OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emi Ozawa

This is Granny Smith, 2018. Acrylic on poplar. 52" x 52" x 13." Photo credit: Margot Geist

EMI OZAWA's skillfully crafted sculptures show thoughtful attention to line, form and color. The simplicity of her geometry—repeating circles, lines and squares—belies the complexity of her thematic concerns. In kinetic sculptures and wall-hung sculptures that change dramatically as the viewer walks past, she explores of the relationship between looking, touching and moving. Emi studied at Joshibi University of Art and Design and Tokyo School of Art. She earned her BFA in Craft/Wood at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and her MFA in Furniture Design at Rhode Island School of Design. She has exhibited widely throughout the U.S, in London and in Tokyo. In January 2018, Emi's solo show Follow The Line opened at Richard Levy Gallery. The gallery will also take her work to Art Miami in December 2018. Her work was included in the group show Parallax : A RAiR Connection Exhibition (2018) at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, alongside Featured Artist Justin Richel. In 2019, Emi will be an artist-in-residence at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied graphic design and furniture design. How did that inform the work you make now? 

Emi Ozawa: while I was working as a graphic designer, the feeling of wanting to create 3D objects by my hand grew. I had the idea that objects could be kinetic and interactive. The reason why I started learning woodworking was to make my sculpture steady for touching and moving. I was interested in furniture as objects that have a built-in invitation to touch and move. I also wanted to learn about wood. I love the feel and the texture of this material.

Square on Square, 2010. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 19.75" x 20" x 3". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: What led you away from functional objects toward visual art?

EO: From the start, I was combining my sculptural ideas into furniture. I wanted my work to be inviting. You can sit, you can open a door. Its function was secondary for me. For instance, Bird tables surface is very limited. My ‘box form’ sculptures—like Wound Up(2001) and bOX (2001)—have very small inside spaces. Each piece has very unique way of opening and closing. They needed to be explained by someone present, sometimes a piece would be displayed in a case, all of this intruded on the viewer’s full experience. Gradually I felt that I wanted my work to be independent like a painting on a wall. Viewers are invited to look and have an experience of interaction without touching. Further more, I wanted to focus on surface painting more than spending too much energy with building mechanical parts and joints.

Red Bridge, 2004. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 15" x 15" x 2.5". Photo credit : Mark Johnston.

OPP: In your statement, you mentioned that play is a central concern of your work. Early kinetic works like Triangle Train (2009) or See Saw 2 (2002) could be touched. What makes an interactive work a sculpture versus a toy? Does that distinction matter to you at all?

EO: Yes. This distinction matters to me, but I can’t help it if others blur the line between the two experiences. Making art which applies itself to our instinct to play is the connection I am seeking. I think a toy is for the users—user-centered. That’s why a lot of toys are made safe for certain ages, for certain development, or there is a room for how to approach the toy.

Speaking about my interactive sculpture, there is a very specific way that a viewer can interact with the piece. When it’s activated, it shows a movement or a surprise which I created to share. So it is artist-centered.

Rain on Rain, 2016. (front, left and right side views). Acrylic on poplar. 48" x 28.5" x 2." Photo credit: Margot Geist.

OPP: Your wall sculptures are very much about visual perspective. They change if you look at them from different points of view. Is this pure abstraction? Or do you think of these abstractions as metaphors?

EO: I think a lot of them are pure abstraction using color and geometry, but some are developed from my response to nature. For example, I considered rain drops falling in Rain on Rain (2016), the moon in a night sky in Once in A Blue Moon (2014) and the vivid colors I see during Summer season in One Summer Day Takes a Walk (2013). I like working with squares and circles because they are my favorite language. They tend to relate, and I use them towards what you are talking about in terms of visual perspective. 

Drifting Mist (two views), 2015. Acrylic on poplar. 15" x 15' x 1.875". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: When I first looked at works like Kaki to Yuzu (2018) and Blue Line (2017), I thought of variations on the Modernist grid and the textile grid of weaving, as well as an accumulations of ladders against the wall. Then I googled Amidakuji (2016) and had a whole new perspective. Can you explain for non-Japanese speakers? 

EO: Amidakuji is a common game of chance in Japan. You just need a pen and a paper. You draw vertical lines of participants number which could be two to however many. Then add horizontal lines in between the vertical lines, write prizes or numbers at the bottom end of the line and hide that detail. Each player can add more horizontal lines. Now the game begins. Each participant picks a line. You track the path downwards from the top. Following the line, it crosses sometime with other path but never overlap. When you reach the bottom, you find the prize. When I started drawing this idea, I thought everybody knew about it. Then soon I found out it is not common in USA. As far as the purpose of the game goes, picking the shortest straw might do something similar.

Amidakuji, 2016. Acrylic on mahogany. 54" x 46.5" x 1.25." Photo credit : Jeff Krueger

OPP: How important is it that viewers understand this reference when looking at the work?

EO: I structured these three pieces based on this game and applied this rule to color these lines. I wouldn’t be making these works without knowing Amidakuji. But it can be looked at as a sculpture without its references. Though it is not a must, I mention its inspiration because it is part of it for me, as is this work’s relation to the Modernist grid you mention. It is interesting to see similarities in Mondrian’s structure and this game.    

Five Blue Circles, 2018. Paper on board. 10" x 15" x 2.5" frame.

OPP: Many recent wall sculptures are made of paper instead of wood. Is this a new material in your practice? 

EO: I have been making paper models for 30 years. It was for my furniture, as it is now for my sculpture. From drawing to paper model to wood sculpture. . . this has been my process. Paper model-making is an important step for me to see and understand three dimensional aspects before working on a piece in actual size and material. I always enjoy working with paper just like I do with wood.

I have an upcoming residency  in 2019 at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there will be an opportunity for me to do some 3D lithography. Because this work will be on paper, I was looking at my paper models and drawings and started experimenting with paper towards the work as a finished art object. 

Sugar Plum, 2018. Paper, tape on board. 13" x 13" x 1.5" framed.

OPP: Can you talk about the material differences between wood and paper?

EO: Paper doesn’t have thickness like wood. Paper is foldable and flexible unlike wood. Paper is more fragile than wood. There are many differences between the two, with what you can and cannot do, yet my paper and wood pieces are alike though in different scales.

Some ideas echo in-between wood pieces and paper pieces. My newest paper pieces are inspired by my wall wood sculpture that changes its look from the different perspectives. I found it is interesting that the reverse process is happening. Adding paper to my materials, my play ground of ideas is expanding. 

To see more of Emi's work, please visit emiozawa.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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alicia King

Machinations, 2018. Neon (mercury), graphite on paper. 122cm x 111cm.

Interdisciplinary artist ALICIA KING explores the relationship between the human body, technology and the always-imminent Future. Some sculptural works combine the visual language of the religious reliquary with living human cells. Other text-based works, rendered both in neon and in balsa wood that mimics the form of neon, highlights the false dichotomy of nature and technology. Alicia earned her BFA in 2005, followed by her PhD in Fine Arts in 2009 at the University of Tasmania, Hobart Art School. She exhibits internationally and has been included in group shows in Germany, the United States, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. Her work is included in the Fehily Contemporary Collection and the permanent collection at The Museum of Old and New Art (Hobart, Tasmania). Alicia is preparing for two solo exhibitions in 2019 in Melbourne: Our Long Conversation with the Sun at Linden New Art and Alien Nature at C3 Contemporary Art Space. Alicia lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s the relationship between biology, technology and spirituality, as you see it?

