OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alyssa Dennis

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does transparency play in your drawings?

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

Stripped Opacity Construction Playground, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Edibles, 2012

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Zach Whitehurst

untitled (s15.5), 2015. Ink, Watercolor and Pencil on Paper. 16" x 12"

ZACH WHITEHURST's process-driven practice results in meticulous, textured and patterned drawings. In a often-monochrome palette, he both fills the void of the page and uses negative space in decisive ways. The resulting images evoke aerial views of landforms, bodies of water and cities, as well as collections of rocks or unnameable found artifacts. Zach completed his BFA, Magna Cum Laude (2003), and his Post Baccalaureate Study (2006) at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He went on to earn his MFA in 2008 from Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. In early 2016, Zach's solo show Dissecting Pattern opened at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery and he recently gave an artist talk at the Brooklyn Art Library. Zach lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Repetitive mark-making is the foundation of your practice. What does repetition mean to you outside of your studio? Where do you encounter it? How do you experience it?

Zach Whitehurst: In the studio my obsession with repetition is more complicated, but outside of the studio, repetition for me is mostly about patterns. There has always been something appealing and comforting to me about pattern. I see it everywhere. In architecture, nature, books, music, numbers, everywhere; the way bodega owners stack fruit outside their stores, subway tiles, the bark on a tree, bar codes, textiles. . . the list is endless. And pattern, for me, is not limited to a same shape or theme being repeated over and over. Sometimes my favorite patterns are the ones which form from a lack repetition.

Pattern and repetition are things that I have always been draw to. I think that I have a bit of an obsessive/compulsive nature and for me there is something meditative and therapeutic about pattern and repetition, especially in terms of routine and organization.

untitled (s16.2), 2016. Ink on Paper. 14" x 17"

OPP: Tell us about the recent introduction of color into what has previously been a distinctly black and white oeuvre.

ZW: For a long time I didn't want to introduce color into my work because I didn't want to take away from the process and pattern. The patterns I was using were, at times, so complex that they needed a minimal plane (white paper) on which to be presented and a minimal tool (black ink) with which to be made. Those drawings were all about process and pattern and often the larger organic shapes—as in the Repetitive Series—which formed as a result. When I was making those pieces, I was very drawn to the simple act of mark making. I would take a pen and paper and let the drawing come out of the process.

More recently, my work has evolved and has become, at times, more experimental. The process I use to make most of my work is, while minimalistic, also very time consuming. The larger pieces can often take so much time in the studio that I don't have any time to work on new ideas. As a way to experiment with new ideas, media and with color, for a year, I did a small 5”x7" drawing everyday. These were involved enough for me to flush out new processes and ideas but small enough to almost be “sketches.” This allowed me to maintain my studio practice and experiment at the same time. A lot of the new work that I have been making has come out of that experimentation. I have started to introduce color, but cautiously and purposefully. The process is still as important to me as the final piece and I am hesitant to have any of my drawings become too heavily imbued by color.

untitled(rs7), 2012. Ink on Paper. Detail

OPP: What’s your favorite mark-making tool and why?

ZW: I have tried, used and  continue to use many different tools in the studio. But the one that I can't live without, the one that I use everyday, is the Sakura Pigma Micron pen. Size 01 (.25mm) is probably the size that I use most often. For me, it's about the consistency of the line, the durability of the tip, and the quality of the ink. I've been using them for years and they have always performed well. Often I am working with a repetitive pattern that is very detailed and which involves tiny shapes. The Micron gives me the ability to work consistently on a small scale without the lines bleeding into one another.

untitled(rs11), 2012. Ink on Paper. 24" x 19"

OPP: I interpret your drawings as partly about a compulsion to fill space. . . what do you think? And can you talk about the moments you choose not to fill the space of the page, as in the Repetitive Series?

ZW: I don't know that I would say that they are "about" a compulsion to fill space, but I would agree that I often do have a compulsion to fill the space (depending on the series or piece) - and I think that this can come through in the work. In the Repetitive Series, I was working on a creating an organic process for myself to not fill the entire space and the series grew from there. What is exciting for me about that series is the negative space, especially when it is very tight. I like the energy and excitement that comes out of keeping the shapes just far enough apart to leave some space between them. At times in the series, I took that process to its extreme by leaving barely any negative space on the page at all. I have some forthcoming work which highlights the discomfort of leaving a piece "unfinished" or a space not "completely" filled.

untitled (gs12), 2014. ink on paper. 19" x 24"

OPP: Your Repetitive Series evokes aerial views of landforms and cities as well as drawn maps, whereas the Grid Series make me think of geology, rock collecting and the cataloging of found artifacts. Both of these are about observing the world, documenting it and trying to make sense of it. Thoughts?

ZW: I would agree that those elements exist and that the drawings from those series can be interpreted in those ways. And I have heard many people describe other things that they see or feel that are different from these. I can see elements of numerous ideas and themes in my work—most of which are entirely the result of the subconscious.

I have a very active "daydreaming" part of my brain that runs on autopilot most all of the time. It's sort of lives between the conscious and subconscious. It feeds from a constant stream of information gathered through conscious observation and study. When I'm working, it's running in the background, processing the information and informing/influencing the subconscious. The larger themes or concepts that come through in finished pieces result greatly from this cycle; starting with conscious thought, filtering through the middle layer and ending up in the subconscious. 

Almost all of my work is process driven. In the Repetitive Series, the overall shapes of the drawings are completely organic and resulted from a desire not to fill the entire page with pattern. Within each of these larger drawings are little "moments" that I found more aesthetically pleasing or exciting than others. I wanted a way to highlight those. That led to the Grid Series, which started a just a way to capture these exciting "moments" and give them a space to inhabit all on their own.

untitled (s14.9), 2014. Ink, Watercolor and Gouache on Paper. 20" x 16"

OPP: What’s different in your New Drawings?

ZW: The New Drawings are much the same in the sense that they are mostly process-driven works. Many of the different directions that I have gone with the newer work are a result of explorations from the year of small drawings that I did. Rather than create work out of research and concept and use process more as a means to the end, I let the process drive my work. Often I notice themes subconsciously seep into in finished work that relate to different aspects of research that I've done, or different ideas or concepts that I am interested in, but I hardly ever start from from that side of the fence. I am constantly trying to figure out how things are made or put together and am always interested in the processes behind the "product" and this is the same approach I take in the studio.

To see more of Zach's work, please visit zachwhitehurst.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward, with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hadley Radt

Overwhelmed Collection, 2016. Ink and Pen on Panel. 24" x 30"

Counting, a primary method of assessing and feeling mastery over the surrounding world, is foundational to HADLEY RADT’s drawing practice. The relationship between control and anxiety is present in her repetitive process, as she seeks to create order from disorder. The resulting abstract compositions of intertwining and overlapping lines evoke visualizations of neural networks, the rhizomatic structure of the internet and angular arrangements of planks in space. Hadley earned her BFA with Distinction in 2014 from Sonoma State University and is currently a MFA candidate in Painting at California College of the Arts (San Francisco). In 2016, she was a recipient of the Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award and recently completed a wall drawing for the related exhibition at SOMArts in San Francisco. Her work has been included in group shows at Sanchez Art Center (2016) in Pacifica, California, Southern Exposure (2015) in San Francisco and GearBox Gallery (2015) in Oakland. Hadley lives in Sonoma, California.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What does repetition mean to you outside of your drawing practice?

Hadley Radt: I have a pretty obsessive personality and a compulsive need to create order in my life. I approach repetition outside of my drawing practice with a similar logic as I do within my drawing practice. I come up with systems that allow me to find order within disorder. I often count, making up rules around numbers and putting order to things throughout my day. In my drawing practice, I am able to count the marks I make. Outside of my drawing practice, I find myself counting everyday objects and tasks. By creating these routines, I feel a sense of control.

Anxious Will, 2014. Acrylic and Pen on Panel, 40" x 30"

OPP: What’s your process? Do you start with a single mark and then replicate it, not knowing what will emerge? Or do you seek to render an image that you envision in your mind?

HR: In my more architectural line paintings, I start with an idea for the overall structure of the piece. I have a sense of what it will look like as a whole. As I zoom into the detail, I begin to create a logic and method to the patterning and repetition. I construct systems within my mark-making, counting each individual mark.

Currently, I am exploring a less controlled process. I start with a mark and continue to repeat it and let it grow and develop connections organically. I continue to create layers upon layers, allowing the nets to overlap and intertwine. This newer way of mark-making grew out of a lot of experimentation and failure. I allowed myself to let go of the rigid control. This was really difficult at first, but it was important for me to make this shift mentally. Although I am no longer creating strict numeric systems, the process of using repetition still allows me to get into the flow of creating and calms my racing mind.

Deconstructed Repetition, 2016. Pen on Panel. 36" x 48"

OPP: How often do viewers compliment you on your patience? Is it patience or something else?

HR: The first thing people often ask is how much time a piece took. My work is time intensive and does take patience, however, that is not the only aspect that drives my practice. My process is meditative for me. I find myself losing track of time while creating, focusing solely on the marks I am making. I want the viewer to get lost in the obsessiveness of the piece as well, feeling both anxiety and calmness.

OPP: I think that how a viewer interprets or physically responds to an extreme accumulation of marks has way more to do with that person’s nervous system than with the work itself. For example, I find overall compositions made of thousand of tiny marks tremendously calming,  but I know others feel overwhelmed. Thoughts?

