OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Pajon

Lady Lazarus
2011
Mixed Media Collage
6 x 9 inches

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your father immigrated to Chicago from Colombia, South America where he met your Irish Catholic mother on Chicago’s South Side. Reading your description of your experiences being “the product of the integration and movement of Chicago's populations, the artifacts that groups of people have left behind in the still identifiable ethnic neighborhoods, and the points where cultural identities have overlapped and melded” makes me curious about the relationship between the collages you make now and the art you may have made as a child. What did you like to draw while you were growing up?

Michael Pajon: When my Father was growing up in Colombia he told me about coming across American comic books and being fascinated with them. Even though he couldn't yet read in English he spent time with them redrawing the pictures.

I learned to draw very much the same way, reading and collecting comics as a kid the same way my Dad had.

I am still drawn to very graphic imagery like I was as a child. I remember drawing a lot of dinosaurs, airplanes, weird little cities with castles and skyscrapers. My imagination was a little scattered with ADD (attention deficit disorder) so I would often draw something into a picture that I might have seen on TV or in a movie we rented, and then sprinkle in a dinosaur or an exploding volcano. I distinctly remember drawing Spectre Man (sort of like Ultra Man) into coloring books and in the margins of other drawings as well as the Kit car from Knight Rider.  The only thing that I’ve gone back on to find interesting is that when drawing family members I used a dark brown crayon for my Dad a tan one for myself and my siblings and a pink crayon for my Mom. I wasn’t particularly aware of race at the time, but I was aware that my Dad was from some place far away.

A Century of Progress
2011 Mixed Media Collage
14-1/2 x 12 inches

OPP: You recently moved from Chicago to New Orleans. Has your move impacted your art practice?

MP: Yes, I have more time to focus on my work. The pace of living down here is much more relaxed than Chicago. There are new sites sounds smells and rhythms to get used to and become a part of. The city creeps into my work in various ways, particularly with this series of houses that I’ve been working on. I bike past empty run down homes every day, many of which will be lost to the elements rather than become a home to a person in need.  Those pieces are about the ghosts and memories that haunt those places.

OPP: Tell me about the artworld in New Orleans and your involvement in the community there.

MP: Upon arriving I began assisting my friend Meg Turner in creating a community printshop. A lot of blood sweat and tears went into getting our shit together, and then the plug was pulled as of January 2011—we lost our space. She and a few others have recently relaunched it, and I am hoping to be teaching the occasional etching class again. 

I have been part of a few group shows over the past year and a half, but most notably I was included in a larger exhibition of transplanted artists during Prospect 1.5 that ran from Nov 2010-Jan 2011.  The range of work ran from 2D to video and installation.

OPP: The materials you use in your collages range in date from the 1880's-1950's. What is your interest in this time period?

MP: I find that the imagery is unique and hard to find, but at the same time familiar.  Most likely you’ve seen something like it at a grandparents house or floating around a junk, thrift, or antique store. I hope that it will trigger a unique memory in the viewer. I tend to stay away from using things like Coca-Cola ads and the like for fear of coming off as kitschy.

OPP: You keep a blog accessible from your website. On it you post pieces from your Standard American Collage series as you finish them. You also post the found imagery you come across. Do some of the found images that appear on your blog also end up in your collages?

MP: Sometimes, though I tend to post things that are either too large to use or perhaps I find interesting as a piece of history or nostalgia, like my post of a Nelson Algren poem that I found in a 1940’s Esquire magazine. I don’t necessarily find it interesting as collage material, but I love it as something found in its original context.

OPP: How do you select the images and materials that you post on your blog and that appear in your collages?

MP: I have boxes and boxes of things to choose from. I typically sift through things from piece to piece making a kind of mental inventory of what I have. I work rather intuitively, so if something just hits me the right way and it seems to fit I’ll try to include it. 

The blog is simply another tool where I feel I can include people on the process of my art making and offer some of my personal interests as insight to that work.

Tighten the Screws, and Fear Not the Tigers Oath
2011 Mixed Media Collage
3 x 5 inches

OPP: Everything in your collage work is original and painstakingly cut by hand. What's the hardest part of your process in general?

MP: The hardest part is leaving out something that you love and was possibly very difficult to cut out, but doesn’t fit or ad anything to the dialogue of the piece.

OPP: You have worked as a printmaking technician and assistant to artist Tony Fitzpatrick, how did working closely with an established artist early in your career influence your own practice?