Alicia King: The spiritual link is interesting, and it can be culturally specific. For example, Japanese culture has a history of animism that influences their approach to robotics, but I’m not sure Western culture really makes that connection. I think the technological can seem in opposition to the spiritual because we generally equate the spiritual with nature, and tech is often seen as the opposite of nature. I wouldn’t say I’m overtly interested in spirituality, but I guess I allude to those ideas through exploring subjectivity and embodiment in biological materials, the sublime and phenomenological in nature and technology. 

In a way, the reliquary pieces play upon fake miracles of technology and the idea of science as fulfilling the mythology of the future.

Slip me some skin, 2012. Glass, human tissue (donated by anonymous donor), fibroblast cells (HaCaT cell line) agar, resin, flock. Detail.

OPP: Yes, I was specifically thinking about the reliquaries like Slip Me Some Skin (2009) and Delicacies of the Dead (2009). Works like these refer to the Medieval Christian practice of memorializing dead saints by their body parts, which were intended as devotional objects that link human and God. What does it mean to create reliquaries for human cells from anonymous donors? 

AK: How we deal with bodily materials once they are outside of their host body is really varied and fascinating. When used by industry, tissue is generally anonymous, objectified and considered to be a waste product, though it has incredible financial value. The individual origins of the tissue are removed and it is used like any other raw material commodity. 

In the case of cells from anonymous sources, the use of the relic applies a sense of subjectivity to bodily material, and places focus upon the identity of the tissue through the limited information available about its origins. It’s also used to make viewers aware of how tissue is used and the ethical issues involved. There are online tissue banks where researchers purchase cells and tissue, and that tissue is sourced from individuals—it’s a pretty wild concept.

The Absence of the Void. 2009. Human tissue (the artist's cultured skin cells from tissue taken via biopsy), polyurethane, flock, acrylic. Detail.

OPP: Is it a different experience when you use tissue from your own biopsies?

AK: With my own tissue, I was exploring an experience of self and whether working with my own tissue would effect my sense of embodiment. When was a teenager I had facial surgery that changed my face significantly and ruptured my sense of feeling in sync with my body. It also got me thinking about the psychological effects of adding and subtracting from the body with the living materials of other humans and animals, and really started me on this body of research. 

The Vision Splendid, 2010. Portable bioreactor housing living human tissue (the artist's own skin cells and tissue, taken via biopsy). Installation view. 3m x 2m x 2m.

OPP: In works like The Ephemeral Flesh Project (2010) or The Vision Splendid (2010), what are the practical logistics of working with bio matter as an art material?

AK: Working with living systems (human cells and tissue) is challenging and hard to describe. It’s a really layered and subjective experience—you can’t help being aware that the material you’re working with is alive, and that it comes from a human/s body. It’s also really temperamental, you can’t control the physical or aesthetic outcome like you can with non-living materials, you have to let the material guide you, and it’s prone to illness, infection and death. It’s a very strange process. 

Psychic Nature. 2017. Cast pigmented polyurethane, airbrushed metal sheet, magnetic material. 40cm x 40cm x 30cm.

OPP: In 2009 you earned a PhD for “Transformations of the Flesh; Rupturing Embodiment through Biotechnology, an artistic exploration of relationships between biotech practices and the physical, ethical and ritual body.” Tell us about this thesis project. Was it written? What do you mean by “the physical, ethical and ritual body?”

AK: My PhD explored how artists contribute to dialogue around the influence of biotech developments on our sense of humanness. The thesis comprised a body of artwork and a 40,000 word exegesis. 

I was looking at different relationships that we have with the body in society.  Firstly, the way that bodily material is physically used in science and medicine, i.e. how it is physically processed and/or manipulated; how it’s regulated in an ethical and legal context, in relation to commodification of bodily materials, i.e. who has rights over our bodily materials, and what can be done with them. And lastly the history of ritual attitudes to the body, in the sense of the emotive and subjective relationship we have to our bodies, living and dead, through reference to the historic bodily relics. We conceptualize and deal with the body with such conflicting and irrational perspectives. And I’m continually surprised by how disinterested people seem to be about what is happening to our bodies in science and legislation. 

Natural Phenomena. 2015. Detail. Biological amulet levitating above a cast of the artist's bust. The amulet rotates as it levitates, seemingly propelled by telekinesis.

OPP: Tell us why you chose to get a PhD and how it’s affected the visual art you now make?

AK: It’s more common in Australia for artists to have PhDs. Depending on your arts practice, it can help your work to be taken more seriously. My work has always been a fairly even mix of practice and research, but it helped me access University facilities and personnel in other faculty areas for research projects that I’m not sure would’ve happened if I’d been a random artist. Australia is pretty antiquated in its attitude towards artists, so it helps to level the playing field between artists and researchers/academics.

Clone the Future. 2015. Hand-carved balsa wood. Detail.

OPP: You’ve recently been making text-based works in balsa wood —Why Die and Clone the Futureboth from 2015—and neon? What’s the relationship between the two materials and the text? Does one address your conceptual interests more effectively?

AK: I find neon really interesting as a pop-cultural signifier of hi-tech and the ‘future.’ Neon is also biological, made from glass and natural gases. It can be seen as an atmospheric microcosm, much like the Aurora Borealis gases in the atmosphere, condensed in a glass tube and activated by electricity. So for me, it really embodies the relationship between nature and tech.

Hand-carving neon text in a natural material like balsa wood adds a layer of ambiguity to it, yet at the same same time directly relates the natural with the technological. 

Language also plays an important role in cultural hierarchies. The text alludes to pop culture and biotech in order to play with some of the iconic mythologies about science and the future.


To see more of Alicia's work, please visit aliciaking.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeff Krueger

Failure is an Option, 2017. Installation view.

In a nod to the legacy of Modernism, JEFF KRUEGER (@kruegerstudio) uses recurring, abstract forms. But his ceramic works and drawings do not maintain the primacy of the non-contingent art object. Whether in sculptures glazed with his own blood or objects that evoke both physics and philosophy—his works refer to real objects and issues in our very messy lives. Jeff earned his BFA, in Ceramics at the California College of Arts and Crafts, followed by his MFA in Sculpture at the University of New Mexico. His residency at Roswell Artist-in-Residence in New Mexico culminated in the solo exhibition Failure is an Option: My life with Abstractions at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. Jeff's work is represented by Gallery Fritz (Santa Fe, NM), where he will have a two-person show in April 2019. In the meantime, his work is included in the group show The Audacity of Art, opening on October 26, 2018 at Gallery Fritz. Jeff lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as an “abstract social realist.” What does that mean to you?

Jeff Krueger: This is a catch all terms I use. In many instances, the work is a form of cultural study, which re-renders forms in the world, be it items designed for the body, the home, small public arenas or corporate identification. They are things as diverse as cervical caps, water pitchers, oddly curious parking lot dividers. There can be a flat footedness to the enterprise, like reading the My McDonalds ad campaign and deciding to make my own arch. The Social Realism aspect of this is the turning of the arch upside down with bottles of bleach holding up the sign, which is a reference to the city of Chicago pouring bleach into street food vendors food as a means of discouraging the practice.