HR: I haven’t thought about the viewer’s response in this way before. My process helps me refocus my own anxieties and feel a sense of calmness, as a result, I see those qualities within my work. However, I agree that a person experiencing the piece may feel overwhelmed or calm because their nervous system causes them to have a specific physical response to the accumulation of marks.

Emergence, 2016. Ink and Pen on Panel. 24" x 18"

OPP: Many of your 2016 drawings—Abnormalities, Consumed, and Emergence, to name a few—are rhizomatic structures that evoke simulated images of neural networks and the internet. Are these nets abstract accidents or intentional references? What led to the shift from more architectural accumulations of line, as in Framework (2014) to these more organic accumulations?

HR: In my recent 2016 pieces, I am exploring terrains of connections; physical, psychological, emotional, neurological. I am interested in the depiction of these connections and tracking layers of information. I am looking at repetition and geometry in both the natural and built environment. I’m inspired by maps, aerial views, architecture, fractals in nature, particle formations and magnetic fields. Our environment is full of repetition and pattern, I am intrigued by this order and it influences the structures I create in my work.

This shift in my work started when I began to experiment with new tools and materials. In previous work, I was using micron pens and house paint. In my newer works, I am using a squirt bottle tool with a needle tip to create a repeated pattern. I am intrigued by this way of mark-making. I draw with it like a pen, yet, the ink pools up and “mistakes” occur that I cannot control, adding a human quality and interrupting the systems I create.

The Annual Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Awards Exhibition, 2016. Paint Marker on Wall. 16' x 13'

OPP: Can you talk about the tension between contemplation and anxiety?

HR: The tension between these two states is something I often feel. My process is a way for me to refocus my compulsions and feel a sense of calmness. I hope the viewer experiences and connects with my work in this way as well. This is an idea that I am trying to push further. I most recently did a 16’ x 13’ wall drawing for the Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award exhibition, using a similar repeated pattern as in my paintings. When the piece is larger than the viewer, they become consumed by it. The tension between contemplation and anxiety becomes even more prominent. I am excited to continue to make large wall drawings, and create environments of controlled chaos.

OPP: You are in your 2nd year of grad school right now at California College of Arts, expected to graduate in 2017. Have any practical advice for young artist thinking about applying to grad school or in their first years?

HR: Allow yourself to experiment and explore. Don’t be afraid of failure. Be honest and vulnerable. The connections you make are invaluable, so take advantage of being surrounded by amazing like-minded people!

To see more of Hadley's work, please visit hadleyradt.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Porterfield

The Foresters, 2013. Oil on panel. 36" x 50"

At a distance, MARY PORTERFIELD’s oil paintings appear to be traditional, romantic landscapes replete with raging rivers and waterfalls, looming mountains and gathering storm clouds. But as we move closer, we see that these landscapes are densely-populated with ghostly masses of figures in wheelchairs, dependent on oxygen tanks, supine or hoisted on the backs of others. These works are allegories of care-giving. Through accumulated and repeated visual symbols, this work explores the complex emotional and ethical experience of offering—and sometimes rescinding—aid. After completing a BS in Biology and an MS in Occupational Therapy, Mary went on to earn her MFA from Arizona State University in 2002. Solo exhibitions include shows at Great River Road Museum of Contemporary Art (2015) in Potosi, Wisconsin and the now defunct Packer-Schopf Gallery (2015 and 2011) in Chicago. Her upcoming two-person exhibition Morality Tales, also featuring Kathy Weaver, opens Feb. 24, 2017 at Firecat Projects in Chicago. You can see her work right now in group shows at Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science (Evansville, Indiana), KSpace Contemporary (Corpus Christi, Texas), South Shore Arts (Munster, Indiana) and the Koehnline Museum of Art (Des Plaines, Illinois) through October 21, 2016. Mary lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In works like Between Here and Elsewhere (2014) and The Foresters (2013), do the ghostly figures inhabit your landscapes or are the fields, mountains and sky built out of their ethereal bodies? Or, do they inhabit a parallel universe overlaying ours?

Mary Porterfield: In my paintings, I amass hundreds of figures to both build and inhabit my landscapes. The inspiration to do so came from an instructor who said, “A good painting tells two stories, one from a distance and one from up-close.” That single quote has had a huge impact on me and my desire to work in a dichotomous manner. I’m able to create an illusion of normality—when the paintings are viewed from a distance—by clustering the figures. The darker narratives that emerge when the viewer gets close represent the deceptive appearance of situations and what is outwardly hidden. So often in life, all is not what it seems. I hope to address this by conveying two sensibilities within my work.

Fields of Departure, 2014. Oil on panel. 36" x 50"

OPP: How does your training as an occupational therapist influence the work you make?

MP: When I began working as a therapist over 20 years ago, I always thought it was best to give unconditionally and ceaselessly, even in the direst of circumstances. While I still feel these are exemplary traits, I’ve come to question my initial belief. I’ve seen many caregivers make numerous sacrifices in the midst of futile situations. I’m especially moved when these individuals risk their own physical or emotional health to provide years of assistance. This becomes harder to witness if their efforts are met with indifference or anger.

I’ve always struggled to accept what I cannot change. My landscapes symbolize those situations in healthcare that are literally and figuratively beyond my control. The figures who use wheelchairs or assistive devices represent those patients who faced terminal prognoses or degenerative diseases, which therapy could not affect. The uncertainty of their outcome is represented by animals, who serve as metaphors for strength and danger. Caregivers are represented by young women who risk their own safety to pull or hoist the disabled to safety. These women face the dangers of powerful animals and destructive elements from nature. The caregivers’ efforts are questioned as some of the patients remain immobile while others are brought to a place of isolation or greater peril. Would it have been better if the caregivers accepted what they could not change? Through these works, I advocate for a balance of giving and receiving, especially when assisting others.

The Remaining, 2016. Charcoal, pastel on paper. 11" x 14"

OPP: Can you talk about the difference between the drawings of solitary pairs or small groups floating on colored backgrounds and the same narratives amidst the masses in the landscapes?

MP: Some of the solitary pairs include caregivers who chose to resign themselves to the risks at hand by turning away from the person in need. Other pairs include patients who accepted assistance from another in the midst of uncontrollable circumstances. The many narratives are purposefully repeated to symbolize the universal struggle to find balance when caring for others. 

The small groups floating on the colored backgrounds differ in each painting, pending the scene which surrounds them. In The Foresters, ghostly figures are seen saving those from drowning in the raging river. The shoreline on the right is comprised of those who have been rescued and those who collapsed while attempting to help. On land, other dangers await these individuals as they remain trapped in the surface while surrounded by crocodiles. In Pool of Life, the figures floating in the sky attempt to hoist or pull souls from falling in the water below and the geyser that erupts from it. Some of the figures chose not to accept aide while others still fell despite the rescuer’s efforts. In Fields of Departure, the floating figures include saints who rest on charging buffalo, emerging from the sky. This was in response to stories I had read of herds of buffalo that fell off cliffs when their stampede became unstoppable. This imagery became a compelling metaphor for a powerful and unwavering belief system. Having been raised in a religious household, these beliefs include the desire to give selflessly and unconditionally, even when faced with the impossible. Letting go of these convictions is difficult for me and is a large impetus for my paintings.

Balancing Act, 2016. Charcoal, pastel on paper. 14" x 11"

OPP: Do you consider your drawings works in their own right or are these studies for figures to be included in paintings?

MP: The drawings began as studies for my paintings but recently became images in their own right. The shift began when I was offered a show at Firecat Projects in February of 2017. To prepare for this show, I’ve emphasized drawing as my artistic practice for the last year and a half. Doing so has been an incredibly positive experience. I’m able to bring attention to individual struggles and responses to the uncontrollable. For example, in Balancing Act, a young woman is seen supporting an amputee while delicately standing on crocodiles. Her life is put in jeopardy to provide support to the person in need. If she becomes fatigued or is no longer able to carry the weight she holds, they both will fall. In The Remaining, a female figure tenderly reaches towards an unconscious child. Yet, the child is reliant on an oxygen tank as multiple fires burn close-by. With an explosion looming, the female’s decision to stay poses great risk to her safety. Yet, her resolution to remain is seen in her compassionate expression. Drawing allows me to show such details as the careful positioning of her hand and the vacant look of the child. I’m excited to bring this type of specificity to my new paintings that are based upon aerial views from my recent trip to Alaska.

Falls of Reliance, 2015. Oil on pane. 50" x 42"

OPP: Occasionally, but not in every piece, I see a solid figure: at the top of the waterfall in Falls of Reliance or on a platform by the raging sea in Pool of Life.  What’s the relationship between these singular, solid figures and the masses of ghostly ones?

MP: In Falls of Reliance that singular figure represents those patients who refuse aide, even when assistance is warranted. Something I struggle with in healthcare is when to discontinue therapeutic intervention if it is needed but not wanted. The figure on the platform in Pool of Life signifies those patients I attempted to assist but could not affect due to the magnitude of the injury. That figure, holding a cane and facing the viewer, is one whom I wish I could approach and express my regret.

The juxtaposition of volumetric, solid forms and ghostly imagery began as a desire to create more surface variation in my paintings.  As I began to broaden my technique, the masses came to represent the universal struggle to care for others in a compassionate manner. The repetition of their placement symbolizes the interconnectedness amongst caregivers, who face similar hardships while providing a continuum of care. The ghostly figures, often outlined and transparent, react to the landscape to save others from harm.  Their phantom-like appearance allows them to separate from the many solid elements of nature. Whether the ghostly figures are suspended in the sky or floating in water, they attempt to protect others from natural forces such as waterfalls, raging rivers or storm clouds. In these situations, nature often triumphs, representing the power of the uncontrollable.

