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. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Carter

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: Was Flux the transition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: What was the process like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Shanti Grumbine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Skiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joshua West Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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