MP: Immensely. I got a front row seat to understanding the ins-and-outs of the art world. He was and remains extremely supportive of my work, which is something that I cherish because it can be hard to find. Most artists are not nearly as generous with their time and resources as Tony. They can be secretive about their techniques or even suspect of younger artists. It’s hard to catch a break without getting a little push and it’s rare that you will find that person willing to give you a break.

Tony also treats his studio time like one should, as a job. He gets up, clocks in, gets his ass to work and doesn’t let anyone tell him “no.” I think this is a model to live by.

I have received emails from all walks of people since launching my website. Most of them simply inquire about the work, but more recently I have had teenagers and other young artists write to me. I make a point to offer them as much insight and help as I can. I try to offer them encouragement and give them a little push.

OPP: What will you be working on next?

MP: I’ve got a few things on the desk at the moment, but home improvement projects are also on the horizon. I have a show at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery here in New Orleans in March and will also have some work at Scope NYC. Watch for updates of new work as well as inspirational ephemera at paperandblades.tumblr.com.

To view more of Michael Pajon’s work visit michaelpajon.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Anne Roecklein

Untitled lure (raspberry & blue), detail
2009
Mixed media

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your body of work contains two dominant modes of production: paper collage, as in Horizon Utopias, Paper Lures, and Tiny Utopias, and assemblage-based sculpture, as in Lures and Nets. What's similar about these different media? What's different?

Anne Roecklein: Whether I’m working two- or three-dimensionally, I work with found images and objects, because they have had a life before I find them. I’m interested in the conceptual, historical, and physical residues that materials bring with them. I can recombine and leverage these materials in new and meaningful ways.

Both the assembled Lures and the collaged Paper Lures explore physical as well as conceptual aspects of fishing lures. Why are certain colors and shapes, such as the form of an egg cluster, so appealing? What does it mean to put something out there that will attract what you want? The assembled Lures are made with materials from actual fishing lures, faux flowers, plastic aquarium plants, and cast hot glue—materials that attempt to replicate nature, but don’t quite succeed. The elements for the Paper Lures come from health, biology, and embryology textbooks, as well as cookbooks—sources that deal with different kinds of potential and fulfillment. Here, I’m interested in the mini-tragedies of discarded books, and I’m using the visual vocabulary of science to address some questions about biological desires.

So, these different modes of production are addressing similar questions but coming from different directions with different processes and material associations.

Untitled Paper Lure
2010
Collage on paper
18" x 24"

OPP: From a strictly process-oriented perspective, what body of work is your favorite? Which did you enjoy working on the most?

AR: The Paper Lures are my favorites right now, which could be partly because this is some of the newest work. It’s still shiny and new to me. These pieces evolved out of the assembled Lures so they’re rooted in the same ideas, but the paper pieces are less about materiality and are a little more formal. I spend a lot of time exploring subtle color relationships. Sometimes it almost goes to a nerdy extreme, but this is an area where I find pleasure in my studio practice. I also spend a lot of time with scissors making this work; it’s contemplative, until I get hand cramps.

I’m currently working on a new version of Constant Lake that’s over twelve feet long. This is pushing some scale boundaries for me, which is exciting.

OPP: In your statement, you say that your work focuses on our desires. What do our desires say about the world we live in?

AR: Desire is the central topic of my work. It’s also a jumping off point from which I explore related ideas like possibility, wistfulness, longing, and need. I’m looking at the world around us through the lenses of  biological desires, desires involving objects, and desires for the unattainable. Investigating these topics can tell us so much; desires are what motivate us to take action. They elucidate our relationships with what we find pleasurable. They may drive some neurological pathways dealing with learning and reward. Processing or not processing desires can have a lot to do with individual happiness or frustration.

Pop Song, detail
2010
Collage on paper

OPP: How is collage particularly apt as a medium to address issues of desire?

AR: Collage and assemblage are processes that I have chosen very deliberately for this work. They embody fragmentation, hybridization, and appropriation. They are perfect vehicles for addressing desire in a world where images and objects overwhelm our lives and spaces and where consumerism is presented to us as the fastest path to satisfaction.

These processes are especially well suited to creating fictions that escape the everyday. The individual components are like little “facts,” but when they’re added up and recombined, you get a rubric in which every element is potentially relevant to every other element. This creates countless parallel narratives. When you work with found objects, there is a weird sense that these are “real” objects, because they come from the world and not from art. So when you combine images into an impossible landscape, for example, the viewer is constantly suspended between what is possible and what is impossible. Collage is perfect media for dealing with nostalgia or the longing for utopian places that are simultaneously perfect and nonexistent.

