OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amanda Williams

Uppity Negress, 2017. Site-specific installation at The Arts Club of Chicago. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan

AMANDA WILLIAMS explores the intersection of color, line and material with social, political and cultural meanings inherent in architecture and urban environments. For her well-known project Color(ed) Theory, she painted eight houses slated for demolition on Chicago's South Side in a palette derived from African American consumer culture. Her work hinges on this cultural specificity while simultaneously addressing the broader themes of impermanence, transformation and healing, as they are sited in the human-built environment. Amanda earned her Bachelor of Architecture with an Emphasis in Fine Art at Cornell University in 1997. Her numerous awards include a 3Arts Award (2014), a Joyce Foundation scholarship (2013), and an Excellence in Teaching Award (2015), for her work at Illinois Institute of Technology, College of Architecture. Amanda was named Newcity’s 2016 Designer of the Moment, was a 2016 Efroymson Fellow and has been tapped to be part of the team working on the exhibition spaces at the Obama Presidential Center. Uppity Negress, a site-specific installation for The Arts Club Garden Projects (Chicago), is on view through September 2017. Her solo show Chicago Works: Amanda Williams just opened and is currently on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art through December 31, 2017. Amanda lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Uppity Negress, a site-specific installation for The Arts Club Garden Projects (Chicago), just opened in June and will be on view through September 2017. Tell us about this new work. What about the title and form of the “fence” in relation to the site?

Amanda Williams: I am so excited by this new body of work and how it has expanded the ways in which I’m continually contemplating questions of space, race and color. The title has tangential beginnings related to sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who was an early exhibitor at the Arts Club, as well as a portion of a chapter from author, Natalie Moore’s book, The South Side. I am fascinated by the way the Arts Club garden operates as neither completely public or private. How could I use this spatial condition to consider questions of authority and access, particularly as it relates to the black female body in public space. By venturing “out of line,” the fence creates a disorienting space that allows occupants to experience this liminal social condition. The pickets of the fence disperse and eventually lead to a large banner displaying the arrest transcript of Sandra Bland interspersed with excerpts from a commencement speech given by former First Lady, Michelle Obama. The mashup charts an alternate narrative to the potential of getting out of line. 

Uppity Negress, 2017. Site-specific installation at The Arts Club of Chicago. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan

OPP: Tell us a bit about the process of painting the abandoned houses marked for demolition in your project Color(ed) Theory. Is it a guerrilla act or a permitted one? Who are your artist assistants? Compare painting the first house in the series to painting the last one.

AW: I chose properties that were at the end of their life cycle and use the project as a way to ask questions about how and when we value architecture. Because of the temporal nature of the structures and the project, I enlisted the help of fellow artists friends and family members who wanted to support my artistic practice and also understood the stakes in working under such conditions. They were collaborators in the truest sense.

My husband Jason Burns was probably the most prolific painter. He also cleared the overgrown weeds, bushes and grass. I didn’t know what to expect when I started. The idea was to load up as much paint as would fit in our truck , or that I had the budget for, go out at daybreak and paint until someone challenged us or until we ran out of paint. By the final house, the project had gained the attention of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and had been folded in as a part of their programming. We went from about 9 people helping to 70. It meant a lot of tiny brushes. It was a good moment to terminate the project, before it turned into something else with external agendas.

Newport 100/Loose Squares, 2015 (Overall), 2015

OPP: How do the painted houses operate in their natural environments? What kinds of responses have you heard from people who live around them? How many are still standing?

AW: Approximately half are still standing. The responses and reactions to the houses are as varied as the houses themselves. Some neighbors don’t like the project at all and think it exacerbates the issues that I’m attempting to call attention to. Many residents near the Currency Exchange and Safe Passage Houses find the color offensive. Some neighbors have described them as odd or thought provoking, while other neighbors have become friends of mine, and we’ve developed relationships that extend beyond the project’s initial intentions.

I think its important to emphasize that it’s fundamentally flawed to imagine homogeneity with words like “community” or “black people,” etc. We are often treated (and discriminated against) as a monolithic group, so its great to have a project that is not black or white, but gray.

Perhaps one of the most unique reactions came from photographer/artist, and Englewood resident Tonika Johnson. She included one of the painted houses as a backdrop to a photo composition she created for a billboard series, Englewood Rising, that offers positive images of everyday black life as a counter narrative to what we hear on the news or see tweeted by uninformed nationally elected officials. It is exciting to have my project interwoven into other local artists’ efforts to raise awareness and change the conversation. The landscapes feel more pronounced when you watch nature reclaim these voided lots.

Color(ed) Theory, Chicago Architectural Biennal, 2015. Photo Credit: Steven Hall

OPP: Most viewers—myself included—have only encountered Color(ed) Theory in the form of photography. What do the photographs do that the actual painted houses can’t. And how have the different display iterations of these photographs changed over the life of the project?

