OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Julio Cesar Rodarte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOGETHER AS ONE, 2016. Acrylic on Canvas.

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

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

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

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

ELECTRIFY, 2016. Acrylic on shaped panel.

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

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

1937-PINK TRIANGLE, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas.

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Cook

Swimmers, 2016. Acrylic on Paper

Painter BENJAMIN COOK's abstract, mostly colorful works live as physical objects and as images on the Internet. . . and he values both equally. His work is driven by a fascination with the structures, rules and algorithms that guide both our online and offline lives. Ben earned his BFA at the University of Louisville in 2012 and just completed his MFA at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the Spring of 2017. He is represented by Zg Gallery in Chicago, where he had a solo exhibition titled How Do I Know You in 2016. Other solo shows include Paintings for the Internet at Rochester Museum of Fine Arts in New Hampshire and Image Construction at Project 1612 in Peoria, Illinois. He is a founding member and Co-Director of Say Uncle Project Space, an experimental residency and nomadic exhibition program located in Central Illinois. Ben lives and works in Champaign Urbana, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Where do you position yourself in relation to the history of abstraction in Painting? What part of the discourse are you most interested in? What are you adding to the conversation with your work?

Benjamin Cook: I tend to jump back and forth between looking at historical movements in painting and contemporary works by artists on social media. I usually stray away from positioning myself within the typical art historical cannon because I feel it sets up a hierarchy that favors a certain vein of artists. I prefer to look at “nameless” artists making work today with the same level of seriousness that I look at artists in the Washington color school, abstract minimalism, early digital art, etc. I have noticed that artists in the early digital movement often pulled protocols and strategies from abstract artists that came before them, and I see what I do now as the next step in that process. I am pulling from the digital world and making it physical again.



Psychosis in Pink, 2015. Acrylic, Spray Paint, Glitter Paint on Paper

OPP: What influences your work outside of fine art?

BC: I am really interested in social media and the Internet in general. As spaces of analog and digital creep closer and closer together, the structures and rules that guide them tend to affect one another. My research into the reverse flow of information (from digital to analog) propels me to ask questions about how and where we allow these systems to have control over our lives, the decisions we make and our taste. We saw in the last election, the power that platforms like Facebook can have over our lives. I am largely influenced by those powers.



OPP: Tell us about Paintings for the Internet (2014). Are these painted as a gift for the internet as an entity—as in poetic odes—or are they somehow about the internet? 


BC: That series started off as a sort of experiment. I was interested in seeing where I could move images around through figuring out what blogs were influenced by other blogs, what Instagram users followed other users, things like that. I was attempting to deconstruct the algorithm and reveal the structures that played a role in what I was seeing.

Untitled 071315, 2015. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: So, are the paintings then, not the point, but rather a pretense to figure out influence and viewing trends?

BC: It might have started off with that question of trying to figure out the system and its biases, but the physical paintings were always important, too. I tend to see very little distinction between the physical and digital versions of the paintings. Sure, there are things that can only be seen by standing in front of the painting on a wall, but there also things that can only be experienced through a digital interaction. The methods and processes in which the paintings are created come from protocols of both the digital and analog world, and I see the works as a sort of merged experience. You can see this sort of thing happening all over the place. In pop culture, the fidget spinner, a toy that spins in your hand using ball bearings, also exists in countless forms as a smartphone app. Modern finance is so tangled in the digital that being physically closer to the massive computers that buy and sell stocks in fractions of a second can give a company an advantage. In education, supercomputers are able to let humans reach beyond the limits of the human mind to calculate immense equations and sort through incredible amounts of data, creating a system in which the literal facts about the world we know are structured through a  digital lens. To claim that the paintings are just a means of getting at the “trend” or “algorithm” would significantly diminish the importance of the analog within the digital.

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: And what did you figure out about the trends in the process?

BC: One of the patterns that became apparent through this project was a constant visibility by a certain group of artists. Through the structure of the algorithms, many different publications, blogs, galleries, and institutions that all are functioning under the pretense that their curatorial selections are based upon the judgment of an actual human. Through the consistency of this small group of artists being shown in these spaces and publications, it became apparent that the algorithms are playing a role in curation, helping to decide who “gets in” and who is “left out” though visibility. This all may seem like not that big of a deal, but when you think about the people writing the code, they’re not writing it while thinking about the art world. They’re thinking about engagement in general. This sets up a system that has the potential to favor specific groups of artists and disenfranchise others. The art world already has plenty of problems with excluding the voices of women and people of color, and if the algorithms are not considering that (and they aren’t), it only further exacerbates the problems.

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: How do you think about the paintings as paintings?

BC: I love them! I have always been a painter at heart. As I said before, I see very little separation between the digital and the analog. This allows me to both work with paint, in all of its physical viscerality, while still asking questions about my place within a digital world. There is always a new way to push paint around, and I always get excited about that process of discovery.


OPP: You have a strong tendency toward multicolored-ness. What does it mean to you to balance colors by using so many? 


BC: Color theory has always been an interest of mine. Each color on a painting is individually mixed and unique. I use that process to further test my boundaries of color knowledge. Placing them all in a grid or right next to each other becomes a sort of game for me. It is an attempt to replicate randomness, which is impossible. I pull a lot of my knowledge of color from the impressionists. I think about combinations of cool, warm, light, dark, and balance colors of the same value but a different hue right next to one another.

Arch, 2015. Graphite on Paper

OPP: In relation to your other work, I read your graphite works as having had the color drained from them. Were you excited or bored by working in grey tones?


BC: The graphite works come in moments of respite. When I find that I am leaning to heavily on the color to make a painting work, It helps for me to eliminate it all together. I can think about the composition and structure in greater depth without any distractions.

Static Structure 3, 2016. Acrylic, Resin on Basketball Net

OPP: How do you think about Static Structures (2016), a series of paintings on deconstructed basketball nets? How is working on the net different or the same as working on canvas or paper?

BC: They each have the ability to utilize structures from digital spaces in the same way. For me, the basketball nets came from how I interact with different social media platforms through the limitations and controls set up by the algorithms and code that structure them. The basketball nets acted as a given set of parameters that I had to work within to manipulate into something new. The element of gravity, through the drips of poured resin, invited an aspect of larger analog controls to the undulating net and froze it in a new form. From that new structure, I find and pull patterns out of the grid. The process of working within the structure to create my own image was largely metaphoric of the task of defining yourself through a digital platform. What images show my best side? What short bio, best promotes how I see myself? These types of questions that seem mostly open ended are actually largely confined to the set of parameters that each platform allows. The images created in the nets of patterned bands of color were defined in a similar fashion, a decision all my own, but severely limited in its possibilities.

To see more of Ben's work, please visit benjamincookart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matt Phillips

Luxor at Dawn and Bungalow

MATT PHILLIPS expertly wields color, line and texture in mid-sized paintings and smaller works on paper. Drawing a clear parallel between Geometric Abstraction in painting and in quilting, he divides the rectangle into endlessly-surprising, smaller shapes. He renders the repeated triangles, rectangular bars, half circles and curved lines in varying colors with repetitive, overlapping brushstrokes, balancing the importance of each mark with the overall composition. Matt earned a BA in Art/Art History from Hampshire College (Amherst, Massachusetts) in 2001 and an MFA in Painting from Boston University in 2007. He was a McDowell Colony fellow in February 2016 and has had solo exhibitions at Cerasoli Gallery (Los Angeles, 2009), Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects (New York, 2013 and 2016), Branch Gallery (North Adams, Massachusetts, 2013), Kate Alkarni Gallery (Seattle, 2013) and the University of Maine Museum of Art (Bangor, 2014). His work was recently included in Summerzcool: A Group Exhibition at David Shelton Gallery in Houston. In September 2016, his work will be included in a three-person show, also featuring the work of Austin Eddy and Benjamin Edminston, at Charlotte Fogh Gallery in Denmark and in October 2016, his solo show Yard Sale will open at Devening Projects in Chicago. Matt is a professor of art at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent paintings evoke quilts, especially the Gee’s Bend Quilts, which are often asymmetrical and slightly irregular. Are these an influence for you?

Matt Phillips: The Quilts of Gee’s Bend have been very important to my relationship with painting. They share so many affinities with geometric abstraction and synthetic cubism. I love the spontaneity of the quilts’ imagery and the resourcefulness of the artists. Quilts and textiles teeter on the edge between image and object. Many of the Gee’s Bends quilts have such an incredible and varied physical surface found in well worn clothing and old denim. It is a kind of imagery that is generated by the exchange between the body and a swatch of fabric—a process not unlike the act of painting. I am also interested in how, as a sculptural object, fabric gives form to some of the more invisible forces of the world such as gravity.