Pool of Life, 2009. Oil on wood panel. 54" x 46"

OPP: You ask the question in your statement: Is it better to deny futility or accept what cannot be changed? You tell me.

MP: Unfortunately, I still don’t know the answer. But, the lack of knowing inspires new narratives that inspire other questions, including:  Is it better to be selfless or self-seeking? If is assistance is warranted but not wanted, should it be abandoned? Why is longevity given to some who are indifferent but denied others who desire a long life? The continual search for answers triggers the desire to make new work.

To see more of Mary's work, please visit maryporterfield.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nash Bellows

Untitled, 2015. Acrylic, spray paint, collage on canvas

NASH BELLOWS' paintings, digital drawings and collages are saturated with color, texture and pattern. Within the frame of the page, canvas or screen, she expertly flattens numerous layers into one dimension without sacrificing visual complexity. Nash earned her BFA in 2012 from Sonoma State University and recently completed her MFA at San Francisco State University. She was a recipient of the Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award and the Martin Wong Painting Scholarship. Her work has been included in exhibitions throughout California, including shows at SOMArts (San Francisco), Arc Gallery & Studios (San Francisco), Berkeley Art Center, Sanchez Art Center (Pacifica), Huntington Beach Art Center and Martin Wong Gallery at San Francisco State University, where she now teaches drawing. Nash lives in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What came first for you as an artist: collage, painting or digital drawing? How did one lead to another?

Nash Bellows: I actually started off as a printmaker, but usually used collage to create my imagery prior to etching it. I was always translating collages into drawings, so transitioning between mediums has always felt natural. I like to have a loose plan in place.

Untitled, 2015. Digital

OPP: When did digital drawing enter your practice?

NB: This is kind of embarrassing actually. About two years ago, my cat broke his hip. I couldn't leave him alone unless he was in a cage, and I felt really badly about that, so I spent about two months on the couch with him and an iPad.

I had always made goofy sketches on my iPad but at that point I had to find another way to make work, so I developed a system for making the digital drawings. When only certain sections of the drawings were successful, I cropped and merged pieces together with one of those photo collage apps until I came up with a composition that I was happy with. Afterwards I would draw on top of it again.

Untitled, 2015. Digital

OPP: You’ve said, “My process-based paintings are formed by set parameters and various instructions I have created for myself.” What parameters do you set? What kinds of instructions? Does this also apply to digital drawing?

NB: The parameters are usually theme or process-oriented. For instance, some of my collages are created with found imagery of fabric being draped over an object. The digital drawings have a different approach. They're a combination of two drawings combined together nine different times.

OPP: Would you say your process is more systematic than intuitive? Does surprise or discovery play any role in this process?

NB: I try to make my process as balanced as I possibly can. I like an element of control, but I also love happy accidents. Sometimes parts just don't work the way I want them to and the paint takes over from there.  Sometimes inspiration pops up and I ignore most of my systems. It really depends on my mood and the best choices aesthetically. But I am a planner and prefer to start each piece with at least a loose sketch!

Shirley Kaneda, 2015. Spray paint and acrylic on canvas

OPP: Could you talk generally about your relationship to color in life and how you use it in your work. How does having a digital palette, as opposed to one you have to mix, affect the work?

NB: I've always been crazy for color in all aspects of my life; there's always a veritable rainbow that extends from my closet to the decor in my apartment to my art.

Using a digital palette is easier for me than mixing paint actually! You can adjust colors faster and with more ease. Since I'm drawn to colors from 1990s cartoons, I think that the illumination from the computers' color palette is actually closer to the color I'm thinking of than those I can mix with paint.

OPP: I’m curious about the final form for the digital drawings. When I encounter them online, they are exactly as you made them. I don’t worry that I’m missing something in terms of texture, as I do viewing photographs of paintings online. But scale is flexible for every viewer based on the screens we have. You can’t control that as one can control the scale of a painting. Are they intended to only be viewed online? Do they ever take tangible form?

NB: I've had my digital drawings printed, but they are missing the glowing screen, which I think is essential to interacting with them. . .  Ideally, I'd like to show the digital drawings digitally on large flat screen televisions someday.

Girl Power, 2014. Digital. 2014

OPP: Collage is a fundamentally different process than painting, in that collage reorganizes existing forms and images that are tangible and visually available. Painting may also be a rearrangement of existing forms, but those forms are mediated through the conceptual space of the mind. Thoughts?

NB: When I make a painting, it usually comes from a collage or collage of my drawings. So in essence, I'm always using and re-using existing imagery and forms. Even in paintings where I've experimented tabula rasa, I am re-using imagery that I've been saturated with all my life: design elements, fabric patterns, etc. etc. Intuition comes from experience, and my more intuitive paintings are just collages of my visual experience.

Untitled, 2014. Acrylic, spray paint, thread on canvas. 30" x 48"

OPP: I want to distinguish the physical process of collage from the concept of collage. I was thinking about the experience (and then resulting work) of having a table full of cut-out pieces of paper, touching them, riffling through them, turning them in your hands, placing them down and moving them around in a very physical way. There’s immediacy in the process that doesn’t exist in painting. Digital collage, on the other hand, has the immediacy and the additional benefit of copying and pasting, but it does not have the same physical experience.

NB: Yes, it really isn't physically the same as collage! I love the physical aspect of cutting, pasting and re-arranging; it really forces you to make choices that you wouldn't ordinarily make and use imagery that you wouldn't typically use. My strongest work comes from collage, even though I love working in a variety of media. Viewers respond most strongly to my collages because they are familiar with the imagery but can't quite place it. They are forced to look in a different way, just as collage forces the artist look at imagery in another way. It puts viewers in the same place.

Seastripe, 2015. Digital Repeat Pattern

OPP: As you mentioned, your collages of draped and folded textiles are the origin/inspiration for some of the abstract shapes in your paintings. Are textile processes an influence for you? What about your digital repeat patterns. . . are these intended to become textile patterns?

NB: I've always loved textiles, especially quilts because they are essentially collages. My great-grandmother was an excellent sewer and taught my mother her talents, so I grew up with lots of vintage fabric and quilts around the house.  

The repeat patterns aren't fully resolved yet, but I couldn't resist posting them because I love them so much! In the future I'd like to make blanket forts printed with my patterns. People always tell me that my personality is very similar to my work in that it is very playful, but most of my work is not something you're supposed to touch or be too close to. I want to start pushing playfulness in my work and stretch the boundaries beyond the canvas. Making blanket forts with my patterns would disrupt the seriousness of the "white cube.” It would be sort of a three-dimensional incarnation of my draped fabric collages and paintings, but more interactive and relatable.

To see more of Nash's work, please visit nashbellows.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Antoine Williams

Because They Believe in Unicorns
Surplus WW II military tents, wood, thread, marker, collage and acrylic on Sheetrock
120"x 48"x120"

Both the vulnerability and the strength of the Black body are highlighted in ANTOINE WILLIAMS' ink drawings on velum, collages, paintings and black and white wheat-paste installations on white walls. Inspired by personal experiences of a rural, working-class upbringing in the South and by themes of Otherness in sci-fi literature, he presents a catalogue of nameless, faceless beings. Part human/part animal/part stereotype/part racial trope, each is a conglomeration of signifiers of race, class and masculinity. Antoine earned his BFA in Art with a concentration in illustration from UNC-Charlotte in 2003 and his MFA in Studio Art from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014. In 2015 he was a recipient of the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant, and in 2016 he was a Southern Constellations Fellow at Elsewhere in Greensboro, North Carolina. His recent solo exhibitions include The Wound and the Knife (2015) at Sumter County Gallery of Art (Sumter, South Carolina) and Something in the Way of Things (2014) at the John and June Alcott Gallery in Chapel Hill. His work is on view in Dress Up, Speak Up: Costume and Confrontation at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham through July 2017. Antoine is an Assistant Professor at Guilford College in Greensboro and lives in Chapel Hill.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I want to be transparent that I’m a White artist interviewing a Black artist who explores the image and experience of the Black body in his work. I ask questions based on what I see, but what I see is through the sometimes-unconscious lens of Whiteness. Is there anything that non-Black viewers repeatedly misinterpret about your work? In your experience, do Black viewers see different things than non-Black viewers?

Antoine Williams: I believe that everyone brings something different when viewing the work. However due to the shared experience of most Black people there does seem to be some overlap in the response to the work. When it comes to non-Black viewers, I’m less concerned if the work is being misinterpreted but more concerned with the thought process that leads to one’s conclusion. I make the work somewhat vague and open-ended to invite a more honest response because I want to embrace the various interpretations of signifiers. It’s less about what I’m trying to tell you about my experience and more about exploring how this imagery makes you feel.

Ink on vellum

OPP: I feel empathetic, sad, angry and uncomfortable. I think about the way Black people have been victimized in America and how they stand up for themselves. I think about how monstrousness (i.e. otherness) is projected onto Black people by mainstream media and law enforcement and about how constantly being on the defensive affects a human. The figures are often hunched, as if in pain or preparing to fight. They have grown horns and sharp teeth with which to protect themselves. Are these figures metaphors for an embodied, emotional experience or renderings of a potential evolution?