AW: The photographs do a few things. They allow the project to be read as an aggregate, you can never physically occupy or absorb them as a singular spatial body. The photographs also contextualize the houses in relation to one another. They also make the context, namely the general isolation of the structures as important to the visual story as the houses themselves. Lastly, they freeze an ephemeral moment. While this allows the project to be widely shared, I’m still not sure this is a completely desirable strategy for a project that was intentionally temporal.

Pink Oil Moisturizer (Winter; Overall), 2014.

OPP: As I was researching your work, I became aware of just how much sudden attention your work has received since the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015. So you’ve done a ton a interviews and received a lot of press over the last couple of years. Is there anything about your work that you don’t feel gets proper attention? What gets overlooked?

AW: The social nature of the Color(ed) Theory project overshadows a parallel thread about this as a project that is attempting to help inform my painting practice and a desire for a better formal understanding of color. There is also a levity that gets overshadowed by many. I’m always thrilled when someone laughs or smiles after reading a title of a piece, or has an ‘ah-ha’ moment related to a personal connection to the content.

OPP: It’s nice to hear you say that because I love the way the color itself both challenges and lives in harmony with the surrounding environment. It asserts itself, dominates the landscape and then just becomes another part of that space. What colors are you thinking about now?

AW: My Chicago Works exhibition at the MCA, curated by Grace Deveney, has afforded me an amazing opportunity to produce an almost entirely new body of work that contemplates several themes that emerged as a result of the response to Color(ed) Theory. Some of the narratives you’ll see emerging include gold as a signifier for social, cultural and political value associated with land use and ownership, as well as deep material explorations of salvaged building material. It has been really wonderful to continue to think through these fundamental questions in a variety of formats and media. This exploration of gold will also move beyond the MCA walls in a companion project funded by my Efroymson Fellowship, in which Golden Brick Roads will be embedded along short cuts (desire paths) in vacant lots on the City's south and near west side.

A Way, Away (Listen While I Say)—Translating Phase, 2017. Collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez. Photo Credit: Michael Thomas

OPP: Are these Gold Brick Roads connected to A Way, Away (Listen While I Say), your collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez in Saint Louis? This project applies five transformation actions—marking, subtracting, translating, shaping and healing—to 3721 Washington Boulevard, which was slated for demolition. Will you use some of the salvage bricks for the brick roads, and are those bricks also the bricks in your MCA show?

AW: The gold leafed bricks in Chicago share some themes with the gold painted bricks salvaged in St. Louis, and in hindsight will inevitably all be part of my gold color phase—I also had a Peanut Butter and Jelly phase in the 3rd grade—but they are intentionally not the same actual bricks. For A Way, Away, it was important to the premise of the project that the St. Louis bricks STAY in the St. Louis area and contribute to a new life cycle for that place. The four projects that were selected all share concepts of healing and legacy; either material or social/cultural. Andres and I recently participated in a day long charrette with the four organizations leading the projects. We have found that these formal transformations of the material also serve as metaphors and platforms for dialog about personal healing and transformation.

To see more of Amanda's work, please visit awstudioart.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 open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alyssa Dennis

Sunset Cycle, 2015. Graphite, pastel, colored pencil, gouache on paper. 24’’x 32’’

ALYSSA DENNIS renders architectural spaces as transparent layers and plexiglass sculptures that reveal that walls are not only physical constructions but also social constructs. Her work exposes the underlying connections between sections of our environments that we conventionally experience as separate, highlighting the way this collective myopia leads to waste of life and resources. Alyssa has a BFA (2003) from Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA (2011) in Painting from Tulane University. She has also studied Herbal Medicine at Maryland Institute of Integrative Medicine and Mayantuyacu: Center for Study of Medicinal Plants in Peru. In 2016, she founded Common Knowledge "to promote education on wild edible and medicinal plants, found specially within the urban landscape." She has exhibited at Pulse LA, Pulse NYC and Pulse, Miami as well as Fountain Art Fair, and is currently showing work with Causey Contemporary in New York. In 2016, she did a collaborative building project with New Orleans Airlift. Alyssa lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does transparency play in your drawings?

Alyssa Dennis: Transparency plays a large role in my work. It’s constantly the point I’m trying to get to. To build the layers as if to represent a kind of schematics. I’m very much interested in systems and feel they play a big a part in the positive and negative aspects of our effect on the planet. It isn’t necessarily about the individual human but our inability to conceptualize and visualize the system. If we could see the part we all play, however small or large, in the system I believe a vast consciousness raising would occur. I think the newer work and my sculpture visualize this transparency more than perhaps the older work.