Slow Dance (for E.E.)
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: I’ve noticed quite a few contemporary painters referencing both quilting and weaving in the last few years. What’s really interesting about abstraction in these textile forms is that it grows directly out of the process. In traditional quilting, one cuts just squares and rectangles from different fabrics and rearranges them using the grid to make other shapes. It’s a process of building up into a rectangle, but the rectangle doesn’t exist at the beginning. Painting, on the other hand, seems to be partly about dividing up the clearly defined rectangle. Your thoughts?

MP: I feel like the way that I approach my paintings has certain similarities with the process you just described. The painted image ultimately has to exist within the edges delineated by the support. In much of my recent work, though, the pictures don’t entirely fill the rectangle. Instead, the image form either extends towards or recoils from the edge of the canvas, sometimes both at once.

Untitled
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: Can you talk about the texture within your fields of color? It reminds me of coloring a large expanse of space with a very fine-tipped marker. The hand is really present. Is this effect something you sought to create or a happy accident that emerged from your process?

MP: This texture comes primarily from the paint that I use which is made by dispersing raw pigment into a silica binder. Making my own paint naturally creates inconsistencies in the opacity and transparency of the color. I also paint on a course linen using small brushes. The result is that the viewer can see many discreet passages of the brush within the larger flat areas of color. The place where two marks overlap create a darker seam that is slightly more opaque. Lately, I have been really interested in how this process creates a secondary illusionistic space within my paintings. It appears almost as if someone took the completed painting, crumpled it up, and then tried their best to flatten it back out. I remember turning in a lot of homework in a similar condition as a younger child.

Untitled
Silica and Pigment on Linen
24" x 20"
2014

OPP: In 2015, you translated Belay (2013) into a ceramic tile mosaic called Ascent. This translation really highlights the texture in your paintings in a new way. Did you execute the mosaic yourself or just lend the design? How do you feel about the translation after the fact?

MP: This work was a commission that I received from the New York City Public Art for Public Schools Program and installed in PS106, an elementary school in the Bronx. I collaborated with a great mosaic artist name Stephen Miotto. We worked together to find a way to translate some of the material issues I just described into tile. It was a great back and forth process as we tried to use hard pieces of ceramic tile to describe the way that wet paint looks. The school itself is designed in such a way that the youngest children are on the ground floor and the oldest children are on the third floor of the building. I wanted to try and make an image that somehow marked the student’s process of vertically climbing through the school as they learn and advance through the different grades. I also like that the work, like a ruler, consists of regular parallel stripes. My hope is that the students actually use these line as a tool to measure how they grow taller while attending the school.

Ascent
Ceramic Tile Mosaic
14' x 8'
2015

OPP: I’ve noticed a few recurring compositional motifs. House of Hands (2013), The Well at the Watering Hole (2014), Campfire by the Comfort Inn (2015) and Arboretum (2015) all have a figure-ground relationship, while simultaneously reading as pieced quilts. I see stacked boxes, stairs, mountains or buildings against a backdrop of blue sky. Can you talk about repetition of compositions and forms in your work from a process point of view?

MP: A lot of my works are built upon similar compositional structures or divisions of the rectangle. I like the idea that two things can have a similar point of origin but end up having two totally different conclusions. Those works you mention present the viewer with architectural forms. I think that such archetypal forms are a way I try and entice a deeper relationship to the picture on the part of the viewer—to get one’s eyes to pull their body through the picture plane.

Arboretum
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: What’s your experience like when painting these works with similar origin points? Do you long to paint that form again or does it surprise you?

MP: It really happens both ways. Sometimes I make a painting and then later feel compelled to revisit it through successive pieces. For example, I may want to see the picture at a different scale, or develop a new idea about light or color in relation to the original image. At other times though, I will just be following a painting wherever it takes me and I’ll end up finding out that there is some unfinished business with regard to a certain form or motif. The four paintings that you just mentioned were made over two years. There were times when each one of those paintings had drifted into really different territory. The final four works ultimately returned to this related motif of stacked blocks, yet each one has its own distinct and winding path to this shared commonality - I think this gives each painting its own unique voice and story.

To see more of Matt's work, please visit paintingpaintings.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Heather Brammeier

Inside Outside
2014
Oil on canvas
36"x 54"

HEATHER BRAMMEIER’s flowing, curling lines—rendered two-dimensionally in paint and three-dimensionally in PEX piping—evoke vines, waves, hair, intestines, smoke and even cursive writing. Her paintings and installations are unified by the balance abstraction and representation, or expressions of the internal and the external. Heather earned her BFA from Bradley University in 2000 and her MFA from University of Pennsylvania in 2002. Her representational works will be exhibited alongside abstract reinterpretations in She Defines Herself, a solo exhibition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that opens on June 26, 2015. A rooftop installation at the South Bend Museum of Art in Indiana will be on display from June, 2015–May 2017. Adorn, another rooftop installation, will be on view for the month of September 2015 at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago.  Most recently, she was chosen to take part in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art's SENSE exhibition, as part of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Heather is an Associate Professor of Art at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your process in general. Are you a sketcher/planner or an intuitive maker?

Heather Brammeier: I love planning and sketching, but I always know the finished works will be very different from the plans. At the beginning of a studio day, I allow myself to follow any line of thought and imagine ambitious new directions. I mentally undertake any project and see where it goes, forgetting about physical limitations, even discounting the effects of gravity. It’s just like when I was a little girl, trying to balance huge Lego houses on a tiny base. This over-reaching is part of my process, because it gives me interesting problems to work on. I often find myself looking at a sketch and asking myself how I can achieve similar results with simpler, more direct means. This is how I devise new ways of working, or new ways of addressing current work.

Painting in Space 5
2015
Repurposed paintings, fabric, play balls, suitcase, chair, and other mixed media

OPP: I'm utterly enamored with the installations that you refer to as Painting in Space. Personally, I think of these more as sculptural quilts than paintings because of your decision to include found objects like chairs, suitcases, and balls as well as repurposed art work. Why do you think of these works as paintings instead of installations?

HB: I tend to see visual characteristics—shape, color, space—before naming objects or identifying things. This makes me very aware of the way our brain flattens visual input into an image. When I started assembling objects to make the paintings in space, I imagined myself “fattening” my paintings by giving them dimension and then “flattening” them again through photography. During construction, I definitely anticipate how the photograph will flatten out all dimension (as the brain does). The paintings in space still hold up as installation in an exhibition setting, but my primary focus is the image created, rather than an environment. Your term “sculptural quilts” is apt, as it describes both the dimensional and flattened qualities. I have an interest in the area between two and three dimensions, and I have explored sewing to work in that realm.

Ribbed Cave (With Uccello)
2014
Oil on canvas
45"x 30"

OPP: You return again and again to loopy mass of curls and coils in your Invented Landscapes and PEX sculptures. At times, these organic lines evoke vines, waves, hair, intestines, smoke and even cursive writing. Could you talk about your attraction to this form, as well as its counterpart, the triangle, that shows up in many of your installations?

HB: Loops and biomorphic forms have the potential to refer to interior and exterior simultaneously. I welcome all the associations you identified. I tell people I am “aggressively introspective.” I’m being a little self-deprecating, but also completely honest. My introspection over the years has led me to view experience of the mind, body and physical world as very fluid and continuous.  My imagery can easily shift from being read as interior to exterior space and from mental struggle to physical struggle. 

I use circles and triangles to evoke strength and stability. Just as the stability in our lives can turn quickly into chaos, carefully measured structures can transform into masses of lines that spin out of control. My return again and again to biomorphic tangles creates a physical manifestation of the constant search for meaning that we all experience.

She Defines Herself (Bordone's Princess, Jess)
2015
Conte on Rives BFK
30"x 22" each

OPP: Your Masterworks Interpretations began are based on famous paintings of the St. George and the Dragon story. In paintings like Waterfall (With Moreau's St. George) and Ribbed Cave (With Uccello), you  reinterpret isolated parts of the original paintings and place them inside your characteristic coils. But in 2015, you've made a major stylistic shift with drawing diptychs like She Defines Herself
(Uccello's Princess, Tura's Princess) and She Defines Herself (Bordone's Princess, Jess). What led to this shift?

HB: The masterwork reinterpretations began a few years ago when I used the language of biomorphic abstraction to reinterpret a master’s composition. I recently started allowing myself to start copying portions of the masterworks. I began to see that representational imagery can provide metaphor for internal struggles, just as abstraction does. This gave me permission to mine personal experience—through snapshots—and combine it with the masterwork imagery I was studying. These drawings were my way of breaking through the barrier I had set between abstraction and representation, but they do not represent an abandonment of abstraction. My plan is that the portraits will lead to paintings that combine abstraction with representation.

