OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Yikui Gu

Tip Toeing in My Jordans
Oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 26 inches
2015

YIKUI GU wants his work to be "horrifying and hilarious." His colorful, chaotic paintings, drawings and collages have the feeling of an overwhelming parade that started out fun. But now everyone's a little too drunk, desperate and on the verge of violence. Desire and longing are intensely present, and so is the anxiety the follows wanting. All this becomes a hilariously horrifying critique of capitalism, commodification and the inherent violence that accompanies the striving to always be on top. Yikui earned his BFA from Long Island University in 2005 and his MFA from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, MFA in 2008. He has exhibited internationally, including shows at G.A.S. Station (2015, 2010, 2009) in Berlin, Ground Floor Gallery (2015) in Brooklyn, the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (2013), the Siena Art Institute (2011) in Siena, Italy and the Delaware Art Museum (2012) in Wilmington, Delaware. During the summer of 2015, he was an Artist-in-Residence at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His recent solo show Chance Encounters just closed at Hungerford Gallery at the College of Southern Maryland, where Yikui is an Associate Professor. Yikui lives in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I won't ask you to be a poet, but I will ask you to expand on your artist statement. To you, what's horrifying and what's hilarious? Why is it important to combine these qualities?

Yikui Gu: I see horror and humor everywhere in life. It’s in almost everything we do, although we may disagree on which is which. I think those two qualities are often linked together, so it’s not that I find it important to combine them, rather I see them as already combined, pre­packaged in a way. The famous Buddhist expression “life is suffering” nicely sums up the horror, while all the petty things we do in spite of that are what is hilarious. We all age. Knowledge of our mortality can be horrifying, and when someone buys a sports car or a pair of breasts to combat that, it’s hilarious. We are all born into a world where we’re conditioned to be good worker bees, to take our place faithfully in the assembly line, and look forward to  the promise of a wonderful retirement. That’s horrifying and hilarious. Look at the art market, that place is full of horror and hilarity.

Brothers in Arms #2
Charcoal & acrylic collaged on bristol board
11 x 14 inches
2015

OPP: Tell us about your series Lovers Melt. I get the impression that the faces are sourced from found images and then you dress them up in military garb, camouflage and, in one case matching hijabs. I mostly get that impression from God Hates Fags, which appears to have been painted and collaged on top of an image of some anti­-gay protest. In some cases, the people seem to be coming and, in others, they appear to be screaming in anger, even rage.

YG: Lovers Melt is a recent series that I began this summer. I was at a residency at the School of Visual Arts in New York for the month of June, and that’s where all those pieces were produced. I’d been wanting to combine drawing, painting and collage, and the residency was a perfect opportunity. For the series, I wanted to use images of facial expressions from staunchly patriarchal groups, be it the military, religious fanatics or cultural conservatives. The idea was to take these charged expressions of anger and misconstrue them into something sexual, something homoerotic. So the face of a screaming soldier can become the face of someone enjoying orgasm. Interestingly enough, I didn’t need to change the expressions at all, once they were positioned too close to one another, they re­contextualized themselves. It was the perfect way to mock these institutions.

Also, an aside about God Hates Fags. I think that piece perfectly sums up my thoughts to your first question. It’s both horrifying and hilarious that there are people out there who believe the omnipotent creator of the universe would experience a petty human emotion such as hate. And that’s coming from an atheist.

The Debaucherous
Oil, acrylic, and marker on canvas
42 x 42 inches
2014

OPP: There are a lot of partial bodies that fade into the background and disembodied pairs of legs, especially in Sneakerheads. Could you talk about this treatment of the figure?

YG: I was academically trained, and my work used to reflect that more. I used to paint lots of portraits, and I was happy to show the world that I was a well trained monkey. Today its very hard for me to make a portrait or a figure in a “traditional” sense, so the disembodied quality is a reflection of that. It’s also how we all experience the world and the other people in it. On a crowded subway I may only catch a fleeting glimpse of an arm or leg, the same can be said of most of our daily experiences whether we’re shopping, dining, fucking, or at an opening. Who says a figure must be complete? And what is complete anyways?

The Game is Rigged
Oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 34 inches
2015

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring motifs of semi­automatic weapons and bombs? Is your work a response to violence in general, or specifically the violence of war?

YG: The imagery of weapons, bombs, soldiers, and warplanes are a response to the general violence in the world, a reflection of the world’s power dynamics, the horror part of human experience. While these images speak most directly to the violence of war, they’re also meant to suggest the ever present threat of violence in daily life. That threat permeates everything, it exists in the sexual, economic, political and social realms. It’s the source of most of the world’s power, and by extension, its problems. Additionally, most of my depictions of weapons and such are generally done in an unrealistic, almost cartoony way. This is to neuter that threat of violence, and my attempt at injecting a bit of levity into the situation, the humor if you will. Even when weapons are painted realistically, such as the bomb in I Bomb Atomically, it’s a realistic depiction of a cartoon bomb, a bomb that couldn’t ever exist (I hope).

Don't be a Dick
In-progress painting

OPP: What are you working on in your studio right now?

YG: Since returning from my residency at the School of Visual Arts, I’ve been combining drawing and collage into my paintings, which has been very exciting. While I'd always thought about doing that, the limited time in NYC gave me the perfect opportunity to try it. I’m curious to see where it goes. I’m still interested in using political, cultural and domestic imagery to explore the horrible and hilarious things that human beings do. Specifically, I'm working on an in-progress painting called Don't be a Dick. A charcoal portrait of Dick Cheney will be pasted onto the spot where the current painted version is taped. The legs with the Jordan Bred 4s are done with ink and colored pencils and also will be pasted on.

Conceptually, I'm thinking about ideas I've always thought about, especially in the series Sneakerheads. The commodification of sneakers, with blue chip brands and highly sought after releases, mirrors the art market perfectly. There are re-sellers, counterfeits and buying frenzies. This is contrasted with the pile of garbage—collaged from magazines—the legs are sticking out of. Over-packaging, waste and planned obsolescence have been on my mind. Even the readily available images I used from Ikea catalogs—a different type of detritus—further drive home the point that we produce too much crap, shitty art included. Dick Cheney is there because he's an asshole, and I'd like to mount his head and hang it in my house. He's the perfect symbol of White Privilege and pure greed, which are connected to the commodification and waste I mentioned earlier. Because of that, it won't matter if he's not recognized in the future.

To see more of Yikui's work, please visit yikuigu.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). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ian Monroe

Installation view of Currents 105
Saint Louis Art Museum.
2011

IAN MONROE is drawn to edges, literally and figuratively. Influenced by both architectural and virtual space, he explores the illusion of perspective and our related "complicity and a potential sense of disembodiment" in large-scale, two-dimensional collages, predominantly made from adhesive vinyl. Ian received his BA from Washington University in Saint Louis (1995) and his MA from Goldsmiths College in the United Kingdom. Since 2003, he has had solo exhibitions in five countries: England, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and the United States, not to mention group shows in at least five more. He is currently working on a major public commission for a new building in Leicester Square in London. His upcoming solo exhibition (title TBA) at Horatio Junior (London) will open in November 2015. He is represented by Galeria Casado Santapau (Madrid), where he will have a solo exhibition in 2016. Ian lives and works in London.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Talk about the wonders (and the challenges) of your staple material, adhesive vinyl.
       
Ian Monroe: Vinyl allows me to paint without using paint. I am able to build the image, layer by layer. All of my early work was sculptural and I still primarily gravitate to the three-dimensional, hence the perspectival nature of the images. This is also reflected in my tendency to consider them as built rather than painted images. It's a subtle distinction, but it allowed me to use carpet, linoleum flooring, Formica and paper in two-dimensional works. Had I used paint, I may not have not considered these alternative materials. There are, of course, frustrations with vinyl. The biggest is the industrially-limited colour palate of the material. I can't just mix a new colour! On the other hand, limitations sometimes force creative solutions, and I find the process of squeezing the most out of a constrained palate an interesting challenge.

Ideal Pursuits
Vinyl on Aluminum
176cm x 331cm
2005

OPP: Formally, your older work is all hard lines, angles and edges. Did this formal quality grow out of the material itself or is it more about source imagery? What influences you visually?
         
IM: Conceptually, architectural space certainly is an influence, but so is the notion of a virtual or invisible-yet-collectively-agreed-upon-space like the internet. Like the perspectival image, which is simply an agreed upon illusion, many of the spaces—airports or modern banking systems, for example—we deal with today rely on us all behaving according to an unspoken, but very constrained set of rules. The work is therefore meant to play both with our complicity and a potential sense of disembodiment that these spaces create.

Materially, the hard edges and angles were initially driven by the slice-and-cut nature of collaging the material. When you collage one material to another, it very rarely has any blending (except perceptually or metaphorically in the way two things may be visually or conceptually conjoined). I started making very thin lines with the vinyl and filling in geometric forms with the basic shading of a light, medium and dark colour. In the process, the schematic—as opposed to the rendered—possibilities of the images really excited me. I started to see all kinds of possibilities for images freed from the constraints of virtuosity that paint usually requires; I could deploy the language of diagrams or technical drawings for potential spaces or structures. In this way, they operate like huge architectural-conceptual proposals. I also enjoy that they run counter to a kind of expressionist language often found in painting, and so I embraced the razor sharp and unequivocal edge of the collaged material. 

The Registered Movements of a Thing
Vinyl on Aluminum
176cm x 301cm
2006

OPP: Could you talk about how "collage can be seen as a function of 'edges," an idea that you first explored in an essay titled "Where Does One Thing End And The Next Begin?"
        