Stripped Opacity Construction Playground, 2011

OPP: In Striped Opacity Construction Playground, which has multiple iterations, the transparency in the drawings is rendered in sculpture. What led you to shift from drawing to sculpture? What does the sculpture offer that the drawing can’t, and vice versa?

AD: Seeing how any idea renders in different material contexts should always be part of the process. I work on drawing and sculpture simultaneously and find they have a very symbiotic relationship. I think that as a viewer and even as a maker, it’s helpful to have many different kinds of access points to your idea so that what you’re trying to say becomes clearer and clearer. (I kinda made a pun…hahaha). The sculptures drive home the importance of transparency, layering and modularity because viewers can literally see through each space into another.

Cycle Resource, 2015. Graphite, pastel, colored pencil, gouache on paper. 42’’x66’’

OPP: Zebras, horses, foxes, cows and other large animals often mill about your architectural structures. In most cases, I read their presence as a reminder that we humans have displaced other species with our structures. It’s like their ghosts are grazing on another plane right underneath our feet and we are mostly oblivious. Your thoughts?

AD: I really love that you were able to perceive that kind of message about the animals in my work. It is true that modern culture has displaced these animals but that their energy and our relationship with them remains very close. In that sense they are “right underneath our feet.”

I’ve been reading a lot of Clarissa Pinkola Estes work about archetypal myth stories that involve a lot of human interaction or human/animal hybrid relationships which help to explain different levels or plains of our psyche. I took a workshop about dream analysis. The instructor mentioned that the forms that materialize in your dream corresponded to different parts of your psyche. Dreaming of humans is more closely related to the conscious mind, while dreaming of animals is more closely related to the subconscious. The animals are a way of accessing things that are hidden. All of my work is an act of some kind of revealing and opening or at least something in transition or modulating before it closes again. For example, in Cycle Resource the goat, a symbol of the revealing or unveiling, stands almost in the center as if some sort of mascot. When I first started drawing zebras in Striped, I was thinking more about skins. Skins of buildings and skins of animals. I have also always thought of stripes as closely related to human manipulation and manufacturing, something outside of organic forms.

Striped, 2009. graphite, colored pencil, gouache, ground pigment, collage. 36''x54''

OPP: Billboards, tires, buckets and oil drums also litter your spaces in excess. These seem to be another reminder of how the constant forward motion of “Progress” has consequences. Do your drawings offer a solution about the wasteful byproducts of Capitalism?

AD: I don’t think my work or most art in general offers concrete solutions to major socio/economic issues but offers a surfacing and an articulate unveiling of what the issues are. People working collectively will always be the solution.

You are right in that these forms of material culture do symbolizes systems of capitalism. They are definitely excess waste in the physical world, but in the context of my work, this kind of material culture is in transition. It is at the end of its life as we restructure and modulate for a new beginning. A well known art critic gave me some feedback once on my work and the first thing she mentioned was that she got a strong sense of momento mori which translates to “being mindful of death.” The harmful systems in which we live are not working for the survival of life and should be shed or discarded lest we be shed or discarded.

Extensions, 2011. Graphite, ground pigment, colored pencil. 42''x 54''

OPP: Tell our readers about your new project Common Knowledge, which was funded by a successful Kickstarter Campaign.

AD: Common Knowledge promotes wild edible and medicinal plant education through a visual vocabulary of illustrations accessed through interactive and participatory learning tools. This particular iteration of the project highlights species that flourish abundantly in every city of the Northeastern U.S. The human kinship with plants can be traced through time, giving us a window into the historical and cultural contexts of our surroundings. Common Knowledge opens a conversation about these contexts while connecting us to the natural rhythms and cycles of our urban environment.

It is my belief that upon observing these special plants you become part of a larger movement to renew and strengthen the relationships of our interconnected community of humans, plants, animals and insects. It is an idea rooted in green philosophies, alternative pedagogies, nutritional activism and the principles of a gift economy. We conduct workshops, construct installations and have created a growing line of household products including card games and activity-based coloring books.

Urban Edibles, 2012

OPP: Can you offer any helpful tips to artists using Kickstarter for the first time to fund their work?

AD: (1) Think of a Kickstarter campaign as opening a pop-up shop and get 5-10 really affordable items prepared and ready. It’s important to have these items ready because then you can photograph them a bunch to use in your video and to post to your campaign. Having enough photos to post to as many social media outlets as you can but also posting different things from different angles because people don’t like seeing the same images over and over again. (2) Think of the most reasonable amount of money. (3) Be prepared to have this be your life for a few months. It’s a lot of work.