Ghosts, 2017.

OPP: Talk about the abstract visual language you work with.

JK: I generate a constant stream of abstract forms, be it works which evolved out of Dadaist, Surrealist, non-objective art and other 20th Century traditions. This language is our artistic inheritance. My work involves infusing these forms with direct contact with the real, whether that is coating the objects with red blood cells, using them to present things like my DNA, store used condoms, or simply juxtaposing the forms with materials that have generally understood cultural meaning. In the newer works, it can be as simple as glazing them in such a way that the color gives the work meanings. I hope the works achieve some quality that there is an active social realist consciousness to the object. Group identity or cultural identity is for me a form of abstraction, and I am looking to render these abstractions as a vehicle for understanding the world. 

My Brother Michael Drinks from the Evangelical Water Bottle, 2017. Ink on Paper. 19"x 13"

OPP: Can you give us a specific example of that?

JK: I made a drawing of a my brother being waterboarded by what I called the Evangelical Water Bottle. It was a thought about how he had become such a devout Evangelical Christian and how our country has used waterboarding as a method of torture. I decided to make the water bottle into an object. I wanted to use the work to reconsider imagery which might reflect upon the central Christian rite of Baptism, one of these major cultural abstractions. Once you are washed, you are forever washed. Water is present, even though it is gone. The photograph with the bottle in front of a handicap parking space was a way of taking the object back to my brother, as he was one of the people that spoke before Congress in advance of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This parking spot at Bitter Lake was a direct result of Michael’s work. 

It is a poetic loop I suppose, but one I hope considers a wide scope of related subjects.  

Untitled Body with Red Interior, 2017. Ceramic with Poplar and Brass. 16" x 44" x 14"

OPP: Have you always worked with ceramics? Tell us a little about your artistic trajectory.

JK: I started working with clay in high school. I studied at 3-4 different schools as an undergraduate, and at each step I was given the direction to aim high. Viola Frey, at the California College of Arts and Crafts, was among those voices. She was pretty amazing and directly introduced the idea that art could be a form of cultural study. I have been a restless artist since then, exploring a number of media and forms, but often return to ceramic work due to its unique properties and my interest in design. I was schooled in the 80s, which can be seen as both the peek and collapse of Modernism. Minimalism and all that gospel still has meaning to me, as I think a ‘thing’ unto itself can be far more commanding than something which is primarily referencing something outside itself. Ceramics does the former very well. 

Infinity is King, 2017.

OPP: You use a lot of repeated ceramic forms that are recontextualized by color and titles. An example is Infinity is King, in which the form is a figure wearing a crown, and Infinity Tastes Like Candy, where the same form evokes cotton candy. Talk about this recontextualization.

JK: It is an outcome of thinking about the same thing in different ways. I would not say I work in series, but I do think about the same topic from different perspectives, variations on a given form allow for distinctly different ways to frame the ideas in the work. 

One of the concepts that has played out in the work through the years is that of fecundity. What is human fecundity? It is sort of a pompous question, but not really. . . and I think it is an important one to ask these days. Somehow I think our faith and inquiries about the infinite are linked to our fecundity. These works came out of an interest in defining the infinite within a single object. What would that look like? I don’t know if this form is satisfying enough, but I like it. Infinity is King juxtaposes that form with a crown dotted with flesh tone blobs. I guess that is a thought about the human obsession with race which seems a rather petty obsession in the context of the genuinely infinite. Infinity Tastes like Candy is an ode to my childhood. When I was kid I was told everything that I would not eat tasted like candy. It was somewhat funny because, with exception of chocolate, I don’t recall ever liking candy.

She Will Gives Waves of Warning, 2004. Ceramic and Epoxy. 6 1/2" x 32" x 12 1/2"

OPP: And what about the repeated form used in Untitled in GrapeShe Will Give Waves of Warning (2004) and The Settlement (2000)?Does it have a real world reference?

JK: These sculptures are part of the long line of abstract forms I mentioned. I make a lot of work in both drawing and sculptural form, which does not start from knowing what or why I am making it. Generally there is no thesis I am trying to defend. Rather, I make work intuitively and then try to see what is generated in terms of emotion or language. Then I see if I can say something or ask a question via that generated language. 

After I made these, I saw the form as an abstract uterus. I wonder what this projection of a uterine form means. There is a quality to it of deriving language out of a human body part. I don’t have one of those parts but I came from one. Is that even valid to say any longer? I am not entirely sure why I feel invested, but they are beautiful. I’m aware of the pathologically patriarchal in our culture—I saw that in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings which pitted all those male characters against a flaming vulva—and I wonder if I am not doing something similar. But I don’t know if it is patriarchal to wonder about where you came from or consider the world outside oneself. There is an aspect of it which is clearly an unconscious activity, as it is most of the time when I render parts of male body in works like Doubles or Fattening Frogs for Snakes.

Juggling Our Inequity, 2017. Ceramic and Water Color. 60" x 146" x 3"

OPP: Can you talk about the relationship between ceramics and drawing in your recent show, Failure is An Option (2017)?

JK: Back in the 1980s, I worked in a preverbal, rather awkward manner. One of the more influential drawing projects that I saw back then was a collaborative book of the poet Micheal McClure, with whom I studied, and his friend Bruce Connor. At the time I was essential making blobs in both ceramics and ink drawings. In the Connor pen drawings, I saw this road to radically slowing my mark making down. There was a union of the subject and the field, meaning and content. I’ve done similar work since. I make the drawings as a matter of daily practice. Sometimes it is the bulk of my production; other times it falls to the side. Often I see forms within the drawings that I feel would be interesting objects, and so I try to render them as such. The drawing It and  ceramic wall sculpture Its Black Facsimile would be one of those attempts. Each of these an attempt to render some notion of the fecund.  

The exhibition also includes watercolors, renderings of photographs and plein air paintings I’ve done over the last few years. I take a lot of photographs as a manner of looking at the world. Many seem like they would be interesting paintings. I also am confounded by Facebook and the news, so I use these sources for imagery which make it into the watercolors. A suite such as Juggling Our Inequity combines all of this work. In that group, there is a small painting of a river in Russia that was reported to be poisoned. It was bright red due to copper, chrome and other contaminates. Then I did a small watercolor of the field behind my house in Roswell, which edges fields devoted to alfalfa production. The pairing of this bucolic scene with one of an industrial disaster seems honest, as both happened simultaneously. I surrounded the pair with a field of ceramic dollops. The chemicals in these glazes are about the same as those in the poisoned river and probably some of those in the alkaline water used to irrigate Roswell. All of it seems tied together, mutually dependent, the inequity that between the earth and how we use it.    

Baptismal for the Death Star, 2017. Ceramic. 40" x 30" x 25." Photo credit: Margot Geist

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

JK: At the end of my Roswell residency, I finished some pieces I call sequences. These are works which again relate to the ink drawings. They are ceramic forms thrown and then assembled and hand built.  I am doing these at the same time as making more watercolors. Some of these will possibly go into a long term project that I am working on which relates to living on the Death Star. 