OPP: I, personally, find both the paper and sculptural Lures very visually compelling. They do pull me in, like a fish on a line, and leave me wanting more. In that sense, when looking at them, I engage directly with my desire to possess one. But on the other hand, looking is enough. I notice my desire, and I become aware of pleasure of looking as I contemplate the work. I see your work as an opportunity to contemplate seductiveness and desire through the decorative. Is this a common response?

AR: Yes, that’s it! Sometimes I wonder whether making work about wanting impossible ideals is indulgent daydreaming or a way of curbing my own desires. Perhaps making an object or image about something I cannot have is a way of neutralizing the longing for it. And other times, I find I just need certain things to be possible. It does not matter if those things can’t be real or can’t be mine or are highly unlikely—I just want them to be possible, and it’s through my studio practice that this can happen.

OPP: Are viewers ever dismissive of the content of your work, because of its seductive, eye-candy quality?

AR: I have encountered a few viewers who have been a little dismissive about some of the over-the-top aesthetics in works like Popsong or the Lures like the one covered in pink flocking. I was asked once if “something that is pink and fuzzy can be serious” and my answer was and still is “of course.” Our culture is full of eye candy, and dismissing seductive, opulent, or even campy ornamentation is a missed opportunity for deep understanding.

Untitled
2011

OPP: Your most recent collages from the series Rustbelt are very different in their source material and overall composition. It looks like you are using scientific graphs and illustration, maybe from textbooks or manuals of some kind. How does this new work differ from the Horizon Utopias made with old postcards and the Lures, made with images of plant life?

AR: The images and objects I make can be organized into three categories that address desire from multiple directions: strategies, spaces, and systems. The Lures (both collaged and assembled) and Nets are in the strategies category—they’re about tools of desire. The Speculative Plans, Horizon and Tiny Utopias are in the spaces category—they’re exploring amalgamated landscapes and the longing we have for more perfect places.

The new Rustbelt series and older pieces like System with Yellow Tubes, If you can graph it, then it’s true  are in the systems category—these pieces are exploring the desire we have for knowledge and the need we have for things to work. I’m looking at very broad areas like science and statistics—methods for acquiring information. I’m interested in the optimistic promise of these activities and their inevitable disappointing breakdown. Ideas like the scientific method suggest that, if we’re careful and organized in our research, we’ll arrive at useful and correct answers. But this isn’t always true.

OPP: Where did your interest in this new source material come from? How do these technical drawings play into your overall project about Desire?

AR: I’ve spent the last seven years living in Michigan, Indiana, Pittsburgh, and now western Massachusetts—areas often associated with “the Rustbelt”. The pieces in this series are new, and I’m obliquely exploring how places like the rustbelt used to function. These pieces include things like batteries that don’t connect to anything, light bulbs on dysfunctional circuits, and graphs that don’t really tell us anything. The functional circuits or data are lost. It’s now about the aesthetic information, which is a different kind of truth and a different kind of answer.

To view more of Anne Roecklein’s work visit anneroecklein.net.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Parker Smith

Pussy Fart, detail
2011
Printed canvas, 14k necklace
20" by 30"

OtherPeoplesPixels: Interdisciplinarity is a staple in your work, from photography to painting to sculpture to installation to collage. Many of your wall-hung works, such as Crush, Dead Clay, and Pussy Fart, are hybrids: part photograph/part sculpture. Could you talk a bit about working in so many different media?

Adam Parker Smith: I like the idea of mutual dependency between materials and idea. In my recent work concept seems to always dictate the materials used; however concept is normally reliant on the materials. I like to think of these “hybrid” works as combinations of inert materials that, when combined, have a catalytic reaction. This forms concept that is far removed or contrary to the original materials that make up the work. I spend time mining for ingredients that will lend themselves to this type of conceptual transformation and that blend or polarize ideas.

OPP: Has your practice always been this way or did you ever have an emphasis in one specific medium?

APS: I have my MFA in painting and originally confined myself to painting on canvas with oil or acrylic, but moved quickly away from this my first year of grad school.

OPP: What kinds of subject matter did you paint back then? Anything that is a clear precursor to the work you make now?

APS: Actually, my paintings morphed directly into my sculptures. In grad school I was working figuratively, setting up scenarios that were essentially snapshots from the everyday, transformed and glorified. What began to happen was that I was having a hard time finding models to do the things I wanted to paint. I decided to make my own figures and paint from these, at which point I had full control and no restrictions. The figures were constructed from nylon and cotton filling and were sewn together in a rudimentary way. At a certain point I looked around the studio and realized that the sewn figures were much more interesting than the paintings that were being created from them, and so I abandoned painting and focused on developing my sculptures. So initially my sculptures were informed by my paintings. It took me a while to return to painting. In the last couple years I have started painting again, and now my paintings are informed by my sculptures.