To see more of Alyssa's work, please visit alyssadennis.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 Tom Ormond

Inside Out
2013
Oil on Linen
183 x 193 centimeters

TOM ORMOND's oil paintings make visible the unseen energies surrounding the intangible intersection of progress and nature. In layered compositions featuring the hard angles and straight lines of architecture and the recurring visual motifs of the geodesic dome and a column of climbing rays of light, he presents our habitual human attempt to contain the uncontainable. Tom earned his BA in Painting from Loughborough College of Art and Design in 1996 and his MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths in 2005. Recent exhibitions include group shows Disclosure (2014) at Chart Gallery in London, Beautiful Things at Next Door Projects in Liverpool, The Future Can Wait (2013) at Victoria House in London and Digital Romantics (2012) at Dean Clough in Halifax. His solo exhibition Everywhere from Nothing (2013) opened at Charlie Smith in London, and he won The Open West Curator's Prize in 2014. Tom lives and works in London.

Work in Progress
2013
Oil on Linen
128 x 183 centimeters

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your background as an artist.

Tom Ormond: I did a BA in Painting at Loughborough College of Art from 1993–96, where I ended up painting stuffed animals and golf courses. Afterwards, I landed an internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I did very minor bits of research for the Painting and Sculpture department and the Film and Video department. Then I moved to London and tried to be a ‘proper artist’—dole and squalor. In 1998, I became an artist’s assistant to Damien Hirst. It was still a relatively small set up. At its best it was like a family business and was exciting.

In the relative isolation of my own studio, I painted caves, apes and diagrams. I earned an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths in 2005. I finished there making mash-up paintings of Prince Charles’ Poundbury—his answer to late 20th century architecture—and Stubbs-esque landscape paintings—horses removed, morphing modernist structures encroaching. Damien bought work from my degree show and later showed it at the Serpentine Gallery. That exposure allowed me to focus exclusively on my practice and led to a period of working with a commercial gallery.

The architectural elements infected the landscape, and I began painting exploding and morphing structures. In 2007, a travel scholarship allowed me to travel round the U.S. visiting nuclear test sites, experimental architectural sites and off grid communities. I made paintings in response to the trip: large canvases with centralized explosive forms—built up from layers of poured paint, marks, diagrams and obliteration—onto which I would impose geometric structures.

Sol Space
2010
Oil on linen
92 x 76 inches

OPP: Many of your paintings seem to be revealing invisible structures within architecture or energy channels breaking through architecture to the sky above. I go back and forth between thinking of these as stills from a sci-fi film sequence in which something is being created or destroyed and imagining that these are static moments and you are revealing the energy that is already always around us. Thoughts?

TO: I enjoy the ambiguity you describe, and I aim for the snapshot versus the constant. I’m interested in architecture in a state of transformation: dynamic, physical and tangible, possibly violent. This comes across in a painting as a snapshot, which is almost contradictory to the slower pace required for the revelation of the something that is unseen, inward or abstract.  I paint as if our eyes could see magnetic fields or even ideas and creativity before their physical realization, using technologies yet to be discovered.

Painting allows me to create the snapshot and look beyond. It starts with an idea which is acted upon, made real, built up, erased, revised, reformed, informed and responded to until a moment is reached that is made up of all those moments. Painting can also show the light bulb above someone’s head.

Tumbler
2008
Oil on linen
72 x 88 inches

OPP: How do feel about the Futurists? Visually, I see a connection to your work.

TO: I can see how you might look at my paintings and think they were made by someone inspired by the Futurists, but really they aren’t. Since early on, I’ve had a block against the Futurists, particularly the paintings, which I’ve associated with a certain dead handling of paint. I’ve never really taken them to be that futuristic, so I’ve not been seeing them in context. I’ve never looked much deeper into the movement and worked in oblivious naivety of them. Weirdly though, I’ve recently embraced that same dead handling of paint, which for me represents an old fashioned idea of the future. I’ve come round to their work on a formal level.

Artist's Studio Viewed from Without
2012
Oil on Linen
34 x 48 inches

OPP: Do you share any conceptual ground with them?

TO: I’m with them on wanting to express dynamism in painting and also their celebration of the industrial as beautiful. But in other ways, I’m almost an anti-futurist. I don’t hate the past. In fact, I often revel in it for Disney-esque consolation. I look to the past as much as I look to the future, which at times I view with trepidation. I admire the optimism and true belief of the Futurists. I can see it was born out of a frustration with a particular situation and the weight of European (Italian) history, yet I am almost nostalgic for a time such as theirs where the future seemed so hopeful.

We’re at the other end of a century and have seen how many of the Futurist beliefs have panned out—war cannot be viewed in a positive way as a cleansing process. Science is still glorified, yet it is tainted with doubt, informed by many developments of the 20th century. Today we, too, struggle to believe in man’s triumph over nature.

In thinking about the future today, I look back at markers of progress and former visions of the future—science, war and architecture—subjects to which the Futurists were drawn and looked forward to. I picked up on similar visual motifs: painterly explosions, geometric architecture, collapsing space, creation of light, effects of gravity. But if the Futurists were around to today, they probably wouldn’t paint, and it’s the anachronism of painting the future which draws me.