Incorporating the study of masterworks into my studio practice has taught me things I didn’t anticipate. While I am nothing like an art historian, I think I may understand now how connected an art historian feels to artwork. I also feel like I understand portraiture in a way that I never had before. A similar sense of longing arises in working from either a snapshot or a reproduction of a painting, as both have limited visual information. When drawing from a snapshot, I have to strain to find detail in the image, but I am compelled by my interest in the woman pictured. When I draw a woman from a reproduction of a painting, I am also constantly straining to see more in the image, but I begin without knowing the woman. The process of visual searching leads me to feel more connection with the woman in the painting. The gap separating real women I know and fictional women I can never meet is closed by visual study and interpretation. 

No matter the medium or approach, I tend to take disparate elements and put them on equal footing. In the paintings in space, objects stored in my basement are considered raw material on footing with oil paintings. In the masterwork interpretations, my approach to abstraction and the representational approach of the master artist are both on the table for me to use. The women in the conte portraits are considered equally, whether they are toddlers, young women or princesses. I put aside the distinctions that most people would consider first in order to present more universal qualities. Each woman’s expression suggests complicated thoughts and even inner conflict. I like to pair these portraits as diptychs, but I also like grouping them in different ways. Exhibited in one long line, the women seem almost to talk to one another, and the cropped horses and dragons from masterworks create a sense of absurdity.

Seeing Through (wall installation)
2013
PEX plumbing pipe, zip ties
20'x 15'x 4'

OPP: You have two upcoming rooftop installations, one at the South Bend Museum of Art and one at the Lilllstreet Art Center in Chicago. What are you planning? What's exciting about a rooftop space and what's difficult?

HB: I actually have three rooftop projects coming up! I was just chosen to do a piece at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I will be working in their Terrace exhibition space on the roof of the building. My outdoor installations utilize PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) because it is very resistant to the elements. PEX is more flexible and light than PVC and more rigid than most hosing, so it holds curves very well.  The cross-linked fibers allow me to drill holes through the PEX; red and blue zip ties are threaded through to hold curves in place. I make large, elegant tangles that can drape across walls and tumble over edges. 

Each space holds its own challenge. The piece I am making for the South Bend Museum of Art will tumble over the edge of a twenty-two foot high wall. Creating a piece that has a substantial visual presence viewed from the sidewalk as well as from the various tall buildings surrounding the Century Center will be a challenge. I am using some wooden structures with arcs and triangles to help establish a strong visual profile and to physically anchor the piece. The Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago has four flagpoles on the edge of its rooftop, and I’ll be draping PEX loops from one to the next like a necklace or adornment for the building and the sky. At the UICA in Grand Rapids, I have a much larger space than I ever have before.  Some of my plans for this space are still in the works, as I have a lot of research and testing to do. I can tell you I will be building more structures for the PEX to climb on, and I’ll be making striped walls with red and blue tape.  The optical effects of red and blue PEX in front of red and blue stripes will be exhilarating for some, and disorienting for others because of the strong color vibration. The red and blue lines invite associations with arteries and veins, which can lead to contemplations of the visceral experience of artwork.  I also embrace associations with toys and hula-hoops. As in much of my other work, I am addressing the fact that apparent opposites often exist together and that ambiguity reigns over clarity.

To see more of Heather's work, please visit heatherbrammeier.com
.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leslie Bell

Cosmic Wall-Les Territoires (installation view)
2009
Water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
8' x 40'

LESLIE BELL's immersive, colorful collage installations hover in the threshold between abstraction and representation. The organic, rhizomatic lines evoke explosions, sea life and planetary movement, but formal decisions are often influenced more by materiality than imagery. Leslie received her BFA from Alberta College of Art & Design in 2002 and completed her MFA in Painting and Drawing at Concordia University, Montreal in 2009. In 2008, she attended the Cosmic Ray Research residency at The Banff Centre, and has been the recipient of numerous project grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (2008, 2010 and 2011). Leslie's stop-motion animations of water-based paint over back-lit glass have been screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival (2013) in Australia and the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (2014) in Toronto, among others. She has exhibited widely throughout Canada, including solo shows at Skew Gallery (2011) and SQ Commons (2013), both in Calgary, where Leslie lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are your collage installations pure abstractions? What visually influences you in the creation of these works?

Leslie Bell: These collages, composed of over a hundred paper and paint-on-Mylar cutouts, were developed from two different directions. The paper shapes are made by tracing projected photographs of trees, plants and fireworks explosions as contour line drawings and then cutting them out by hand with an X-acto knife. This process is a holdover from older works. In undergrad, I was primarily a landscape painter who worked from image references that I projected and traced. When I switched to abstraction, I incorporated these contour drawings into the layering of the paintings and later into stand-alone drawings on paper. Over the years I have shot hundreds of photographs on hiking excursions in British Columbia, on holidays in Europe and of my own houseplants. These photos are now my source materials for the white paper collage pieces that are a direct development from this early abstract work.

The paint-on-Mylar shapes fall under the category of pure abstraction. The material conditions, rather than any outside images, dictate the formal language, but those abstractions sometimes lead me to think about sea-life, mucous and cellular organisms, which in turn influences the work. I work on the floor, pouring out puddles of FW ink and acrylic paint and allowing them to blend and mix as they dry. Saturated puddles of ink on Mylar dry in a particularly interesting incremental way, leaving thick lines and edges and creating smaller shapes within the form. I started out making jellyfish-like shapes, and I embraced the way folds in the plastic or uneven floors would allow "tumors" or new "limbs" to sprout overnight. With jellyfish in mind, I considered giving the shapes "tentacles" and then began to incorporate gestural lines of paint, mirroring the action of a swinging wrist and arm into the shapes as outcroppings. From there, the shapes made me think of the mind maps I draw in my sketchbook composed of circled text and lines, as well as strings of sap or snot, so I began adding intricacy to the forms by making multiple puddles of paint or "nebulae" connected by swooping and drooping swaths of lines made with large flat brushes. The frosted Mylar I use comes on four-feet wide rolls, so I would make larger shapes by stretching the "snot strings" lengthwise. At a certain point I became fascinated by the texture that can be created by splashing and dripping concentrated ink into the puddles with an eyedropper—it looked like leopard spots to me—and I went through a whole period of making "leopard amoebas."

Cosmic Wall-Banff (detail)
2008
Water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
8' x 20'

OPP: What first led to the shift from painting to installation?

LB: I first started the Cosmic Collage in 2008; my goal was to solve a problem in my painting practice. At the time, I was really into the work of Julie Mehrutu, Matthew Ritchie, Dil Hildbrand and Melanie Authier, and I was struggling to emulate their work. I sought a level of layered complexity that just wasn't happening in my paintings. It occurred to me that pre-planning the compositions through collage might achieve the level of intricacy and layering I was looking for.

My work took on an unpredicted trajectory. The collage itself became a satisfying, exciting, fully-realized body of work. New material explorations changed the aesthetic, and I began to consider installation and space. But I always kept my original goal in mind. Over the next year or two, I poked away at some paintings, working from the photo documentation I took of the first collage-installations at The Banff Centre and Galleries Les-Territoires. Thinking of my favourite painters, I switched to oil paint for these studies and began from some simple questions: canvas or birch panel? Paint loosely or photo-realistically? Masking tape hard-edges: yes or no? I considered these initial studies to be failures up until SIM 1 when something "clicked" aesthetically.

Pith 4
2013
Oil on birch panel
48" x 60"

OPP: Could you talk about the intersection of dimensionality and flatness in Simulation Series (2014)?

LB: The paintings from Simulation Series are essentially photo-representational paintings of abstract source material. I place two-dimensional forms into three-dimensional systems, photograph them and then paint the resulting abstraction with the same representational techniques that I developed when I painted from life and landscape. I love the idea that the viewer can recognize and appreciate the tropes of traditional, representational painting, including cast light and shadow, colour value and focal depth, while the subject is unrecognizable: I’m literally simulating abstraction.

With my earlier abstract paintings, any sense of flatness or space was an unintentional byproduct of trying to develop an abstract aesthetic through a combination painting and drawing while being unsure of my direction. I was trying to achieve a virtual space through a mental process without any real reference points. But with the Simulation Series, which references Baudrillard's notions of hyperreality, I embraced the ambiguity between abstraction and representation, between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional.

The initial source materials are flat shapes that occupy real space, casting interesting shadows that I exaggerate in the paintings. The bends in the paper in the collage and the source lighting create highlights and shadows that add value and ambient light to the original local colours. The photos I take of the three-dimensional installations distort the forms through cropping and a combination of sharp focus and blur that can be emphasized through a combination of hard-edge and gestural blending techniques.

