OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gabrielle Teschner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broken Law and The Builded (installation view), 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see more of Gabrielle's work, please visit gabrielleteschner.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Chloe S. Watson

Wall with Columns
Acrylic on paper
4 x 6 inches

CHLOE S. WATSON's enigmatic renderings of nondescript landscapes and architecture are based on places she has lived. Her work investigates the abstraction of fact through memory. She deals with experiences, objects and people that should evoke emotion, but instead all the emotion is stripped away. The viewer is left with only a graphic rendering of a human experience. What's left out is as important as what remains. Her work is currently included in Binderful, an online exhibition at Baker Fine Art, which is housed in an actual binder and will begin traveling to art spaces around the country in late January 2013. Her upcoming solo show at Delaplaine Visual Arts Center (Frederick, MD) opens in August 2013. Chloe lives in Farmington, Maine, where she and husband, the artist Jason Irla, run the space Points North out of a retired horse barn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The most consistent formal quality in your landscape paintings is an exploration of architectural space through color and line. Objects are flattened into mere shapes: mountains become triangles, a sand dune becomes a pink blob, a doorway becomes a blue rectangle. How does this abstracting of architecture and landscape reveal your conceptual concerns?

Chloe S. Watson: I’ll give a little background about the origin of this work first: I didn’t start taking my paintings and drawings seriously until my second year of graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Before graduate school, I was primarily working three-dimensionally and thought of my drawings as preliminary studies for future sculptures or installations. I was struggling with my sculptural work, and I was encouraged in graduate school to examine my drawings. They were more interesting formally and accomplished things that the sculptures couldn't. Through drawing and painting, I could reference architectural spaces that would be impossible to physically bring into the studio.

The early spatial paintings came out of the formal drawing exercises I was doing in my studio—cutting out and arranging flat paper sculptures, lighting them, and drawing them from life. At the time, I was thinking a lot about my personal experiences and memories of spaces. I had just read The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. Reading about architecture as a container for memories struck a chord with me and is something I think about constantly. My family moved around many times while I was younger, and readjusting to a new place became the norm; it had a profound effect on me as a person and an artist.

I began translating my memories of architectural spacesmy childhood bedroom, for exampleinto the backgrounds for those strange forms, and I would insert other objects into the paintings as well.The paintings are mostly about absence verses presence and substitution; substituting nondescript forms for furniture that lived in a particular space kept the viewer from accessing the “true” memory of that place. I was also interested in creating a visual vocabulary of nondescript objects that could be read as windows, doors, holes or even streams or puddles of liquid. These forms suggest but never dictate what roles they play in the paintings. This is still important to me, because it allows room for any interpretation from the viewer.

Acrylic, Contact paper, colored pencil on panel
10 x 16 inches

OPP: I see what you mean about what the drawings can do that the sculptures can't. In a painting like Wall with Columns, I can see that there are two columns in this space and a drawing of two columns on a wall in the background. When I first glance at the piece, I see the representation of a three-dimensional space, but the more I stare, the more that space disappears into pure color and line. It goes totally flat. Then I have this Magic Eye experience: the image keeps moving back and forth between the second and third dimension. Your drawing of the columns becomes equivalent to your drawing of a drawing of a column. How is this connected to your ideas about memory?

CSW: I’m glad that you had that experience, because I attempt to confuse the viewer’s perception of space in most of these paintings. That confusion is connected to what I find fascinating about remembering: everyone’s memory malfunctions. I read Daniel Schacter’s book The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, which categorizes the essential malfunctions of memory and articulates many of the ideas I reference in my paintings and drawings. Memories are never set in stone; one “chooses” to recall certain details or events if the recollection is essential and powerful enough. Individual memories are weak or strong because of their purpose and how often those particular memories are accessed.

In the paintings of previous spaces I’ve inhabited, I am interested in creating these warped perceptions of space, because my memories of those spaces are certainly already distorted. Wall with Columns is based on my old studio in Baltimore that had two very prominent but annoying columns directly in the center of the space. When I begin a piece, I often ask myself, "What are the main players in this piece and why?" In this particular painting, it was the columns. I wanted the columns to seem more monumental and intrusive than they actually were. I highlighted that importance by repeating their forms through a line drawing in the background. The green outline is not definitive; the viewer could be looking at a door or window, a hole in the wall specifically cut for these two columns to slide through, or an object resting against the wall. There is a significant connection between art and remembering for me; both rely on individual interpretation to perceive what is or is not authentic.

Jerks Poster
Digital print
12 x 18 inches

OPP: In 2011, you drew 73 jerks from your personal history, documenting them only by their hairstyles. The cataloging of personal data and memories transformed into a stripped-down graphic rendering is a strategy you use repeatedly, as in 17 Bedrooms and Paintings on a Map. 73 Jerks stands out in its representation of the human form. What made you shift gears from the spatial paintings you were doing before?

CSW: I need to feel challenged in the studio, and the paintings had become too easy for me to figure out. It was like my hand and brush were so trained they knew exactly where to start and what to do. I was restless. In June 2011, I did a residency at The Wassaic Project in Wassaic, New York. I went there intending to work on those paintings, but for several months before that I had been considering a project about all of the jerks I’d ever known. I felt timid about actually following through. The jerk project would be so different visually, but conceptually it was connected to the spatial paintings; visually, it translated as an examination of my personal narrative and memories. By the time I arrived at the residency, the jerks were stuck in my head.