Hardtack Moon
2008
oil on linen
60 x 70 inches

OPP: Could you talk about your use of hard angles, rays and straight lines?

TO: The hard angles and lines balance the more fluid gestural parts of the early layers of each painting. These marks suggest architectural fragments, part of a futile attempt to give a quantifiable shape to a morphing, shifting, unquantifiable form. I like the idea of trying to build an Epcot-like dome around a nuclear explosion.

Linear elements allow me to suggest varying degrees of plausible architecture. Straight lines aren’t immediately present in nature yet everything we build involves them. In older works, I exploited an ‘offness’ of perspective and scale. More recently, I’m basing works on existing spaces or architectural models, so it makes sense to use perspective as a tool to create a ‘believable’ space in which the impossible or improbable can be believed and tested. The three-dimensional grid is a means to locate one thing in relation to another. Our modern mind understands the logic of these spaces. The two-dimensional illusion of the three-dimensional space can temporarily support the illogical in a way the actual three-dimensional realm cannot.

The rays, forming along x, y and z axes, represent an artificial light generated or received, a non-religious halo. These are the visible product of something abstract. . . as if thoughts, actions or aspirations could be viewed through a pair of first-generation-philosophical-glasses. Their blocky graphics are the precursors to the more sophisticated three-dimensional enabled lenses to come.

General
2010
Oil on linen
22 x 18 inches

OPP: I’m curious about older works like General and Figure, both from 2010, and Fusileer, Guardian and Vela Uniform, all from 2008. These non-traditional portraits are of figures of military power. How do they relate to your landscapes?

TO: Portraiture can give away answers to questions about time and scale that I hope remain open, so I’ve always been cautious. People feature in my research as influential characters—architects, scientists, ecologists, etc— but rarely make it beyond the sketch-book.

When I was dealing more directly with images of nuclear blasts—which are essentially scientific records—I began to view these fleeting, morphing spheres as the ultimate expression of the modern era. . . a scientific global architecture of humans grappling with their control of nature. I want that to stretch beyond the reference to the historical document, and I treat the figures in those paintings the same way.

They are based on images of people involved in the Manhattan Project, selected for their look rather than their individual significance to history. I didn’t want them to be recognized as specific individuals or as historical heroes or villains. I see them as representing what humans are capable of in the modern era. The paintings only began to work when I treated them like architecture and landscape. With all distinguishing traits removed, they could become constructed god figures.

 
To see more of Tom's work, please visit tomormond.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 Patrick D. Wilson

Subdivision
2013
Laminated C-prints

The photographed-covered, fractured planes of PATRICK D. WILSON's discrete objects read as multifaceted mirrors, reflecting the details of a larger, surrounding environment. He employs the interplay between surface, volume and depth to reveal the complex amalgam of geometry, texture, meaning and memory that comprise geographic and architectural spaces. Patrick received his MFA in Sculpture from San Francisco Art Institute in 2005. He has exhibited extensively throughout California at institutions including the SFMOMA Artists Gallery (2010), Berkeley Art Center (2011), Headlands Center for the Arts (2012) and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (2013). He was awarded a 2012-2013 Fulbright Fellowship to travel to Chongqing, China to document the city’s pervasive construction sites. He recorded his experience on his blog and exhibited new work in a solo show at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (2013). Having recently returned to the U.S., Patrick is in the process of relocating to Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What was your first piece that combined sculpture and photography?

Patrick D. Wilson: Infinity Crate was the first piece I made combining sculpture and photography. I used downloaded images of stars photographed through a telescope to cover the outside of a small meteor-shaped crate sculpture. I made this piece in response to some of the reactions I was getting to my sculptures including Low Earth Orbit, Crash Site (2007). Viewers would often ask, "What's inside?" I always thought this was a strange question to ask about an artwork, as I would assume that the artist is showing me what they want me to see. Ideally, the viewer will imagine what objects are inside any of my crate or box sculptures. I once jokingly replied that the sculptures were filled with infinite space. I initially made this piece as a humorous response, but I felt that the photographs actually created that paradoxical sense of space on the surface of the vessel. So I started to explore other ways of replicating that.

Westfield Centre Skylight
2009
Laminated photographs
12" x 20" x 12"

OPP: Sculptures like Westfield Centre Skylight (2009), Cloud City I (2010) and The One That Looks Like a Cloud (2010) are reminiscent of crystal formation. Is this a visual reference for you?

PDW: A lot of people see crystalline structures in these works, but there isn't really a conceptual link to that. It's not something I am conscious of when I compose them. I think it's just that crystals also have very apparent geometries and form in these conglomerated structures that are similar to the way my sculptures are built up.