To see more of Jeff's work, please visit jeffskrueger.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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Tamara Bagnell

tiny sculpture series 1, 2017. wood, fabric, rope, felt, polyfil, acrylic paint,. 5.75"h x 4"w x 4"d

TAMARA BAGNELL's soft sculptures are playful systems made of fabric, felt, wood, rope and polyfil. They teeter between abstraction and representation, and the meaning of her recurring forms—drops, vines, concentric arches, stuffed tubes—shifts as her palette does. Tamara earned her BFA in Interrelated Media from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2001. She ran a textile design and screenprinting business until 2016, when she turned to art-making full time. Her artwork has most recently been exhibited at the Durham Arts Council, in soft goods (2018) at VAE Raleigh, and The Art of a Scientist (2018) at The Rubenstein Art Center at Duke University. Tamara lives and works in Durham, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does soft mean to you?

Tamara Bagnell: Soft is approachable, playful, familiar, empathetic. Soft is both malleable and resilient. Softness has an open quality, an ability to draw the viewer in. It also creates a lightness to elements of my work that if made from other materials might read as more serious, sinister, or aggressive than I intend.  

system 1, 2018. fabric, polyfil, bamboo, rope

OPP: Have you always worked in soft sculpture?

TB: My background is predominantly in screenprinting and textile print design, although I find my soft sculptures incorporate a lot of the aesthetics that drew me to screenprinting: bold blocks of color, repetition, abstraction. I also occasionally use screen and block printing to embellish the fabric I use in my pieces.  

My path as an artist is maybe a bit different than others. After receiving my BFA in 2001, I turned my focus away from making fine art and ran a more design-oriented business. During that time, I still worked with fabric and occasionally experimented with soft sculpture, but I was never happy enough with the result to exhibit my work.  It is only over the past few years that my approach to art making has really come together for me, and soft sculpture has begun to permeate my work.  

irregular animals series, 2016. wood, fabric, yarn. 12"h x 12"d x 8"w

OPP: When and why did you learn to sew?

TB: Sewing is a tradition in my family. Growing up, there was a sewing machine that lived in the dining room of my home. My mom learned how to sew from her mom, and I would watch her make me tops and dresses when I was elementary school age. I’d also tag along on trips to the fabric store and pass the time exploring all the colors and textures. I began nagging her to teach me how to use her machine when I was maybe in fifth or sixth grade. My motivation was to be able to design my own clothes, which not surprisingly turned out to be a lot harder than I anticipated. I stuck with it though and gained a modest level of expertise through decades of practice. While my interest in making clothing ultimately waned, the skills I gained through learning those techniques are something I’ve continually found new ways to tap into. People often comment when seeing my work in person about how meticulous my construction is, and I think that has a lot to do with all that experience making clothes and accessories.  

escapism, 2017. fabric, polyfil, wood, acrylic paint, pvc

OPP: Your color palette is pretty consistently neutral with accents of pink and yellow hues. What draws you to these colors?

TB: I am completely obsessed with color, and it is one of the most important parts of my process. I have a strong emotional connection to certain colors that I find difficult to describe in words. Yellow is one of those colors. Since my work is mostly abstract, I often use color as a way to nudge the viewer to interpret important elements of a piece in a particular way. A drop-like shape in beige or peach is more likely to read as flesh. Whereas if I make it blue, it becomes water, or green a leaf, red might be blood or a fruit. For me, the pinks and neutrals have a flesh-like, organic quality, representing the elemental parts of living beings. I see these elements as embodying both the physical as well as the emotional, the parts of us that are affected when we feel. 

Lately my I’ve been focused on the interconnection between humans and systems, whether natural or human-created, so there has been a lot of pink, beige, and brown. It can be a struggle though, at times, finding harmony between using color in a representational way and also making sure the color works for the piece overall. It is very important to me that each piece I make can also be appreciated on a purely aesthetic level, and color is a key component in that.

natural order, 2017. fabric, polyfil, yarn, rope, matteboard, felt, acrylic ink. 26" w x 42" l

OPP: The obvious exception is natural order (2017). That blue background changes some neutral colored forms that show up into other works by introducing the context of the sky, which makes weather systems. What led you to make that change? Is it an anomaly or a new direction?

TB: At the time I finished that piece it was an anomaly, but later on it became a point of departure. It was both an early attempt at making a wall piece and an experiment with color. In the end I wasn’t entirely happy with the result, but that piece and wide open became the inspiration for a series of more free form wall sculptures that I am working on now. system 1 and system 2 are part of that series, and I have four more that are at various stages of completion. As I progress through those pieces I have found my palette shifting, adding more blues and greens, playing with the symbolism of color and how I can utilize that to expand my language of shapes.

system 4,  2018. fabric, polyfil, cotton batting, jute. 

OPP: Do you reuse parts of your sculptures or make the same form over and over again? That pink string of “sausage links,” for example shows up in hidden (2018), system 2 (2018) and dark machines (2018).

TB: I almost always make new forms for each sculpture. Occasionally I will disassemble a less successful piece and harvest it for parts. I also have a huge bin full of cast-offs that I can pull from when working on a composition. Since it’s rare that I start out with a sculpture fully laid out in my head, I manufacture each of the elements as I’m composing, with the hope they will look the way I envision when I incorporate them into the sculpture. If not, they go in the bin and often end up in a future piece.  

collage series 1 (group arrangement), 2016. fabric, polyfil, wood, jute, plastic, acrylic paint

OPP: Can you talk about what some of the recurring forms mean to you?

TB: A lot of the reason I make and repeat certain shapes again and again is because they simply appeal to me on some intuitive level, but over time they have sorted themselves into a kind of personal language with meanings that shift depending on color or context. I see most of the recurring elements in my current work as either organic forms—existing in some vague place between internal body parts, plants, seeds, and other objects in nature—or rigid, inorganic, machine-like forms.  

Some sculptures are cryptic systems comprised of mostly organic elements. In others, organic elements are being confinedgenerated or processed by human-made objects or machines. Some of these systems appear harmonious, while others seem sinister, chaotic or adversary. This stems from my larger fascination with interconnectivity, whether it’s contemplating the incredibly complex web of the natural world or questioning the systems we create and the corresponding rules we subscribe to as a society. Exploring these ideas in soft sculpture allows me overlay those thoughts and emotions with a certain playful quirkiness that I really enjoy. That said, I’m not overly concerned that people viewing my work infer any of these things or feel any pressure to “get it.” Ultimately I want my art to feel open and approachable, something to enjoy and explore, and take as much or as little as you want from it.  

To see more of Tamara's work, please visit tamarabagnell.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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Rachelle Reichert

BackwardFuture, 2017. Installation shot, Black Crown Gallery. Photo credit: Phillip Maisel.