Cosmic Wall-Skew
2011
Wall collage, water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
15' x 40'

OPP: Are your Cosmic Wall installations planned or improvised? What are some of the practical logistics of hanging your installations?

LB: The installations are loosely planned. I reuse the shapes with each new installation. After finding out where the work will be shown next, I get a general idea of what kind of superstructure I'm going to go for based on the conditions of the space (on the wall or hanging from the roof, horizontal swoop or water-fall, one main shape or small clusters, etc.) With this in mind, I make as many new shapes as time allows with the specific space in mind. I always start out with a general idea of the composition, but the installation grows incrementally and decisions are made organically in the process. I'm never very picky about exact placement of every piece. It is an abstract collage after all, and I personally enjoy accidental formations and surprises that happen through the process.

Through the different installations, the individual pieces have suffered some wear and tear, and I often need to patch some chipped bits up with paint or retire them altogether. All the individual bits have a maximum size of 4 x 8 feet because everything is stored in flat, cardboard portfolio packs—with the exception of some 20 foot ribbons that get rolled up for storage in a box. I've learned through experience that the paint shapes need at least a week of drying time before being packed away, and I need to separate them with newspaper or they will stick together.

SIM5
2011
Oil on birch panel
60" x 60"

OPP: Do you use assistants?

LB: At first, I did all the work from creation to installation myself, but as early as the Les-Territoires installation I began to delegate tasks and rely on installation assistants. I invited my friends to help me X-acto knife out my paper shapes to save time. The more complicated wood shapes were made by a professional printing company using computer laser cutting. My husband would hang my wood bits for me because I'm not strong enough to lift them. He's a commercial electrician and figured out the framework for hanging the heavier wood pieces, which are anchored to walls with metal rods painted white or hung from the roof with aircraft cable, using supplies he pilfered from construction sites. The collage itself is hung with clear push pins and fishing wire.

With the Glenbow Museum and Art Gallery of Calgary installations, I had a team of professional installation technicians helping me. I spread out all the shapes on the floor and handed them pieces one at a time while they were up on ladders. I told them where and how high to hang things, and they problem-solved to make it happen. The installation process is generally a fun and stress-free collaboration with the installation technicians, and I'm open to their suggestions in terms of installation and lighting.

Cosmic Wall-Glenbow
2013
Wall collage, water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and MDF cut-outs
12' x 20' x 5'

OPP: In general, are your animations pure stop-motion or do you ever employ digital editing techniques?

LB: I try to achieve as much as possible in-camera with the hand-painted stop-motion techniques, but there are some digital effects added in post-production using AfterEffects. But with every digital effect added, the original source material becomes slightly degraded. I am compulsively obsessed with maintaining as much high-definition detail as possible. (I abhor seeing these films projected in SD!) So I make sure the lighting is perfect before filming and for the most part, I use the original paint colours and light levels. I crop and blur with the camera set-up instead of using computer scale change and blur filters.

When I first started Chromafilm, I was still learning animation, and I had some strategic struggles trying to achieve pre-set goals based on combining existing aesthetics of paint animation with my own pure abstract painting technique. I was thinking about animation as a way to create a living painting, emulating the experience of painting as the mind works through the possibilities and permutations of abstract composition. But I mostly wanted to make moving versions of the paint-on-Mylar shapes from the Cosmic Collage.

Chromafilm
2011
Stop-motion animation, water-based paint over back-lit glass
3:38 minutes

OPP: What about speed and mirroring in Chromafilm (2011)?

LB: I was never really satisfied with the level of frenetic activity of Chromafilm. Throughout the process, I did as much as possible to slow the paint down, but paint dropped into water moves at a certain speed and the camera takes a certain amount of time to capture each individual picture. The paint-on-glass painting technique is achieved with Golden fluid acrylics mixed with water and some glycerin (which never dries) poured over a glass window on a light table that is tipped slightly by a margin of millimeters. I wanted the final film to be HD, so I needed to capture the largest possible image files. Each individual frame took about two seconds to capture. Those two seconds felt so long as I watched the colour explode on the table into the water.

I learned a lot while tinkering with AfterEffects. I discovered the mirroring effect, which anchors the movement centrally and alleviates a previous sea sickness that came from watching the fast-paced movement flow rapidly from side to side. I learned to colour reverse by switching the curves, which turned the white background to black and altered the original stained glass-like color palate to an ultraviolet one. This aesthetic turned the recognizable paint on a light table into a cosmic and psychedelic field. 


Apollo
2011
Stop-motion animation, water-based paint over back-lit glass
16 minute loop

OPP: Your animation Apollo (2011) pulses back and forth in imagined scale. One second I see outer space; the next I'm looking at carbonation bubbles rising in a glass. As I watched the 16-minute loop, I fluctuated back and forth between wondering how certain effects were achieved and surrendering to the visual pleasure. What’s different in the process of this piece?

LB: One day while shooting Chromafilm, I took a break to go for a walk and when I came back, the paint had dried somewhat and mixed into a thick gooey puddle with some air-bubbles in it. On the computer screen, this shot looked like a starry sky. This moment was the impetus for Random Peter, Aquarius and Apollo. I shot Random Peter that same day. I used a brush to scrape away paint, and then shot image sequences as the paint slowly spilled in and filled the mark. In real time, the paint was moving at a slug’s pace because the paint mixture had less water in it than what I used for Chromafilm (speed problem solved).

The sequences I used for both Aquarius and Apollo were made by using a sponge off frame to soak up paint from under the bottom of the frame and squeeze it out over the top. When you see an explosion of dots in the frame, that was achieved by whipping a goop of paint from a paintbrush from out of frame. This process took more than half a year, and I ended up with 48 minutes of raw footage.

There is a particular effect that is more predominant in Apollo where the bubbles seem to streak in chains or lines. I copied the clip multiple times and repeatedly offset it by a single frame. When it looks like molecules slowly popping in and out, that’s actually a set of clips multiplied and offset about 40 times. I personally consider it both the success and bane of Aquarius and Apollo that the animation is so seamless that it is not readily apparent that it’s origin is hand-painted. Typically stop-motion animation is appreciated largely for the amount of work that goes into it. Because these films seem to be digitally created, that aspect goes unnoticed.

COSM10
2008
Acrylic and pen on masonite panel
4' x 6'

OPP:
From a purely process point of view, do you prefer painting, installation or animation more?

LB: Overall, my practice is a combination of intuitive and analytical approaches. These varied processes fall somewhere along a spectrum between active/reflective spontaneity and compulsive methodology.

Painting is challenging and makes me think at every step. It is an energetic process where I am reflecting and responding to each and every brush stoke. Discoveries are made, boundaries pushed and surprises happen. When I feel like I've mastered a particular technique and I'm sure of how a painting will turn out, I move on to a new series of paintings. I don't like going through the motion of painting when I feel I already have the answers. To me, painting is a thought process as opposed to a technical one. Installing my collage work is downright fun. All the production work is already done. I literally wave my hands around, and, like magic—the magic is that other people do all the labour—a massive art piece comes to fruition.

I like animation because, I get so involved in the rhythmic methodical making and the rabbit-hole of editing that I can spend hours at it without stopping. By the time I was working on "Aquarius", capturing the stop-motion paint reached a point where I repeat the same action hundreds of times without the need for much reflective thinking or interpretation. The same could be said for hand-drawn cel-animation; although it leads to new forms, it involves an iterative process where I am basically tracing the same shape over and over again with only a small set of slight changes. These methodical actions put me in a meditative state where all thought or stress leaves my head. Video editing also satisfies my masochistic need to focus on very small details and set-up overly complicated processes where I create an unnecessarily labour-intensive procedure that could not be explained in simple terms.

I feel like you just asked me to pick my favourite child!

To see more of Leslie's work, please visit lesliebell.ca.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joe Wardwell

Just as Bored as Me
2014
Oil on canvas
38" x 54"

The stenciled text—most often rock music lyrics—in JOE WARDWELL's paintings alternatingly reads as aphorism, advertising, proverb, propaganda and cliché. Combining landscape painting and abstraction, he poetically echoes a persistent human struggle with longing and impermanence in the visual confusion between foreground and background. Joe earned a BA in Art History and a BFA in Painting from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1996 and his MFA in Painting from Boston University in 1999. Boston-based LaMontagne Gallery, where he has had three solo exhibitions there—Die Young (2009), Big Disgrace (2012) and Party Over (2014)—will take his work to Pulse Miami in December 2015. Joe will have two upcoming solo exhibitions in 2015: at Heskin Contemporary in New York City and Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Joe is an Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachssettes where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Rock music has been a strong inspiration in your work for at least the last decade. What do you listen to while you work? Do you tend to listen to the same albums over and over again?