I think more about architecture and rocky landscapes when I am sketching these. I hope that the arbitrary geometric formations will create an intuitively habitable space. The sculptures are like architectural models, which invite viewers to imagine themselves inhabiting the space as if the tiny rooms and hallways were real. Photographs similarly lead a viewer to imagine the environment beyond the edge of the frame. Both of these forms encourage a nearly-automatic, imaginary transformation without any form of verbal suggestion. This involuntary image production occurs all the time when we watch television or listen to the radio, whether or not we are fully conscious of it. It's the part of us that stitches stories out of fragmented scraps of perception. I take advantage of this unique function of the human mind to create spatially-constrained objects that also suggest an environmental or immersive embodiment.

Right now, viewers feel very connected to the hard edges and geometric faces because of the amount of digitally-composed imagery they are consuming. I imagine these sculptures will look quite different in ten years, and that my compositions will adapt with the compositional tools that I have access to.

House Crisis
2010
Wood and laminated photographs
33" x 33" x 28"

OPP: There are many steps to your artistic process: taking photographs, designing using three-dimensional modeling software and fabricating your sculptures. Is there any part of the process that you enjoy most?

PDW: I definitely like taking the pictures the most. I imagine myself to be visually mining the environments for their interesting materials and textures. It's sort of out-of-body approach to looking. Really there are two separate phases to the photography. In the first phase, I photograph entire scenes as a way of contextualizing the work and to figure out where my interest really lies. That process informs the three-dimensional models. Then I have to go back for the second phase to get the surface photographs that will fit the sculptural form. I don't generally use pictures of entire objects to get the textures. I photograph smaller parts. That way I get better resolution, and I can photograph from angles that create interesting geometry on the sculpture.

OPP: Is there any part you wish you didn't have to do?

PDW: Assembling the cut photographs is probably the most painful. I always think I am going to enjoy it. But about half way through the process, I start to melt down because it requires a lot of slow, careful handwork, which usually has to be redone at least once. Anything creative is already done by that point, and there isn't even any problem-solving to do other than keeping the dust and air bubbles out of the adhesive. But it's a good chance to space out and listen to a year's worth of podcasts.

Materials Yard
2013

OPP: You were awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to travel to China in 2012-2013. What led you to Chongqing specifically?

PDW: My general topic was construction sites. Chongqing is a gargantuan and rapidly-expanding area of China, so it seemed like there would be plenty of relevant material for me there. Wikipedia puts the population of Chongqing at over 29 million, though the actual urbanized population is probably a third of that. I was fascinated by the idea of this inland, industrial megalopolis that most people hadn't heard of, especially prior to its recent corruption scandals. It was off the radar for people who weren't specifically interested in China, and I assumed that meant that it was sheltered in some ways from the westernization you see in comparable cities like Beijing and Shanghai. The Sichuan Fine Arts Institute is also there. They have a sculpture department that is very famous for public works, especially government-commissioned, large-scale monuments. This seemed to be a very unique part of the sculptural universe, so that drew me there as well.

OPP: What’s fascinating about construction sites for you?

PDW: Virtually all sculptors have a fascination with industry and its capabilities. Construction sites are one field within the industrial landscape. The sheer accumulation of materials—steel scaffolding, concrete, plywood—is exciting to anyone who is a maker. But I am particularly interested in documenting the construction site as a continuous, nomadic event that exists independently of architecture and development. The construction site is more than a stage in a building’s life; it is a roving matrix of material and labor that is the generative edge of the urban world. It's a necessary agent of change, but it creates so much waste, pollution, noise and human toil. It is the dark and dirty complement to the shiny image that is presented by real estate developers. It is this value-neutral beast with its own momentum and economy that is hidden behind the curtain of progress. That conception of a construction site's existence continues long after the buildings are bulldozed.

Kashgar Column
2013
Wood and laminated C-prints
32" x 18" x 32"

OPP: Could you highlight some of the new work created in China that was in your solo exhibition at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in October of 2013?

PDW: The most successful piece in the show was Kashgar Column. Kashgar is in Xinjiang province near the borders of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan. It was an extremely inspiring place. I didn't feel like I was in China anymore. The relevant issues in my research shifted; the geography took over. The images on the outside of that sculpture are of the doors saved by the families in the old city of Kashgar. I read that the doors are thought to contain the family history and must be moved with the families when a home is demolished. When I left Chongqing, I gifted that piece to the sculpture department at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and brought a duplicate copy of the constituent photographs home in a plastic tube.

