that shadow contains the essence of the thing. I experiment now with a lot of different colors to see how they change my perception of material and dimension, temperature and weight.

To see more of Gabrielle's work, please visit gabrielleteschner.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 Charles E. Roberts III

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: How does your aesthetic serve your conceptual interests?

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

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

The Sixth Oracle, 2013. still from video loop.

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

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

OPP: Any other visual influences?

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


The Garden, 2014. Sound by Omar Padrón

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from Garbage Forests, 2014.

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ellen Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls Girls Girls, 2015. Painted gloves.

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

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

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

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

OPP: Did you do a lot of research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mother's Body, 2015. Painted gloves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Skiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?