I had brought several yearbooks from my schools with me as well as numerous photographs that my mom had just given me. I meticulously went through all of my sources and took notes about who I was considering including and why. After only four days at the residency, I had already finished all 73 of the drawings. I decided to work chronologically so that the drawings would create a sort of timeline. In order to keep the figures nonspecific and thus universal to viewers, I drew only the hair of each jerk. 

OPP: Did you enjoy making the drawings?

CSW: It was interesting to spend the 20-45 minutes drawing each hairstyle and thinking about why I was including that particular person in the series. I’m not sure what made me decide to quantify the jerks and think of them like data in a science experiment, but I had a blast making the graphs and attempting to write very analytically about the correlations between age, gender, hair and one’s likelihood of being a jerk to me. I highly enjoyed making 73 Jerks, but it is a project that I am only going to explore once. I have no intention of creating another volume of jerks and honestly hope that I don’t have to.

Data Visualization: Jerk Hair Color

OPP: Quoting from your statement for your project Paintings on the Map: "This project is a continuation of my exploration into architectural spaces as containers for memories. I began by completing a series of paintings based on eleven residences significant to my personal narrative. Combing through photographic sources, I attempted to capture what I felt was the most memorable aspect of the space when I occupied the residence." Could you talk about the interactive aspect of the project that followed the creation of the paintings? How did this project get at your interests in a way the paintings alone could not?

CSW: Paintings on the Map grew out of the 4" x 6" studies I was doing earlier this summer. My husband and I recently moved from Baltimore to Maine. Before we left, we met the couple that was moving into our Baltimore apartment, which was a space I absolutely loved. I had this urgeand felt it my dutyto communicate to the new occupants why and how much I loved this apartment, in the hopes that they would value the space as much as I did. I recognized that the painted studies were postcard-sized and wondered what would happen if I sent a small painting through the mail as a postcard to the new tenants. And what if I sent a piece of art to other strangers who currently live in my past dwellings? They have no idea that we are connected to each other through the history of a place. Would the admission of "I used to live in your house" make the current residents feel uncomfortable?

I decided to write a QR code and web address on the backside of each card, which offers an explanation as to what they were looking at. I was aware that my handling of the imagery on the card might be difficult for the resident to understand or access. I also loved the idea that the card could serve as a gateway to more information that exists on a Google Map, and it was up to the recipient whether or not they access that information. In my introduction to the online map, I provided my contact information and asked recipients to please send me a photo of the painting in their home. I also asked them to share any memorable experiences they’ve had in their space. I was a little pessimistic about getting any replies, but two recipients sent me photographs and shared stories about their current homes. I was ecstatic to see my painting hanging in the place it was based on. It was as if an extension of myself was living in that space again. There was also something wonderful about sending a giftespecially one that could be mistaken as junk mailto a complete stranger and imagining the recipient’s reaction to getting a weird piece of art one day in their mailbox.

OPP: You recently curated Methods of Exchange, which also involved the mail. It was the inaugural exhibition at Points North, the new art space you run with your husband Jason Irla in a retired horse barn in Farmington, Maine. This particular curation involved your sending all the invited participating artists painted postcards in exchange for the pieces they sent you to show in the exhibition. Do you see this exchange of work as part of your artistic practice?

CSW: I don’t know if this sort of exchange will continue in my artistic practice, but I certainly want it to continue outside of that in my daily life. I sent handwritten letters and care packages to friends all the time when I was younger, but as I got older and took on more commitments, it became difficult to continue that kind of giving. I couldn't justify it in the age of convenient, online communication. But I was determined to not let moving to rural Maine become a death sentence to my social life and art career. I still feel that there is no excuse for giving in to the isolation here when there are so many ways to keep up with the rest of the world. Method of Exchange was my way of introducing the Farmington community to a group of artists that my husband and I are excited about and want to share. The show was also about forming broader conversations about home and distance. I might not be able to travel to your home in San Francisco, but for only 45 cents my small painting can get there in less than a week.
Mixed media on paper
4 x 6 inches

OPP: Recently you've been working in three-dimensional soft sculpture? Is this the first time? What led to the shift away from painting?

CSW: A very important aspect of my studio practice is that it isn't defined by medium or material. The direction of my work is dictated by the ideas. The methods necessary to complete projects are secondary to the concepts. I have a varied skill set and backgrounds in sculpture, fiber and material studies, painting and drawing. I’m confident that I can learn any other approach or technique in order to complete a project. I still consider these three-dimensional soft sculpturesspecifically those in Idyllic Landscape Unit— to be paintings, because they are created with acrylic on canvas. They are simply paintings that exist in three-dimensions. More recently I've become interested in creating work that is about my current place. I could easily live in any other place and communicate visually, but there is something particular about my experiences in rural Maine. The idea of packing up a scaled-down version of my surroundings, sending them off to a completely different area of the world and allowing the viewer to imagine themselves living in this setting really intrigues me. This new work is partly about the convenience of shipping, storing and installing the landscape elsewhere, but it’s also about the effect materiality has on the reading of these models. There is something comical about using AstroTurf as a footprint for this picturesque scene of rural life or using sheep’s wool to depict the mythology of the moose up here in Maine. I’m still painting—mostly small landscape-based studies—but my focus right now is primarily on creating these three-dimensional models. I am so enamored with my new surroundings and want aspects of this setting to simultaneously exist elsewhere.

To view more of Chloe's work, please visit chloeswatson.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).