Learning to make sculpture in Chongqing was definitely more challenging than I expected. You would think that a city that builds as much as Chongqing does would have limitless access to materials, but procuring the materials I wanted was difficult. Fractal Architecture is a piece that I made in a furniture factory where they fabricated Ming Dynasty-styled furniture. I was invited to work there after complaining to one of the sculpture professors about the quality of the wood I was finding. When I got to the furniture factory, I found that they actually used a lot of oak imported from the U.S. I lived there several days a week—it was more than two hours away from my apartment—and worked alongside their crew. Most of the workers spoke local dialect, so I could only communicate directly with the two that also spoke standard Chinese. That was a great experience in making because we largely communicated through our shared language of the craft.

To see more of Patrick's work, please visit patrickdwilson.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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Norm Paris

Geode (Pistol Pete)
2011
Graphite, Forton MG, Pigment, Resin, Glass
20" x 12" x 8"

Artist, sports fan and educator NORM PARIS explores the allegories of decline present in western narratives of heroism. His sculptures and drawings frame the bodies of professional athletes like Michael Jordon and historical figures like George Washington as architectural ruins and fossils thus rethinking the myths surrounding monumentality. Norm received his BFA from The Rhode Island School of Design, where he is currently an Assistant Professor in Drawing, and his MFA from the Yale School of Art, where he was core faculty from 2003-2008. He is represented by The Proposition Gallery (New York) and his work is included in the West Collection. Norm lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What exactly is Forton MG? It seems to be your favorite material, and you stretch its capabilities in a lot of directions. What does it offer that other sculpture materials can't?

Norm Paris: Forton MG is a casting mixture made of resin and gypsum, so it's part plastic, part plaster. There is something modern about the material’s synthetic nature; its plastic underbelly is “pop,” while its plaster-like appearance is classical. Forton is a shape-shifter, a chameleon. It is an aqueous solution that can be poured into any kind of mold, but it can also take on the properties of various metals and pigments. Lately I have been adding brass, iron and bronze powders to the mixture, which allows the cast to mimic metal. It can receive a patina just like metal can. The cast does contain metal, but the majority of the material, the binder, is something else. In that sense, it is both real and fake. Increasingly, I am using Forton in conjunction with other found materials and moving between different modes of sculpture and drawing. I want to avoid that point where material exploration becomes habit and expand the formal purview of the work.
Michael Jordan, Save The World (installation view)
2005
Forton MG, Casein, String

OPP: The figure of Michael Jordan is a repeated motif in your work, appearing first in your 2005 sculpture installation Michael Jordan, Save The World.  I'm not sure if you are a Michael Jordan fan, but I suspect your interest in basketball—or baseball or football—isn't purely artistic, aesthetic or critical. Do you identify as a sports fan?

NP: I loathed Michael Jordan when I was growing up in Cleveland, but he was unavoidable. He was the first sports figure to become a global brand. Just watch some highlights, maybe the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest, and you will find that Jordan is a Hellenistic sculptor and a performance artist. He uses the aesthetics of Michelangelo to sell himself as a god within the Arena. But at the time I was just angry that Ron Harper (guard, Cleveland Cavaliers) was nixed from the Dunk contest because of some stupid injury.

MJ’s sudden fragility by the 2002-2003 season opened the door for a lot of that work from 2005-2009. He had physically declined in a way that made sports fans uncomfortable. Jordan couldn’t follow his own script. What caught my attention at the time—besides an unexpected fit of intense nostalgia—was how the discrepancy between the ideal and the real highlighted the faulty nature of the myth surrounding MJ. While I was working on the MJ installation in my Philadelphia basement studio in 2004, it struck me that I was making these sculptures of an athlete-as-hero while the country was at war, while the Weapons of Mass Destruction crisis was in full swing. My engagement seemed out of step with what was happening. I think Michael Jordan, Save The World was an awkward attempt to come to terms with an array of public, private and political concerns. My work has changed a lot since that piece, but ultimately I am still interested in the strange fragility of these monumental figures.

So yes, I am a sports fan. But while I’m personally invested in pro sports, I’ve also become fascinated by the unstable allegories that underscore a game or a season, looking at the phenomenon the way that Roland Barthes looked at wrestling. Since the action in a game is in real time, stories are constantly created and then torn apart. Spectators—myself included—imbue players with heroic meanings only to find that this affect is obsolete a moment later. Someone dropped a ball, or missed a shot, or tore an ACL, or retired. Athletic allegories are inevitably temporary because of bodily limitations, changing circumstances and shifting opinion over time. Gravity brings us all down. Robert Smithson’s ideas about entropy don’t only apply to the earth and the ground, but also to the figure.

The Fight (detail/staff)
2006
etching

OPP: Michael Jordan: Disasters of War (2006-2009), your drawings and etchings which reference Goya's famed series of the same name, feature Michael Jordan as ALL the figures. Could you talk about this choice?