IM: I hinted at this in the questions above, but the essay essentially develops a set of tools to understand how various collaged images seem to function and how they can be read. There was an open call for an essay in the catalog entitled Collage: Assembling Contemporary Art, put out by Black Dog Publishing in 2008, and I had been thinking about the idea for some time. I was musing about how a collage by John Stezaker operates totally differently from one by Ellen Gallagher or one of mine. That led me to see that the one unifying element across all collage, regardless of the imagery or conceptual drive of the work, is the cut or torn edge. Unlike a painted or a drawn image, in which there is (usually) no absolutely clear edge between various images or materials, collage is a collection of things colliding and interacting at their edges. I thought that this may be the key to understanding how collage actually functions, so I used the essay to explore how various types of edges interact and form meaning. Some types of edges I delineate include 'the corrosive edge', 'the municipal edge' and 'the chimeric edge.’ The entire idea is fully developed in the essay, so I’ll refer anyone interested to have a read. 

The Instantaneous Everything
Installation view
2008

OPP: Your two-dimensional collages have always manifested a dynamic sense of space and depth. But you also make three-dimensional sculpture, which compliments the wall-based work. How did these works interact and inform one another in your 2008 show The Instantaneous Everything?
     
IM: I was very loosely playing with a concept in physics that entire universes arise with their own unique rules and structures, seemingly instantly and as complete structures. The big bang is the theorized, instantaneous genesis of our universe. The strange conundrum here is that we as humans are simultaneously the creators of this theoretical structure and the actual product of it! So which came first? I saw some parallels to my art practice where the ‘rules’ for making work—perspective, diagrammatic and hard-edged shapes, encoded language—all seem to arise with their own theoretical structure and yet at the same time I am the supposed author and am in control. Visually, I sought to highlight this sense of a complete but co-mingled universe in which the distinction between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional was unimportant. Sculptures appeared to fall out of the images and images flowed out of sculptures and onto the floors and walls. I think it was a first step, and like all shows one does, you realize that the ideas can be pushed and developed. So I am working on a follow-up show.

'. . . many long hours'
Vinyl on Perspex
50 cm x 35 cm
2011

OPP: Recent work from Currents 105: Ian Monroe, your 2011 solo show at Saint Louis Art Museum, had numerous references to in-transit spaces like airplanes and airports, as well as hotels, pay phones and swimming pools. There's way more empty space than in earlier work and the figure is present. How did this apparent shift in focus grow out of older work?

IM: As I mentioned in one of the answers above, airports and other ‘non-places,’ to use a term coined by Marc Augé, have held a long-standing interest for me. For the show in Saint Louis, I decided to make a new body of work that reacted to and reflected a specific local architecture, but not in a site-specific way. Saint Louis has a long history of architecture and flight and has many mid-century buildings of note. Lambert Airport has a particularly interesting story. Completed in 1956, the building was the first major commission by a young architect named Minoru Yamasaki and was an icon of mid-century modernism and optimism in a newly global world. In a strange and ominous coincidence, I discovered one of his last major commissions was the World Trade Center complex in Manhattan. This trajectory, embodied so succinctly in these two places and spaces and in his buildings, was one that transitioned from a glamorous new optimism of the jet-setting global population to that of an increasing anxious, overcrowded and weaponized society.
   
I did a lot of research on Yamasaki, the airport, Saint Louis and also worked with the Saint Louis Art Museum collections. The artwork all grew out of that material. The figures entered perhaps because there is a very specific story to tell. I found images of the architects working late into the night, of women on holiday in advertising campaigns about destinations reachable from Saint Louis, and the telephone booths that have now been removed because we all have mobile phones. I didn't want to directly reference the towers and all that they now embody. It was a way to sit on the edge of a changing world that is both in love with its systems and one that is deeply threatened by them.

To see more of Ian's work, please visit ianmonroe.net.

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). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Geoffry Smalley

Paper Tiger
2013
Graphite on Paper, Cut Paper Overlay

According to GEOFFRY SMALLEY, "to understand the history of American team sports is to understand our national development." To this end, he thoughtfully and humorously examines the "Big Three" (baseball, football and basketball) in painting, drawing, collage and sculpture. Painting on top of existing reproductions, he injects sports arenas into famous Hudson River School landscapes and mashes up team uniforms and mascots with the animals that inspired them. Geoffry earned his BFA from the University of Illinois, Chicago and his MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has exhibited extensively in and around Chicago. Most recent was his solo exhibition Past Time at Packer Schopf Gallery in the summer of 2014. When he isn't making art, Geoffry works as an art conservator at Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. in Chicago, where he lives.

OtherPeoples Pixels: Tell us about the work in Past Time, your most recent solo show at Packer-Schopf Gallery in Chicago.

Geoffry Smalley: For several years I've been exploring social and political issues related to American sports, and Past Time is the latest body of work. In my daily dealings as an art conservator, I think about the works I treat, their place in American art history and the nature of authenticity. I have to hide my hand when treating an art work, and because of that I began to think of ways I could use historical images for my own purposes. At the time, I was also reading about the rise of sports during the Industrial Revolution, which reflected America's progression into the modern age.

Catskill Creek, Citi Field
2012
Acrylic on Ink Jet Print

OPP: I'm especially interested in the sports vistas, in which you insert contemporary arenas and stadiums into romantic landscape paintings. 

GS: The vistas are reproductions of Hudson River School paintings onto which I have painted images of various sports arenas. Painters like Thomas Cole and Asher Durand held cautiously optimistic views of society's progress. They believed in the sublime, the closer-to-God power of untamed nature. They captured these unspoiled vistas at the very moment our country steamrolled west and grew into the industrial superpower it is now. Sports flourished in the same way. At a time when workers first began to have leisure time, baseball emerged from rural America. It was played at what was then considered a rapid pace, under the sun, during the growing season, affected by the elements. Football is industrial manufacturing plus military readiness: taking land by force, specialized individual moving parts choreographed to achieve a singular, larger goal. Basketball picked up football’s individualized machinations but added a more free-form individualism to the mix. As Americans left the rural landscape to congregate in cities, immigrants, settlers and native-born people tried to assimilate their variegated histories into an homogenous American identity. Sport offered a common site and a common language where that diversity could be bridged.

OPP: Team names and mascots are a jumping off point in many of your drawings on found images, as in Chief and Cowboy from 2014, as well as Seahawks, Orioles and Eagles from 2011. It seems like most professional sports team names are either history or animal references. Is this the case? Why do you think that is? Can you think of any exceptions?

GS: I believe team names are derived from the tradition of using animal totems as a way to harness the mythic powers, internalize the traits and externalize the characteristics of certain creatures. In football you have the Eagles, Lions, Panthers, Bears—all predatory, strong animals. Baseball gives you Cubs, Orioles, Cardinals and Blue Jays—not really striking fear into an opponent with those names. But there are also historical and social references—49ers, Cowboys, Brewers and Steelers—which reflect each team’s hometown industry/identity and blue collar fans. Of course you have the tradition of “honoring” Native Americans by making them mascots. From Chief Wahoo to Chief Noc-A-Homa to the tomahawk chop, there are racist slurs appropriated with great popularity across all sports. The traditional Thanksgiving NFL matchup of the Cowboys vs. Redskins is also indicative of historically entrenched nationalism and racism that still bubbles beneath the surface. Team names are meant to carry with them meaning and identity, and do so quite powerfully, sometimes with unintended consequences. There just a couple exceptions to the animal/historical references, where a team name actually invokes either more etherial or benign powers. The Heat, the Thunder, The Sox from Chicago and Boston. . . hard to take umbrage with the fact that Miami is hot or that Chicagoans wear socks.

Bears
2011
Acrylic on Book Page

OPP: Could you talk generally about the strategy of the cut-out in your work? You've used it in collage, drawing and sculpture, and it appears to be both a aesthetic and conceptual strategy.

GS: I have used the cut-out for about 15 years, originally as a way to isolate all or part of a specific image from the collage-like paintings I used to make. It began as an attempt to understand why I used a particular image, how re-contextualizing an image changed or added to its meaning. That isolation evolved to be more of a strategy of simultaneously concealing and revealing, taking images past straight representation and into a more mysterious place. The cut-out also acts as an interruption, a pause or glitch in the image a viewer is trying to decipher. Not being given the whole story at once allows for a slower absorption of information and keeps the question alive longer. It's always more interesting when you don't know the answer. On a base level, cutting and collaging is an extension of my drawing practice, a way to regroup and quickly realize thoughts.

Ring Stock Ballyhoo - Swarm
2010
Collage
Variable (16x19)

OPP: I'm seeing a lot of forms that evoke the Fleur-de-lis and other coat-of-arms designs. Some examples include the graphite helmet designs in Starbury (2011), the decorative flourishes in Antique Sorrow (2008) and the cut-out gold foil in Dale Earnhardt Portrait Cartouche (2007). What do these flourishes mean to you? How has your use of them changed over time?

GS: Those forms mostly come from the Rococo. I was picking on NASCAR, talking about the spectacular, florid, over-the-top displays of eye candy that NASCAR embodies. The Rococo is often discounted as a movement entrenched in frivolity and poor taste, one of shallow and selfishly playful intent. Just beauty. I used the forms to create what I called “portrait cartouches” of NASCAR drivers, comprised of all the sponsors’ logos on their fire suits. As with the cut-out, decorative forms serve dual purposes. As aesthetic forms, they bring shape and content to an image. In Starbury and similar images from Past Time, I conflated athletic and military display, imagining athletes “in the trenches” or as modern-day gladiators and warriors. I began to think about contemporary athletes’ tattoos as parade armor worn by Medieval and Renaissance kings. That armor was never worn in battle. It was a narrative display of power.