AW: The more humanistic figures—the ones usually draped in clothing—reflect the day-to-day burdens with respect the race and class, which have become normalized. The horn protrusions can be viewed as either a weapon for either aggression or a means of protection. However, the use doesn’t matter because the horns exist as result of an environment and system that has produced them.

Some of the more animalistic figures are creatures born out of attitudes and actions around race and class. They’re a part of a contemporary mythos of the Black experience. Indifference and fear lead to policies and public sentiment that negatively affect Black people and communities of color. Policies that promote housing discrimination, mass incarceration and decades of over-policing to keep the fear of the other at bay, I believe, have lead to the high profile shootings of Tamir Rice in Ohio or just recently the deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Keith Lamont Scott right here in my home state of North Carolina. Like the protest in Charlotte, these creatures are born out of years of animus and neglect for entire communities.

Collage series
Ink and found paper on wood

OPP: You talk about the figures in your work as “creatures, hybrid-like human-animal deities.” I’m struck by the fact that these figures never have human faces or heads, unless those heads are bound or covered—sometimes by choice and sometimes by force, as in The Ain't Gots no. II (For Freddie Gray) (2016). Why no faces?

AW: There are no faces because I’m speaking about systems, not individuals. We are witnessing how the Black bodies are reacting to these systems.

OPP: In what way are they deities?

AW: These are not deities in that they are worshiped in the traditional sense, but they rule in a transitional space that exists between race and class. I do view them as gods but as god of the gaps. They are created from attitudes towards race, and class. Indifference and apathy are attributed to them.

Originally Filipino mythology got me interested in this current body of work. More recently, the H.P. Lovecraft mythos has been greatly influential to my work. Lovecraft, most well know for his Cthulhu series, is a writer of sci-fi or cosmic horror. He has created this complex mythos of gods, creatures and cultures. His work is beautifully written, yet very problematic in that Lovecraft was a racist whose views seeped into his work. He had this disdain and fear of the other. His works in a sense are a metaphor for white supremacy.

Knife and the Wound
Acrylic, collage, ink, graphite on canvas
84"x 60"

OPP: In installations, you merge three-dimensional materials—Seatbelt straps, wooden stakes, plastic sheeting, fake flowers, extension cords, beer cans and Sheetrock—with your drawings. Can you talk about what pops off the wall versus what stays flat?

AW: I merge the three-dimensional object with flat imagery to emphasize that it is, in reality, a drawing—an illusion of Black bodies. These flat representations of Black people are often how we are perceived in society. However, the three-dimensional objects invade the viewer’s space and draw them in. The actual experiences of Black people and the culture we create are often separate. Think about hip-hop and the inequities within the communities where this culture originated.

OPP: What about your placement of the wheat paste drawings hovering in the empty, white field of the gallery wall, as in Future Perfect (2015) and The Ain’t Gots (2016)?

AW: When I first started drawing these figures, they were often on a very busy and colorful surface where they could easily get lost so you would have to really work to see them as whole. In a gallery, the contrasting white surface or void is disrupted, forcing one to focus on this Black body. Plus these creatures exist in an in-between space, so the white wall supports that. Also, aesthetically I like working with the negative space created by shapes of the bodies.

The Ain't Gots no. II (installation shot)
Wheat-paste, wood, seat belt straps, plastic, And1 shorts on Sheetrock
36 'x 12'

OPP: Tell us about your most recent installation Because They Believe in Unicorns (2016). We’ve seen the form in the center of the room in other installations and drawings, but it is always attached to the head and shoulders of a human body. The representational body has disappeared, but of course it is still there in the bound, hanging form made from Surplus WW II military tents, wood and thread.

AW: The piece is installed at the Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC where I did a residency this past summer. I had just finished reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and wanted to look at this ideal of racial indifference, which is spoken about at length in the book. This piece was also started the week after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The War on Drugs and over policing which has led to mass incarceration which has created a new underclass of citizens consisting of most Black and Brown men are allow to exist not because of racial aggression but rather racial indifference or color blindness. The ideal of not seeing color or color not mattering in a nation with America’s past is a myth, like a unicorn. Belief in this myth allows for white supremacy and other racial inequities to persist.

The piece itself is an entire body. Therefore I didn’t believe having a representation body was necessary. I wanted the form and shape of the figure to reference something that was alive.The figure is my version of a unicorn; a Black person who’s blackness is not relevant. The figure is constructed of WWII tents, a reference to America romanticizing war. In this case the War on Drugs. I wanted to play with the perception of whether the figure is being elevated or hung.

To see more of Antoine's work, please visit rawgoods.org.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work is on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPIxels Interviews JenMarie Zeleznak

Take These Words Pulled From Me Tied To You
watercolor pencil on paper

JENMARIE ZELEZNAK’s precisely rendered wild animals hover, float, cavort and caress in empty white fields, surrounded by angular, geodesic line drawings that represent energetic halos, communication and connection with the unseen forces of the universe. For her, wolves, deer, hares and foxes—to name just a few of her subjects—are not just stand-ins for humans. They are a “medium for the expression of the self, yet they retain their own autonomy,” emphasizing a shared experience of being between humans and other animals. JenMarie received her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and her BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art. In 2015, her work was acquired by the National Museum of Wildlife Art for their permanent collection. JenMarie is represented by Diehl Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming and Søren Christensen Gallery in New Orleans, and Visions West Contemporary in Denver, Colorado, where she will have her gallery debut in BOUNDLESS, opening on October 7, 2016. She teaches at Lakeland Community College and Youngstown State University. JenMarie currently lives and works at the Tower Press Building in Cleveland, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Looking back at your archive of work, I see a trajectory of moving from expressionistic abstraction—I was completely mistaken (2007) and this is only a temporary solution (2006)—to hazy, atmospheric landscapes—Remove Me From This Deception That I Called Love and Awaiting The Burden Of Loss, both 2007— to your newer, more precisely rendered drawings and paintings of animals in empty space. These bodies of work look very different, but every piece seems to be an emotional metaphor. Please walk us through the shifts in style and content you use to explore our emotional worlds.

JenMarie Zeleznak: As an undergrad at the Cleveland Institute of Art, I struggled with drawing. When I began in 2004, they were shifting from their traditional program to something more theoretical and conceptually-based. From my perspective, the emphasis on traditional drawing and painting techniques got lost in that transition. At least I felt the effects of that. As a painting major with terrible drawing skills, I was exploring what came intuitively to me in regards to expression. With focus on process rather than image, I explored color and atmosphere in a way that allowed me to release inward expressions. These expressions tended to revolve around themes of loss, death, withdrawal and melancholy, as that was my state of mind at the time.

But after a few years, I felt burdened by the fact that I could not draw. Nothing came out how I imagined it, which was disappointing and unsatisfying. I wanted to explore another visual language that included representations of actual things. I am not sure where this desire for imagery came from, but I began to explore other subject matter like boxes that resembled graves or coffins, string-like forms that were metaphors for broken connections and animals. I remember a conversation with one of my professors during a studio visit in 2008. She asked me, if I had to chose between the boxes and other imagery or the animals, what would I choose? My answer was, well duh, of course the animals. I never looked back.

Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: So you started as a painter, but now drawing dominates your practice. How did you finally tackle drawing as a medium?

JZ: I never really addressed my drawing problems until grad school. I had always considered myself a painter, not a drawer. My sketchbook was filled with words and poetry, not sketches. I absolutely refused to draw. I despised it. When I decided to apply to grad school, I found myself getting rejection after rejection—extremely disappointing considering I had just completed 5 years of art school. As a last hope I applied to Savannah College of Art and Design. I was accepted but with conditions. I had to take “remedial” drawing and painting before I was accepted into the program. I was completely baffled by this and tried to appeal it twice with no success. Little did I know, those two “remedial” courses would change my world. I met two of the most amazing professors that spoke to me in a way that I could understand; they understood my needs in a way that was almost unspoken. They were challenging, yet encouraging and supportive. I learned more about drawing and painting in a semester than I did my five years in undergrad. I found myself trading in the oil paints and canvas for watercolor pencils and paper.

OPP: What has changed since grad school?

JZ: In grad school, I became more aware of the decisions I was making to ultimately convey meaning. I noticed I had seemed to set up some strict “rules” for myself: the animal has to be approximately to scale, for relatability, which dictates the dimensions of the piece, and I only draw animals I have had a personal experience or connection with. Throughout my work, I do not desire to depict the natural world. When I take the animals out of their original contexts and into a blank space, it suggests an emotional, inward space of the mind—a space between thinking and being.

I spent a lot of time alone and isolated in grad school when I created Lovesick: The Psychological Animal body of work. My depictions of animals during that time tend to reflect my isolation and longing for connection. I actually struggled to create work for quite some time after grad school. My mental and emotional state had changed and my perspective on the world was changed as well. I spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and writing between 2012 and 2014. I knew I wanted my work to have a more “positive” feeling but I didn’t know what that looked like. I experienced a spiritual awakening in 2013 that changed my perception of the world around me. I became heavily interested in astronomy, science, spirituality and nature. I spent a lot of time looking up at the sky on a clear night. I found myself lost in the stars. I began to feel energy and almost see it manifested within the interactions of everything around me. I felt so deeply connected to everything. The Universe became my source of love, protection and guidance. I had no doubts. Around this time, my work shifted direction and the geometric shapes in various formations, which I refer to as star maps, appeared.