NP: I am interested in the foggy and spastic relationships in the Disasters etchings because there is no chance to settle the dilemma. The lack of closure becomes the point. I wanted to construct narratives that were not necessarily linear. And so I substituted every figure from Goya’s original compositions with Jordan; this basic rule sets the stage for a Freudian sense of conflict—he saves and maims and kills himself. I thought a lot about dark humor when I was making these prints. The gratuitous nature of them and the ridiculousness of the situation was alternately funny, inappropriate and sad. Like in Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, overwhelming and ironic violence is the embodiment of a complex and uncomfortable emotional space. In that film, like in these etchings, instincts of victimhood and aggression are in flux.

I tend to find icons and to replace them whenever necessary. This happens in sports but is even more pronounced in the combustible narratives of politics. Goya’s original prints were protest etchings against the Peninsular War, and the inappropriate superimposition of Jordan calls a lot into question. I was looking at a fracture or conflation between this deflated leisure myth and a larger sense of real violence. 

Tondo (The Fordham Wall Still Stands)
2010
Graphite on Paper
42" x 42"

OPP: There is a shift away from the figure. It's not absolute, but it is noticeable. Afterwards there are more sculptures of precarious structures, which may or may not be ruins of buildings that once functioned, but definitely don't now. Can you talk about this intersection of architecture and mythic heroes, which was drawn out in your solo show The Wall Still Stands (2011) at The Proposition in New York?

NP: As I finished the Disasters etchings I became more interested in the space around the action rather than the figure itself. I made the sculpture Rubble Fragment I (Mezuzah), and I realized that a piece of concrete could become the heroic figure instead of a literal classical body. I used the same substitution rule that guided the Jordan prints in the Reconstruction drawings, but architectural structures like two-by-fours and cinder blocks were the stand-in for human presence. Some of the drawings become defunct altars or shrines; others are failed utopian building projects.

I wanted to allow for a wider array of subject matter rather than harping on one obvious signifier. The architectural structures from the drawings are based on figures from sports clippings I've received from my father over the years and screen shots from old footage of baseball games, but they are heavily camouflaged. Bridge/Fortress/Hillis  began as a sculpture of the former Cleveland Browns running back Payton Hillis. Holding It Together (Pistol Pete) is based on Zurbaran's Saint Serapion. I was interested in the fragility of the structure, and its simultaneous sense of building and decay. This work explores some of the same terrain as the more overt sculptures and prints; but now I am encoding, encasing and cutting apart the source. Human form is roughly translated to architecture or rock formation. I’ve been looking at old sports writers like Henry Grantland Rice, who had a tendency to rename the heroes of the day as immovable rocks or some other monumental vision; the 1936 Fordham Rams for example, were coined the “Fordham Wall” and their offensive line was “The Seven Blocks of Granite.” This type of metaphor can be found in all sorts of places, from Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias to Pink Floyd's The Wall.
Steve/Joseph/Carpenter/Structure
2011
Forton MG
45" x 20" x 20"

OPP: What do George Washington and Caesar have in common with Pistol Pete, Michael Jordan, Vince Lombardi, Jim Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger?

NP: I witnessed all these figures through the lens of reproduction as a primary source of aura. Growing up, the distance of the photograph, print or video, and now the internet, allowed me to fill these vessels with my own meanings. There are countless posters of Michael Jordan stuck in mid-air as if he could levitate forever. Even the painting George Washington Crossing The Delaware is a fabrication which is only loosely based on historical fact, and yet this vision is as real as it gets. These people have been worshipped, albeit in vastly different times and places. While there are qualitative differences that separate them—George Washington actually did effect the world more than Pistol Pete—I am more interested in these icons as the embodiment of an internal response to popular American mythologies. They are mostly boyhood visions of manhood, all of which are more complicated than they initially appeared.

OPP: If you absolutely had to pick—pretend the world will end if you don't—would you rather go to an art opening or a sporting event?

NP: That’s like picking a favorite child. The question presents a false choice. I can have my cake and eat it too. I was drawing on my apartment floor as I watched game 7 of the 1997 World Series

And besides, sporting events can be art. Robert Smithson always talked about how the movies that were the most important to him and his peers were the B-movies, the sci-fi movies rather than the art flicks. These cultural artifacts were the platform on which he built his work. He was also immensely well-read and informed about art history, and he was certainly a part of the art world. He was intimately invested in all of his obsessions, and he reveled in the fact that he did not have to choose. I feel the same way.

A live basketball game is a singularity. It happens in real time and only exists in that moment. I suppose the artwork is at face value more static (unless it is performative or interactive), but certainly the experience of the work is also singular since it is specific to that time and place.

While I love the community aspect of the art opening, the support for the work of friends and peers, the reality is that there is more flexibility in seeing an art show—and art openings are often the absolute worst time to view the work. The sporting event is often the ideal venue to view the spectacle. And so, from a situational and phenomenological point of view, I choose the game.

To see more of Norm's work, please visit normparis.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).