Bad Dog
2011
printed canvas, porcupine quills
30" by 30"

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

APS: Humor in my work is closely related to a more academic definition of comedy with origins in the theater of Ancient Greece: dramatic performances pit two societies against each other in an amusing conflict. I see this agon of comedy as a struggle between the powerless youth and societal conventions. The youth is left with few options other than to take dramatic, unconventional action.

OPP: Is youth in this metaphor the figure of the artist in general? Or is this more a representation of your personal experience? Is the “unconventional action” all art or is it specifically the kinds of unexpected juxtapositions you make it your work?

APS: I like to think that artists, musicians, actors, activists, and writers are a voice for their generation. So when I speak of the youth, I am speaking of a group that includes not only myself and artists in general but also a larger group of individuals who face similar struggles but who may not have a conventional venue to voice their views. With this in mind, "unconventional action" can range from irreverence toward medium specificity in a painting to violent revolution.

Disco Ball
2009
Plexiglas, paper, matte board
24" by 12"

OPP: Many of your pieces depend on convincing illusions. Burn Out (2010) and Burn Out (2011) list a smoke machine as one of the materials, leading me to believe that the Lamborghini isn’t even turned on. Disco Ball (2009) turns out to be impressively handmade with small squares of colored matte board instead of mirrors. Is illusion the point or a means to convey something else?

APS: Luckily vision often dominates the other senses, which makes visual illusion a great tool to exploit the audience's assumptions about the physical world. For me these illusions are not the point, but a way for me to skirt the normal restriction of the physical world in an attempt to convey an idea or concept that otherwise may not be possible. These illusions are not meant to be permanently deceptive, only to suspend conventional notions of time and space long enough for viewers to be intellectually transported before they have the chance to peer behind the curtain. I like to think about illusion as something that is not true or false but as an alternative experience that supplements meaning.

Fall Into The Void
2011
Photo collage on paper
126" by 126"

OPP: In Super Fight (2010), Superman, the paragon of wholesome American masculinity, fights only himself. He is frozen in constant battle, becoming both the perpetrator and victim of violent conflict. In Fall into the Void (2011), male heads are placed on female bodies and vice versa. No one looks at all comfortable. It appears that this gender-bending is not a welcome change, but a destabilizing force that leaves all the figures struggling to find any ground to stand on. Is talking about a contemporary experiences of gender your intention with these new collage pieces?

APS: While the complex social spectrum through which sexuality is now viewed is something that I am interested in, I would like to attribute the destabilizing force in both of these works to the mounting uncertainty of our times. Both works deal with ideas of negation and arbitrariness, which can of course be applied to ideas of gender or the absence thereof. But I would like conversation to extend beyond ideas of sexual identity and gender identification to more universal concerns of disorder, entropy and cultural disarray. Fall into the Void runs visually parallel to Rodin’s Gates of Hell, which depicts the falling of the damned into an eternity of brimstone and fire. It also evokes contemporary images of well-documented, man-made catastrophes. Super Fight lends itself to notions of the utter futility of man’s endless courtship with war and conflict and our societies celebration of sensationalized violence.

Installation at Times Museum, Guangzhou, China
Preggers, Fox in Box, Crush, and Cage
2011

OPP: Could you talk a bit about the issue of how individual pieces relate to your body of work as a whole?

APS: Because of my background in painting, I often think about these issues in a more formal sense. One of my teachers once stressed that a work (she was speaking about painting) must operate from three distances and be interesting from each perspective. These distances were from twenty feet away, from six feet away and from inches away. So from across the room a work must have something that draws you near, that compels you to look longer. Its overall composition must be stimulating in some fashion. As you draw closer to the work, details become clear. The work grows and begins to operate on another level; concept and form begin to merge. Directly in front of the painting you should become engaged with the nuances of the work that are only apparent from that perspective. These, too, add depth and understanding to the work so that, through a combination of different perspectives, a very rich appreciation can be drawn from the work. I like to think about my entire body of work in this way: from across the room (my work all together), from a few feet away (my work paired with another work or in a specific location), and from a few inches away (my work standing as an individual piece). For me each one of these hypothetical perspectives is important. If one is lacking, then the overall experience that the viewer has with my work is less rich.

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

APS: Sewing together thousands of colored friendship bracelets from Guatemala. I am working on a series of tapestries. Some of the tapestries are image based while others have text formed from different organizations of colors from the bracelets. One of these texts reads, “will you marry me?”


To view more of Adam Parker Smith’s work visit adamparkersmith.com.