I Never Said I Was Brave, No. 2
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: I was going to ask about those angular, line drawings. They make me think of 3D rendering programs or geodesic structures, and they read differently in different drawings. Some times they seems like energetic halos, as in These Dialogue Stars, No. 2 (2016); sometimes they seem like communication, language or sound, as in Talking to the Moon, Trying to Get to You (2013). How do they relate to the animals?

JZ: I appreciate your understanding that. They are connections of stars from NASA imagery. Obviously there are an infinite number of stars in an isolated image of the Universe. I try and not think too hard about what visible stars I will connect but try to place as many “dots” as I can in a random way. I then spend time copying those dots and connecting them in certain ways based on the animal gesture and imagery. Usually when I begin a drawing, I have a general sense of the placement of the star map, but that can change as I go along.

The animals in my drawings find themselves in introspective emotional and spiritual situations. The star maps serve as a visual for the invisible energy that is felt, but not seen by the animal subject. However, we as viewers are witness to both. We are onlookers of someone else experiencing something deeply or going through an emotional moment. We can see how the energy affects them. Maybe it is protecting them, or it is a fleeting moment of clarity. Perhaps they are experiencing desire or lack of desire, or they are experiencing unreciprocated feelings in a romantic relationship. Sometimes they are feeling trapped and fighting themselves, or maybe they are simply calling out in a surrender, to connect with something larger than themselves. . . calling out for help, for anyone.

The Ends of These Reaching Arms Need the Touch of Something Real

OPP: Tell us a bit about your drawing process.

JZ: There is a disconnect for me when using a paintbrush. The pencil and paper are much more satisfying and intimate, although drawing does still make me feel awkward, incapable and embarrassed at times. I feel much more vulnerable and exposed when drawing. When I begin, anxious scribbles and neurotic mark-making hastily fill in the animal form. I work with watercolor pencils in a manner both sensitive and crude, using my saliva and sweat, hands and fingers, to manipulate the material onto paper. This personal and direct connection, much like caressing or grooming an animal, gives me the intimacy I need in the work as I bring in the animal into being.

This process was essentially discovered by accident; little did I know it would become so crucial to my process. I sat down to play around with the watercolor pencils and realized I didn’t have water or a brush in my vicinity. Too lazy to get up, I just smeared it around with the lick of my finger pushing around the pigment on the paper. When I finally had a brush and water, it was not the same thing, nor did it create the same effect. It was sort of embarrassing, and I was very secretive about my process for quite some time. I never really wanted anyone to know how my drawings were made. Once I began to understand how important it was to my process and feelings about my subjects, I started to understand there was nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it makes my work quite unique in that way.

I Was Swimming Through The Waves, For What Must Have Been Days
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: Your titles are very poetic and they contextualize the imagery or abstraction as relating to inner experiences of the outer world. You even reuse titles. When do titles show up in your process? 

JZ: My titles are very important to me. Generally they are generated at the end after the piece is completed, though I may have some ideas in mind beforehand. I have reused a few titles from many years ago, as I still feel connected to the words in the same way even though the form is different. Lately, I find that the same feeling is often extended over multiple pieces, telling an evolving story. While I am not really a fan of the whole “No. 1, No. 2, No. 3” thing in titles, I often find myself creating a new work that is almost a continuation of the previous piece. I’m not one to just not title something or hardly give a title any thought. It could take days or weeks after finishing a piece to think of a title. I choose my words carefully and make sure they help contextualize the work for the viewer. I’ll repeat the titles in my head over days and glance over at the piece waiting for it to tell me, “yes, that’s it, that’s the one.” When it’s the right one, even if it means reusing titles, it just clicks and there’s no doubt in my mind about it. I just have to go with it.

Trying To Get Back There, No. 3
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: Can you talk about twining and/or pairing in your work?

JZ: I understand my works as self-portraits. The imagery, when in pairs, generally speaks to confronting the self. Internal struggle is like a battle in my own head. But just as often, I think about social and romantic relationships when I pair animals. I desire love, attention, intimacy and affection from another and my life is pretty void of that. Intimacy is hard and scary—at least in my recent experiences. Some of my animals seem as though they are being rejected or have lost a connection or their feelings are left unreciprocated, though I never intentionally anthropomorphize them.

I never work from a direct source where two animals are already together. What interests me is combining two animals from different source material into a new image as if they were that way all along. It is crucial that I do not alter their expressions or gestures, so it usually takes some time to find the right pair to speak to one another. They may appear to be “twins,” but they have slight and subtle differences that make them unique. I enjoy that ambiguity. Each work can be about the self and the other or about the self and the self.

I Can Hear It In Your Sigh
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: Using animals to explore our emotional needs as humans in relationship, whether romantic, platonic or familial, is a reminder that we are in fact animals. Our emotional needs are biological. . . part of our animal brains. But our culture often emphasizes our separateness, our superiority to animals. Why do you think this is?

JZ: Humans have created an artificial boundary between ourselves and other animals. The unique capacity of the human mind is one of the few things that separates us from other animals. This is the conceptual foundation upon which evolution has been built. We have created the illusion of control through mental concepts, embedding in the human mind that animals have no control over their own lives or minds. We have imposed so many thoughts and concepts onto the animal that there seems to be no way of viewing the animal as purely autonomous. Through eons of exploitation and misunderstanding, there is an inability to accept their condition of existence as similar to our own.

Humans have to “transform” an animal into a human being in order to attempt to understand the other. Otherwise, it just remains entirely other. We attach our own consciousness to animals and auto-affectedly respond with human emotions towards them, treating them as though they were capable of response. This is essentially an act of anthropomorphism, which perpetuates a satisfying relationship with those we desire to know but are not able to understand.

It's Almost Like We've Died Entwined In That Way We Are
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: How do you avoid the pitfall of anthropomorphizing your subjects?

JZ: Though my depictions of animals might appear personified, I’m strictly interested in honoring actual gestures and expressions as they are documented, so as to maintain the authenticity of the animal’s condition of being. It is extremely important to me that I do not alter the gestures or expressions of my source material. I proclaim the animals as autonomous and self-referential, but also as an emblem of the human condition.

As Derrida once said, “We are not ourselves without representations that mediate us, and it is through those representations that emotions get felt.” The animal is the medium through which I attempt to articulate and reflect on my own experiences. The intimacy and empathetic nature of my process speaks to my fidelity towards the animal as emotive and autonomous, just as my fidelity towards the expression of my emotions and personal experiences speaks to the human condition. I believe it is in that duality that there is room to think about psychological and social issues concerning both the human and the animal.

To see more of JenMarie's work, please visit jenmariezeleznak.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work is on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Washington

Talking Board
Chalk and acrylic on panel
18" x 24"

ERIN WASHINGTON uses imagery, text and fugitive materials to evoke a long history of human inquiry into the form and meaning of the universe we live in. Perception and permanence are called into question. Theoretical Physics mingles with tangible objects from antiquity. Art historical references are balanced by philosophical ones. Erin received a BA in Studio Art from University of Colorado at Boulder in 2005. She went on to earn a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Painting and Drawing (2008) and an MFA (2011) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Erin's 2016 exhibitions in Chicago include solo show Useful Knowledge at Zolla Lieberman, two-person show Hand of Mouth at Roots & Culture and group show Chicago and Vicinity at Shane Campbell Gallery. She was named a 2016 Chicago Breakout Artist by New City Art. Erin lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I think of art, philosophy, myth and science all as modes of inquiry, which should be balanced, but not privileged over one another. What do you think?

Erin Washington: Oh of course! By no means do I propose that one mode of inquiry supersedes another. . . if anything, I am looking at these modes of inquiry as different languages attempting to ask the same question. Some languages are better at capturing different nuances to the question; some languages elicit a different type of response or forefront a different type of preoccupation. One language may be more lyrical or poetic, emphasizing romance and pleasure while a different language may be better at discussing facts and figures and analytics, using statistics to describe an agreed upon reality. My hope is to flatten any perceived hierarchy. . . screaming into the void unintelligibly, waiting for an answer from where I do not know. . .

wormhole shape = headstone shape
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: Many of your two-dimensional works are chalk on acrylic on panel. I’m curious about the permanence or impermanence of the chalk: is it fixed? Either way, the implication of erasure and accumulation of meaning is still there.

EW: Another instance in which the question might be more important than the answer! One of my favorite drawings is Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing. A very young Rauschenberg obtained an original drawing by Willem de Kooning and spent weeks erasing it. Erased de Kooning Drawing is powerful because of the story and because of the action. . . conservationists have taken digital photographs of the piece, and now we can Google image search and find out what the actual de Kooning drawing looked like before Rauschenberg labored over its erasure. But it's not satisfying to look at the imagery of what the drawing looked like before it became what it is now. It's satisfying to see the ghost of its former self and to think of the actions of both artists involved.

OPP: Do you think of your chalk works as palimpsests?

EW: My fondness for Erased de Kooning Drawing should imply that yes, I do think of my work as palimpsests. I like that every mark, whether preparatory or finalized, is present and available to the viewer. Some marks clearly describe a thinking mind, while others are purely in existence for the moment and only remain as ghosts of themselves. Those ghosts might not be immediately available, but as trace rewards to the careful and attentive viewer.