Joe Wardwell: I listen to music from all sorts of genres, from country swing to Norwegian Death Metal. While working, I listen less as source material for the individual pieces but more for the overall feel of the work and to get me into the right mental space to create the work in the first place. Most of that albums that get repeated are from my vinyl collection: Neil Young’s Live Rust and Boris with Merzbow’s Rock Dreams and Lightning Bolt’s Wonderful Rainbow. I tend to binge a bit more on digital music. Sometimes I will spend an entire day just listening to the Melvins, the Flaming Lips, Black Sabbath or Boris.

Quickly Look Away
2013
oil on canvas
38" x 54"

OPP: What is the relationship between rock music and landscape painting, as you see it?

JW: Landscape painting represents an American ideological orientation to wilderness and landscape that embodies a lot of similar yearnings, desires and attitudes I see expressed in rock music. There is something in that shared psyche that I am trying to tap into and tweak. But I am not solely looking for comparisons between the two or necessarily even looking to unify the painting from genre to concept to form. I see painting as a container that I am trying to fill up with many ideas and images that are struggling to get out. 

OPP: Early paintings like Masters of My Reality, Oblivion and Power Cord Serenade, all 2005, portray musicians and their entourages as heavenly flights of angels reclining on clouds. Others from 2004, such as Live Free Bird or Die, visually position the guitar as a portal through which we can enter another reality. But in 2007, you first introduced text, more specifically rock lyrics, into your paintings. What led to this development and how did it grow out of the earlier work?


JW: In 2007, I felt like I was on a gerbil wheel with the work, running round and round. It was too tongue and cheek and ultimately limited my expression. I didn’t see the heavenly rock figures going anywhere. The text and landscape combo has allowed me to be flippant, ironic, sentimental and political with the work. The work is a lot more versatile as a mode of expression for me now.

If you look at one of those earlier pieces and compare it to one of the first text and landscape pieces like Look West (2007), all of the same connections are still there though the representative form appears very different. The abstract, high chroma flames become the stylized text. The text is taken from song lyrics, and the fonts are derived from silkscreen rock posters. The heavenly cloudscapes are replaced with an idealized wilderness landscape, and the figures in the cloud still exist within the prepositions of the text. The implied Me, You, We or I in the text functions as the figure in the landscape.


Talk Past the Future
2008
oil on canvas
30" x 48"

OPP: More recently, the text has begun to completely take over the landscapes. Can you talk about this change formally and conceptually?


JW: Yes, earlier it was too polite. I still love those first paintings and stand by them, however it does seem to me now as if the text is too apologetic in its presence in the painting. It functions too much like an advertisement: first draw them in with beautiful landscape, then sneak in the message. I like the one to one relationship that occurs now.

Each painting has a stage in the process when it is a complete abstract painting and a complete landscape painting. Sometimes I paint the landscape first and sometimes I paint the abstraction first. However the painting starts, I work it until I wouldn’t paint over either the landscape or the abstract painting, and that’s how I know it is ready for the text stencil. It is a painfully destructive process but one that I feel imbues the paintings with a lot of energy. I love having these competing elements battle it out within the confines of the rectangle.

OPP: After recognizing some of the lyrics—like "And this bird you'll never change" from Free Bird, "a man and his will to survive" from Eye of the Tiger and "clowns to the left" from Stuck in the Middle with You—I unintentionally began to play a game as I viewed the work on your website. My initial experience as I looked at each of the text paintings became about trying to name that tune before I began to think about the relationship between the text and the image. I wonder if this is a common experience with your work . . . has anyone told you that? Is this kind of response a problem or an asset? 


JW: In short, yes, yes, and yes and no. I have heard that a lot, and it was certainly more common with the first paintings. Most of the lyrics I first chose were easily discernible to the reasonably musically inclined. I think that gave my audience a way into the work. As the paintings evolved, they tended to be more obscure and less obviously from a single source. My reliance on the music as source entry point into the work has faded. The lyric source for Choose Not To (2013), a mural at Rag and Bone in New York City, is taken from the punk band NoMeansNo. Nothing to Win, Nowhere to Go (2011), currently on view at Northeastern University, takes text from Ad Reinhardt’s writings about his black paintings.

In the beginning, I enjoyed it when people could recognize the songs, but now I don’t care as much. I feel confident that the recognition of the songs is no longer the central way an audience approaches the work, and I enjoy the greater freedom that provides. Lastly, I would add that often I am drawn to lyrics that evoke a visual sense that can’t really be felt in the music that they originate from, such as the pieces Untied We Stand (2011), Mankind is Unkind Man (2011) and Free to Be Evil, Free to Believe (2014).

Something Flickered then Vanished and was Gone
2014
Oil on canvas
84" x 48"

OPP: Because they are presented out of context, the lyrics in your work sometimes read as ironic. Other times they have the ring of profound wisdom. Could you talk about lyrics as aphorism, as proverb, as spiritual teaching or as cliché . . . whatever most interests you?

JW: I certainly try not to be preachy, and a lot of what you describe really depends on the mood I am in and the mood of the piece. I want the work to be flexible and not easily pigeonholed. I am often very upset about the political situation and environmental degradation in this country, and that can drive the landscape and text in a piece. Other times, I feel impish, ironic and silly and make a piece that is quick and off-the-cuff to counterbalance the more serious pieces. Then there are other paintings that are more sentimental. A Big Commercial and On and On and On and On are heart-felt responses to the death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch. Similarly, the recent painting Something Flickered for a Minute Then Vanished and was Gone (2014) connects both to my interest in environmental awareness and is a homage to the recently deceased Lou Reed.

In all the work, I try and convey an almost subliminal counter-culture, propaganda-like attitude. Through the use of the text, I tap into and twist the collective psyche I describe above. . . like chaotic advertising exposing our dystopia. I am deeply inspired by the painter Leon Golub. Much like him, I think of my paintings as warriors that set off into the world to change it one person at a time, slowly seeping into the minds of the viewers and irrevocably altering them.

To view more of Joe's work, please visit joewardwell.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Cristi Rinklin

Migration 1
2014
Oil and acrylic on aluminum
36" x 48"
Photo credit: Stewart Clements

CRISTI RINKLIN’s luscious landscapes are dense with undulating forms that hover somewhere between smoke, clouds, waves and vines. Beginning with digital collages constructed from details of existing landscape paintings, she seamlessly combines opposing styles, highlighting the “virtual reality” that has always been present in painting. Cristi graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BFA from Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1989 and earned her MFA from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1999. Her numerous solo shows include Diluvial (2012) at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire and Paracosmos (2010) at Boston’s Steven Zevitas Gallery, where she is scheduled to have another solo exhibition in January 2015. Before then, you can see her work in Forecasted: Eight Artists Explore the Nature of Climate Change at Northeastern University in October 2014. Cristi lives and works in Boston.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I would describe your style as a mash-up suggestive of illustration, painting, printing and digital manipulation. Your hard, graphic lines evoke Japanese Ukiyo-e landscapes, commercial illustration and comics, while soft fields of color remind me of watercolor landscapes and pictorialist landscapes. How does this amalgamation of styles get at your conceptual interests?

Cristi Rinklin: There definitely is a mash-up of painterly vocabulary happening in the work, and the references you identified, especially Japanese Ukiyo-e and pictorialist landscapes, are among the various works I’m sourcing. I start with elaborately orchestrated, digital collages combining details of paintings and backgrounds that are manipulated to create a seamless, yet impossible space. At times some of the objects in the paintings are in complete opposition to each other: flatness collides with atmospheric depth, and graphic linear forms overlay fleshy, voluminous shapes. I’m working towards a dreamy ambiguous space that is reminiscent of landscape, a familiar place where we feel grounded but which is in flux. It is either being created or being destroyed—or both.

Arcadia
2011
Oil and acrylic on Dibond Aluminum
48" x 36"
Photo credit: Clements/ Howcroft, Boston, MA

OPP: The recurring, visual forms in your work border on abstraction while still evoking ambiguous landscape forms. Billowy, organic shapes appear in some works to be smoke. In others, these forms evoke waves and waterfalls, clouds and vines. Did you set out to create this ambiguity of form or did you discover the versatility during the process of painting?