RACHELLE REICHERT's sculptural forms are minimal and her palette is monochromatic—almost exclusively black, white and grey. These formal decisions grow directly from her material choices—graphite and salt. Underlying the seemingly-simple, formal elegance is a committed interest in the social and ecological impact of technology. Rachelle earned her BFA at Boston University, following by her MFA at Mills College (Oakland, CA). In addition to numerous solo exhibitions, she has presented her work at the California Climate Change Symposium, the State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference, the American Geophysical Union Meeting. Her work will be on view from September 9 - October 21, 2018 in the group show Unwalking the West at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at Pacific Northwest College (Portland, Oregon). Rachelle is curatingTrace Evidence: A Cross-Cultural Dialogue on Climate Change in affiliation with Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018. The show opens at Minnesota Street Project (San Francisco) on September 5, 2018 and will be accompanied by a panel discussion sponsored by SFMOMA on September 11, 2018. Rachelle lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Why are salt and graphite the dominant materials in your work? How do they drive your work?

Rachelle Reichert: I am interested in the familiar becoming unknown and in the complexity of seemingly ordinary things. My practice explores the connection between basic natural materials, their use by industry and technology and the resulting impact on the environment and culture. I have created work with metal, clay, natural pigments, charcoal and more. But graphite and salt have held my attention for over five years.

Graphite is a primary tool for drawing— a practice that helped develop human consciousness. Graphite was originally used by sheepherders to mark sheep. Since then, it has a history in industrialization as a lubricant to machinery and now in the lithium-ion battery found in cars and  smartphones. Graphene—graphite’s 2-D form—is enabling leaps in nanotechnology and biotech because it is an excellent superconductor. I research the life cycle of the material, from extraction to implementation and create artwork based on this research.

First Rains, 2016. Salt. 15 x 12 x 9 in each.

OPP: And salt?

RR: I started thinking about salt in 2013 in my first semester of grad school. I had an incredible professor, the late Anna Valentina Murch, who encouraged material experimentation in sculpture when I was making large graphite paintings. She helped to transform my thinking. Salt has been extracted industrially from the San Francisco Bay since the 1850s. It is an incredibly unstable mineral that is essential for human life. Like graphite, I’ve researched salt’s use in industry, such as local extraction and the repercussions shaping the San Francisco estuary. In addition I have studied salt’s role in culture, such as its use in woman-led pagan practices that were later adopted by Catholicism. My salt circles come directly from that.

Both graphite and salt are extracted all over the world. Presently, I am looking at graphite extraction in China and I recently returned from the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, the largest salt flat in the world with the largest reserves of lithium.

Exhibition at Monterey Peninsula College, 2017

OPP: How do you make formal choices to support your conceptual concerns?

RR: My forms and palettes are determined by the materials themselves. I am sensitive to the textures and forms of the materials. That is where the complexity lies. These works are demanding and require close looking. Unfortunately, photographs of the works don’t communicate this well. 

OPP: How do the forms grow out of the material? It’s clear in the saltworks, but what about the hexagons, for example?

RR: The hexagons reference the crystalline structure of graphite, an allotrope of carbon. It’s the hexagonal form that allows for the superconductivity of the material. A beautiful example of form follows function.

Untitled (Hexagons 3), 2018. Graphite on panel. 50 x 24 inches (variable).

OPP: Is the sourcing of your materials important?

RR: Yes, very important. It creates the content for some works. I often harvest my own materials or when I can’t do it myself, I work with companies who do and build relationships with these companies. I often watch sights for a very long time, years usually, before I start making work. Watching includes tracking locations via satelite images and reading news, geological reports, surveys or any information I can find and visiting the locations—if I can. 

Currently, I am working on a project where I’ve been visiting locations in California impacted by forest fires and making oil paint from the charred trees. I started this in 2014 but it is just now that I am making paintings. The fires have accelerated rapidly in the time I’ve been researching. I coincidentally started making this work during the largest recorded fire in California history, the Thomas Fire in December 2017. Since then, the Mendocino Complex Fire, burning as I write this, now holds the record as the largest fire. I am creating this work as it rains ash from the sky in San Francisco and grieving, like so many others, for a California past and for those who have suffered from these fires.

Blackdragon Mine #15, 2017.

OPP: What role does satellite imagery play in your drawing practice?

RR: I use private-sourced earth imaging satellites to track locations affected by global warming. I have access to these images from a research ambassadorship. I track graphite mines with these images and salt evaporation ponds, wildfires and new sites of extraction in the American West. These images come from technology that could not exist without the raw materials that are being photographed and so I want to highlight that connection with my drawings.

OPP: Are the Black Dragon drawings examples of this? Do viewers/critics ever miss the connection and want to talk abut these as pure abstraction?

RR: Yes. The name comes from the mining group that I have been following in China. These works can function as pure abstraction or as an investigation of the images I am exploring and creating the works from. The connection is often missed, but I think that adds an interesting layer, potentially revealing the reference images in unexpected ways. Most people don’t realize that satellite images are highly edited—color corrected, cropped, composited—to look like what one would expect from a satellite image: a clear view of the land below with no clouds or blurs or camera malfunctions (remember, these images are coming from space!). The drawings are layered and space is negotiated in strange ways intentionally to reveal this. 

Blackdragon Mine #16, 2017. Graphite on prepared paper. 12 x 16 inches.

OPP: You’ve presented your artwork at the California Climate Change Symposium, the San Francisco State of the Estuary Conference, and the American Geophysical Union Meeting. Can you talk about presenting art in a scientific context?

RR: My research requires a lot of understanding into the chemical composition of my materials and how their uses impact the planet. I track pollution from extraction and man-made marks on our planet. I feel that art is an essential tool to help understand science, especially climate science. There is an urgency there and I am always seeking opportunities to intersect ideas and collaborate. 


To see more of Rachelle's work, please visit rachellereichert.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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018).  Most recently, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit  Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. 

Going Strong for 7 Years: Justin Richel

Did you know the OPP blog turns seven-years-old at the end of August? In honor of our upcoming birthday and the artists we feature, we'll be sharing some blasts from the past. In this post and over the next few weeks, we'll share new work from Featured Artists interviewed in the first year of the blog. Today's artist is Justin Richel.

Justin at John Michael Kohler Art Center

OtherPeoplesPixels: What's new in your practice, since your interview in 2010?

Justin Richel: In 2013 I received an Arts/Industry Residency at Kohler Co. through the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, which altered the way I would think and make work there after. Since that time I have focused my efforts on a sculptural practice, shifting from painting exclusively to a multidisciplinary practice that allows for both painting and sculpture and the mixing of the two.  

Endless Column (Toast), 2017-18. Urethane plastic, acrylic. 36 x 4 x 4 inches.

A series that I am currently working on is titled Tall Order this seres takes it’s overall aesthetic from early modernism and minimalist idealisms and subverts these with a bit of pop culture, humor and a maximalist approach to detail.

Zips, 2016 - 18. Bass Wood, Gouache, acrylic, sterling silver and 23k gold leaf.

Another series titled Zips takes it’s name from the famous zip paintings by Barnett Newman. An homage to the artist but also to the object that created the paintings. Constructed from carved wood, painted with gouache and gilded with gold, silver and copper leaf, they reference the object-ness of a paint brush yet lack its functionality, resulting in an object that resists definition. It is simultaneously a brush, a sculpture, a painting, a zip, a portrait of the artist and yet none of these things by classical definition.