Perhaps another way of thinking about it could be illustrated in this anecdote: very often painters will keep rags in their studios to wipe their brushes clean between marks; this helps keeps the paint “pure” and unmuddied from pigment picked up by other pigments on the wet canvas. This is common in drawing, too. The drawer will have a scrap piece of paper handy to “wipe off” the pencil/pen, or to keep the tip at a certain sharpness or degree of angle. A friend in school started wiping off his brushes at the bottom of his painting, so he had these interesting perceptual paintings for three-quarters of the canvas and then what amounted to an abstract expressionist painting at the bottom quarter. When I asked him about why he decided to do that, he referred to the bottom quarter of the painting as “the basement.” It was his way of acknowledging that those “cleaning the brush” marks were just as important to the painting as the mannered and controlled perceptual painting marks.

Negative Positive
Blackberries and oil paint on canvas
12 " x 12 "

OPP: In earlier works, you use other fugitive materials—saliva, moss, tea, and the juice from beets, pomegranates, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries—to make marks. These works tend to be more abstract, foregrounding the materials themselves. When and why did you first start working with these organic materials?

EW: My natural inclination is to be drawn to the materiality of media. I would look at artists like Dieter Roth or Wolfgang Laib and vibrate with excitement. If you want them to, materials can help dictate meaning and form and change the context in which a viewer engages with the work.

The contextual issues we discussed have been of interest to me for a long time. There came a point in exploring these ideas when I began to question the materials that I was using—at the time I was using oil paints. After all, if you’re dealing in inquiry of perception and permanence, eventually you turn that lens on not only Art History but inward as well. . . onto your supports and materials and eventually onto yourself. In other words, it felt weird to try to make work about these ideas using the immutable tools of Painting. While in graduate school at SAIC, one of my advisors picked up on my interest in the passage of time and permanence and suggested that I pick up The Art Forger’s Handbook to study methods and techniques for mimicking aged work. The secret spells and analysis of pigments and supports really tickled the witchy part of my heart, so I started expanding my scope of materials.

Suprematism (After K.M.)
Charred bone and oil on paper
(Left image: found bone, before charring. Right image: Charred bone and oil ground into 40" x 50" paper)

OPP: How are these materials connected to your cosmology references?

EW: When looking at natural pigments, I think of their very early uses, cave paintings and rituals, for example. Using spit and burnt wood and bones and rocks and earth, humans made marks to say we are/were here and to make sense of their world. To figure out how the world began and why we are here. . . that’s one of the most basic definitions of cosmology! The pairing lined up nicely.

And yes, you are correct, the earlier work was much more abstract for a couple of reasons. I was really interested in figuring out how these materials could work, but I was also a little distrustful of imagery at the time. I was wary that images could shut down nuance. I want the artwork to operate with multiple layers of meaning. In retrospect, I think that binary is over-simplified and has flawed logic.

eternal return
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: In eternal return (2015) and eternal return too (2016), you use the repeated image of the ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail. The symbol shows up in numerous ancient cultures and has associations in several philosophical, mystical and psychological systems of thought. What does it mean to you in the context of contemporary culture?

EW: Supposedly the concept of the ouroboros is represented in some shape or form in most ancient cultures to symbolize cyclical recreations, introspection and self-reflexivity. In earlier drawings, I diagrammed Shapes of the Universe and Shapes of an Expanding Universe because I am fascinated with the Oscillating Universe Theory, in which an expanding universe eventually falls apart, but then provides energy/fuel for a subsequent big-bang. This means that all matter and space is forever expanding, collapsing and expanding again (and answering that tricky question “what was there before the big bang?”). I think it has been disproved or isn’t popular among scientists, but it’s such a comforting metaphor. It’s another example of a language of inquiry stumbling upon the poetic. The ouroboros is a visual representation of an eternal return. When I started drawing them, I wound up personifying them, wondering how does it feel for them to eat their own tails? Are they terrified? Are they excited? Are they gagging?

Hand of Mouth
Metalpoint, gouache and acrylic on panel
11" x 14"

OPP: Tell us about your recent show at Roots & Culture in Chicago.

EW: The show was a two-person show with myself and former Chicago artist Ron Ewert (now Brooklyn-based). We both reference and source imagery from other contexts within our paintings/drawings, and we also both have an interest in sculpture and installation as a meta-context/narrative to prop these two-dimensional objects upon. Ron, for example, creates stripped-down wall frames without drywall, often painting these naked two-by-fours bright colors and hanging his work on the wall-skeletons.

We had a couple of Skype studio-visits and realized that we both like using a sort of lateral-thinking/oblique strategy method of generating ideas. We were collecting images and realizing that a lot of them featured hands or mouths or hands with mouths. That’s how we settled on the title of the show Hand of Mouth, and I think that weird phrase influenced a couple of pieces for both of us.

Faith in Fakes (holodeck)
Mixed media installation.
Dimensions variable.
Also on view, Ron Ewert painting.

OPP: What new work did you present?

EW:  I featured more of my collage-based work,  as well as some new metal-point drawings. About a year ago, a friend gave me some metal-point tips with the challenge, “you like drawing and weird materials, try these: they’re the Olympics of drawing!” Metal-point pre-dates graphite and lead. When you’re drawing, you’re embedding metal deposits into the surface of the support, which means you cannot erase your marks.

As mentioned earlier, Ron and I both have an interest in installation acting as a meta-context for our two dimensional work. To this end, I created a mock Holodeck to hang paintings in. It’s an installation I’ve wanted to make for a while, and I was fortunate that Roots & Culture allowed me to do that. Anyway: Faith in Fakes (holodeck) makes reference to Star Trek The Next Generation (a show of great importance to a handful of dear friends in my life). It’s a room that creates virtual reality for the crew on Star Trek, and it’s a conceit that was always confusing to me. Here is a crew of people, essentially in a utopian society in which all races are treated equally and peacefully getting along. (The original Star Trek was one of the first network television shows to feature a racially diverse cast.) They are actively bringing PEACE to the galaxy. . . and yet, they need a virtual reality room to escape utopia every now and then? Furthermore: not only are they already in utopia, they’re astronauts (every child’s secret wish)! It’s often how I feel about my studio. I get to exist in this world. . . and yet I still need to escape into my studio to sit in a room alone and make drawings. . .

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwashington.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Johnathan Payne

Bound #1
Ballpoint pen and ink pen on paper
6 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in.

The racialized and gendered body—his body—is the jumping off point for JOHNATHAN PAYNE's performance, sculpture and installation. His performances include rituals that embody endurance, self-investigation, self-care and preparation for facing the world as a human in a particular body. Coming at the same content from another direction, his Constructions—beautiful, airy, fragile curtains, meticulously assembled from shredded, colored printer paper and comic books—and ballpoint pen drawings of dense, wavy lines that evoke human hair explore the body through abstraction and materiality. Johnathan earned his BA in Art in 2012 from Rhodes College, where he was the recipient of the Sally Becker Grinspan Award for Artistic Achievement. His solo exhibitions include New Drawings (2014) at Beige, Accumulations (2013) at InsideOut Gym and DHOOOOOOM! (2011) at Jack Robinson Gallery, all in Memphis. In 2015, he collaborated with photographer D'Angelo Williams on Room to Let, created and exhibited at First Congregational Church in Memphis. He will exhibit new Constructions and collage work at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery. The fair will take place at Somerset House in London on October 6-9, 2016. Johnathan currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee but will be heading to Yale this fall to pursue his MFA in Painting/Printmaking.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “Intense preoccupations with self-concept, desire, and tribalism [were] the points of departure for” Meet Me Where I’m At (2015), a solo show that included sculpture and performance. The title reads to me as a call away from tribalism, a call to see humans as individuals, not others. Can you say more about how you think about tribalism?

Johnathan Payne: I define tribalism as the organization of individuals who have a deep kinship over a shared culture or commonality. A fraternity, an ethnic or racial group, and a church congregation are examples of tribes to me, and such tribes were catalysts for the conceptualization of the show. I also think about tribalism in relation to time and space, and how people can go in and out of particular tribes depending on those two variables. The show was the outcome of a lot of personal existential questioning. I was beginning to question my positioning in the tribes that I deemed myself a part of but felt somewhat distant to: past and (then) present relationships, the Black/Queer community, and my then live/work space at a church, to name a few. I wanted to examine the isolation I felt as an individual in relation to certain tribes and the difference between identifying as a tribe member and actively participating as one. So, your interpretation of seeing humans as individuals and not (or, interrelation to) others is very spot on.

Partial Self-Portrait
Graphite, ink pen and India ink on paper
12 in. x 12 1/2 in.

OPP: How do self-concept and desire play into, ignite or counteract tribalism?

JP: The past, current, and future self—elements that make up a self-concept—are occasionally at odds with one another. I think this oddity with one’s self is experienced by everyone at some point or another. Usually, I process some of these inner emotions/self schemas by asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Where are you going?” These questions may sound ruminative and self-shaming, but they help me be real with myself and get to the meat of my personal goals and desires. Desire is a double-edged sword for me. I’ve felt the desire to be someone I inherently am not, to be among people whose tribe I don’t have immediate access to or would have to mute or sacrifice an aspect of myself to gain access to. These inner conflicts with certain desires have negatively informed my self-concept, and have brought certain insecurities to the surface in distressful ways. Meet Me Where I’m At ultimately became an attempt to reconcile my relationship with myself, and to see myself unique to the tribes I occupy and the ones I desired to be in.
It was important for me to work across disciplines and engage in time-intensive processes to create the work. I was thinking about the body a lot, specifically a racialized and gendered body, my body. I was questioning my relationship to my body and how my body existed in space and how it was being perceived by others. Poly-consciousness is very central to my lived experience, and the show became an opportunity to explore a personal multidimensionality across materials and forms. Mental endurance, positive self-talk and perseverance are all tools I use in my daily life to push through internal drama induced by the external world. Physical fitness seemed like an appropriate vehicle to examine this self-preservation. The home workout excited me because it is rooted in self-care, but also in solitude. There’s comfort in not being seen working out, in not being susceptible to the perceptions of other gym-goers. I wanted to turn all that on its head by doing Tae Bo in a gallery, to conflate the concepts of isolation, self-improvement and the external gaze.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Live performance/installation exhibition at Crosstown Arts (Memphis, TN)
May 8, 2015.