Kaplooie
2008
1:24 Scale Hobby Model, Cut-out and Bent Sintra, Enamel, Decals
16" x 22" x 15"

OPP: How do you decompress after a solo show or the completion of a big project? Do you need a break before returning to the studio?


GS: I definitely need to take a break. I usually spend a little time away from the studio after a show, until my feet get too itchy to keep me away. I see an exhibition as an opportunity to get some perspective on where I am with my work in general. It’s good to see all the pieces out of the studio, having a dialogue together. I take that back to the studio with me. After cleaning and rearranging, I research, make drawings and listen to a lot of baseball on the radio to prepare for the next thing. 

OPP: And what's your next thing?

GS: While making work for Past Time, I had thoughts and ideas bouncing around that didn't fit with that show, so they got put on the back burner. But as I stated above, feet get itchy. I have been thinking about how the landscape/stadium idea relates to religion. Certain stadia and arenas are considered pilgrimage sites for fans. Naturally, inside those sites are relics, items imbued with the history and iconography of the residents housed within the building. I’m working on ideas for sculptural forms that play with sports reliquaries and trophies. . . nothing fully-formed yet. But I’m excited to get back to work.

To see more of Geoffry's work, please visit geoffrysmalley.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. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. 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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Doug Beube

Max Weber Deconstructed (detail)
2009
Altered book
6 3/4" x 5 1/4" x 3/8"

A book is both an object and a transmitter of information. For the last 34 years, artist DOUG BEUBE has transformed this "seemingly antiquated technology" into sculpture and collage. He cuts, folds, gouges and rearranges the contents of each tome, stretching the limits of its form and calling attention to the incidental juxtapositions of text and image in various genres, including the novel, the art-historical text and the reference book. Doug lectures internationally and acted as curator and consultant for The Allan Chasanoff Bookwork Collection from 1993-2013. In 2011, he self-published a comprehensive monograph with numerous essays by critics and curators titled Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex. His two upcoming solo exhibitions open in October of 2014: Codex at BravinLee Programs and Emendations at Christopher Henry Gallery, both in New York. Doug lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You received a BFA in Film and an MFA in Photography. Did your early interest in the moving image and the image frozen in time lead organically into your sculpture and collage made from altered books?

Doug Beube: My photography ranges from social documentary to a formal exploration of visual phenomenon, i.e. how recognizable objects are collapsed into a two-dimensional plane as light and dark forms. The transition to collage and bookwork was an organic move. When I look at how I composed my early photographs, I notice certain abiding preoccupations: the compression of foregrounds and backgrounds, the construction and deconstruction of sequences, the repetitive use of forms, images and actions. These repeated gestures show up across separate artifacts and formal systems but also from one medium to another, verging on an obsessive compulsion. For example, the composite photographs like AloeVera: Negative/Positive (1980/1993) were created just as I was turning to collage and bookwork. They emphasize the negative spaces connecting primary objects in the illusory flat plane. In later pieces like A Passion Play (1995) and Masters in Art (2009), I carve and deface that same two-dimensional plane, creating negative spaces through such erasures.

Masters In Art: Van Gogh
2009
Altered book
6 3/4" x 5 1/4" x 3/8"

OPP: You are certainly a biblioclast, in the literal sense of the word, but are you also a bibliophile?

DB: I have a love-hate relationship with the medium of my art. I love the collection of concrete words in a book and the rich history of global inventiveness in binding pages and ideas in fixed margins. I love the heft of a book’s pages, the exposition, the narrative, the linearity and curvature of a story, the unfolding of a point of view, the simplicity and even the assumed preciousness of this object. Yet, its technology is outmoded in this digital era. As a method for recording, preserving and transmitting culture and information, it’s frustrating. On my Mac, I can delve into ideas with a series of clicks. I can drill down through websites into an almost infinite library of human expression. I can reshape, rearrange, erase and restore, at will. All such acts, so intrinsic to digital technologies and so unnatural to books, are nevertheless what I am driven in my art to do.

The codex, with the span of its body and its spine, is a metaphor for the human form. With its story, it is a metaphor for human expression and an artifact of civilization. Like a physician or an archeologist, I am driven to examine it, to dissect it, to cut it open, to dig into it. I am compelled to unfix margins, make tomes weightless, empty volumes of their stories and twist a point of view into its opposite.

When I select books for particular pieces, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.  I use the author’s work, held between the covers, to reveal my own story. Up-cycling and re-purposing the book pays tribute to the original author’s title, which can also be a critique of the content as well.

Life
2004
Altered book
13 1/2" x 22 1/2" x 11"

OPP: Are there books you would never alter?



DB: Books in our culture are presumed to be objects of affection, accorded a high status; their significant value may be due to the quality of materials, monetary expense of publication and the relevance of ideas. As one of the oldest technologies for disseminating information, all books, regardless of content, are made in the likeness of that familiar, black-clothed object: the "good book," the venerated Bible. Destroying a book is almost like destroying, not only the author’s soul, but God’s word immortalized in the wisdom of an ancient text block.

For centuries, responsible parents and repressed librarians have universally proclaimed, “Respect books, don’t touch them with sticky fingers!” If we even think about damaging a book, we scan the surroundings, waiting for an omniscient voice, “If your mucilaginous fingers blacken that book, if you have specious thoughts and you intend to sacrifice that volume, even for a righteous artistic cause, you will be punished, doomed to a life filled with eternal library fines and the worst, I will strike you down with guilt!” It’s as if an a priori code is imprinted within our cerebellum that inflicts pain if we clutch a tome with bad intentions or fingerprint it with filthy digits.

In my work, I primarily use discarded novels, atlases and art monographs. At one time, their spines stood upright on thousands of miles of dust-free shelves. As the information in the books became redundant, new volumes supplanted the well-read copies. They were tossed into a molding heap: vanquished titles stacked into smelly cardboard boxes and relegated to dank catacombs with cockroaches and rodents as their custodians. So, who will punish me if I revive a lost publication from the 42nd Street Public Library’s dumpster, a neighbor’s trash bin, the basement of Strand Books or a Judaica book shop in the East Village? I have actually saved numerous books from becoming landfill.  

But there are certain books I won’t re-purpose because they are rare, such as the Guttenberg Bible—it’s perfect as is. I also wouldn’t modify a book whose title does not resonate with my sensibilities or a religious text, where doing so might endanger my life.

Disaster series: Twisted Borough
2009
Altered phone book
14" x 15" x 5"

OPP: Gouge is a series of cut, drilled and pierced books. You describe the process as excavating, "as if it were a thrilling, previously undiscovered site in an archeological dig." While archeologists never know what they are going to find, they don't just start digging anywhere. There's a reason they pick the sites they pick. Once you make that informed choice as to where to dig, how often are you surprised by what you discover?

DB: There are two revelations that occur while working with power tools; one is immediate and the other delayed. I use a high-speed rotary drill to eliminate text from the front of the page, turning ink and paper to dust as the words disappear, as in the pieces Red Hat with Veil or Patterns of Abuse. Sometimes I work from the reverse side, and it’s not until turning it over that I see the effect of eliminating the inks, as in Erosion or Tessellation. Both are nontraditional drawing methods. Drawing with a pen or graphite is an additive process in which you see the results immediately. Instead, I use power tools as my stylus to create marks through a reductive process. There’s a third discovery made when I begin shuffling the gouged pages on top of each other and temporarily stacking them—sometimes five pages deep—and the excitement of a visually stimulating image emerges. On the website, it’s difficult to see the actual results in some series. In Frieze, Disorder and Erosion, I use quarter-inch spacers between each page. Not until the pages are finally glued in place does the excitement of what I’m seeing become real.

When doesn’t it work? When I think a found image is a good candidate, but the image doesn’t interact with the empty squiggles and hollow marks I grind into the paper. I’ve learned what works through trial and error. The buzz occurs when there’s a collaboration between the original image and my alterations; the two create a synergetic, revelatory spark that ignites an aha moment.

Modernism
2013
Altered book, collage
12" x 14 1/4"

OPP: My favorite series is Indicies (2002- ongoing). These abstractions evoke mountain ranges, ocean waves, EKG readings of the human heartbeat and EEG readings of brainwaves. I love that the process appears so cut—pardon my pun—and dry, but it produces such poetic results. Could you talk about the process of creating these pieces?



DB: Each piece in this series teaches me something new about how to put a line together and how to modulate the peaks and valleys. The book is sliced into strips, that are slightly fanned out on top of one another, creating a calligraphic gesture that appears to be a line doodle or scribble. After I configure the individual strips, I tape them together, creating a perpetual replay of the abstracted content and allowing the viewer to scan the entire book. For example, in Modernism and Pollock, the alternating currents reference both admiration for these artists and their falling out of favor at certain times then swinging back into adulation. Another reference is to the daily modulations of the stock market and precarious art investment in an unstable economy.

OPP: What are your thoughts on e-Readers?

DB: Fantastic! E-readers are convenient, hold a multitude of reading materials and are accessible with the click of a button. One day they may mostly supplant the paginated book—but not completely. There are too many readers who insist on physically turning the page. Who has heard of anyone passing on a dog-eared Kindle or reading the serendipitous hand-written notes in the margins? The choice to read using an electronic device or to turn the actual pages of a book are not mutually exclusive. Both technologies transmit an author’s words to an audience. We don’t have to choose between watching a film on a large screen in a movie theater and watching it on a TV or computer monitor. The experiences of viewing are different, but both are effective.