The Artist, Alone In A Vacuum, Gestating The World Into Being, 2015. Gouache on board. 9 1/8" x 10.25"

In 2015 I received an artist residency on Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine. This residency afforded me the necessary time to make a clean break from the paintings that I had been making during the previous 12 years. Monhegan is known for being an art colony among early modernist painters, undoubtedly for it’s rugged coast line, extreme weather and solitude. My paintings now incorporate the stigma and stereotypes surrounding the archetypal permutations of the artist and the creative process. I am particularly interested in portraying the ”shadow” of the artist, which metaphorically represents the darker underlying struggles that exist in the character of “Mankind.” In this work I draw from art history, mythology, pop culture and Jungian psychology. The paintings are composed almost exclusively from borrowed imagery combined and reconfigured to create new narrative structures that build on the past.

Endless Column, 2013. Slip cast vitreous China. 96" x 4 1/2" x 4 1/2"

In 2016, my partner Shannon Rankin and I moved from Maine to New Mexico. Shannon had received a residency from the RAiR Foundation which provided us with a house, studios and stipend for one year. We liked it so much that we decided to stay. 

I currently have some work in a show titled Parallax (A RAiR Connection Exhibition) at the Roswell Museum and Art Center in New Mexico. This three-person show features works by Emi Ozawa,  Maja Ruznic and myself, who are all partners of current or former RAiR grant recipients, and is on view through September 2, 2018. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Susan Klein

Small Sculptures, 2017. Oil on ceramic and epoxy clay.

SUSAN KLEIN's work weaves in and out of an irreverence for the sacred and a reverence for the banal. Her sculptures and drawings are playful, colorful and humorous. . . and they take themselves seriously. They are complex explorations of ambiguous forms—urns, gravestones, altars, severed fingers—that evoke the human devotional impulse. Susan earned her BFA in Studio Art at University of New Hampshire, followed by her MFA in Painting at University of Oregon. In June 2018, she was an artist-in-residence at the Wassaic Project in Wassaic, New York, and she will be spending July at theInternational Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn. She is the curator of Nighttime For Strangers, which features the work of Skye GilkersonHeather Merckle, and Holly Veselka, at the NARS Foundation in Brooklyn. The show opens this Friday on July 6 and runs through July 27. Her upcoming solo show Susan Klein: New Work opens on September 6, 2018 at the Sumter County Gallery of Art in South Carolina. Susan's work in represented by The Southern. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you define the Sacred?

Susan Klein: I think of the sacred as that which is imbued with a specific religious or spiritual significance. This can be an object or living being that is revered and often held as directly connected to a god or gods. I am interested in the arbitrary manner that objects can be consecrated and made sacred. An ordinary object can be transformed into a thing that carries power, weight and spirituality. It can act as the connection between this world and another.  

Offering, 2017. Oil and acrylic on ceramic stoneware. 84 x 84 x 6 inches.

OPP: Can you talk about that recurring form which is sometimes a severed finger, sometimes a gravestone, sometimes a monument?

SK: This form references a pattern on an Etruscan artifact. I have played with it many times in painting, drawing and sculpture. I like how it can shift between a finger, figure, phallus and monument. It is a form that symbolizes creation, touch and commemoration. 

It is interesting that you mention it as a severed finger! The violence associated with that connects the form to Shadow Things (2014-2015), a body of work that directly relates to cemeteries, urns, grave markers and funerary ornament. I was thinking about how these markers or holders of the dead are used to commemorate and bridge the living and the dead. Mausoleum and the related works grew out of visits to museums to see artifacts (Roman and Egyptian funerary artifacts to name a few) and out of my experience in Berlin’s Weissensee Cemetery, the second largest Jewish cemetery in Europe that miraculously survived WWII. Many Jews hid in the mausoleums there, but I think most were found and killed. Despite this history—or maybe because of it—it is an amazingly beautiful place. Humans have a way of turning death into something beautiful. Through religion, commemoration, decoration and the use of the sacred object or altars we find ways to grapple with that which we do not understand. 

Three Rainbows, 2017. Oil on canvas and wood. 60 x 48 inches.

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

SK: Humor is a counter to the heaviness in life. It is a way we can process and manage emotions, trauma and current events. For me, it is also a way to prevent work from becoming literal, heavy-handed, overly simplified and a one-liner. It keeps complexity in the work, and that mirrors the human psyche.  

The finger form is as funny as it is serious. I often use shapes or imagery that shift from serious to playful, venerated to irreverent. This slippage is important to me, and one of the main reasons I am currently working with the ubiquitous symbol of the rainbow. It is used in religion, new age spirituality, emojis, stickers, etc. I think it is funny to use a cliched image in "serious," formal work. There are so many associations we have with the rainbow as a symbol. Rainbows are very seductive and silly in reproduction (but a real rainbow is always beautiful). It is fun to play with those associations, to personify and glorify this image. Plus, how can I resist a good color gradient? 

Landed, 2018. Oil on ceramic stoneware. 18 x 14 x 7 inches.

OPP: It seems like you began in drawing and painting and moved into sculpture. Is that the case? What led you toward sculpture?

SK: In graduate school, I cut up drawings and made three-dimensional structures out of them. I would use these structures as stand-alone sculptures and as still life subjects for paintings. I also began using small foam and spilled paint sculptures as subjects. This process continued after school for many years. Later, I pulled forms from paintings and made them into sculpture. There has been a continuous back and forth, although I had about three years or so where I focused entirely on painting. A collaborative exhibition in Berlin in 2015 brought sculpture back into my practice. I incorporated the furniture in the exhibition space into my work. That certainly changed things! In some ways, straight painting and image making never satisfied me. I continuously was thinking of the painting as object, so moving into sculpture made perfect sense. Strangely, much of the art I admire most are very quiet paintings, like Giorgio Morandiand Édouard Vuillard. Although Betty Woodman and Jessica Stockholder rock my world. 

Looped, 2018. Oil on ceramic stoneware. 15 x 9 x 9.75 inches.

OPP: When did ceramics first enter your tool kit?

SK: In 2016 I began making forms out of Sculpey, epoxy resin and air dry clay as a way to solve an architectural issue with a cement piece. These forms and materials clicked, so I made more and more. A year ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the artist in residence program at Otis College of Art and Design. They have a ceramics studio and an amazing ceramics tech there, so it was the perfect time to experiment with clay. I loved it immediately! Instead of glazing, I fire the clay and oil paint it.  This keeps the work firmly connected to painting and allows me to work with a process that more spontaneous than glazing. I also love how the oil paint takes to the fired surface. It is very buttery and satisfying!

OPP: Talk about your choice to present artist statements in the form of audio and video that doesn’t tell us much at all. You could have no statement at all, as many artists do. Are you a contrarian? Or genuinely mystified by writing an artist statement?

SK: Ha! I have "proper" artist statements that I use for applications, exhibitions, and whatnot, but I like resisting language on the website. I think the work creates its own language and presents that to the viewer. I am not so interested in layering verbal/written language on top of that. Although I am an academic, I have a small problem with the academicizing of visual art.  Artist statements are a direct result of the proliferation of the MFA and the professionalization of the field. . . so yes, maybe I am a bit contrarian! But I also like that image and sound can exist as a statement or descriptor of the work. There is something pre-lingual in my work and in my experience words can obfuscate, confuse and miscommunicate as often as not. One must be a very good writer to illuminate the world.