OPP: You did a performance for the same show, in which you performed a series of secular rituals—shaving your beard and hair, doing a Tae Bo video in a gym-mat-shaped ring of tea lights, bathing, and reading floating fortune cookies followed by beer-bonging your own bath water. In the documentation, we can’t see everything that the live viewers saw. What else can you tell us that we may have missed by not seeing this live?

JP: The live performance spanned roughly one and a half hours, start-to-finish. The audience and I were both entrapped in a lot of time together. There were many sounds of feet shuffling, people conversing, and beer and soda cans popping open by mid-performance. With the exception of shaving my head, bathing, and beer-bonging bath water, most of the performance was spent with my back facing the audience. It was a very personal experience for me, and the audience’s experience was secondary to my own. Occasionally, during the duration of the Tae Bo workout, I would stop to drink water from a bottle I placed outside the tea lights. There was a bit of comicality visible to a live audience, specifically when I responded with disbelief to particularly intense exercises. Audience members cheered me on when I got tired, or when I looked like I was really struggling to perform the moves. Eventually, some of the tea lights burned out entirely.

The Tae Bo workout was projected directly onto the wall, so the scale of the video was large. It consumed me, and in a way I had to compete for the audience’s attention, because the Tae Bo video is rather dynamic to watch on its own. In the video, you see Billy Blanks in the foreground a majority of the time. The fitness studio where the video was filmed has a padded red floor, with various signs on the walls. There is a large, diverse group of people participating in the video. Many racial groups, ages, and genders are represented. There are also a variety of fitness levels represented too. But, collectively, everyone looks confident and has a strong physique. The front row contains people who are incredibly fit, and they maintain the pace of Blanks’ commands. The video was produced and distributed in the year 2000, and it definitely feels stylistically and aesthetically dated in that sense. Billy is a very lively figure throughout the video. He is encouraging, uplifting, militant and authoritative, all in one. My body language throughout the performance shifts, particularly during and after the bathing sequence. At that point, I am directly facing the audience and actively engaging with them. It was certainly me at my most vulnerable moment, but also my most powerful moment.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Performance still

OPP: A year later, what do you think about your own performance?

JP: This performance continues to be a lot for me to unpack. I think about my relationship to Billy Blanks and how his projection of Black masculinity is very divergent from my own. My attempt to mirror his appearance and keep pace with him is difficult, unsuccessful and ultimately unnecessary. I find comfort in that “failure,” in that ability to affirm Blackness across a spectrum, detached from competition and a monolithic representation. I still contemplate the line between self-care and self-medication, and my relationships to my past and current self. I continue to ask myself a lot of questions surrounding who I am and how I exist in the world. Ultimately, I think the performance challenged me to relinquish some of the internalizations that impeded me from being able to be my authentic self.

Installation view

OPP: In your Constructions (2015-present), made from both shredded comic books and colored printer paper, I’m most interested in the idea of transforming a narrative form into abstraction, even if it is an abstraction that hints at a functional object (a curtain). Can you discuss the two different papers in relation to the forms?

JP: My Constructions series developed from an ongoing interest to appropriate comic books in my work. Since 2011, I have explored the comic image and consider Ray Yoshida and his retrospective at the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC to be one of the most significant moments for me as a visual artist. Seeing the way Yoshida extracted and arranged forms from various comic books into specimen-like formations against spacious white grounds really stuck with me. In my Constructions, I make tapestry-like collages that attempt to evoke the vulnerability, complexity and tactility intrinsic to particular embodied identities. These evocations are manifested through color, pattern, and material. I play with color and pattern in different ways depending on the paper I choose.

When I shred comic book paper, the compositional and formal elements become colorful strips of pixelated, whimsical information. I then play around with these strips, creating patterned designs until I discover one that is compelling enough for me to explore further. Then, I set out to make a large scale artwork. From a distance, there is a formal uniformity to the Constructions made out of comic book paper. Yet, when viewed at an intimate distance, the comic Constructions offer a lot of complexity and detail in relation to color, line, and subject matter. I deconstruct depictions of whiteness, “justice,” heteronormativity, and patriarchy embedded in many comic books. The resulting form is not intended to be a reimagining or response to the original comic narrative. Though a familiarity exists, my goal is to transform the material into something rather unconventional.

I developed a stronger interest to play with color in my work after exploring the art of Black Abstractionists. The work of Alma Thomas, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Odili Donald Odita, Howardina Pindell and Stanley Whitney really resonates with me. So, I began to experiment with colored printer paper. I enjoyed that, similar to comic books, there was already visual information to respond to, though in this instance, it’s just flat, predetermined color. I began to use this paper as a tool to build pattern, tamper with light and shadow, and reference color field paintings and geometric abstractions. I layer warm and cool colors atop one another in an attempt to blend colors and create a visual vibrancy where the two shift rather seamlessly. I consider these particular constructions to be more broadly derivative of paintings. Also, the colored printer paper is usually stronger than the comic book paper, because of its ream weight and it being newer paper most times. So, I find that there’s a greater ability to experiment with surface texture. The surfaces of the colored paper constructions tend to buckle and bend, which reiterates the idea of vulnerable, yet resilient bodies and identities within society. I’m excited to explore both materials more in graduate school, as well as other printed material/archived publications.

Munch (detail)
shredded comic books and adhesive
96 in. x 83 in.

OPP: Tell us about your recent collaboration Room to Let (2015) with photographer D'Angelo Williams. What did you each bring to the project?

JP: D’Angelo’s MFA thesis work titled Beauty Kings stages various black men adorned with a deep burgundy turban standing in isolation within urban and rural landscapes. I was deeply inspired by this work and had the pleasure in participating as a model for him. His thesis work and my studio projects at the time were the catalysts for the show. Following Meet Me Where I’m At, I began working on a series of gestures and drawings that were intended to be somewhat dark in tonality and thematic content, so I wanted to balance that out with a project that was more participatory, colorful and playful. We decided to further investigate portraiture photography and abstract drawing together.

D’Angelo specifically brought a strong background in shooting and editing photographs to the project, and I brought a collaborative painting and drawing background. We both desired to explore color, identity and abstraction using space, material, fabrics and textiles and willing participants. We shot the photographs at First Congregational Church in Memphis, where I lived and worked as an events coordinator and a hostel resident assistant—the church runs an international traveler’s hostel called Pilgrim House. We borrowed linens and blankets from the hostel and asked guests if they wanted to pose for us. Initially, I was hesitant to ask strangers to participate. We would both approach someone, explain the themes and ideas surrounding the photos, and ask if they were interested. To my surprise, a lot of people expressed interest, and for some, it was a significant highlight of their time in Memphis. 

Rochelle on Southside Roof
Digital print
22 in. x 17 in.

OPP: What surprises emerged during the process?

JP: We worked together to drape the fabrics over the guests, making formal decisions based on the specific locations in the building and the personalities of each model. What struck me early in our project was how beautiful these fabrics looked adorned on the models. These were sheets and blankets that I’d spent a year interacting with as a staff member—washing, folding, cleaning—and I’d given them no particular mind and ascribed absolutely zero value to them. But, in reality, there was a lot of power inherent in them. That power was invisible to me, and the project really encouraged me to search for meaning where it’s (perceivably) least expected. We shot the photographs in various spaces within the church and made collaborative drawings and one shaped painting in my studio, which was also located inside the church. We exhibited the work in one of the rooms we photographed in, and opened the exhibition to churchgoers, hostel guests  and friends. It was wonderful to witness so many different people engaging with the art.

Room to Let really informed my interest to explore color, tactility, materiality and abstraction, and how all those elements can represent embodied identities. Working with D’Angelo was incredibly affirming, and I found comfort where we overlapped as artists and individuals.

Untitled (Jungle)
Acrylic paint, India ink, ballpoint pen, and permanent marker on paper

OPP: In your most recent video performance Training Session (2015), you do forward rolls on a small gym mat over and over again, wearing a T-shirt that says Up Against the Wall Mother Fucker. What are you training for?

JP: I am training for sustained self-preservation against the systems within society that wish to destroy me. In Training Session, I wanted to portray a pro-Black political sentiment through embodiment, text and the urban environment. I had finished reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was thinking a lot about the vulnerability inherently attached to the Black body. How, at any point, it can be extinguished and how that threat of extinction can induce an internalized violence that is both protective and self-destructive. Coates writes, “. . . this is your country. . . this is your world. . . this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” That line really resonated with me as I strove to determine what being free in my own Black body looked like. I wanted to show myself struggling in a repetitive act, that danced the line between external and internal influencers. That in-between is a rich space to me.

I also wanted to connect this performance with a Black Power narrative. The line on the shirt is a quote from Amiri Baraka’s poem Black People. In the poem, Baraka affirms the need for Black people to make their own world by any means necessary, including violence onto white people. The poem goes:

You can't steal nothing from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you everything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherfucker! this is a stick up... We must make our own world, man, our own world, and we can not do this unless the white man is dead. Let's get together and kill him my man.