CR: I’m interested in referencing landscape as something that is part of a deep memory, as if it no longer exists, and our impression of it is ambiguous, abstract or hard to pin down. Because the paintings start as digital collages, the manipulation and ambiguity is achieved in the studies that I create. I use a collected vocabulary of imagery and forms that I’ve been compiling over many years. The studies resemble the final paintings, but they don’t have the fleshy surfaces and great depth that the paintings have. Although the paintings are more or less predetermined, there are certain decisions and outcomes that happen during the process of painting, However, it’s less about improvisation and more about continually nudging the painting towards the thing I want it to do.

OPP: Take us back to the first time you made a painting based on a digital collage. Why did you first start working in this way?

CR: I first started working from digitally manipulated images in grad school, which was in the late 90s. At the time, it was a relatively new tool for art making, and I found that scanning and manipulating source material was a very convenient way to generate images for paintings. At first it was very basic and perfunctory, but the more I experimented with Photoshop, the more I became interested in how the computer has such a specific pictorial language that the way we see has become calibrated to screen space. I intentionally push colors to look synthetic, rather than organic, and I want the images to retain this feel of an artificial space.

Fumarole
2009
Flashe on Duralar
32" x 24"
Photo credit: Clements/Howcroft, Boston, MA

OPP: I have to admit that I can't stop thinking of the black smoke from the television show Lost (2004-2010) and the title sequence from Dr. Who when looking at your work. Are either of these a visual reference for you? Can you give us some specific examples of non-painting influences? 


CR: That’s awesome that you thought of Lost. The black smoke was fascinating to me because I have long been interested in the physical representation of ephemeral things. The best example I can give of this is smoke and clouds in Renaissance prints. They always look solid and fleshy, and often times they’re carrying people, angels, saints, etc. It’s like the divine transportation vehicle. A lot of the billowy forms in my paintings look as if they are sentient, like they’re consciously advancing, sometimes in a menacing way. When the Iceland volcano erupted a few years back, I was enthralled by all of the images in the news and on the Internet of all that billowing smoke. While it was so beautiful to behold from a distance, it was also a reminder of how powerless we are against the fury of nature.

Diluvial
2012
Site Specific Installation, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH
Lambda Duraclear prints, wallpaper and wall mural
Photo credit: Jeffrey Nintzel

OPP: In 2012, your installation Diluvial at the Currier Museum of Art (Manchester, NH) was an immersive environment that included printed wallpaper and a wall mural and used the existing window as a light box for your Lambda Duraclear prints. Could you talk about the site-specificity of this installation and how the imagery portrayed a "world undergoing creation and destruction?"


CR: That was an amazing opportunity! I was invited to create this installation specifically for the Currier, in response to its history and its collection. I had done other installations like this previously, and I was excited to take on another large-scale immersive project. The Currier’s collection originated with 19th century American landscape painting, and since I had already been looking at and sourcing a lot of this work, that resonated with me. When I began brainstorming for Diluvial, I also heavily considered the New Hampshire region that was represented in a lot of the paintings in the collection. In my research, I found that many of the artists of this period, such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, were deeply interested in geology. Their contemporaries in the Earth Sciences were attempting to prove that the American landscape was forged by the Great Biblical Flood, therefore giving it divine status. The word diluvial refers to geological formations and deposits that are forged by flood or glacial activity. Because I’m interested in cataclysmic and catastrophic phenomena, this idea really resonated with me, so I set about creating an immersive experience that had the feel of the landscape being swept away by a huge force of water. It’s beautiful as well as terrifying, as great change always is. I often think about what it will be like in a post-human world. What will be gone and what will remain? While it’s scary to contemplate, there is also something poetic about nature surviving beyond human existence.

Orphan Series
2014
Oil and acrylic on aluminum
9 individual panels hung in grid, each 18" x 15"
Photo Credit: Stewart Clements

OPP: In your newest work from 2014, there's a distinct collision, not only of painting styles, but also of opposing ethics from painting history: flatness meets perspective. The smoke is now utterly flat to the degree that, had I not seen your previous work, I would not interpret it as smoke. What led to this shift?

CR: If you go back to some of my very early work in the Archived section of my website, you’ll see how the new work has actually come full circle. While making Diluvial, I researched scenic wallpapers and designed one for the installation. I became intrigued by the idea that these scenic wallpapers were created to psychically transport viewers to idealized, pastoral landscapes. I decided that after the installation, I would explore the simplified and idealized space of scenic wallpaper, in which fragmented chunks of landscape float throughout the space. While I was experimenting with sketches and studies for these paintings, I began to ask myself, “what is essential, what is unnecessary and what can I leave out?” When I arrived at the large, flat cloud-shapes in these new paintings, they felt fresh to me. It referred to cloud, but also to a void; it became both positive and negative space. The cloud formation has been a part of my work for a long time, and in these new paintings, it’s simply a new evolution of this form.

To see more of Cristi's work, please visit cristirinklin.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Megan Stroech

Ninja Turtle
2012
Mixed media and collage on paper

MEGAN STROECH employs shared associations of color and texture to hint at human emotions, traits and drama in her abstract, mixed media works. She chooses easily-accessible materials such as vinyl, fleece, latex, cardboard, paper and various printmaking techniques, often straddling the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional in her collages constructions. Megan received her BFA from the University of Texas at Austin (2008) and her MFA from Illinois State University (2012). In 2012, she was an artist-in-residence at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado. In 2013, she began the year-long HATCH Projects Artist Residency at Chicago Artists’ Coalition, which pairs emerging artists with emerging curators to produce three-person exhibitions. She has two upcoming solo exhibitions: Social Niceties at Jan Brandt Gallery in Bloomington, Illinois (April 2014) and Megan Stroech: New Work, SUB-MISSION at The Mission in Chicago (June 2014). Megan lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You've written that you are "fascinated by the tendency to assign human capacities like joy and aggression to patches of color and textured elements of collage." How much does "the anthropomorphizing of non-representational objects and shapes" affect the compositions you make? As the artist, are your own emotional experiences and interpretations dictating the juxtapositions of color and texture, or is it more about the tendency of viewers to assign meaning to abstraction?



Megan Stroech: When I start making a piece, I go in with an idea of an object or an action that interests me. In the beginning, my experiences come into play, but I don’t necessarily want the viewer to get back to that place in the finished work. My initial idea becomes more and more abstracted throughout the process. I muse on the imagined viewer’s possible preconceived notions that come with particular colors and formal relationships. Ultimately, I’m more concerned with the meaning that a viewer can assign to the colors and textures that I place in conversation with one another.

Sunk
2011
Woodcut,mixed media and collage on paper
24"x20"

OPP: Can you give us an example of a really surprising or exciting response from a viewer to one of your pieces?

MS: At the opening of my Anderson Ranch installation, a viewer was so eager to get up close to Green Giant that he asked if he could jump into the "hole"—the area of the floor that was not filled by green paint. He then excitedly jumped inside, careful not to touch any of the green painted areas. It was fun to see that kind of physical interaction with one of my works, and it paved the way for more thinking about how to dictate viewer interaction with a piece.

Green Giant
2012
Latex, gouache

OPP: Could you talk about your interest in the space between the floor and the wall? When did you first get the urge to straddle this boundary line?



MS: During my last semester of grad school, I began to produce larger scale works. They were more dynamic and could function as objects, playful figures or spaces. Extending the work onto the walls and floor was a natural progression for me; it allows the work to become an active participant in the gallery space. It is also a playful way to critique the gallery as a closed system with specific parameters. Many gallery spaces have strict rules about altering the space itself in order to present a work. The act of painting on the floor or directly on the wall calls attention to that.

I had been thinking about this for a while, but was able to first put into action during my ten-week residency at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. I had already been experimenting with works that cascaded onto the floor, but for the first time I had the freedom to alter the installation space in any way I wanted. I didn't have a studio at home in Chicago at this point, so I wasn't sure when I would get that chance again. I had to take the leap and work directly on the wall. I loved the immediacy of painting on the wall and that it forced me to quickly react to each mark I made.

Processing
2011
Monotype,mixed media and collage on paper
22"x 30"

OPP: If someone's life depended on you choosing one or the other, what's more important to you: color or texture?



MS: I’d have to say color. Color carries so much weight in terms of constructing a place or object. I keep that in mind while creating work. One of my guilty pleasures when starting a piece is to pair two colors together that come with a distinct association—sky blue and grass green, for example—and then try to take them out of that context. I’m always interested in learning how color can play a role in one’s daily routine. For example, grocery stores use specific colors to market products to consumers. Texture is an area that I’d definitely like to push more in my work. In the future, I plan to use more substantial materials like wood in order to be able to support different textural elements.

Don't Go Too Far
2010
Mixed media on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: What are your thoughts on abstraction as play?