Right now I don’t use an e-reader, but their versatility excites me. Software programs allow the reader to interact with the published text or imagery, shrinking the gap between the reader and author. They become collaborators, whether the author likes it or not. I am working on a number of digital animations that will use a computer screen or iPad. But unless it’s a mixed media installation that requires that kind of technology, I’m sticking to the 'actual' book.

To view more of Doug's work, please visit dougbeube.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 in Adrian, Michigan and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Morgan Rosskopf

You And I Are Intertwined
2013
Mixed media drawing
50" x 55"

MORGAN ROSSKOPF combines free drawing, collage and intaglio printing in the creation of two-dimensional works that evoke the poignant tension between beauty and excess, desire and pain. The flat surfaces of her pieces appear to seethe with motion and emotion due to surprising juxtapositions and dramatic scale shifts between images representing American middle-class aspirations towards status and pleasure. Morgan graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BFA in Printmaking from Sonoma State University in 2010. She received her MFA from the University of Oregon in 2013 and was awarded the Philip Halley Johnson Schlorship in 2011. Her work has recently been included in Light Out at White Box Gallery, Speaking Between at Disjecta Gallery and A(muse) at LaVerne Krauss Gallery, all in Portland, Oregon. Morgan lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You describe yourself as "visual hunter-gatherer." Do you think about hunting and gathering as a subject in your work or just a method?

Morgan Rosskopf: Hunting and gathering images is both subject and method. Or perhaps the subject of my work is also fueled by its method. I believe that all my images already exist; I just have to find them and rearrange them. Accumulating images is not simply a process that leads to a final product. It is also a way of discovering what my work is about. It is mostly intuitive: I tear images I am attracted to out of magazines and then reflect on that attraction. Once I have an understanding of what I want my drawing to be about, I look for other images that speak to the drawing’s overarching idea, even if they are seemingly unrelated or tangential. Certain ideas push me to collect a large amount of a particular type of image, often leading to countless hours on Google or Bing. I typically end up with a mess of downloaded images on my desktop.

The images I ultimately use are always fragmented and removed of their original context. The way we see ourselves and the rest of the world is comprised of a multitude of images. I see myself and my work as an accumulation of ideas and experiences. I am especially interested in how our inevitable accumulation of everything leads to paradox and internal conflict. My completed drawings are composed portraits of psychological states, each fragmented image contributing something to the larger, interwoven chains of meaning.

2013
Mixed media on paper
60" x 34"

OPP: Could you talk about the tension between beauty, desire and the "conventional middle class aspirations and feelings of internal dissonance" that inspire your work?

MR: Desire is this underlying force that shapes how we see and experience beauty, as well as the ideas that conflict with it or cause feelings of tension. Desire isn’t just something we feel, but it is also a form of self-expression. Fulfilling our desires can range from choosing what we eat for breakfast to what car we feel adequately reflects our sensibilities. Middle-class aspiration is such a strong, governing force on our desires. Middle-class aspirations are advertised to us everywhere, and the pressure to achieve status can be crippling. More so, many middle-class conventions are superficial and devoid of meaning. Despite my criticism and longing for alternatives, part of me still wishes to uphold these middle-class values.

Beauty gets wrapped up in this issue because we are obsessed with achieving it. When our expectations of beauty do not align with those of popular middle-class culture, feelings of dissonance start to grow. Even though we live in a postmodern culture where freedom of self-expression is our supposed mantra, that middle-class convention maintains a strong presence, complicating our personal desires.

I am interested in beauty that is strange, confrontational or kitschy. While I admittedly feel juvenile, my inspiration comes from rebelling against these conventions while I search for something that feels more genuine. For the most part, we all share similar ideas of what beauty is, regardless of class. However, I think it is important for us to question our ideas of beauty because they have become predictable and one-dimensional. Sometimes the role of beauty in popular culture is merely to denote that something fits into our paradigm of thought. The word beauty used to be reserved for things that were awe-inspiring, even slightly terrifying or unhinging. While I am not arguing that beauty needs always to be attached to the sublime, I do feel that pushing the boundaries of beauty is important. Doing this might never relieve feelings of dissonance, but it might provide a new and more satisfying way to experience beauty and fulfill our desires.

Caution Isn't Ours
2013
Mixed media on paper and frosted mylar
24" x 30"

OPP: There's a lot of interplay between literal and figurative meanings of the images you use in your drawings and collages. Do you always know consciously why you are putting images together, or do you get surprised in the process?

MR: My drawing process is largely intuitive, but I have to be smart about it. My method is based in collage and requires that I edit myself all the time, as my exposure and interest in images is overwhelming. It is easy for me to get carried away or to let my drawings wander conceptually. I have found that, if I limit myself to a few different symbols for each drawing, I have a little more control over what the image says. Though I try to exercise some control over my imagery, meaning will just suddenly show up. It often surprises me. Collage is a great tool for these types of moments because I can easily continue to expand on this new meaning or simply cover it up. Because I try to limit my signifiers, I rely on formal elements, such as color and quality of line, to harness these surprises. Black sumi ink is one of my favorite tools to create formal cohesion between disparate signifiers; silhouetting repeated images or interjecting a new one not only provides heightened contrast and visual variation, but it also evokes conceptual contrast. I have also found that there are a few constant symbols in my work, such as the cigarette, hair or roses, that make it into the drawings no matter what. They become superfluous and foundational at the same time, and I really like that juxtaposition. How many other superfluous things are in our lives that we just cannot live without?

Juxtaposition and paradox are the main conceptual forces in my work. I am particularly interested in the experience of cognitive dissonance: anxiety caused by holding two conflicting beliefs at the same time. Resolving cognitive dissonance requires that we let go of one conflicting belief or figure out a way to mediate the two. Juxtaposition is a natural way to visually represent such abstract feelings, as well as a way to explore where this conflict arises from or possible ways to find resolution. This is my favorite part of drawing because it lets me meditate on totally outlandish possibilities. I create strange metaphors, or indulge in my most exaggerated and melodramatic ideas as way to interrogate the complex actuality of our psyches. I enjoy conflating images as a way to make sarcastic jokes, probe delicate subjects or to make myself vulnerable to the viewer. There are moments where I let the drawings expand out of control and others where I maintain a more regimented process, mirroring the ebb and flow of our own internal dialogues.

The literal and figurative interplay of images is where all the fun stuff happens. For a long time I was nervous about my work being too easy to read, so I made vague references and tried too hard to muddy up my intent and meaning. Because collage creates a type of schizophrenia in the work, I realized that muddled meaning happened naturally. I was working against myself and my methodology by attempting to be vague or mysterious. Choosing to highlight the literal meaning of many images allowed juxtaposition and relationships between symbols to happen faster. It has enabled me to be more confrontational in my work.

Shorty Wanna Be A Thug
2013
Mixed media on paper
40" x 50"

OPP: Could you pick your favorite piece and tell us how you understand some of the juxtapositions?

MR: Shorty Wanna Be A Thug is probably the best example of literal interplay between images. I wanted to address the pain that comes along with desiring excess. Literally, this drawing pokes fun at the stomachache that follows a decadent dinner; it's our punishment for indulging in too much boozy and buttery goodness. Metaphorically, I was also interested in the psychological stress that often manifests as physical pain and seems to follow from a hedonistic and materialistic life. I spend a lot of time observing how the “good life” brings about a lot of internal conflict, both psychological and physical. I chose to address these ideas by conflating components of a lobster dinner with images of ulcers, bones and fatty tissue, chaotically and beautifully intertwined. Juxtaposition of images and meaning is my attempt at understanding our cultural and personal expectations. The act of juxtaposition not only posits one meaning with a counterpart, but also opens both up to the beautiful grey area that exists between their extremes. Derrida might call this différance, but I see it more as an acceptance of the reality we chose to make for ourselves.

OPP: You've recently received your MFA in Printmaking (June 2013) from the University of Oregon. How did your work change while you were in graduate school?

MR: In graduate school, the foundational ideas of my work did not change, but the way I executed them did. I have always been interested in the complex and often muddy nature of the psyche. My time in graduate school allowed me to investigate what that meant to me. I got to spend three years reading psychology and philosophy and indulging in all of my intellectual and creative interests. As a result, my ideas were clarified and complicated at the same time. My imagery became more specific, but it was also fragmented. I started drawing realistically, but with the intent to create something totally abstract.

Crystal Candy Mountain
2013
Mixed media on paper
36" x 36"

OPP: How have the first few months out been for you? What's next?

MR: Now that school is over, I have to keep pushing myself. My urge to create is always present, but it is easy to fall back on things I have made in the past, instead of looking forward into new territory. Immediately after school ended, I was commission by a public defense office up in Idaho to make a drawing that was inspired by one of their cases. This case in particular involved a baby that was exposed to so much methamphetamine that it was supposedly growing meth crystals on its skin! When I heard this story, I was immediately inspired by the images that were manifesting in my head. Even though I was overflowing with ideas, I felt the subject matter was so sensitive that I had to be careful with my imagery. Crystal Candy Mountain is the piece that came out of this commission. I was aiming to make something strangely innocent, grotesque and cracked out, and I think it worked. Sometimes making work for school has the ability to validate its “goodness,” and I am spending a lot of time fighting that. I can make good work outside of school.