Peach Diamond Reverence, 2016. Foam, paint, glitter, resin, clay. 12.5 x 11 x 9 Inches.

OPP: What’s frustrating about how viewers respond to your work?

SK: For some reason, I dislike the word whimsical being applied to my work. I don't know why! Maybe because it makes me think of cuteness. My work incorporates play, humor and improvisation, but it is also rigorous. Whimsy feels a bit fluffy. 

OPP: What’s satisfying? 

SK: It is satisfying when viewers really engage with the work. When they spend the time to get lost in it a little, when they start to react the dark side as well as the light. I do like to see people having fun with my work as well! My art idol is Elizabeth Murray, who created work that embodies many things at once. It is playful, humorous, rigorous, serious. 

To see more of Susan's work, please visit susankleinart.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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). Most recently, Stacia created Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hoesy Corona

Alien Nation, 2017. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

HOESY CORONA takes a multimedia approach to art-making. His complex performance works, which involve movement, costume, light and sound, balance alienation with celebration. His sculptural works explore the role of scapegoating in maintaining cultural dominance. Concerned with a queerness, immigration and climate change, he explores the many forms of marginalization in North American society. Hoesy earned his BFA at The Maryland Institute College of Art in 2009 and is currently a MAT candiate. He has exhibited at The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Walters Art Museum and The Peale Museum, among numerous others. In 2017, he received an Andy Warhol Foundation Grit Fund Grant and, in 2016, a Ruby’s Project Grant in Visual Arts. He is a 2017-2018 Halcyon Arts Lab Fellow, as well as an Artist-in Residence at the Fillmore School Studio in Washington, D.C. Hoesy lives and works in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Costumes that obscure the identity of the wearer feature prominently in your performance work, especially The Nobodies (2009-present). Who are The Nobodies?

Hoesy Corona: The Nobodies are no one and everyone at once. In this series I consider what it means to be a disenfranchised member of society in North America by embodying the abstract concept of nobody, nothing all of a sudden becomes individualized, becomes body and eyes, becomes no one. I started this series after reading The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz in which he describes the fraught psyches in the relationship between Mexico and The United States in detail. As a Mexican immigrant artist living in the U.S. for most of my life, I consider the paradox of the simultaneous visibility and invisibility of the immigrant in the U.S. In this series I invite audience members to participate in the act of nobodying, an operation that consists of making somebody into nobody. 

Nobodies Gala, 2016.

OPP: Can you talk about the materials you use to construct the wearable sculptures?

HC: I use a variety of familiar everyday materials to construct these wearable sculptures. When I started the series in 2009, I was working as a florist and was drawn to discarded floral packaging materials—cellophane, ribbons, mylar, silk florals, and mesh nettings—and collected them obsessively. Once I had amassed a substantial amount of stuff, I then transformed the materials into other-worldly colorful wearable sculptures that accompanied a live performance. I no longer work as a florist, but I am still interested in using different types of plastics as well as wigs, silk flowers, lights, clear film, and adhesive vinyls to construct new Nobodies

OPP: What kinds of movements do the Nobodies perform in public spaces?

HC: The movements in the Nobodies are very subtle and sculptural. Oftentimes, viewers don’t realize that the  sculptures are being animated by real people. The slow movements invite the audience members to pause as they consider the situation before them. In public spaces these performances are particularly poignant as the unsuspecting viewers encounter the Nobodies in their natural setting. 

Scapegoat Monument, 2014.

OPP: The Scapegoats show up both as static sculptures—some life sized and some tiny—and performance characters. Do you see one iteration as more successful than the other? How do they work differently on the audience?

HC: I often intertwine the archetype of the scapegoat as a way to have us visualize the strategic selection of somebody, made into nobody, for the supposed wellbeing of the group. The sculptural forms don’t always involve a live performance, but are still performative in their context. In Scapegoat Thrones, for instance, I use found chair structures as the base of each sculpture and ask audience members to consider the cost of the comfort that is afforded to them in the world. So while there is no live performance involved, the audience can still imagine themselves in relation to the chair forms. Most recently during a residency at Ox-Bow School of Art, I worked in the ceramic studio to construct miniature Scapegoat Idols that can be handled by audience members. My hope is that one day each person in the US will have their own Scapegoat Idol that they can use to liberate themselves from negative feelings of blame and shame.

Scapegoat Idol, 2016

OPP: Tell us about Alien Nation (2017) at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington D.C. 

HC: Alien Nation, curated by Victoria Reis at The Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, was my most ambitious site specific performance to date. It included with 24 performers and two musicians. This mysterious and surprising shadow casting performance originated in response to the unique circular architecture of the museum. I knew I wanted to do something of a global scale that implicated a broad audience and included as many people as possible, so I conceived the idea of climate induced migration as a very real issue of our time that needs to be voiced. 

OPP: The piece was viewable from the inside and from the outside. . . how were the viewing experiences different?

HC: Although the museum was open late and visitors had the opportunity to sneak a peek of the performers on the second floor rotunda, most of the 1,200 audience members were patiently waiting outside around the fountain for the performance to begin as intended. Once outside, audience members saw 24 climate-immigrants backlit with purple light creating mysterious and surprising shadows in each of the 24 windows on the second floor rotunda. The 24 performers wore what I call “climate ponchos,” which included head gear that obscured the performers faces, an approach I chose because of the mystery and anonymity it afforded. Always silent these figures created subtle, sculptural movements in various locations that were complemented by live drumming juxtaposed with natural foley sounds that included ice-cracking, loons, and running water.  Slowly over the course of the performance the Climate-Immigrants started to descend downstairs and continued on their journey through the sea of bodies.

The clear wearable climate ponchos were adorned with images that depicted the archetype of the Traveler, with the people depicted wearing backpacks, carrying suitcases, wearing hats and some holding children. They were all on their way somewhere, in one direction a lot of the times. This simple showing of people in movement, in transition, resonates with a world-wide issue and echoed the reality of the viewers as they themselves traversed space to witness the performance. 

Alien Nation, 2017. Video documentation of performance.

OPP: In the Fall of 2017, you began a Fellowship at the Halcyon Arts Lab. Tell us bit about the program and your experience. How did it change your work?

HC: Halcyon Arts Lab is a fully funded, nine-month, international incubator that nurtures socially engaged artists in Washington D.C. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of 8 fellows for the inaugural cohort 2017-2018 to continue my work on Alien Nation. The program includes a range of professional development opportunities as well as tons of studio visits from renowned arts professionals. In addition, I am being mentored by Alberto Fierro Garza, Director of The Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington D.C. and mentoring a young artist myself. In the short seven months that I’ve been here, my practice has strengthen by leaps and bounds, I suspect this has everything to do with the nurturing environment the fellowship provides. I encourage all socially engaged artists to keep an eye on this fellowship and consider applying in the years to come! 

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mikey Kelly

Be Love Now v1.0 17.084. Acrylic on linen. 60" diameter x 1-1/2" depth. 2017.