Though I’m not a violent person, I wanted to incorporate the theme of a racial-political uprising, but on the individual level. I wore the shirt in the performance to evoke the aggressive, combative tone in the poem. I paired this loaded text with a repetitive action—the somersault, a rudimental gymnastics technique—that hinted at notions of personal development, amateurism and innocence. I also wore a wrestling ear-guard to reinforce the idea of combat sport, but also to hint to a potential opponent. Though in reality they are many in number, two “opponents” depicted in the video include the hard, overgrown externalized world around me, as well as the internalized shackles that impede me from nurturing a radically Black identity.

Training Session
Filmed October 11, 2015 in Memphis, TN.
Documentation courtesy of David Bergen.

OPP: Training Session, which was made last October, took on renewed relevance two weeks ago, with the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. . .

JP: The recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shooting of Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers are tragic and continuous reminders of the difficult reality that is existing in a Black body in America. It’s horrible to think that images of Black people have been constructed in ways beyond our own imagining or control and that these constructions ignite such brutality and violence onto us. In her book Citizen, Claudia Rankine speaks to a particular anger: “the anger built up through experience and quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color.” I’ve heard this anger be referred to as Black Rage, and I see a connection between it and the internalized fear I mentioned earlier. I empathize entirely with these emotions and understand the root causes behind their extreme, outward manifestations. I also am able to confront my particular vantage point, which is from a place of privilege. I understand that the way I maintain and/or channel my emotions is unique to my experience. I haven't always been the most comfortable affirming my Blackness or confronting racism in the past, but I'm unpacking that suppression in my life right now. I think all of this is visible in Training Session.

To see more of Johnathan's work, please visit johnathanpayne.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter


The stark, monochrome lines of MARCELYN BENNETT CARPENTER’s interactive, elastic installations are visually reminiscent of Minimalist sculpture. But these formal qualities belie the material qualities of flexibility and resilience. Her work entices viewers to become embodied participants, placing the sense of touch on par with the culturally-privileged sense of sight. Even her recent hand-woven drawings destabilize our habitual reliance on the visual by interrupting the image—a conceptual representation—with the tangible line of the warp. After earning a BA in Philosophy (Wheaton College, 1994) and a BFA in Drawing and Painting (University of Colorado at Denver, 1999),  Marcelyn went on to earn her MFA in Fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art (Michigan, 2003). Recent exhibitions include Extreme Fibers (2016) at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Michigan and Touch, Touch, Touch (2015) at Arrowmont Gallery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Her work has recently been featured in Essay’d, an online series of short essays that documents Detroit artists actively working around the city during this perplexing time of simultaneous ruin and generation. Her work is currently on view in Please Touch at the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Virgina) until July 7, 2016. Marcelyn lives and works in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Elastic plays a large role in your practice and shows up in so many different projects, including Snap, Tensions and various interactive installations. What was the first piece that used elastic?

Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter: During grad school at Cranbrook, I used elastic in an installation called Pinch Pots, in which I suspended little porcelain pots from elastic lines. I weighted the pots with sand and scented oil. People were encouraged to enter into the installation and play with the pots dangling on elastic. There were so many lines and pots that the pots jumped all over and would crash into the floor or into other pots. The sand sprayed out and the pots slowly were destroyed, but the elastic recovered. The sand and the broken pots were stepped on, creating sound and sensation on the feet. It was a really satisfying experience of destruction and discovery all at once. This interaction allowed for more of the senses to come into play, engaging the body more fully with the work.

Tensions: Yellow, Red, Blue
Elastic, Paper, Porcelain, felt, cotton, lead
60' x 20' x 20'

OPP: What have you learned about this material over the years?

MBC: Elastic is the perfect material for creating physical art work that you can feel. . . art that you touch and play with. Its main function is to move with the body. It responds to your movements, your action, and then it recovers. It holds a variety of tensions until it is released and returns back to its original form. 

I love elastic. I love how, like many textiles, we are using it almost 24/7. Our underwear, our bra straps, our pajamas, our swimming suits, our exercise clothing, our pants, skirts, hair ties all stay with us because of elastic’s ability to respond and hold tight while our bodies are constantly moving through space throughout the day. It is really hard to break elastic.

fitting: Coral #2

OPP: Can you talk about interactivity versus performance with your elastic installations? You’ve allowed for both.

MBC: I am still learning and experimenting with interactivity, performance and even non-interaction. There are many possibilities for how the work can behave in the world. I knew the work could lend itself to rigorous interactions with dancers, so when opportunities arose to collaborate, I took them. The only way to find out was to research it  and try it.

I see interaction more as the audience playing with the work. This exists when viewers physically handle the work or when they simply move around it. When someone looks up, bends down, or cranes the neck for a different view, they are moving with the work. They are physically engaged. When they dare to touch the work and manipulate it with their hands or body, I have gotten to a whole other area of the brain for them. The more sensations the work gives them, the richer the aesthetic experience, and the more they will remember, think and feel about the work.  

Three Loves
10' x 5' x 18'

OPP: I assume Pick-ups are meant to picked up by the viewer. How difficult or easy is it to get viewers to overcome the convention of not touching art?

MBC: I have always thought of getting people to touch the work as a design problem. How can I get the object to inherently communicate to the viewer to touch it. Fiber and ceramics lend themselves to touch naturally, and those are the main materials I work in. Half the battle is won. But the socialization to not touch in a gallery or museum is pretty strong, so often I resort to giving permission to touch on the signage. 

Luckily, I have been involved in two shows lately where all the work in the show was intended to be touchable. The title of the exhibitions were Touch, Touch, Touch and Please Touch.  I also curated a show called Handle with Care. This was a great way to go about it, and the spirit in the gallery is just terrific when people are playing and exploring art in this way.

There are other design problems: How do I allow for touch to happen and protect the work from damage? Do I control the way a viewer touches the work? Or do I allow for the destruction of the work through the interaction like in the wear and tear in my Pinch Pot installation. I have had an installation totally destroyed by dancers who didn’t understand the work’s limitations. In retrospect, I would have insisted on more practice time with the work before the performance. But work does get damaged, and I often struggle with whether I should fix it or should I let its disintegration be a part of it.

Porcelain, Stretch netting, and glass
24" x 48" x 40"

OPP: Is it harder with small objects than installations?

MBC: For me, the large scale installations are more satisfying because they are more open-ended and engage the whole body, but the smaller works like the Pick Ups and Snaps! are fun for the fingers and create a lot of visual pleasure too! I also don’t underestimate what the imagination can fill in. One reaction I often get from the Pick Ups is that people want to taste them! It is much better for them to imagine the taste than to actually taste stretch netting and porcelain!

Tamarack (detail)
Handwoven Drawing
4' x 6'

OPP: I see a formal connection between the warp of your hand-woven drawings and the taut vertical lines in Tensions and various interactive elastic installations. But the weavings are so static and discreet compared to the other projects, at least for the viewer. Is there an underlying conceptual thread between these two seemingly disparate bodies of work?

MBC: I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about the warp! I came to weaving after I had been creating my interactive installations for many years. I teach weaving and fiber arts full time at the Kingswood Weaving Studio at Cranbrook Schools. The verticality of the warp and the tension held by the loom were visually the same as my elastic installations! I quickly became immersed in figuring out how weaving could be integrated into my own work. My BFA is in drawing and painting, so I have been playing with how can I bring a more spontaneous, quick way of drawing and almost graffiti effect into weaving. Nothing in weaving is quick, but I found the handwoven drawings to be quicker and super satisfying for me. I am coordinating all these elements: the drawing, the string, the colors, the density of the strings. Once it is off the loom, I work back into the surface of the handwoven drawing with paint, stickers, and even embroidery. 

These works are pretty new for me; it’s been just a year. I am really intrigued by how I can draw on the wood slats, then veil the drawing in the warp. It reminds me of how my installations optically transform and even veil space. The warp does the same to the drawings. The warp appears and disappears, adding incredible depth and texture. If you look at the handwoven drawings from the side, you only see the warp threads and not the drawing. I also suspend the weavings out from the wall and paint the backs in bright colors, so there is a glow that surrounds the piece from behind. Shadows of light through the handwoven drawings are pretty incredible too. Even though space is treated two-dimensionally in the handwoven drawings, it is still about space and maybe that space is more inward than outward.

Abandon: Kingswood Parking Lot
Pencil and ink
42" x 36"

OPP: Please talk about the imagery in your most recent Abandon drawings. Will these become weavings?

MBC: The imagery in Abandon is very similar formally to the psychological Rorschach ink blot tests. I built upon these tests, though, by mirroring abandoned homes and locating the psychology in the home. One of the main indicators of abandonment is the foliage around the house, which takes over almost like a creature or unstoppable “destructive” force reclaiming the space back for nature. I also thought a lot about what it means to walk away from a home, to abandon it. So many memories, relationships, so much dysfunction, as well as familial, social and financial security are held in a house. So many of our psychological experiences occur in the space of a home. I flattened and ghosted out the houses and the surrounding foliage to abstract them and allow for a more imaginative interpretation. 

For the large weavings, I have used only the tree and foliage imagery so far. I really enjoy trying to give a tree personality and employing some of the textile design structures like repeating motifs and borders as in rugs, but these structures are not woven. They are drawn and then woven. Like I said, they are pretty new works, so I won’t eliminate the possibility of the houses working their way into them in the future. 

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.