MS: The work I identify most with from other artists is that which incorporates humor or play, but still participates in a serious and relevant conversation in contemporary art. My work is very playful, and I think abstraction allows for so much exploration into the nuances that make up one’s everyday observations. I am drawn to specific formal elements that seem to take on challenges, but don’t quite succeed. Or they fail in a funny way, like imitating a piece of fabric with paint or repeatedly painting over a line in an attempt to make it look straight. I’m drawn to these little details that appear to be missteps. I see them as a way to mimic awkward or funny human interactions.

OPP: You have an upcoming solo installation at THE SUB-MISSION, the basement space at The Mission in Chicago (June 2014). Will you give us a sneak preview of what you are planning?

MS: At the THE SUB-MISSION I plan create approximately three works that start on the wall, and flow onto the floor through the use of paint and fabric. In addition to the wall works, I hope to construct some floor pieces that have three-dimensional elements, which will force the viewer to interact with the space in specific ways. I’m interested in building three-dimensional forms that act as an underlying armature for fabric or paper. My show there is slated to open in late June, 2014.

To see more of Megan's work, please visit meganstroech.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and her solo exhibition Everything You Need is Already Here is on view at Heaven Gallery in Chicago until February 17, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Juan Bolivar

Run to the Hills
2012
120 x 190cm

JUAN BOLIVAR's paintings hover between abstraction and representation. Influenced by abstract painters before him, he's enchanted by the possibility of pure, unencumbered form: simple geometric shapes, flatness, expanses of color. But his carefully chosen titles make it impossible for a circle to just be a circle. Juan graduated with an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College in 2003 and has had solo shows at Jacobs Island Gallery in London (2011), John Hansard Gallery in Southhampton (2008) and Lucy Mackintosh Gallery in Switzerland (2008). He has work in several upcoming group exhibitions in London: This-Here-Now at no format Gallery (November 2013), I'm Wanted Dead or Alive at Koleksiyon (December 2013) and Zero Tolerance at Lion & Lamb Gallery (January 2014). In February 2014, his solo show Boogie-Woogie will open at Tim Sheward Projects in London, where Juan lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The press release for your 2008 exhibition Geometry Wars states: "The phrase Geometry Wars describes Bolivar's 'struggle with abstraction'—whether to subjugate 'the square', and present it as pure form or whether to animate it into the world of figuration." Could you talk about your personal struggle with abstraction? Have you resolved anything since 2008?

Juan Bolivar: Yes and no. Many years ago I made what I thought were 'serious' abstract paintings. My aim was for the viewer to see nothing but sublime voids and experience a non-referential, plastic reality. Whenever I exhibited these paintings, the viewer's immediate impulse was to try and make sense of what s/he saw, and often viewers offered their interpretations, ranging from being able to see a room or a face. But it always caused me frustration, as I insisted nothing was there to be seen.

I once read that Georges Braque had a similar experience when he unexpectedly saw the vision of a small squirrel in one of his paintings, and, try as he did, he could not prevent this small creature from coming back to his cubist work. Likewise, I yearn for the idea of 'pure' abstraction—recently I found myself mesmerized by Gerhard Richter's Grey (1974) and Ellsworth Kelly's Orange Relief with Green (1991) at Tate Modern—but, at the same time, I can't help mentally drawing a wall socket or a silly mustache onto works such as these.

In February 2014, I will have my second solo exhibition at Tim Sheward Projects in Bankside, London. I plan to accentuate these conflicting polarities by appropriating and subtly altering some famous abstract paintings I saw earlier this year in the show Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925 at MoMA, not quite making fun of these works, but teasing them the way we only can with those people closest to us or whom we love the most.

The Great Suprematist
2008
190 x 140 cm

OPP: From a viewer's perspective, what I see in the abstraction is affected by what I know and whether I've read the titles. Hoodie, for example, struck me as so funny—and strangely poignant—that I'm still laughing a little. Clearly, it's Kenny from South Park. But if you've never seen South Park, perhaps it's a black circle on top of a grey circle and two white half circles on top of a pointed oval. Other pieces have a Rohrshach effect, like Hero. At first, I saw this piece as way more abstract than some of the others. Then when I read the title, the person jumped out at me, which of course changed what I saw in The Great Suprematist. What's the funniest (or weirdest or most offensive) interpretation you've heard from a viewer about one of your pieces?

JB: Art is a contextualized activity. Its meaning is dependent on the viewer and the context in which it is seen. So, yes, everything you say is true and very pertinent to the interpretation of my work. In linguistic terms, the optimum reader of a text is the theoretical reader, who most understands the embedded references and context of a text. Paintings are the same, and, to some degree, my work investigates how interpretation is a contested territory with its own sliding scale of hierarchies from South Park to high modernism.

One of the strangest and most challenging comments I have had about my work was simply: "What is it?" I think it was from an electrician carrying some work in my studio. He didn't mean to ask, "what was this image of?" or "what did it represent?" but literally “what was the object before us in my studio?” After I explained that the large, grey mass in the corner of the room was a painting, he then asked, "what is it about?" I had to quickly compress all the information flashing inside my head as I had a small short-circuit of my own, and I simply replied that my paintings were about other paintings. He didn't seem satisfied with this answer, but I realized that, for better or worse, this idea of contextualized references was central to my practice.

If You Want Blood ...
2012
43 x 75cm

OPP: Could you talk generally about how you use and respond to space in your work? As you are painting, do you think of space in a purely compositional way? When, if ever, does it take on metaphorical meaning?

JB: Some believe that time doesn't exist, so by default neither might space. The space, however, that painters deal with transcends this argument, and the reason is because they deal with pictorial space. Pictorial space isn't space at all really but more of a game. It is like the boundary of an American football field; one can only play this game within these lines. Outside these lines, the game disappears and does not exist. In the same way, pictorial space is a boundary governed by rules where artists play visual games.

The pictorial space most of us are familiar with in Western painting has been developed for many many years, first through religious iconography, then in the Quattrocento and finally during the High Renaissance. There is a wonderful book by the art historian John White titled The Birth and Rebirth of Pictorial Space, which charts its journey. As result of the pictorial space that we now take for granted, we are able to accept things such as perspective and view the edge of the canvas as if framed by an invisible window to the world. Both of these are very sophisticated notions and actually took many centuries to develop.

This type of pictorial space was shattered by Malevich's Black Square (1914) and turned upside down by Mondrian, Picasso, Joseph Albers, Pollock and many other artists including Hans Hofmann, who addressed the flatness of a painting and the painterly materiality of this reality. Our visual language now is highly complex and layered, to the point that Mickey Mouse's ears owe as much to Cubism as they do to geometric abstraction. These are the complex layers that underpin the pictorial space I am exploring.

Tygers of Pang Tang
2012
25 x 21cm

OPP: The paintings in Law & Order, your 2013 exhibition at Tim Sheward Projects in London, are titled after classic rock and heavy metal bands from the late 1970s to the early 90s—Rush and Deep Purple are two examples—and songs, such as The Final CountdownHighway to Hell and Winds of Change. Each painting also includes some visual reference to recognizable abstract painters including Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers. Could you talk about your intention behind the juxtaposition of these popular music and fine art references?

JB: The paintings in Law & Order comprised of two groups: one group was of small works based on postcards purchased from MoMA and Tate Modern of seminal abstract works, and the second group—landscape in format—incorporated these seminal works, appropriating and twisting their meaning. The postcard series' works were titled after rock bands, and the color field landscapes after rock songs, highlighting the source relationship connection between the two.

Besides loved ones, friends and family and my quasi-spiritual beliefs, there have been two constant, guiding forces in my life: geometric abstraction and rock music. Hard as it may be to imagine, bands such as as AC/DC, Saxon, Journey and Rush have gotten me through tough times as much as Mondrian, Albers, Ellsworth Kelly and Peter Halley have. I have always wanted to somehow incorporate these two forces. At first, this seemed idiotic and juvenile. But I later realized that by combining these two aspects in a painting through titling and imagery, I am creating a symbiotic situation that qualifies my relationship to both, whilst at the same time challenging our expectations of these cultural hierarchies.

Bands like Deep Purple are quite well known, but SaxonTygers of Pangtang or Budgie, who are all from a similar period in British rock, are far less known. In the same way, Wyndham Lewis, Vanessa Bell or David Bomberg are less well known in the Western cannon, but are equally important to British abstraction. Whilst in New York earlier this year I saw an early Vorticist work by David Bomberg at MoMA, and I got goose pimples as if watching some rare early footage of Led Zeppelin's rendition of Dazed and Confused. I have come to accept that my relationship to abstraction is very nostalgic, just like my relationship to music.

Bushman
2003
190 x 160cm

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece of your own work? Will you pick one and give us the inside scoop on what it means to you and why you were thinking about when painting it?