MIKEY KELLY (@mikeykellystudio) explores the spiritual undertones of abstract painting. Line is his primary mark, and his meticulous methods yield surprising, vibrating networks of color. Mikey earned his BFA at University of Oregon and his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art. His work is included in the permanent collections at the Cranbrook Museum of Art, the Frankl Foundation for Art and the Neiman Marcus Corporate Collection, and he has been an Artist-in-Residence at Kala Art Institute (Berkeley) and at Lucid Art Foundation (Inverness, CA). He's represented by Chandra Cerrito Contemporary(Oakland), where he has had two solo shows. His work is on view until May 20, 2018 in the Lucid Art Foundation Annual Artist Show at GRO in Point Reyes, California and in Proto_Pop at Dab Art in Ventura, California. Mikey lives and works in Napa, California, where he recently completed the Painted Poem Mural

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you say, “The paintings truly need to be seen in person to fully experience them.” What am I missing as a viewer who’s only seen your work online?

Mikey Kelly: Changing tonalities and perspectives can’t be caught by the single image capture of a camera and need an advanced brain and the higher resolution of the human eye to truly experience these effects. When one gets closer to the paintings colors begin to separate and what you may have thought was a blue was actuality your eye mixing two or even three different colors to make that blue. There are also times when the canvases seem to bow or stretch visually as one moves around the pieces. These paintings test the viewer’s visual, neural and perceptual plasticity.

Embattlements 13.218.1. Mild steel, powder coat. 26"H x 21"W x 4"D. 2013

OPP: You used to work in powder-coated steel (2011-2014). I see a formal connection between your current systems-based paintings and the line variations in the steel sculpture. Are the processes at all similar despite the difference in media?

MK: All my work starts with a line. Formally they begin at the same place, but the sculpture work is much older than the drawings and paintings. The sculptures did dramatically inform the drawing and painting from their beginning, as I was familiar with playing with lines and the patterns that overlaying subsequent lines create. The process of making work changed dramatically a few years ago when I moved from the sculptural realm to the two-dimensional.

Mantra (Om Namah Shivaya) 17.016. Acrylic on linen. 24"H x 24"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: Can you describe your algorithmic process for making paintings? 

MK: My process starts with an analog program using encryption methods developed for secretly passing information that can convert language into numbers. This is a generative way of designing paintings that leaves the outcome unknown. I start with a base 26 variation of a Vigenere cipher that allows me to convert language into numbers. The result is a string of numbers that I then use to calculate the angle of each series of lines. I end up with an algorithm that directs the line spacing, angle, line width and color in a predetermined sequence before I ever start painting. This means that I work with no preconceived idea of what the final piece will look like. Each series of lines results in color shifting and new interference patterns each step of the way.

Buddha 16.264. Acrylic on Linen. 11"H x 11"W x 1-1/2"D. 2016

OPP: How do you get such straight lines?

MK: The painting process starts with the construction of a scale outside the boundaries of the canvas. This allows me to use a straight edge to maintain the same angle across the canvas as each line is painted. I use a pin striping tool that was developed in the early 1900s—it is essentially a syringe with a wheel at the end. This tool allows me to paint consistent straight lines of the same width without variation.

OPP: What can the paintings do that the sculptures could not? And vice versa? 

MK: While both are quite formal, the paintings feel more like true expression of myself. Sculptures on the one hand allow space, distance, volume, light and shadow into play. This creates a lot of variables that a two-dimensional painting can never encompass. But the paintings have allowed me to incorporate outside interests into the design and underlying structure of the work. This is why I have been exploring ways of combining the two so I can incorporate what I love in both into one piece.

P.O.S., Acrylic on goatskin, wood and deer lacing, 62”H x 42”W x 1-1/2D.” 2018.

OPP: Recently, you’ve shifted away from the conventional rectangle to the circle and even stretched goat skin. What’s led you to this format change? Are these anomalies or an entirely new direction?

MK: This is definitely a new direction that the work is heading in. Working the way I do, I find that using a shape other than a square or rectangle allows for more freedom and a less confined feeling to the painting. This came about from working on a few murals and installations that I completed in the past year.

I have been working towards the goal of making more dimensional paintings that incorporate many different techniques and materials. I plan on incorporating more leather, steel and neon into my work in the near future. I find the flat surface of a painting to be confining and would like to see how warping or stretching the canvas or leather over other shapes will influence the viewing of the work.

The Happiness Project, 2018. StARTup Art Fair LA, Acrylic on Cardboard, 96”H x 192”W x 192”D.

OPP: Tell us about the Happiness Project.

MK: The idea was to make an installation that felt like the positive energy that was in the paintings. The Happiness Project started while I was preparing for StARTup Art Fair LA and was trying to figure out how I could transform a hotel room into a full immersive experience. I decided the way to accomplish this would be to fill the entire room by lining every square inch of the walls with painted cardboard panels. I began by taking two word positive affirmations, running them through my analog program and then painting the resulting angles on cardboard shipping pads. Over 30 panels were cut and fit around all the furniture, light switches and outlets.

After the initial installation, I had the opportunity to install the panels again this time at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary. For this iteration I decided to further cut the panels down and to also rotate them creating more complexity to the installation as the lines now ran both vertically and horizontally and the joints became more complex and varied.

The third iteration was as a Special Project Artist at StARTup Art Fair SF.  This installation became the backdrop for their panel discussion series and broadcast on Facebook live. This most recent version included much smaller pieces while still playing with the complexity of the previous version.

16.058. Acrylic on Paper. 40"H x 26"W. 2016

OPP: What does the phrase “spirituality hacking” mean to you?

MK: I started looking at different forms of religion and certain religious movements during a time I attended a series of events at the Rubin Museum in New York City. Most religious belief systems seem to have a short cut to attaining enlightenment or a closeness with God. Saying a certain prayer, doing a certain form of meditation or the spinning of a prayer wheel are all ways to cheating the system in a sense.

So this Idea of “spirituality hacking” became an element that I started incorporating in my work. I began by using the analog program I developed, which enabled me to take a prayer or mantra and to use it as the input. This then gave me a series of numbers that I could use as direction to paint from. This also led to incorporating rotations of the canvas during the painting process to create a painting as a representation of a spinning prayer wheel.

Mantra (Om Ami Dewa Hrih) 17.040. Acrylic on linen. 12"H x 12"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: But it sounds like the precise complexity of your process isn’t really a short cut at all. Perhaps the focus and flow of the studio is the direct path to enlightenment. . .

MK:  Although there are elements of my work that have a very spiritual jump off point, I feel like the work truly needs to be viewed as an abstract piece of art first and foremost. Throughout art history spirituality has played a very specific role. When abstraction began in painting, that role did not diminish; it just went unspoken. I have chosen to be vocal about the influences of spirituality in my practice. But if I am not there or if the wall label doesn’t tell you, then the work simply becomes a painting to be judged on its formal qualities.

Many people think that making this work must be meditational. Making these paintings means making the same type of mark thousands and thousands of times. Muscle memory aside, if I just leave the present for a moment while painting, I will make a mistake. It can be very stressful and physical. I endure the struggle because the end result contains such an amazing vibratory power. I hope the work brings joy and physical beauty into the lives of others and maybe helps them find a direct path to enlightenment.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hector Arce-Espasas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see more of Hector's work, please visit hectorarceespasas.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). Her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? is on view at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois) through April 20, 2018. In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text Where Do We Go From Here? Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us.