Right now, I am interested in some vile imagery. I have been listening to a lot of hip-hop, and I admire how grotesque a lot of the lyrics are. When I am listening to these songs in my car, I often ask myself why I am not drawing images that parallel some of the grit and horrifying things these young rappers are talking about. The metaphors they use are so beautiful and confrontational, which is what I am about. Even though I find it incredibly difficult, I think it feels good to draw yucky things.

To see more of Morgan's work, please visit morganrosskopf.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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adriean Koleric


Viper Sisters and The House of The Holy!!!!
2012

Using digital and handmade techniques, ADRIEAN KOLERIC assembles collages from 1950s publications like Mechanix Illustrated and Life, Action Comics from the 1970s, and images of romantic landscapes and Nicholas Cage's head culled from the Internet. His collages are fantasy landscapes that offer an escape from hum-drum reality. Adriean is interested in democratic modes of disseminating art, including Flickr, Tumblr and street art. His most recent collage series, The Viper Sisters and The Sinister Reasoning of Abstracta!!!!, is available for purchase as at Blurb.com, an online, self-publishing platform. He has just completed his first album cover for the Edmonton-based, electronic band Zebra Pulse. Adriean lives and works in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Who are the Viper Sisters!!!!? How did the series of collages begin?

Adriean Koleric: The Viper Sisters!!!! came about around Christmas of 2012. I was pretty burnt out at the time and kept having this urge to work on a series of collages that were more scaled down than what I had been doing. I was after a somewhat punk vibe. I came up with the name first. I wanted a name that could easily have been a band’s name in the early punk movements of the 70’s. I jotted down the name The Viper Sisters!!!! and rattled off the first of 60-plus panels in minutes. It was like a three-chord composition. The three chords were character, landscape and accessory. In all honesty, this was supposed to be a one-off joke series for me to giggle about to myself. But it was pretty addictive, especially with the convoluted, Smiths-esque titles. They only enhance the experience and humor for me.

I used a number of social media outlets when posting the Sisters series. The interest especially began to grow on Flickr. From there, they began to pop up on Tumblr sites, blogs, etc. I received a lot of comments asking where the sisters were going next, who exactly are they represented, why they carried the head of Nicolas Cage. As the series progressed, people began to follow each panel as though each one was a continuation of the last. But in reality, it was one battle scene of destruction after another. These are awful characters who have no respect for life. They don’t experience remorse. Yet, somehow, viewers connected with them. I’m guessing it comes down to the escapist avenue they provide from our daily grind. It was a loose series for me that, of all the work I’ve done, reached the most people. Several galleries even approached me to show the pieces which still makes me chuckle a bit.



Viper Sisters and The Valley of Mercer!!!!
2013

OPP: Did you turn them down? Are you more interested in disseminating work through the internet than through the gallery system?

AK: I did accept one of the gallery shows. If I’m asked, then that shows me there’s genuine interest in the work. But I hate the process of writing proposals—nine times out of 10 they are full of shit—just to appease a selection committee. Plus I can’t stand meetings, especially art-related ones. They go nowhere and are boring as hell. If I wanted a life like that, I’d have been an accountant.

I’m more interested in producing, putting it out there and moving on. If someone wants to sit there and dismantle my work, then have at it. Once it’s posted, it’s no longer mine.

OPP: You've worked in both digital and cut-paste collage. Can you talk about the differences in these methods?


AK: For me, digital is a helluva lot easier in terms of throwing a composition together. The ability to adjust the scale and tone of images and to duplicate individual components makes it more controllable than traditional cut-paste. The process is always easier, but it’s harder to walk away from the piece at the end. I just want to keep fiddling with add-ons, layers, etc. Cut-paste is a much slower and more involved process. I develop more of a relationship with the piece because I spend the majority of time flipping through pages, cutting, tossing, ripping . . . crying. I have an idea in my head, and then I have to treasure-hunt for the clippings that will help me achieve the vision. I’m always relying on the hope that I will come across that magical image which will take me to my rainbow land. It’s a damn lottery most of the time! I also find it more satisfying at the end because I am physically holding the finished product in my hands as opposed to messing about with a printer. It makes the hassle worth it.

Untitled 26, from The Life and Times of B.Sherman
2010 Digital collage

OPP: In another creative life, you were a furniture designer. What made you shift from the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional?

AK: My last furniture piece was a lamp called MONSTER. This piece was specifically designed to cater to the designer toy community and it looked like an over-sized toy with an "eye" for a lens and clean surfaces that could be a platform for artists to interpret as they saw fit. I wanted to create a vehicle that would allow me to collaborate with artists that I had been following at the time. So once I hooked up with guys like Chad Kouri and Motomichi Nakamura, the two-dimensional bug hit me hard—especially collage, a medium I hadn’t touched since I was a teen. I literally dropped all interest in furniture design and haven’t gone back since. That was eight years ago.

OPP: What kinds of collage did you make as a teenager?

AK: My collages back then were pretty crude. They were mostly made up of content from magazines I got in movie theaters as well as old Action Comics. I was fascinated by Superman, who was the primary character used in these collages. In most cases, he was in a dialogue with other popular icons of the day, including RoboCop, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from Commando and Stallone. It was very teenage boy-masculine. The dialogue was awful. Arguments over chocolate milk were about as intelligent as it got.

OPP: How does your training in design influence your collage work?

AK: It makes me focus more on aesthetics rather than concept. The latter has never been a priority for me and always has a danger of skewing the viewers' perceptions. I want viewers to think for themselves. Ever ask a writer to draw out his/her book in order to explain it to you? Sounds silly doesn’t it?

Untitled 55, from America
2010
Digital collage

OPP: Clearly, you are a Star Wars fan, as evidenced by your 2009 solo show Herd, featuring an army of modified and decorated imperial walkers, your series Star Wars Galaxy 5 TOPPS (2010), and all the TIE fighters, X-Wing fighters and storm troopers that populate your collages. Is fandom an important part of your work?

AK: The funny thing is that I’m not that big of a Star Wars fan. I don’t even own a single DVD copy!!

OPP: Wow! I’m actually shocked. I was certain you were a fan. What is it about Star Wars that makes it come up over and over again in your work? How much are you counting on the viewer to recognize these iconic images?

AK: For me it was all about the iconic imagery that I wanted to reinterpret. I liked the idea of taking a well-known image and making viewers look at it in a completely different way. It’s also a way to draw in viewers by providing a sense of familiarity. They recognize a few items, feel comfortable enough to enter, but then realize they are in another place. From there, I hope the thought process shifts and sheds a new light on what was once old and true to them. 


Modern Hopeful #3
2012
Paper on Plywood
8" x 12"

OPP: Talk about the recurring visual motif of absent human heads. Sometimes the heads are replaced with with cameras, boxes, furniture, and other times, the figures are simply headless or the faces are erased. There are a lot of examples in your Sketch Card Set (2012) and in your series Paper vs. Wood (2011-13). In The Life and Times of B.Sherman (2009-2011), the heads are mostly replaced with pieces of furniture you yourself designed and parts of machines that I don't recognize. How do you think about these replacement "heads"?

AK: It really started with the B.Sherman series. I wanted to somehow preserve the work I did as a furniture designer. B.Sherman is my direct connection to my furniture design past. His ‘head’ is actually the very first piece I designed. At the time it was called "Sherman" but was later renamed "Bento." I had a string of attachments to the piece and wanted to somehow keep it alive in my work. It was a way of creating a self-portrait, and it allowed me to travel through each piece. It sounds hokey, but it really is about escapism for me. We all want that moment to change our heads and just go elsewhere for awhile.

OPP: Escapism generally has a negative connotation, as if it is solely a function of a character flaw in people who have no sense of reality or no skills at dealing with the real world. But I see it more as continuum of healthy and unhealthy behaviors. The desire to escape is a natural human impulse that we all experience at one time or another. In fact, I think fine art is as much a part of the escapism continuum as mass-media culture. What do you think?

AK: For me, art is entertainment. Entertainment is there to take us away from the daily bull. That is escapism. Well to me it is. Anyone who thinks escapism has a negative connotation is either a liar or the most dry person out there. We need to recharge ourselves every now and then. I like the idea that right now, some guy in his cubicle is reading this interview and checking out my stuff. I’ve given him a moment in his 9-5 drab day to loosen up. I, myself, have the skills to deal with the real world, but, man, there are days when I could care less.

To view more of Adriean's work, please visit thinkitem.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 mass media culture 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 she received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago.Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Libby Barbee

Incidental Interference
2012
Collage on paper

LIBBY BARBEE's colorful collages and interactive sculptures address the construction of landscape and the frontier myth of the American West with a nuanced attention to the psychological and cultural implications of place. She received her MFA from the Maryland Institute Collage of Art in 2011, and was recently an artist-in-residence at Platte Forum (Denver, Colorado). In September 2013, Barbee will present a site-specific installation at Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, Maryland. Libby lives and works in La Veta, Colorado. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do you find compelling about Colorado? How has this place affected your work?



Libby Barbee: You know, it is really kind of strange. I grew up in a very small rural town on the southeastern plains of Colorado, but it was not one of the beautiful, mountainous areas that people often think of when they imagine this state. I always spent a lot of time outdoors. From the time I was a kid, I loved science and everything creepy or crawly. But as an adult, I never really thought of myself as an “outdoors” person and never felt particularly tied to the landscape of the American West. Before relocating to Baltimore for graduate school, I had been working for a couple of years on a series of paintings about gender and domestic spaces. My work at that time was still concerned with place, but it was more figurative and all about culture. Having grown up in the land of horrible landscape art, landscapes were pretty much the last thing in the world that I was interested in painting.

When I started graduate school, I fell into a serious creative slump. I no longer felt connected to what I was exploring in my studio practice. Even worse, I felt completely disoriented and claustrophobic on the East Coast. I had spent all of my life in a place where you could just look out and see for hundreds of miles in any direction. Suddenly I was in a landscape where I was totally dwarfed amongst all of the people, buildings and trees. It was just suffocating; I was dying to escape the place. On top of it all, I was experiencing some serious culture shock. I still maintain that people are people no matter where you are, but there are some very real differences between the attitudes and perspectives of East Coasters and West Coasters. It took some adjusting to.

Untitled
2009
Collage and charcoal on paper

OPP: How did your work change then?

LB: I somehow started making these charcoal drawings of this nude figure wearing a coyote hood. There wasn’t really any indication of the landscape in the drawings, but they had everything to do with this figure interacting with an imagined space. The figure’s placement and posture was very performative, almost as if it were performing a ritual or dance. Eventually these small drawings led to a large artwork that developed along one wall of my studio. It started as another of these charcoal drawings—the coyote-hooded figure carrying a grain mill on its back. I was at a point where this whole endeavor needed a push, and I began to add a rocky mountain ridge to the composition. I just kept adding page after page of paper until the drawing filled the whole wall. It was from this drawing that the idea of collage emerged. I had printed off some images of rock faces as a reference, but I got impatient. To speed up the process, I started cutting them up and taping them to the paper surface.

By the time I was finished with this giant drawing/collage, everything that I had been thinking about, experimenting with and biting my nails over just began to gel. I started to become consciously aware of the importance of the Western landscape and all of its cultural baggage in the fabric of my reality. I was able to contextualize my connection to the West and began to understand the activity of drawing these charcoal figures—which before had seemed unconnected and inconsequential—as a performative act of re-establishing my place in and perspective on the world. The figures quickly fell away in my work, and the landscape became the central actor. I also became more and more cognizant of and interested in the role of the mythic West in the larger American cultural consciousness. Before going to the East Coast, I don’t think that I had really ever completely understood the enormity of the importance of that particular landscape and the symbolism that it holds as the essence of American-ness. It has been interesting for me to see how my explorations have grown organically from something very personal to encompass these larger spheres that are progressively more universal.

I have been back in Colorado for about a year and half. Now I do live in one of those beautiful mountainous spots—a cute little town nestled below the Spanish Peaks of southern Colorado. We have small herds of deer that live in town and sleep in our front yard, and on cold mornings after a light snow, the sun sets the mountain aglow in a manner so brilliant you really begin to wonder if it isn’t nature’s attempt to imitate Thomas Kinkade. It has all of the makings for horrible landscape paintings.

The ranchers and old hippies here are left over from the communes that brought in artists from New York in the 1970s with the possibility of “dropping out.”  It's the same desire, of course, that attracted the ranchers and the cowboys before them, and the miners and the trappers, and—going all the way back to the beginning of the American Frontier—the pilgrims. All of them had the hope of trying it all anew, wiping the slate clean in a place unencumbered by culture, undirtied by human rules, hierarchies and restraints. It’s all a farce, of course. There is not much free or natural or unconstrained left about this place. It is all broken up, parceled out and divided by property lines, fences and water rights. The forests are managed by logging and fire, and the parks get new trails every year. But it really is a beautiful illusion.

Reimagining Bierstadt: Rocky Mountains (detail)
2012
Collage on paper
40" x 58 1/2"

OPP: How is the Colorado art scene different from the Baltimore art scene?



LB: Baltimore is so full of energy. There is a really strong DIY attitude in Baltimore, and people just make things happen. You might go to see an ad hoc exhibition in someone’s living room one night, and the next night, you can see the same artists’ work in an exhibition at the Maryland Art Place or another well-established art venue. There are so many unoccupied buildings in the city that it is really easy for artists to find communal living spaces, studio spaces and spaces for all sorts of exciting exhibitions, performances and other forms of exchange. The whole scene is more about experimentation and the exchange of ideas than about sales or status. There is a lot of support for emerging artists.

The Colorado art scene is, of course, much smaller and more diffuse. I live in a very rural spot about three hours from Denver, so I am pretty isolated from any contemporary art scene. Usually when I tell people that I am an artist, I get some answer like: “Oh, you are?!!! Well, you should meet my neighbor Larry. He makes just the neatest sculptures of sunflowers and animals out of old tractor parts. You would just love them!” And, in all honesty, I really kind of do love them.

I spent two months in Denver last spring doing a residency at a wonderful arts organization called Platte Forum. I had lived in northern Colorado for about eight years during and immediately following my undergraduate studies at Colorado State University, and this was the first time that I had spent much time in the Denver area since leaving Fort Collins in 2008. I had the opportunity to get a better feel for everything that is going on there, and I honestly was quite shocked. I met so many artists who are doing really interesting things, and there are a growing number of organizations, residencies and venues that support contemporary art and emerging artists. I have always believed that you can tell the health of an art ecosystem by the amount of support that is shown for emerging artists. If all of the artwork is being shipped in from other places or you just see the same artists over and over again, you know that the system is unhealthy. I think that Denver is on the move and heading in a great direction. As soon as I am finished being a hermit in the mountains, I think that I will head there. 

The Harvest of Particles
2011
Collage and guache on paper
15" x 21"

OPP: I'd love to hear more about the creation of colorful landscape collages like Reimagining Bierstadt: Rocky Mountains (2012) and The Harvest of Particles (2011), which involve both collage and painting. Could you explain your collage process? Do you plan your compositions in advance?



LB: A lot of my work begins with reading. I love to read about science and natural history; certain ideas just catch my attention. I’ll start out with a general concept or even a catch phrase and get to Googling. My husband swears that I am a research addict. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without books and the Internet. I allow myself to be pulled along by the research, often discovering connections between ideas I never would have imagined fitting together. The collages are about synthesizing all this disparate information. 

Sometimes I do plan my compositions in advance (it is the smart thing to do, after all), but I am impatient. More often, I find a few images that fit the idea that I am after and that somehow have a life of their own. They become sort of like actors on a stage, and they often dictate the direction of the composition. It is weird, because sometimes I will completely eliminate them in the end, but the resulting composition could never have been created without them.

As I start constructing the collage, I go through this whole back and forth process of finding images and creating paint swatches. The painting is great, because it is mindless and cathartic, and I can really concentrate on the audiobook that I am listening to. I drip and swirl and puddle it until I have a nice big stack of painted paper that I can cut from. Then, I try to match the printed images with the painted swatches, and when I can’t do that, I fiddle with Photoshop (which I hate) until something works. Once I am fed up with Photoshop, I go back to puddling and swirling. Amidst all this back-and-forth, are long hours of cutting stuff out with Exacto knives and gluing. Eventually it all just works itself out. It is a stupid process really, and sometimes I hope that I figure out something better.

Collapse
2010
Collage, Paint
Detail

OPP: What are your sources for your collages? What is your collection process like?



LB: My collection process is really a hodgepodge of approaches, and I am sure it would seem like complete lunacy to anyone who walked into my studio and tried to make sense of it. Nevertheless, there is some twisted and confusing logic behind it all.

The process is constantly changing, and the rules of the game are different from piece to piece. Sometimes the process emerges out of necessity. I know that I need a certain color, texture, value, and I go out looking for that. More often, however, I set up parameters for myself: I only use images found by Googling a certain word, by searching a particular data base or by using images of only one particular place. I am obsessed with the US Geological Survey, and I can spend hours looking through images on the organization’s website. I am constantly looking for new ways of picturing the world, and I keep hundreds of photos saved on my computer in folders with names like piebald deer and icebergs.

OPP: How is the process of collage itself connected to your ideas about the American wilderness?

LB: We imagine nature to be pure, unchanging, timeless. Most importantly, we often define nature as an absence of human intervention. We see the human and natural worlds as distinctly separate. This has been historically important in a nation whose identity depends on the idea of the untouched/uncivilized landscape as the mechanism for political and spiritual purification and the creation of a stronger, better, freer nation.

But, in reality, “nature” and “wilderness” are cultural fabrications. Yellowstone National Park, for instance, is a beacon of American wilderness. And yet, its plants, animals and geology have been utilized and manipulated by humans for thousands of years. We identify national parks as “natural” spaces, but a lot of effort goes into maintaining them. They are an attempt to reconstruct a pure and unchanging state that never really existed.  

Collage is essentially the construction of cohesive images out of very incoherent parts. I set out to deconstruct images of landscape in order to reconstruct them in a new light. In one of the first works, I used photos of landfills, feed lots and parking lots to create rock faces. In another painting, I used one aerial photograph repeated over and over again to create a panoramic view of rolling hills and plains. I hope that viewers will move from the cohesive image to the incoherent parts and begin to think about the facts that are overlooked in their perceptions of the idealized American landscape.

 To see more of Libby's work, please visit libbybarbee.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).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dan Schank

Top Model
2011
Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
16" by 20"

DAN SCHANK's mixed media works combine painting, drawing and collage to reveal a desolate post-apocalyptic, but surprisingly decorative landscape. He uses aesthetics to balance a tendency to see only doom in his world of ruins, asking the viewer to also note the triumph of nature as it wins its territory back from civilization. His newest series Dropouts will be at Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art in Philadelphia from September 13th through October 20th, 2012. Dan Schank lives in Erie, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Please tell us about the process of making your collage, paintings and drawings on board. How much is cutting? How much is painting? Does one part come before the other?

Dan Schank: For about seven years, I've worked exclusively with cut paper on panel. Almost all of the painting is done on small sheets of paper (usually with gouache, pencil and India ink), which are later cut according to my specifications and adhered to the board's surface. Generally, at least two-thirds of the overall labor is done before I begin attaching things to the panels. The painting process takes the vast majority of my time, because the imagery is almost always repetitive and highly detailed. Cutting things out is time consuming as well, for the same reasons. On the other hand, the process usually comes to life for me when I finally get to arrange all the bits and apply them to the surface. This stage is the most intuitive, risky, and rewarding, despite taking the least amount of time.
Wrap It Up
2009
Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
12" by 12"

OPP: What's most interesting about your work for me is the juxtaposition of the decorative with the post-apocalyptic. Your work is filled with walled-in, fortified dwellings that are partly built on old clothes and blankets and cushions. There's a lot of push and pull between soft and hard, protection and comfort. But the decorative elements don't only come from decorative objects. Sometimes the smoke, clouds and fire are patterned as well, as in Broken Eggs for Breakfast (2008). How do aesthetics, like pattern, color and flatness, relate to your subject matter?

DS: There are a number of potential problems I encounter while working with apocalyptic imagery. For example, any time I aestheticize an image of social unrest, I run the risk of treating real-world inequality as something titillating and exotic. There's been an interesting conversation about this issue surrounding the rise of “ruin porn” photographyand the emergence of Detroit as the photographic emblem of contemporary squalor. At their worst, these images can supplement a growing fatalism about shared social spaces in America. When the visuals are too bogged down in death and decline, it becomes hard to recognize any need for social responsibility or potential for transformation. Many of the contradictions you've noted in your question (soft/hard, decorative/disturbing, etc.) are, in a sense, my attempt to transform my own ruinous imagery into something less distant and more intimate.

My work is in large part a response to the physical landscape that surrounds me. For example, in the part of Philadelphia I lived in for nine years (Fishtown), gentrification produces as much waste as decay or neglect. In that part of town, old row homes are constantly being destroyed, dismantled or upgraded. These transformations produce plenty of discarded remains, and often make class distinctions in the neighborhood (which is an oil-and-water mix of working class families and aging hipsters like myself) explicitly visible. In Fishtown, ultra-modern, eco-friendly condominiums sit wedged between corner stores and boarded up buildings. It's not simply a landscape of desolation or abandonmentit's also a world of scaffolds, plywood and endless construction. Innovation, inequality, commerce and counterculture coexist simultaneously. I have conflicting feelings about this, some positive and some negative. Hopefully my approach to aesthetics reflects my uncertainty.

Something that I think has been a bit lacking in the critical response to “ruin porn” is a real engagement with its depiction of the non-man-made world. When I look at the “feral houses” of photographer James D. Griffioen, for example, I don't immediately lament the “death of an American city” or whatever. Instead, I marvel at the ability of the natural world to reclaim human spaces. The images are, in a sense, full of life. It's just plant life instead of human life. Obviously, there's a danger here of reducing real social conditions to the sublimeif I lived beside one of Griffioen's specimens, I'm sure my aesthetic admiration for them would wear out quickly. Still, I really respond to his concept of natureas something resilient, invasive, wild, and unwarranted. It's like “the return of the repressed” applied to botany. By decentralizing the human fingerprint, Griffioen's images force me to reconsider my place in the world's ecology, as well as my presumed hegemony over it as a member of the human race.

My paintings are obviously and intentionally apocalyptic. But my work isn't only a response to urban decay. It's also a response to human innovation, “natural world” innovation, and my own weirdo anxieties. Its apocalyptic bombast is always tempered by the intimate circumstances of my everyday life. I think this is where the softness you recognize in the paintings fits in. I'm not interested in rendering some icy culture-in-decline. I've lived a life of considerable privilege and that's not my reality.
Be Quiet
2006
mixed media: colored pencil, gouache and paper collage on board
18" by 24"

OPP: These landscapes are completely unpeopled. In some pieces, it seems that the shirts and ties and blocks are just remnants of a dead civilization. But in others, like What's Next (2010), houseplants and smoke coming from the chimney makes me think that people have survived. Are there people inside the dwellings you draw? Do you have stories for them?

DS: For me, it's more about rendering a universe than telling a story. There are no linear narratives hidden within my paintings, but I like to think they all take place in the same world. The artists who influence me most – like the painter Philip Guston or the filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liangtend to produce work that exists within its own evolving, idiosyncratic (yet clearly defined) universe as well.

I definitely don't look at my landscapes as remnants of a dead civilization for reasons listed above. But I do avoid depicting people directly. There are a number of reasons for this. One is a matter of scale. I love playing with different concepts of spaceperspectival space, decorative space, isometric space, and so onand this makes proportional scale difficult to comprehend. I like this uncertainty, and I fear that if I added a recognizable figure to my ingredients, the other imagery would automatically organize itself around it. In any landscape painting, it's always tempting to imagine oneself inhabiting the space depicted. I like the idea of someone looking at my work and having to really think through how (and where) that might be possible.

I also try to bestow as much personality as possible onto the objects I depict. In a sense, I think of the “stuff” in my work (potted plants, laundry, deck chairs, etc.) as figures. When I was a kid, I always loved the fantasy of my belongings coming to life. This might sound sentimental, but I try to retain a bit of that spirit as an adult. When I think of objects having, let's say, a lifelike significance, it becomes harder to ignore them, discard them or take them for granted. I guess I want to live in a world where people are more eager to notice things in general. By denying the easy empathy of a face or body , I try to encourage more active engagement.
Public Relations
2011
Mixed media: pencil, gouache, watercolor, india ink and paper collage on board
30" by 40"

OPP: Your style evokes the flatness of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. Is that an influence for you?

DS: When I first started seriously painting, a lot of my imagery was coming much more directly from a Pop Art aesthetic. By the time I got to grad school, my work was becoming much less of a response to pop culture, and I began looking for a different approach. One thing I've retained from my early days is an interest in drawing, line-work, and gesture. I struggled to find a way to renew the drawing flourishes I'd developed through comic book imagery and the like, while distancing myself from the ironic trappings that can come from it. The Ukiyo-e printmaking tradition is something I turned to to sort this all out. There's a disciplined elegance to the draftsmanship that I really admire, as well as a flat-but-panoramic sense of space that helps me to organize my imagery.

I don't want to make too much of this, though. Ukiyo-e printmaking isn't something I've studied in great detail intellectually. And I certainly don't want my work to be seen as any critique of its ideology. But it's absolutely a style and practice I admire greatly. In fact, answering this question reminds me that I should devote more time to reading up on it!
Ride Lonesome
2012
Mixed media: pencil, gouache and paper collage on board
24" by 30"

OPP: Speaking of floating worlds, tell us about your newest series Dropouts.

DS: This will be my second solo show with Rebekah Templeton. They've always been very gracious and open-minded about my ideas, so I decided to try something more thematically unified than usual for the exhibition. In a nutshell, the paintings in Dropouts all respond to utopian sea colonization projects. I'll try my best to summarize the admittedly (gleefully?) convoluted concept behind it...

I got the idea for the series after reading an essay by the documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis, someone whose work and ideas I really admire. In it, Curtis tells the story of Knut Kloster, the co-founder of Norwegian Cruise lines. Kloster was apparently an extremely idealistic person who thought he could use his cruise ships as a way to introduce affluent communities to the third world, thus showcasing a more benevolent version of capitalism in the process. In Curtis' assessment, this proved disastrous, and the cruise ship industry slowly evolved in favor of the hedonism and escapism that defines it today, for better or worse.

The essay got me thinking of the “cruise ship at sea” as an updated (and extremely sanitized) variation on the  fantasy of the Western frontier. Frontier fantasies also tend to lurk beneath a lot of apocalyptic narratives. The romance behind both seems connected to the Hollywood Western mythos and the concept of manifest destiny. In the cruise ship fantasy, the ocean becomes a sublime terrain for tourists to venture off into. Instead of heading west in search of gold, one heads toward the Caribbean in search of rest and relaxation. In the apocalyptic version, a nuclear explosion or zombie epidemic transforms local space into a danger zone of potential catastrophe, thus rendering the familiar unfamiliar and promising foreboding, nomadic adventures of the kind John Wayne endures in Stagecoach.

These ideas sent me off on a week-long googling adventure, in search of anything and everything about utopias-at-sea. Eventually my cyber-sleuthing lead to more recent organizations like the Seasteading Institute, which takes the frontier fantasy a step further. At the Seasteading Institute, a group of libertarians and “anarcho-capitalists” (funded in part by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal) are attempting to literally construct inhabitable islands in the ocean to escape the confines of government regulation. There's been a lot of press about the idea of “seasteading” recently, most of it taking its practitioners to task for being ridiculous (which is fair enough, in my opinion). But I also see seasteading as a perverse end game to the rise of extreme individualism that's occurred during my lifetime. These projects are like bizarro-world hippie communes, where all notions of social justice have been weeded out in favor of absolute self interest. Humankind becomes quite literally “an island unto itself.” As anti-establishment outposts, they're a far cry from the “property is theft” model of the 60's and 70's. Their utopia is my dystopia, I guess. Seasteading is emblematic of what I see as a growing inability to imagine social relations as something distinct from market relations.
In the Dropouts project, I've been combining some of the imagery pertaining to these utopian architectural models with my usual iconography. I'm also thinking a lot about the romance of the sea and its often melodramatic history in paintingthrough the imagery of the shipwreck, for example. It's been challenging to begin with source materials that are still, for the most part, an imagined ideal or fantasy. As I type this, with the exception of anomalies like the long-gone Republic of Minerva, no actual seasteads have been established. So the project stresses the fantasy element to a greater degree, and is more explicitly dystopic. For years, I've been painting ambiguously animate ruins of one kind or another. This time I'm beginning with ideological ruins in need of greater rehabilitation than usual.  

To see more of Dan's work, please visit danschank.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eric Huebsch

Mt. Elephant
2008
Mixed Media
24 x 20 x 12 in.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In drawings like Watch What You Say Cause… (2006), The Abject of Man's Gaze (2009), and I Know What You Said (2005), you use an interesting diagonal composition which creates a sense of one thing leading to the next, but the juxtapositions and the scale discrepancies are sometimes nonsensical. The same composition can also be seen in some of your sculptures, such as Beastmaster (2006) and Mount Elephant (2008). What's it like to draw and build in this way? Do you start at one end and not know what will be at the other end?

Eric Huebsch: I really think in 3-D, I made the drawings first thinking they could become sculptures. As for ideas, I kinda have a vision and I see some details, but generally it never turns out how I first envisioned it. Also with those pieces, I like the puzzling challenge of putting it together and figuring out the composition. So the diagonal layout helps convey a certain depth in graphic quality of the pieces. A lot of those earlier works have a particular flatness to them and that style of drawing is somewhat akin to the drawings of a stoned teenage boy.
I Know What You Said
2005
Colored pencil and enamel marker on paper
44 x 30 in.

OPP: Your most recent work, Spit the Winkle, is a group of 40 collages which combine imagery from contemporary porn with older sources, possibly from the 40s and 50s, including weightlifting magazines, children's books and cartoons. Could you talk about the juxtaposition of sexuality and nostalgia?

EH: I was given this vintage scrapbook and decided to use it to create a story. I have lots of different types of source material that I have used for other 2-D pieces and thought I could create a entertaining story using the scraps of my source material. Most of the images have some sexual connotation, and I was thinking that people have been bonking forever and will continue to do so. It’s timeless really. Everything can be sexualized, even the most innocent thing.

OPP: Is that because sex is naturally embedded in everything all the time? Or because anything can be transformed into anything else? Is your intent to say something about the power of appropriation or about the power of sex?

EH: I believe that sex/reproduction is at our core. As primal as that sounds, I really think it is true. Generally speaking, people are pretty shy and conservative about sex, even though people in the entertainment industry (i.e. music, television, movies) and in advertising all use sexuality as the key component in some of their messages. Obviously, not everyone is reproducing, but everyone is still enjoying the act of sex.
 

Untitled
2010
Mixed media collage
14 x 11.5 inches

OPP: Can you talk specifically about the imagery of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear from the 1946 Disney musical Song of the South, which is notoriously considered racist and has never been available on DVD or home video in its entirety due to this controversy. How does this history of your source material contribute to what you are trying to say with the collages?

EH: It’s interesting, because it is somewhat generational. Some get it, some don’t. So it adds another layer for the folks that can make that reference. And if you don’t have that reference, you see it purely as imagery but with the question of where that found imagery came from. For the most part, I feel that I have decontextualized the imagery and appropriated it to create something new.  The imagery still teeters on the edge of what is and isn’t acceptable.

OPP:  Theoretically, can everything, even the most loaded material, be decontextualized?

EH: That’s a tricky one. I‘d like to think so. There are so many variables that can play into it: location, audience, etc. Nothing is absolute.

Keep Attacking the Body
(Anonymous #1)
2011
Ink, pencil, collaged elements
30 x 22 inches

OPP: In sculptures like Human Growth (2007) and The Oogie Boogie (2007), you seem to have an intense fondness for materials that appear to drip and ooze, evoking body fluids like semen and vomit, as well as tar and even melted flesh. Is that some kind of expanding foam insulation? How did you start working with this material?

EH: Well, in art school I initially worked in glass. I was drawn to the wet, syrupy, plastic-like feel and look of the material. In graduate school, I became a bit disillusioned with the material of glass because of its size and cost limitations. I started using materials like foam, epoxy, and fiber glass to try and achieve that illusion. Also, there is a bit of alchemy that happens when you work with two-part expandable foam. There is a finite amount of time when you can work with this stuff, and it really has a mind of its own. I find that there is a lot of beauty in those chaotic moments. The work just happens and you are just part of the catalyst. 

As a metaphor, I like playing with the excess of this stuff coming out of any and all orifices. There are times when we are so sick that we have to surrender to the intense moments. There is no grace when the body decides it needs to purge; those moments are involuntary.

Human Growth
2007
Mixed Media
47 x 22 x 17 in.

OPP: Your artist statement is on the sarcastic side. Is this your actual voice? What role does sarcasm play in your work in general?

EH: Yes. BIG.

OPP: Tell me a little about the Miscellaneous Muses section of your website. Are these found images and sculptures? In what ways do they inspire your work?

EH: So, the Miscellaneous Muses are my life.  I’ll find them, sometimes they’ll find me. They (the images) all have a story and they all make me smile in one way or another. I’ve been trying to collect life’s truths and life’s little inspirations, and these nuggets have kept me motivated and interested through the years. The search is everlasting and enduring. I put them on the website to share a little window into my world/brain with visitors.
To view more of Eric Huebsch’s work visit cockandoodle.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Tory Wright

Obsession, detail
2009
Cut plastic
30 inches x 40 inches

Other Peoples Pixels: Your most prevalent media is “cut duratrans” or “cut poster on paper.” Can you tell us more about your source material and about the process of cutting such detailed pieces? It appears to be precision work. Is there a lot of planning before you make the first cut?

Tory Wright: My day job is in retail as a visual merchandiser. So whenever a light box Duratrans or a fragrance poster was slated for the trash shoot, I would roll it up, tuck it under my arm, and take it on home to my studio instead. These posters and Duratrans prints were large versions of the magazine adds I had been altering before I had this job. The funny thing is the scale shifted to a larger format while the detail of the cuts became more intricate. I just dive in and start making cuts free hand with a standard X-Acto® blade. I usually start at a point of interest like the eyes of the model.

OPP: I’m interested in the recurring shape of the loop. What does the shape mean to you and how did it emerge in your work?

TW: The shapes in my work are based on the body. When I made paintings I would look at high fashion magazines and then translate those forms (the models themselves and the cuts of the clothing) into flat, biomorphic forms that had a distance from the source. In graduate school at MICA I had a shift in the relationship between the source material and the final work. Why not cut my forms and patterns directly into the source material? It was about surface beauty and alienation, so why not change the surface of the source material itself? The most obvious step is often  the hardest one to make.

Crimson and Clover Interior, detail
2011

OPP: Crimson and Clover (2011) seems to represent a shift in your practice from delicate and intimate gallery pieces to larger public art works. The piece is both a billboard and has an interior life in a gallery space. Can you tell me about how it was developed?

TW: Good Citizen in St. Louis is a great space. They have a billboard on top of the gallery and have programmed the use of it as well as the gallery space. I was so excited to have a solo show there. On top of that, to be able to have a billboard for two months was beyond what I could have hoped for. The billboard was where I started the work for the show. So in a way I worked from the roof down. The work is about transformation of a single image and a single face (Kate Moss). As I continued to work with the transformative qualities of this cut and copy methodology, I was able to see the possibility of where this new work could go.

Untitled Floor Piece, detail
2010
Cut collaged photocopies

OPP: Untitled Floor Piece (2010), an abstracted collage using repeating imagery of the Venus of Willendorf  is distinct from most of your work. Its source material is from Art History instead of advertising, and it uses a process of accumulation instead of a process of deletion, as most of your cut pieces do. Can you talk about these differences?

TW: Untitled Floor Piece-Venus was the second cut, copy, and accumulate piece that I was able to do in a gallery. The first was at The Front in New Orleans in 2010. For this project at Lump gallery in NC, I was encourage to take advantage of the freedom of treating the space as an extension of the studio. Being able to glue the work to the floor opened up new avenues that wouldn't have been possible in a more formalized gallery setting. There was both humor and social commentary in drawing a face on the art historical Venus and then setting up the installation for interaction with the audience. Well, the interaction was more like watching people stand on top of the cluster of Venuses regardless of how many people were at the show. It was definitely a good time with a healthy sense of humor about some important topics.

OPP: What kind of important topics?

TW: The use of the Venus was my way of working through the position of feminism in my work. Giving her a sort of blank face seemed to sum up a internal commentary I have with a feminist history. I wrestle with where I might fit in. I just took my thinking out of my studio and into the gallery, thanks to Lump Gallery and the encouragement of Bill Thelen. The majority of my work is I engaged with the altering of the female form. I edit images constructed by fashion photography into a new form of beauty: just as alluring, but now more powerful with the absence of the cliche.

Kate, Back in Black, #4
2011

OPP: What’s changed in the way you work over time?

TW: The work I make has gotten more labor intensive as I have challenged myself on how much information from the original image could be striped away without losing the sensuality of the original image. However, now the cut and copy work is about the  accumulation of all those choices made in my past work. Now I just need another opportunity to push the installation of the work into a total environment.

OPP: What project are you most excited about right now?

TW:  I am really into a collaborative project I have with Lydia Moyer. Hateful is a zine and blog were we challenge each other by juxtaposing our separate aesthetics with images from artists we invite to participate. It has been a great avenue for approaching my work in new ways and pushing what I think my work is or should be.

To view more of Tory Wright’s work, visit torywright.com.