JB: I am a firm believer that the really good paintings have little quirks and are never perfect-perfect. The actress Jennifer Grey describes how following rhinoplasty surgery "she went in the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous." It's hard to say why her acting career didn't flourish. What many people don't know is that in 1987, just a few weeks before the release of Dirty Dancing, she was involved in a very serious car accident. One can't help thinking this accident may have had an effect on her, but people often cite her post-rhinoplasty visage—her natural nose represented her individuality to the public—as the reason.

I have very few favorite works. I often feel a sense of dissatisfaction when I finish a piece. It is a paradox. If one is too pleased or enamored with a work, it usually means that it isn't very good, but it doesn't stop us from searching for that perfect moment the way a tennis player aims to hit the ball at the sweet spot of a tennis racket.  

Two weeks before my Goldsmiths College show in 2003, I had finished a set of paintings that I had planned to exhibit. I was due to have one final tutorial, and I thought it would be a formality. Two hours later, after a lengthy discussion, the visiting tutor threw me a curve ball and announced that he thought this body of work wasn't at all finished and that there were some works that could also be taken out. I went into panic mode, but now I understand what he meant and I am immensely grateful for his intervention. With hindsight, I see that the group was too flat, too neat and trying to be too tasteful. Basically too boring. There was no tension.

He went away, and I looked at work I had made a year earlier too see where things had changed and gone flat. Out of nowhere came Bushman, one of my favorite works of all time. It's a silly and ridiculous painting, and at the same time it employs a very sophisticated language. But most of all, I am not really sure how it happened, and I don’t fully understand what makes it work. The painting was born out of adversity and a desire to surpass my expectations and—oddly enough—because I didn't really fully understanding my own work. It's difficult to recreate all of these circumstances and conditions, and I don't think that one can or should. But as I mentioned earlier, I have a solo show at Tim Sheward Projects in February 2014. So, as they say: Watch this space.

To see more of Juan's work, please visit juanbolivar.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dena Schuckit

A Bird On a Bonnet
2013
Acrylic on wood
23.5" x 31.5"

DENA SCHUCKIT’s colorful, dynamic paintings act as poetic abstractions of explosions, car accidents, house fires, war and other disasters as seen in Internet news site slideshows. She explores the age-old conflict of man versus nature through a lens of optimism by revealing the beauty in the moment before the reality of the chaos crystalizes. Dena received her BFA from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her MA from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. She was a master printer with Crown Point Press for 12 years. Her work is featured in collections at the University of the Arts, London, and the Parsons School of Design, New York. Dena lives in London, England.

OtherPeoplesPixels: On first glance, most of your paintings appear to be abstractions. But very quickly, I begin to see the referents to explosions, car accidents, house fires, war and other disasters. Could you talk about the interplay between abstraction and representation in your work? Was your work ever more abstract or more representational than it is now?

Dena Schuckit:
I work from the photo slideshows that run online next to stories of events like earthquakes, wild fires and other natural or manmade disasters that are usually a world away. The slideshows change the way we experience the news. We’re all accidental photojournalists now, on hand to document and immediately transmit every event around the globe as it happens. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that everyone, everywhere, has a cell phone that can take a picture shoved into a back pocket. Digital media bring this barrage of images from far-away places into our homes without any real context to help viewers wrap their brains around the actual impact of these events. They’re abstract both in a formal and conceptual way.The photos are vivid, accidental landscapes from the world I know, but that world is completely out of context. They are gorgeous rearrangements—fragments of things I recognize—but they are presented in puzzling, perplexing compositions. I’m drawn to their abstract quality, and I don’t want to mess with that in the way I interpret them. My work has always been semi-abstract. It’s easy to remain abstract with this source material because the paintings aren’t based on any one specific headline event or incident, and the news photos that I’m working from are already somewhat visually abstract. That said, I do try to paint little people into the panels somewhere so that there’s a suggestion of scale and perspective. Otherwise the paintings appear completely nonrepresentational. Even as abstractions, they’re still landscapes, and I like that viewers can sense some space or depth.
Blast Boom Bust
2012
Acrylic on wood
28" x 39.5"

OPP: I'm instantly attracted to the color and composition of your paintings. Personally, I find them very beautiful. Are you making horrible events more beautiful than they are or are you revealing some terrible beauty that already exists in tragic events?

DS: The paintings I make are abstract. I don’t think they’re either horrible OR just beautiful. But I do think they’re beautiful. I reinterpret the elements of the collected images that drew me to them in the first place: color, composition and, most importantly, a mysterious sense of place.  The photos that I work from are engaging primarily because they’re NOT horrible or terrible in and of themselves. That’s the irony of them. They’re unique, abstract compositions created by chance events in nature and captured immediately; the dust has literally not yet settled there. We know that the events from which these photos are isolated have serious effects on the people involved, but that’s something we infer. As snippets and fragments contained by the four sides of my computer screen, these landscapes are far, far removed from the environment they’re representing. They’re a surreal "calm after a storm" or an unfamiliar and intriguing terrain. They’re familiar elements shaken up and rearranged, heaped and piled into some pretty interesting architecture. I’d say they’re even inviting. They’re the world we all live in, completely different from the one we inhabited a moment ago.
Bumper
2009
Acrylic on wood
10.5" x 12.5"

OPP: Tell me about your process of collecting and organizing the source imagery for your paintings.

DS: I was pulling these abstract frames from events around the world down to my desktop for months before I started painting from them. I just wanted to think about them, to not forget. I began collecting images to remind myself about color and mood, and then I slowly started organizing images into vague categories by type or subject: crowds, building collapse, under sea, above sea.

When I start a painting, I sift through these slideshow images and shuffle them around to make connections, like an imaginary collage. A composition materializes in my mind, and that’s where I start. Then the painting evolves as it does. Source imagery is shuffled in; source imagery is shuffled out. Each piece takes on a life of its own until all the rubble has settled into something I couldn’t have planned.

OPP:
It’s interesting to think about the translation of information and imagery back and forth between the physical world and the digital world. First, by-standers and photojournalists capture real world events digitally and upload them to the Internet. Then you download them and re-interpret them back into a concrete physical form: a painting. Is the act of painting connected to the not-forgetting you mentioned before?

DS: I think the collecting is just feeding my hoarder monster. It’s satisfying the same urge as finding raw material like pieces of wood or metal on the street and dragging it home for some future project. I think most artists have piles like this—stashes of material saved and organized in some way for later use. The digital stash takes up far less physical space than the wood and metal, which is a bonus.  There’s so much surreal raw material and information to work from in these photos. As a group, they map our ever-changing environment. Then the painting is a sort of figurative exploration, a delving into new realms. To begin a new panel, I collage bits and pieces in my head, but I still need to see the source to remember details and elements. Each photo is unique and contains something special I don’t want to forget: colors, angles, textures.
Green Smoulder
2010
Acrylic on wood
20" x 16"

OPP: Talk about your instinct to create order out of chaos. You've mentioned it as part of your process. Do you see this as an aesthetic instinct specific to artists or as human one?

DS: As an artist, my source material is based in chaos, my working space is an absolute catastrophe, and my paintings, I think, are a riot of color and texture. Maybe it’s different for minimal artists, but then again a minimal artist is still tasked with finding some order in the chaos outside his or her studio.The world is a chaotic place. On a huge scale and on a tiny scale, in big groups and individually, we attempt to rein in the bits and pieces. We shuffle and reorganize and categorize to gain some control over our environment. But that’s never going to happen. It’s an impossible endeavor.

OPP:
  A line from your artist statement really struck me: “Like confetti from a popper, expanding energy sends colorful riots of material into momentarily suspended chaos where the abstract arrangements that result hang in poses new and unfamiliar.” It’s a completely accurate description of what your paintings look like, but the poetry is very disconnected from the horror we know will be experienced by the people who are affected by these various disasters. Is it fair to say that your paintings are not about the explosions and fires and disasters themselves, but about the poetry of that captured moment just before anyone has to deal with the consequences of the events represented?

DS:
My work is definitely not about disaster. I don’t think there’s any horror in my landscapes either. The opposite is true, actually. They’re about navigating a new and constantly evolving terrain in the man versus his environment conflict and doing it with optimism, a sense of calm and hope for regeneration and safe passage. And some whimsy as well.When I started collecting the headline photos, which are random images I found mesmerizing for all their mystifying and awesome and somewhat scary qualities, I became interested in 18th century notions of the sublimeKant’s dynamic sublime and also Edmund Burke's ideas—and the relationship between beauty and fear. But the act of painting from these photos is a personal resolution to look on the bright side, to find the beauty in all the uncertainty.

To view more of Dena's work, please visit denaschuckit.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago)