OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Paulus

American Endurance (The Creep)
12 panels, approx 25" by 90" with spacing
2015

Interdisciplinary artist MICHAEL PAULUS works in video, painting drawing and sculpture. From his slow, lulling videos of repetitive phenomena to his pithy, layered drawings of the imagined skeletal systems of well-known cartoon characters, he expresses both awe at the natural world and criticism of the constant human drive to manipulate it. Michael's videos have been screened nationally in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas and internationally in Taipei, Taiwan; London, England; Banff, Canada and Basel, Switzerland. Most recently, Wind Farm was included in the Gödöllo International Nature Film Festival (2015) in Gödöllo, Hungary. Michael is currently hard at work on a collaborative, multi-media project with Glenna Cole Allee that examines "the ghostly remains of the annexed people and township from the Hanford Reach." In 2015, he exhibited work in Obsidere, curated by MicroClimate Collective in San Francisco and had a solo show called Claimed, Found and Gifted at Oranj Studio in Portland, Oregon where he lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work in drawing, sculpture, painting and video. What’s the underlying thread tying together all your work in various media?

Michael Paulus: I’ve never had a very disciplined studio practice, investing in technique and familiarity with a chosen medium. I’m generally restlessness with sticking with one medium. I do recall very much my foundations professor Greg Skinner at Cornish College in Seattle impressing upon me to “choose the medium to suit the vision, not the other way around.” He was a conceptual artist coming out of the post-minimalist 60s.  Actually, I came back to visual art about 15 years ago after burning out on the two-dimensional image and the limitations of illusion, which brought me to sculpture after a couple-year-long hiatus, during which I was more concerned with creating audio compositions. 

The mediums do differ throughout, and the work tends to be motivated by a respect of this natural world, as well as a critical view of the awkward attempts we humans make to define and control it.

Tweety
Fig. 7

OPP: You’ve drawn the imagined skeletons of 22 well-known cartoon characters in Character Study. Does personal fandom play into how you selected your subjects or is it more about the bodies themselves? Can you also talk a bit about the urge to deconstruct childhood icons?

MP: The cartoon skeletons were really an exploration and experiment to deconstruct iconic figures from my childhood. In their day, these characters were stand-ins and figureheads for many. Actually, I never had much interest in comics, and I really do not like the act of drawing, so that project was a bit of a challenge for me. I had the notion to do somewhat literal drawings of their very physical bodies (skeletons in this case) in a kind of medical or devinci-esque rendition and apply a hinged, translucent digital overlay of the flat and colorful cartoon image over the top, intentionally retaining the pixilation and artifacts that came with them when pulling the figures off internet searches. The intent was to have an onion skinning, transparent layer with the drawing underneath, like the anatomy books I paged through as a youngster with the various Mylar layers of circulatory, nervous, cardiovascular systems, till finally one is left with an opaque skeletal system, which cannot be denied.

I chose Charlie Brown and Hello Kitty first, as they were both very iconic and grotesquely distorted from the original human or animal from which they were derived. For the rest of the series I did the same. I retained the general skeletal system of whatever their actual origins were, regardless of how anthropomorphically derivative of a cutesy human they were with speaking mouths and huge eye sockets.

Vertical Migration
HD video
4min, 15 sec.
2014

OPP: It seems you’ve been focusing on video work in the last few years. Videos like Vertical Migration (2014), Wind Farm (2014) and Dip (2013) all have a slow, contemplative quality. To me, they are all about the value of slowing down to look at what we might be missing and the beauty of cyclical repetition. Earlier videos like The Journal of John Magillicutty or: The Time Afforded To One Lucky Enough To Be Living Comfortably (2006) and The Preoccupied Occupant (2009) have all those same qualities plus humor and a little absurdity. Thoughts?  

MP: Well, I suppose I tend to look at this life a bit distanced. Both critical and amazed at what it is all about.  And I certainly like combining contrasts and the marriage of opposing elements,  kind of a ‘more than the sum of the parts’ kind of thing. 

So, yes, there are some outright absurd and comical elements in contrast to and as a kind of veil over the profound. It’s possible that I’m self-consciously masking spiritual leanings I have or constructing a retainer in case I stray too far. I grew up with contrasts in a family of Catholic faith but where science and logic was king. I am conscious of this instinct to manipulate and control the world around us: designed dog breeds, damned rivers, foie gras, binary codes. The cyclical repetition is a result of this constant. I suppose, it’s a kind of a meditative response in the face of absurdity or incomprehension.

General paranoia in our culture and surveillance flavor my recent work. I am currently working on a couple projects examining the paranoid undercurrent. One is a small but ongoing attempt to finish a video where I am matching shot for shot the opening sequence from the ubiquitous movie The Shining. I am matching the locations and the blocking of the movie’s ominous, helicopter eye in the sky intro sequence as it looks down, following the subjects as they wind up the mountain. . . but in this case looking back up at it. 

Another very multi-media project is working with artist Glenna Cole Allee on an interactive piece that examines the ghostly remains of the annexed people and township from the Hanford Reach in what became The Manhattan Project’s plutonium-producing mega-site in the scablands of Washington state—now also the notorious Superfund cleanup site. It’s a large undertaking incorporating massive stills, video, projected audio elements spoken from natives and some sculptural constructions.

Grasping Right and Grasping Left: Hands of Abraham
Watercolor on rag paper
2015

OPP: Please tell us about your most recent body of work Claimed, Found and Gifted. What’s the significance of the blades of grass your drawn versions of the hands on the Lincoln Memorial? Why have you revisited Abraham Lincoln again after a decade?

MP: Well, I was offered an opportunity to exhibit some new work along with existing pieces so I decided to explore where my head was at 10 years prior in a show I did titled The Stars and Abraham. I found myself a bit perplexed in how I had merged the myth and popular vestige of Abraham Lincoln with astrology and its arbitrary symbolism. More to the point, of how they relate in Americana folklore and institutions for the faithful believers in both. I certainly held Mr. Lincoln in high regard since childhood for his virtue and fortitude. Most of this was drilled into children in grade school it seems.

Honestly, it was a bit of an awkward exercise with that association between the two; comparing Lincoln’s vacillation between right and wrong, this and that with the union and slavery. Anyways, I borrowed from Lincoln again. In addition to the cascading stovepipe hats upon pretzels and hotdogs, I inserted blades of very suburban, green grass clenched in the Lincoln memorial hands—just more Americana from a child’s backyard looking up at the sky. And, as a counterpoint to the somewhat austere and critical renditions involving Abraham, I created large, rag-paper fans in full, saturated, color from fabric dye as a celebration of his sensual and feminine counterpart, Mary Todd. . . or, my creation of her into this complement to him.

The exhibition title Claimed, Found and Gifted refers to the idea of American expansionism westward, manifest destiny and eminent domain. One piece, the broken and elongated pop American tchotchke black panther titled American Endurance—(the Creep) is basically the title piece.

Rorschach in loft foyer
96 Blots with designer and artist Trish Grantham.

OPP: Your painted walls resemble wallpaper in their repeated patterns of flowers and Rorschach blots, but each image is uniquely hand painting. Some are the interiors of private homes; others are in bars and restaurants. Did these folks seek you out or did you bid for the jobs? Can you offer any practical advice for artists who want to do commissioned work?

MP: I have been doing work like this for a while. I first began with commercial work in a more corporate environment, designing and building permanent art installations for the offices and conference rooms of a large company.  The patterned “wall paper” painting began really with Angle Face bar in Portland, Oregon, owned by John Taboada and Giovanna Parolari. It’s kind of a tweak on the current trend of wallpaper and repeat patterns, but with an application by hand so that each motif is unique.

Local designer Trish Grantham conceived the Rorschach blots. The Rorschach blot-inspired work I particularly like in that the context—often a residence—plays into the reception of the work. One peripherally ‘feels’ a delicate pattern of flowers surrounding you like conventional wallpaper when entering a space and then, once taking a closer look…
 
My fine art practice and discipline as I said earlier is lacking at times and I consider myself aligned with a design instinct more than I would have appreciated when I was younger. Do I actively search out paid work like this? Not so much. That is a great benefit of the World Wide Web really, in that it is very helpful for individuals dealing in visual images.

To see more of Michael's work, please visit michaelpaulus.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 Caroline Carlsmith

Pyritization II (In Praise of Limestone)
2014
Poem, pyrite (FeS2)
Detail

CAROLINE CARLSMITH's interdisciplinary work is a rhizome of meaning, material and language. The impenetrable walls and poetic byproducts of translation are subjects in works that range from vinyl lettering on walls, poems written in minerals and prints of word clouds made from digitally generated lorem ipsum (a meaningless filler text used by typesetters since the 1500s). In 2009, Caroline completed a double degree in Studio Art (BFA) and Visual and Critical Studies (BA) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to earn an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University in 2014. She has attended residencies at SÍM Residency (Reykjavic, Iceland), ACRE (Stuben, Wisconsin) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Recent exhibitions include to be looked at and read at BKBX Gallery in Brooklyn, Archipelago (2014) at the Block Museum in Evanston, Illinois and Reading Room at Julius Caesar in Chicago. Caroline lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about text as image and image as text in your work? I'm also curious if you experience textual thinking as different than or similar to visual thinking. 



Caroline Carlsmith: Though there may well be a difference for some people between textual and visual thinking, I am not sure whether I experience it. In some ways all of my works are written, but sometimes literal writing is visible in the finished product and sometimes it isn’t. My artworks are most often the result of a constellation of ideas that are associated as I might want to associate them in a poem. If I want the impact to be simultaneous or sensory, then I make them objects.

While there may not be, for me, a difference between visual and textual creating, there is certainly a difference between the experience of the reader of a text and the viewer of a non-text-based work of art. My desire to invoke one kind of experience or another dictates whether the final product is text or text+. I tend to use images and words similarly, trying to play with their multiple meanings, placing them in congress with each other to facilitate controlled collisions.

Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet
2012
45 inkjet prints on paper
Prints are 8.5" x 11" each
Installed at Northwestern University, October, 2012

OPP: Whether you are rendering poetry as small nuggets of pyrite as in Pyritization II (In Praise of Limestone) (2014) or Walt Whitman's Calamus as word clouds in Nobody Loves Pain Itself For Itself (2012), translation is both a strategy and a subject in your work. How do you think about issues of legibility, believability and accuracy in relation to translation?



CC: I believe there is no such thing as accuracy in translation. Every translation—be it from language to language, image to text, material to material, body to fossil, artist to avatar—presents both loss and gain. It is this transformation, or transubstantiation, that allows an idea, a thought or a figure to be carried beyond the boundaries of the original in time and space. But inevitably what is translated is not the thing itself. The “true” original is never accessible. It is what we touch when we reach for what lies beyond it. It is the thin shell of space between skin and skin when we believe we are in contact with each other. This is the space I am seeking to make visible.

I Am Now With You
2013
Die-cut vinyl lettering

OPP: You've done numerous projects that take Walt Whitman's work as a subject or a jumping-off point. Why Walt Whitman, as opposed to any other writer? What does he mean to you as a human, as an artist? What does he mean to your work?

CC: Walt Whitman is a key figure to me in many ways. Most important is a move he makes throughout his work, in which he asks to be understood as present with the reader after his death, without his body, through the text. Whitman was an artist who wrote “himself” into his poetry, creating a fictional persona that overlapped with but did not replicate the author. When the poem claims “I am now with you,” the reader is faced with an incantation, a performative utterance, which enacts its own truth through its declaration. This form of immortality, the conjuration of one’s figure through the medium of text, which is not dependent on the living body and moves through time differently, was the one Whitman proclaimed for himself when he made statements like,

                                                   Remember my words - I may again return, 
                                                   I love you - I depart from materials;
                                                   I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.

For him, to escape the body and the material world was to live on, but, perversely, that living can only be enacted within a new body. And what is conjured is not a man, but something both larger and smaller: a figure.

Importantly, for Whitman this strategy is dependent on love and enacted by the reader’s succumbing to desire for his “presence.” It’s a form of seduction that results, for Whitman, in alternating forms of procreation and resurrection, or, better yet, new poems, or new works of art, that carry forward that figure and allow it to grow and change—in other words, to live.

2013
Wax cylinder record, marble dust (CaCO3)
2 1/2" diameter x 4"

OPP: Could you talk about the significance of Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) in its many forms?

CC: I initially became interested in calcium carbonate in its crystal form of optical calcite, which is a birefringent material that splits a ray of light into two beams. I was fascinated to encounter a naturally occurring material that had the capacity to split an image or a word viewed through it in two. It produces a doubling effect in which the “real” and “virtual” are separated but indistinguishable.

As I began to research further, however, I found multiple ways in which calcium carbonate shaped the history of the visual itself. For example, according to the fossil record, trilobites living in the prehistoric oceans saturated with calcium carbonate developed the first eyes, which were compound lenses of calcite. Later, when the oceans acidified, the bodies of the animals living in that environment and deposits from that water became chalk and limestone, or metamorphosed into marble. In forms like these, as well as gesso and lime plaster, calcium carbonate has been an integral part of human art-making as far back as we can trace it. The study of calcite also gave rise, in the 17th century, to the understanding of both the polarization of light and the polymorphism of crystals. Calcite remains the purest polarizing material in use in optical instruments today. Even now, it is still present at the expanding boundary of the visible. It is ultimately that polymorphism that attracts me to calcite. It is part of why I use chemical formulas to indicate motifs and produce associations between seemingly disparate materials in my work. I like that a material can be so many different things and somehow still be the same, remain connected or cohesive.

However, like most materials, CaCO3 is most dynamic when set against something with which it is in tension. When working on Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre, for example, I was using calcium carbonate in the forms of marble powder, chalk, pearl and calcite crystal. That installation also made use of multiple meanings of the word basic, which is a characteristic of the alkaline calcium carbonate, but also a way to think about language, about the foundations of education and thought and about foundations themselves.

Installation view of Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre
foreground: Phèdre, left: Basic Phaedrus, right: Citation Pearl: General Index, background: Solution
2013

OPP: What about your use of blackboards as substrates in Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre (2013)?



CC: Blackboards, in that context, were not only the typical substrate for chalk marks, but also a pedagogical tool, as well as associated with the work of Cy Twombly, whose triptych Phaedrus was recreated in chalk and marble dust on the reverse of the three blackboards in the installation. (The original paintings had been famously kissed by the performance artist Rindy Sam, who claimed she’d been so overwhelmed with love for the work that she had to physically consummate it.) Blackboards, along with champagne and the lipstick Sam had worn to kiss the Twombly, interacted with calcium carbonate as substrates, solvents, and additives. By paring down the materials involved in an installation to just a few elements, I hoped the complex relationships between them would have a greater impact.

II (Inside of a Needle Inside of an Egg Inside of a Duck Inside of a Rabbit Inside of a Chest Buried Under an Oak Tree on an Island)
2014
Carbon ink drawing (C) on paper

OPP: What are you working on right now?

CC: I’m working on a new series of drawings right now based on a Rose of Jericho, which is a resurrection plant native to the desert of Mexico and the southwestern USA. When it’s dry it looks like a little tumbleweed and quite dead, but when you expose it to water it uncurls and grows green and is suddenly alive. The ancient city of Jericho is associated in illuminated manuscripts with a certain type of labyrinth which has seven cycles, related to its apocryphal seven walls. In these drawings, I use the Rose of Jericho, as it opens and closes, to trace paths that lead out of seven-cycled labyrinths. I'm also working on a written piece—or perhaps seven written pieces—that I hope will accompany the drawings when the series is finished.

To see more of Caroline's work, please visit carolinecarlsmith.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, opens today at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kirsten Furlong

Promise and purpose, the Ancestors' dream
Collage, ink, graphite, and colored pencil on paper
60"x 60"
2014

KIRSTEN FURLONG explores the interplay between culture and nature and the multifaceted relationships between humans and animals in her drawings, prints and fiber-based installations. In her project Unchopping a Tree, based on the eponymous W.S. Merwin prose poem, she laments the lost lives of trees and the impossibility of reviving what has already died. Kirsten earned her BFA (1995) from the University of Nebraska in Omaha and her MFA (2000) from Boise State University in Idaho. Recent solo exhibitions include Kirsten Furlong: Repeat and Shift (2014) at Enso Arts in Boise, Idaho and Standing Still and Moving Through The Wilderness at Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her work is included in Dog Head Stew | The Second Course, which just opened this week on October 19, 2015 at Gallery 239, Chadron State College in Nebraska. Another group show, Paper West, opens on November 5, 2015 at Gittins Gallery in Salt Lake City, Utah. In September 2015, she was the Artist-in-Residence at Crooked Tree Art Center in Traverse City, Michigan. She is the Gallery Director and Curator for the Visual Arts Center and a Lecturer at Boise State University. Kirsten lives in Boise, Idaho.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say, "animals serve as emblems of nature and as metaphors for human desires." It seems to me that human desires aren't that different from animal desires. What does it mean for our relationship to animals that we turn them into metaphors for our own experiences rather than imagining their experiences?
 
Kirsten Furlong: Animals, in many cases, carry the weight of our cultural baggage which can make it very unclear what anyone’s actual desires may be, animal or human. The most basic and necessary human desires may be for water and air, and yet we engage in activities that foul these resources and deny both humans and animals access to them.

However, a species becoming emblematic has occasionally been useful if they get our attention due to a larger narrative or problem. For example, the near destruction of bald eagles from DDT and the subsequent ban and recovery. There is such an incredible complexity of animal identities, politics and cultural identities tied to the land and species that reside therein. This dynamic takes on particular qualities here in the Western U.S. Thoughtful consideration of the experiences of animals such as wolves, sage grouse, or the giant Palouse earthworm would certainly steer our treatment of their lives in a different directions than they seem to be currently heading.

Investigations in experimental garments for animals
Inkjet print
24"x 30"
2013

OPP: Could you tell us about your experimental garments for animals? Why do these birds need hats?
 
KF: The “garments” started as three-dimensional studio sketches created from hand-made and hand-stitched wool felt. The initial forms were created as protective outer-wear with architectural qualities designed for a few particular birds, insects and small mammals. These forms were intended for a project in which they would be placed in environments to be discovered by these species. The subsequent interactions, collaborations—or lack there of—would generate ideas for the future completed designs. While impatiently awaiting these collaborations and sometimes storing the forms on the head of a taxidermied chuckar partridge in my studio, their unintended, uncanny resemblance to various hats or historic head gear became apparent: dunce caps, papal mitre, bonnets, chaperons, hoods, and military gear. So, while there is no need on the bird's part for a hat, providing one points out, in an ironic way, the uniquely human need for adornments and accoutrements.

standing still - tree circle (detail)
Ink drawing on paper
30"h x 22"w
2012

OPP: How does your use of repetitive mark-making—in the forms of drawing, cutting and sewing—in pieces like Standing Still - Tree Circle (2012), Twice: Migration (2009) and Wolf Mouth (2013) support the content of your work?
 
KF: My process is to mimic forms and patterns made by plants and animals: tree rings, concentric lines on seashells, woven grass in a bird nest, fractal patterns on ferns and corals, spider webs, or the meandering line of a snake. This is a way of understanding natural processes via imitation and representation using the tools of the artist —the pen, the blade, the needle. 


OPP: I like imagining Nature making marks in the same way an artist does, as if it is cognizant and self aware. Perhaps we should go back to the tradition of anthropomorphizing Nature itself, as used to occur in ancient myths . . . might we treat it better if we thought of Nature as a creative being deserving empathy?

KF: This is not just a belief of the past but a way of thinking that is embraced in a number of cultures, and it can have a profound impact on how one exists as a part of Nature. Many dismiss systems of thought like anthropomorphism and animism or consider them only as cultural constructs, but I think a more nuanced approach that crosses the boundaries of natural sciences and arts/humanities is where the most interesting discussions are taking place.

Unchopping a Tree #8
String and poplar tree
2015

OPP: You just returned from a residency at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Northern Michigan. What drew you to this residency and what did you work on while you were there?
 
KF: I have never visited the area, and I like to invigorate my studio practice by situating it now and then in unfamiliar places. Also, I had the opportunity to teach a workshop called Image Layering with Printmaking, Painting and Drawing. I introduced a variety of techniques for mark making including frottage, chine colle' and image transfers. For the frottage process, I demonstrated how to use found textures of wood grain, stones and plants with printmaking inks and graphite on thin papers. Then I showed the process of cutting and adhering these images /patterns to thicker papers and adding additional images with transfers /drawing/painting.

This temporary move from the late summer high desert to the leafy landscape of Northern Michigan's forest preserves and great lakes provided much to investigate. The most fascinating discoveries on the shore of Lake Michigan were the unique geological features - the fossil patterns of Petoskey stones and chain coral influenced some of the drawings I worked on during the stay. The Crooked Tree program is unique in that the artist stays in a private studio and apartment adjacent to the residency hosts' home. The hosts are very knowledgeable about the area and the local flora and fauna and shared a lot of useful information about the region. I also created some site specific works related to my Unchopping a Tree series in a grove of poplars a short walking distance from the studio. I had the opportunity to visit Headlands, one of few designated International Dark Sky Parks, which has me thinking a lot about darkness and nocturnal environments as threatened natural resources.

Rings - September 2013
Tree branches
15' diameter

OPP: Do you see Unchopping a Tree (2013) as part of the trajectory of the earthworks of the 1970s?
 
KF: It's interesting to consider. Unchopping a Tree was inspired by a W.S. Merwin prose poem of the same name that was originally published in 1970. It’s publication and the earthworks are contemporaneous with the 1970s environmental movement and federal legislation for water, air and wilderness. They also coincide with my youth. Although I lived in cities and had no connection to wilderness or National Parks, I was still influenced by the cultural milieu of Woodsy the Owl, Smokey the Bear and collected what I could find from my backyard for “nature crafts.”
 
As an adult, I have visited many of the major earthwork sites of the West. If we can consider the trajectory and its many branches to include the influence of artists like Joseph Beuys and Richard Long, than perhaps what I’m doing is an offshoot from that. The major difference is the scale. Monumental alterations of the landscape like Double Negative, Spiral Jetty and Roden Crater are gigantic gestures. I tend to focus on smaller, and in some cases, nearly invisible patterns and processes. I concentrate on the details, which is what really struck me about the Merwin work. This written work essentially instructs the reader how to put back together a tree that has been cut down and all of the directives are, of course, impossible. The passages about sawdust and spider webs and nests are what really got me thinking about intricacy and what one likely wouldn’t see at all. That is the larger metaphor that moves me. When it come to the environment, we’ve gone so far down the path of destruction and removal, it seems unlikely that the damage can be undone or even sufficiently repaired.

To see more of Kirsten's work, please visit kirstenfurlong.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Yikui Gu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't be a Dick
In-progress painting

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

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

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

To see more of Yikui's work, please visit yikuigu.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Diana Gabriel

Projections
2014
String and wood

DIANA GABRIEL’s expansive, angular string installations are conversations between her, the material and the exhibition space. Her enduring exploration of the line is born of her training in painting and drawing, and the architectural space of the gallery is simply a new blank surface on which to make marks. Diana earned her BFA from Northern Illinois University in 2004 and her MFA from Illinois State University in 2007. She currently teaches at Harper College in Palatine and College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois. She is the co-founder of TheCGProject, a creative platform for artists and audiences with a shared vision of increasing appreciation and accessibility of art in our culture. Recent exhibitions include All In (2015), curated by Karen Azarnia for the Riverside Arts Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Transcending Boundaries (2014) at the Bridgeport Art Center (Chicago). Most recently, she collaborated with Rita Grendze on an installation inspired by the bobbins donated from an American textile company that closed its doors in 2009. American Spinner (1903-2009) is on view at Water Street Studios in Batavia, Illinois until August 22, 2015. Diana lives and works in Elgin, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does linearity mean to you? What's appealing about a straight line?

Diana Gabriel: A line is more than just the distance between point A and point B. It's one of the most basic and versatile of the art elements. We use line to communicate by changing its direction and length to create shapes in the written language. We’ve empowered it to create and negate, divide and connect, to add (+), subtract (-), and bring equality (=). Even within the context of our messages, we use line metaphorically. It’s cross-culturally embedded into our vulgar verbal and physical expressions. 


Ciclos
2014
String and wood

OPP: Your large-scale string installations respond to the architecture of the exhibition space and capitalize on tautness and tension to create straight lines in pieces like Trifecta (2014). But string also has the capacity to curve, and you make use of that in drooping pieces like Tracing Time (2012) and Under the Table (2013). What led you to include the curved line?

DG: In my practice, the straight line provides an underlying structure and sense of control. I’ve made it a rule to use straight lines as my starting guide to set the parameters of what I will and won't allow. However, another one of my rules is to keep my process organic and change those parameters as I go. In other words, I always bend the rules I set for myself. The straight line and its rigidity, visually and metaphorically, are the starting and finish line. The curved line, on the other hand, is the precarious improviser. It provides my process with a healthy balance. Maybe it’s my Libra nature, but I always find myself in the pursuit of balance. The straight, the curved, the taut and loose, the thick and thin are all ways of finding the perfect amount of balance within the work.

Reach Across
2013
Acrylic
12" x 12"

OPP:
Thinking about your string installations, your acrylic paintings of lined pattern and some early pieces using marking tape, I imagine a similar process of unrolling, unspooling and squeezing straight from the paint tube. How do these processes relate to drawing?

DG: I’ve always loved drawing. Its immediacy and spontaneity are playful traits I find important in art making. Most people have a studio in art school, but when you graduate you're faced with the fact you might have to use a corner of your room or a dinner tray as your studio. That was the moment when I began to think about making work out of existing spaces. It’s very liberating to have a different “surface” every time I make a piece. It also feels very natural to start a piece without the “blank canvas jitters” because the conversation has already started before I even get there. In my installations, I’m just responding to a space by drawing lines there-dimensionally from one edge of the room to another.

Under the Table
2013
Wood and mason line
10' x 13' x 13'

OPP: Is your response to those spaces improvisational or planned? Tell us a little about your process of installation.

DG: I normally study the space and do a few sketches that help me figure out color, mark and a general idea of the structure for each piece. I really enjoy making meticulous perspective drawings of the space. It helps me understand the height, width and distance between the multiple planes with which I’ll be working. Then I think about the type of marks I want to incorporate and how they’ll interact with the space.

I do, however, need to keep my process organic. Once in the space, I modify the piece as it develops. I see it as a conversation, not a lecture. It’s a two-way street, a give and take relationship. Sometimes I want the string to do a certain thing, like go in a specific direction or be tight in a certain spot, but the light won’t be right or the logistics of the space simply won’t permit me to do it. So improvisation becomes a large part of it. Those situations are nerve-racking but exceedingly exciting. That is when the magic happens because I have to put my plans and rules aside and work "with it.” It starts to feel like a collaboration of sorts.

Looping System (detail)
2011
String, nails and gaffers tape

OPP: What about the experience of deinstallation? Do you reuse the string?

DG: I get a lot of my drawing/ mark-making ideas for installations when I deinstall. I usually take many photos during this process. The breakdown is in some instances more enriching than the build up of the work. I’ve made it a habit of creating new “pieces” as I take others down. It's very exciting to cut the edges off of one plane and see the limpness versus the tautness of the string. I fall in love with those moments and try to incorporate them in creating new pieces. It’s pretty evident in a piece from 2012 called 342, which is when I first started incorporating this practice. The whole right side is one of my favorite parts of the piece.

Perhaps it’s because I see these new ideas under certain light and and with a specific material that I do tend to reuse my string. I also hate how wasteful art can be, so I work extra hard to save most of my materials. I have bins of string I hope to use one day. Art is the only aspect of my life where I allow myself to do a little hoarding. That and scarves.

Blue Window
2011
Acrylic, nails, and string on panel
8"x 8"

OPP: Your background is painting and drawing, but I see such an affinity for Fiber and Material Studies (my own background). Both weaving or crochet use the line in different ways. Weaving is a system of interconnected lines on a grid, while crochet is more akin to drawing in space with one looping line. Do you have any experience with these textile techniques?

DG: I never knew what drove me to the linear until I visited my childhood home in Colombia. I noticed all the baskets, plate settings, tablecloths, even the “carpetas” under the flower vases were woven, made through macrame or crocheted. I’ve always enjoyed lines and patterns because they felt familiar, but my connection to them has been solely through drawing. Being around all these hand-made things made me realize my linear bias made sense; it all suddenly clicked. I recognized that I come, not only from a long line of artisan women in my family, well versed in the “handy crafts”, but from a culture of talented people who resourcefully use these skills to survive.

Oscillating Reciprocity
2011
Cotton Yarn
Detail

OPP:
What can you tell us about what it's like to walk around in the string installations, since our readers can only experience your work online. I'd like to hear about your own experience and how they relate to your body, as well as any interesting comments you've received from viewers.

DG: I like to hang around the space while others experience my work. I enjoy when they find their favorite ”moment” and nook within the work. I especially like to hear them question and make assumptions about the process. I feel most connected with the viewer when the work triggers motor memory. We all know the motions of tying and pulling, or bunching and stretching. I use that as a way to connect the viewer with the process of making. With so much technology nowadays, we are losing touch with the instinct to pull and push, tie and unravel. . . to physically build and create. The idea of manual labor is somewhat repulsive to some and seen as unnecessary to most, but it’s extremely important to me. It’s honest, primal, human; a connection to our natural state.

To see more of Diana's work, please visit dianapgabriel.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Travis Townsend

Another Tankard
Wood and mixed media
100 x 100 x 100 inches

TRAVIS TOWNSEND’s large sculptural vessels appear to be part boat, part RV, part space ship, part ark. Tiny chairs and ladders occupy these vehicles, hinting at vague narratives of human cultures—past, present and future—in transition or possibly on the brink of extinction. Travis earned his BS from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He received the Virginia A. Groot Foundation Sculpture Award in 2006, 2008 and 2009. His numerous solo exhibitions include shows at Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas (2008), Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati (2012) and Washington State University (2014). As part of SmithTownsendCollaborative, he recently created a new installation with Brandon C. Smith titled view of the big nothing from an abandoned perch atop pink meat pod island (with Godbird watching) for the Lexington Art League’s Loudoun House. Travis teaches at Eastern Kentucky University and is represented by Ann Tower Gallery. An exhibition of Travis’ paintings will take place in Fall 2015 at the Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington, Kentucky, where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What came first for you: painting or sculpture?

Travis Townsend: I thought of myself predominately as a painter in high school and early college, but I’ve always made three-dimensional stuff. Looking back, the objects were always more interesting than the paintings. Throughout my first few years at Kutztown University, I thought sculpture was either boring, old statues or rusty chunks of big Modernist metal. It took me a while to realize that my woodworking/sculpture could be as weird and fun to make as the tree forts and skateboard ramps I built as a kid. I spent my last two years planted in the wood shop, making oddball furniture objects with heavily painted surfaces that I believed a wide range of viewers could understand, appreciate and live with. I sold a bunch right as I was graduating, so I thought I had it all figured out. Of course, then my work changed.

The paintings that came next had a strong resemblance to the surfaces of the furniture. Since graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University, the creative process has become more evident in the finished paintings and sculptures. The more recent paintings are, to me, more interesting hung in clusters near the sculptures. I often think of them as some sort of information tablet that presents a layered history without ever really explaining it.

Since my first serious work began as furniture—albeit not in a traditional sense—the vessel has always been an appealing starting point for me in terms of form and potential meaning. Early on, the sculptures were more about what it meant to craft, and then re-create, objects that nostalgically relate to furniture objects, tools and toys that we live with. This series was called Rebuilt Domestic Devices. As the work shifted into a larger scale and began to look a bit like sad, homemade machines that were insufficient to do their tasks, the series became Renovated Flightless Devices.

Renovated Newky Toy
Wood and mixed media

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between the sculptures and the wall drawings in your solo show Anxious Accumulations (2008) at Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas?

TT: That show was very important to me. It was a big space that needed some fairly sizable objects. I had previously made a contraption-like sculpture connected to a wall drawing, but this was the first time I changed wall colors and pedestal colors and drew on the walls. The pronounced use of string as a three-dimensional line was new, too.

The act of drawing is very important to the creation of my sculptures, which evolve from continually-accumulating small doodles. When complete, the sculptures are a bit "sketchy" in the sense that they might seem unfinished or in-progress. From the beginning, I drew and painted on the sculptures, but it took a while for me to feel confident putting images on the walls. Most of my three-dimensional work has a strong linear gesture. So, building on this already present "drawing" sensibility with string and charcoal on walls has been a good fit. My vocabulary of simple symbolic images became more distilled with this show. The image of the dead bird could stand in for innocence and the cartoony army tank could be brutish, clumsy violence. These images are usually secondary and play a supporting role to the sculptures, but that may change in the future.

Vehicle of Strange Conception
Wood and mixed media

OPP: The lo-tech, DIY quality of your large sculptural vessels leads me to imagine large groups of people being forcefully exiled from their homelands. I think of diasporas in fictional outer space (the humans of Battlestar Galactica) and in history (the transatlantic slave trade). I also imagine the intentional exploration of new frontiers in history (colonial explorers) and in our contemporary world (Cuban immigrants crossing the Gulf Stream by boat). In all cases, these works evoke thoughts of the major upheaval of confronting the unknown. What narratives do you imagine for these vessels?



TT: Yes! Thanks for that. I appreciate hearing your ideas about what my work suggests. It is all of those things, without being any of those things specifically. I always hope that the layered possibilities become a jumping off point for viewers to fill in the narrative for themselves. There is more than one answer to the question of, So what does this mean?

The use of small boats, chairs, ladders, mini dwellings and the image of the dead bird is the most pronounced attempt at a narrative, however. I like the way these indicators of previous habitation change the associations of the larger vessel-like objects. From across the room, a viewer sees something that is human scale, but upon closer examination of the small built structures, docks, and flotilla of boats, one might start to think of the sculptures as massive arks for a possibly-extinct group of small people. What do the symbols suggest about the people who once inhabited the now-empty chairs? Did they build the boat-like contraptions? Did they abandon these vessels or did they die out? I keep thinking of those colossal heads on Easter Island and the abandoned cliff dwelling culture in the American Southwest. Also running through my mind are ideas about building machines we don't need, fouling up ourselves and others, then fleeing to start the whole process over again. Lately, some titles suggest this by using words like infected, abandoned and evacuation. Raft for __________  (with Infected Systems Drawing) does this most emphatically.

Randy Shull, one of my teachers at Penland, has made many works with a simple iconic chair-shape, and I've always loved Charles Simond's tiny, clay dwelling pieces. I probably wouldn't be creating the chairs and little clay bricks if had I never seen their work. Certain images stick with me for years before I see traces of their influence in what I'm making.

Ladder and Three Chairs
Wood, graphite

OPP: I'm curious about your choice of the word "renovated" to describe many of the pieces, as in Renovated Quarry Pot, Renovated TLC or the Renovated Flightless Devices. In what way are they renovated? What was their former state?

TT: The titles are mini artist statements that suggest the process and the type of object: toy, ark, tank, device, pot. The word renovated hints at a positive-sounding narrative of handmade improvements. I really do make and remake some of these things over and over again. But I also hope the viewer will wonder, why would someone keep "fixing" such useless-looking, slightly pathetic objects? A dominant theme in my work is the creative act of building itself. My studio practice is not unlike the tinkering of other middle-aged guys in their garages after their kids have gone to bed. Although, I was working this way long before I had a house with a garage. . . or three kids.

Raft for____________
Wood and mixed media

OPP: How has having kids changed your art practice or your art career?

TT: Time in the studio is much more precious. I don't waste as much time as I used to! My wife, Felicia Szorad, would probably say the same about her own studio activity. Our twin daughters are three, and our son is six. We recently purchased a home that needed renovations, so we've been extra busy these last few years. Gradually we’ll be able to get more studio time as they get a little older. Professional decisions are different now, since certain opportunities for exhibitions, residencies or teaching could disrupt the entire family. I concentrate on what I really want/need to do, rather than applying for or agreeing to whatever sounds interesting.  

Building an O gauge train layout bookshelf for my kids has been a surprisingly arty experience, so the line between it and my sculptures could get pretty vague. Would it be too dopey—or awesome—if model trains started popping up in my sculptures?

To see more of Travis's work, please visit travistownsendart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eric Valosin

Hyalo 2 (Rose)
2013
Acrylic Paint and Digital Projection Installation
50" x 50"

ERIC VALOSIN merges the digital and the analog, conflating cyber space and sacred space, in his exploration of the techno-sublime. He navigates the tenacious, long-historied relationship between mystical experience and art in his performances/meditations on the impossible pursuit of the perfect circle, in virtual stained glass windows that require the viewer's body to reveal themselves and in hand-drawn mandalas with QR codes at their center. Eric received his BA from Drew University and his MFA from Montclair State University in New Jersey. He recently exhibited work in See the Light at the Attleboro Arts Museum in Massachusetts (July 2014) and created a commissioned piece, As Above, So Below, at Trinity United Church in Warren, New Jersey. The installation was accompanied by an artist talk, a discussion forum and a contemplative service. His upcoming solo exhibition at Andover Newton Theological School's Sarly Gallery opens this fall (exact date TBA). In November 2014, Eric will be teaching a graduate continuing education seminar on worship and the arts at Drew Theological School in New Jersey. Eric lives and works in Montville, New Jersey.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Explain the term techno-sublime for our readers.

Eric Valosin: It’s something to which I aspire in my work, and it threads together my interests in mystical experience and its application to contemporary life. The term originally comes from the critic Hal Foster, who used it to describe the intensely-mediated spiritual immediacy he saw in Bill Viola’s video installations. Typically, traditional mystics spoke of the “unmediated immediacy” of their encounters with God. The techno-sublime asks if there can be a space for that immediacy in an era in which, allegedly, everything is mediated. It’s a meeting point between the 14th Century and the 21st, where old and new media collide and world-views come to a head, coalescing into something complex and truly ineffable.
 
In my art, I strive to co-opt traditional mystical strategies and push them through these heavy layers of mediation in an attempt to open new spaces for a sublime experience. According to Immanuel Kant, the sublime confounds—even overpowers—the viewer and yet is somehow recollected as a net gain rather than a loss. So experiences of the sublime are in line with descriptions of mystical experiences. I think the sublime is what gives all of the most powerful art that extra something on which you can’t quite put a finger. The techno-sublime is perhaps what happened to the sublime after it met Marshall McLuhan.


Circle
2013
Performance and Installation using cyclical rear projection table, chair, digital projection, and charcoal and erasure on vellum

OPP: Circle (2013) is a "ritualized performance" in which you attempt to draw a perfect circle over and over again. The ritual is performed publicly during exhibitions and also practiced privately in your studio. How is the experience different for you when you are alone in your studio versus when there is an audience?
 
EV: I originally intended it solely to be a conventional performance, but as I started practicing, it began to feel disingenuous of me to put on airs and carry out this “meditative spiritual act” solely for show. So, I began documenting my practice and treating every run-through as a full performance, a dialogue between me and the medium itself. An audience became incidental. In many ways this helped me to grow more comfortable with the piece and connect with it, getting out of it something beyond the initial logistical anxiety and determination.
 
The entire project turns out to be a constant exercise in acceptance. As I attempt to draw the perfect circle, everything that happens on the paper is recorded, delayed 20 seconds, and then projected back onto that same paper. When my hand reaches the top of the first lap around the circle, I then begin trying to match my hand to the projected hand from the prior laps, synchronizing the physical and digital self. But a perfect circle is far too Platonic to be practical, and the looping synchronization ends up rehearsing, compiling and accentuating every inevitable flaw and eccentricity. Yet, eventually even these flaws amount to something really optically beautiful.

Furthermore, I decided that I wouldn’t discard any run-through as a failure. I learned to accept broken charcoal, technological glitches, and the like as just part of the performance. Once an audience member even interrupted the performance to ask me a question, I guess not knowing it had started. I decided to oblige her question and then continue on. I didn’t want to consider the performance so holy that I became inaccessible, nor those imperfections so unholy that they didn’t merit inclusion in the performance. It simply is what it is. Theologically this was very important to me, that my art acknowledge that our beautiful, ideal reality is comprised of messy, complex imperfections and interactions. That’s one of the big differences between the neoplatonic idealism of classical metaphysics and the relational way contemporary thought tends to see the world since postmodernism. My work ultimately seeks some sort of marriage of the two, a sort of relational metaphysics.

Circle 2.0
March 14th, 2013
Charcoal and Erasure on Vellum
12.5"x16"

OPP: What goes through your mind? What does it feel like?

EV: It offers a gradual escape from thinking or feeling anything, really. Not in a numbing way, but in an emptying way. Eventually I step back from drawing and erasing the circle over and over and begin just watching the compiling footage play out on the paper in front of me. Gradually, even the slight projection hotspot becomes so accentuated that the whole image dissolves into this odd, luminous, blue/white, watery mush of compounded footage. I get a real sense of peace as I watch it all dissolve. The act of drawing is a time to dive deeply into a meditative, repetitive focus. Stepping back and watching it dissolve is an escape away from thoughts and from anything concrete.

Triptych
2013
Latex Paint and Projection Installation
56" x 68"

OPP: In projection-based works like Hyalo 2 (Arch), Hyalo 2 (Rose), Triptych and Unknowledge, all (2013), the viewer's body is required to complete the experience of the piece. Without the body to block the projected light, the beauty of the sacred geometry is not available. What can you tell those of us who've only experienced these works online about how viewers interact with your projections?

EV: They hinge around that moment of discovery in which the viewers unwittingly walk in front of the projector and, to their surprise, reveal the imagery in their shadow instead of obscuring it. Or, in the case of the Hyalo projects, they discover that their optical experience changes dramatically depending on their position around the work. I love watching them play and exercise an almost child-like curiosity at what initially confounds their perceptual expectations. This is the moment of the techno-sublime I spoke of earlier, when the piece defies logic in a way that simultaneously stupefies and enlightens the viewing experience and causes viewers to second guess the way they see. It’s sadly true that this is something you can only fully get in person.
 
I used to devise ways to discourage viewers from making shadow puppets in my artwork, but soon I came to realize it was a somewhat inevitable occurrence. I went to the James Turrell retrospective at LACMA last year and watched adults give their friends bunny ears in his hallowed light-cube projection Afrum (White). Even the great Turrell is not immune to the shadow puppet! That sealed the deal for me; I decided to embrace interactivity as a valid urge within the viewer. The piece was in some way less complete if the viewer was taken out of the equation and expected to remain aloof as an observer.
 
All spiritual experiences are necessarily interactive, and as we enter an age of increasing technological interactivity and user-definability, the viewer’s body becomes more and more important. The philosopher Marcel Mauss—and to a certain extent Foucault as well—points out that “techne” refers not only to technology but to bodily techniques, which, Mauss says, underpin all our mystical states. It’s the reason we kneel to pray, do yoga, or practice zazen. It’s also the reason I’ve begun working more and more with interactive technologies and new media in my work. What might these mystical postures and movements look like in a hyper-connected, technological world in which the body is just as much virtual as it is physical?

Meditation 1.1 (Thusness, Elseness; Omnipresent)
2012
Pen and Ink on Paper
14x14"

OPP: Your hand-drawn Mandalas with QR codes at their center send the viewer to a different, random website every time they are scanned. I don't have a smartphone, so I haven't had the experience of "completing" this meditation, but I like the idea that you could end looking at art, merchandise, news, celebrity gossip, wikipedia or porn. It really echoes the Buddhist idea that the sacred is right here in the present moment, no matter what that moment contains. When you've scanned it, where have you ended up?
 
EV: Once I ended up at some photographer’s website. It was a strange experience to have my artwork catapult me to a meditation on someone else's. I’ve landed on a lot of merchandise websites and a couple very bizarre conspiracy theorist sites. I’ve also gotten my fair share of 404 Error messages. Many people at first don’t realize it’s randomized. This confusion is one of the weakest and strongest aspects of the piece. On one hand, they may end up thinking I’m intentionally supporting a given website’s agenda (which was particularly disconcerting to me the time a friend of mine ended up on a satanist website), but on the other hand it urges them to intentionally comb their destination for some spiritual content, assuming it must be “hidden in there somewhere.” In many cases, only upon rescanning and landing elsewhere a few times do the randomness and Buddhist implications you mention come to light.
 
Uncertainty is the only certain thing about faith. Uncertainty begins to dig into mystical “unknowing,” the apophatic “negative theology” that attempts to get at the unknowable by surpassing and negating all that’s knowable. Even the person who cannot scan the QR code is left with a similar open-endedness as the person who does scan it.

Cosmos on Gray 1/0
2013
Erasure on 18% Gray Card
10"x 8"

OPP: You have plenty of experience of bringing the spiritual into the gallery. What was it like to bring art into a religious space in your commissioned piece, As Above, So Below, at Trinity United Church in Warren, New Jersey? 
 
EV: It’s a really interesting challenge. I ended up creating an interactive projection piece mapped onto the slanted ceiling of the church’s chancel area. It used a hacked Microsoft Kinect sensor to integrate congregants into the video, and randomly recomposes itself every 50 minutes. I wanted to create something aesthetically pleasing, engagingly interactive and potentially meditative, but also to challenge the space’s implicit hierarchies and push people out of their artistic comfort zones. In the gallery, the struggle is to bring spiritual connotations into a traditionally secular setting without being didactic or polemicizing. In a church, however, those spiritual implications are inherent in the setting, and the challenge becomes making the art accessible without watering it down. I had to really refine the big questions driving my work in order to develop something I think is substantive enough to hold up in both arenas.

There’s a lot of historical baggage to trip over. Spirituality and art had walked hand in hand for millennia. But when Galileo came along and inadvertently told the church they might not have the market cornered on objective truth, a proud and dogmatic church shut its door on subjectivity. This was the first crack into the schism between the sacred and secular. The result was that art, which thrives on ambiguity and an earnest investigation of big questions, began shifting toward the more hospitable realm of secularity, where it had more room to breath. This was reinforced in the late Baroque by the emergence of non-religious patronage and a cultural appreciation of the real and mundane (as opposed to the ideal).
 
If the sacred-secular divide weren’t enough, a secondary rift developed within secularity itself. Mass media, which changed the way we process images, and the heavy hands of Clement Greenberg and others divided high art from accessible art. Throw into the mix the growing humanism in 19th/20th century philosophy, and you end up with a huge mess where almost nobody understands the “art world,” let alone the spiritual in art, least of all religious institutions, now twice removed (not to mention the argument that it’s all moot because “God is dead” anyway). There are certainly exceptions, but I have found that many religious institutions today are pretty impoverished in their use and understanding of art as a result.

As Above, So Below
Installation at Trinity United Church

OPP: Did you have an agenda related to the schism between the sacred and the secular in As Above, So Below?

EV: The events I held at Trinity United Church were about mending that rift. I wanted to afford people who may not know what to do with contemporary art a chance to really engage with it and to open a dialogue about how art really works when it’s working well. I wanted to encourage the church to embrace art as a relational tool for broaching challenging subjects and heightening the spiritual life of the church. After the contemplative service there was a time for discussion, and I was blown away. People first approached my installation with, “Great, so what does it mean?” and “What am I looking at here?” When given the dedicated time and permission to investigate it without fear of being wrong, they started to be able to read the work in real substantive ways (ways which I had to go to grad school to learn). Not only that, but they started to measure that experience against their own preconceptions and translate it into meaningful dialogue and even some spiritual epiphanies. 

It’s not about reclaiming art as a pawn in some dogmatic agenda, but about being comfortable enough—especially in churches—to trust the Spirit’s interactions amid those ambiguous, complex spaces where world-views collide and art is at its most powerful. It’s about learning how to use the artistic sublime, as it were, toward a greater church experience. It’s about urging the church to think like an artist, and even urging churches to become artists themselves. It’s about unknowing a lot of what we take for granted and reacquainting ourselves with mystery. Ultimately I believe this transcends even the religious/secular dualism and applies to the most fundamental ways in which we all experience the world and each other.

To see more of Eric's work, please visit ericvalosin.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Geoffry Smalley

Paper Tiger
2013
Graphite on Paper, Cut Paper Overlay

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

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

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

Catskill Creek, Citi Field
2012
Acrylic on Ink Jet Print

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

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

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

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

Bears
2011
Acrylic on Book Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

OPP: And what's your next thing?

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

To see more of Geoffry's work, please visit geoffrysmalley.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Steven Vasquez Lopez

Some Strings Attached 037 (detail)
2013
Ink on Paper
9" x 12"

The snags and unraveling edges of STEVEN VASQUEZ LOPEZ's colorful, hand-drawn textiles embody the accidental beauty of mistakes, acting as a graphic metaphor for an optimistic way of viewing life's chaotic moments. Influenced by the perseverance of his seamstress mother and mechanic/welder father, he reveals the connections between drawing, textile production and manual labor in his patterned grids, which echo Minimalist painting, the weave structures of plaids and the color palette of Mexican serape blankets. Steven received his BA from UC Santa Barbara and his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. He is a past recipient of the William Dole Memorial Scholarship (1999, 2000), Abrams Prize (2000), Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship (2006), and the 2012 ArtSlant prize. He has exhibited widely throughout California and is represented by CES Contemporary (Los Angeles), where he had his first solo show Accidental Moments in 2014. His work is currently featured in the San Francisco-based The New Asterisk, now available in print and online. Steven lives in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your paintings and drawings are dense with color and pattern. Where did your love of pattern come from? What influences your color palate?



Steven Vasquez Lopez: I grew up around a lot of sewing and fabric. My mother became a seamstress at a very early age in order to earn her own money. I spent a lot of time next to her while she worked, so I have an intimate relationship with fabric swatches and pattern. Also, I went to Catholic school, where we wore plaid uniforms. Then, during high school I took some architectural drafting classes that nurtured my interested in linear and geometric drawing. Over the last five years, these influences have merged into my current work with pattern and color. Now, I continue to be influenced by plaid and color from uniforms, men’s clothing, and Mexican serapes that I see around me.

Some Strings Attached 043
2013
Ink on Paper
9" x 12"

OPP: The ink drawings from Patches and Some Strings Attached, equally recall Agnes Martin's abstract grids and woven textiles. Of course, the entire history of painting has been covering over the natural grid of the woven canvas itself. Do you have any weaving experience or interest in learning to weave?

SVL: I’m glad you mentioned that. I received my MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute, where there is a real importance on understanding the linage and history of the work you are making and ideas you explore. I’m well aware of and influenced by prolific artists like Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly and Sol Lewitt, as well as contemporaries such as Jim Isserman, Amy Ellingson and Nike Schröder, for their use of color, form and ideas as they relate to art history, culture and technology.

My domestic sewing machine and overlock/serger machine never has time to collect dust because I use both so frequently for alterations and making my own clothing. I’m obsessed with well-tailored clothing. A few years ago, my mom taught me how to crotchet. I have to be careful because I love compulsive, laborious projects, and drawing already consumes a lot of my time.

I would love to get some instruction on weaving or creating textiles on a loom. Do you know anyone in the Bay Area you can introduce me to? Haha! My work has been used with a few research projects in fashion and textiles. It would be fun to collaborate with a designer on avant-garde and conceptual textile designs. I get a lot of recommendations to put my work into fashion. For me, it would need to be the right project. Although the drawings are influenced by fashion, I don’t envision just silk-screening them onto t-shirts. It would be important for me to get my hands and understanding on the technical side of a fashion project, then develop the conceptual parameters. There is a lot of potential there. I’m sure when the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll be on board.

Shelf Life 003
2013
Ink on Paper
22" x 30"

OPP: Tell us about the process and experience of drawing so many straight lines. Free hand or ruler?

SVL: I can’t give up all my secrets! However, I will tell you that I don’t use any pencil or preliminary under-drawing. It’s all hand-drawn with ink, and it’s a one-shot deal. I like that intense precision. I’m obsessed with the notion of a human imitating a machine to produce work. It makes the drawings more personal and valuable on both a conceptual and tangible level. Also, I have to learn a formula for each pattern and repeat the math in my head as I’m drawing. I don’t write down or record any formulas. Instead, I sing the numbering in my head. All these years of drawing, I have developed an ability to measure out the spacing really accurately. The entire process feeds my obsessive-compulsive need to make laborious, challenging and meticulous hand-made work. I thrive off it. It’s fulfilling and rewarding!

Patches 008
2013
Ink on Paper
9.5" x 13.25"

OPP: On the one hand, the drawings from Patches (2013) are pure color and pattern. They evoke plaid fabric scraps and bring to mind patchwork quilts and mended clothing. But these patches seem to have personality. The more I look at them, they become blobby beings hugging one another instead of flat scraps of fabric. Could you talk about your intentions in this body of work?

SVL: After making about 30 of the abstract pattern drawing from Some Strings Attached, which is a ongoing series, I wanted to work on drawings that could be a little more organic, personal, quirky and silly. By using blobby shapes, the swatches transform into these interesting characters with personalities. I come from a very big, supportive, funny, loving Mexican family, and I wanted to use these amoebas to tell stories about the relationships with my family and friends in a vaguely narrative way. The patches are beautiful and resourceful support systems for one another, disregarding judgment based on economic elitism. I’m glad to hear that you see a few of them hugging each other. That is exactly what is going on.

Some Strings Attached 111
2014
Ink on Paper
14" x 17"

OPP: Talk about the metaphors of the snag and the unraveling edge.



SVL: Initially, I didn’t intend on any unraveling in the drawings. I needed a project that I could do while traveling so the series started without “imperfections.” I made about fifteen perfect uninterrupted pattern drawings. Then I hit some turbulence on a plane and messed up a drawing that I had been working on for about five hours. I put it aside and had to deal with the disappointment. When I pulled the drawing out a few days later, I realized that moment of disruption was the precise moment of awareness in the work. It turned out that a happy accident was my awaking into Some Strings Attached.

One metaphor is that we spend so much of our daily lives on autopilot, trying to keep life stable, predictable and consistent. This way of living is so consuming that we forget to look around and be in the moment. We need to get off our phones and devices and pay attention to the real nuances and quirks that make life special and memorable.

On a personal level, I spent a lot of my younger years making sense of diversity. A large part of the population conforms to preconceived ideas of success and lifestyle. We need to teach both our youth and “old dogs” to embrace difference. There’s nothing more boring and depressing than a homogenous culture. Self-deprecation based on the ideals and expectations of others is a disease learned at an early, impressionable age. Let’s embrace and celebrate our uniqueness, rather than oppress and demonize anything or anyone outside of our comfort zone. I’m optimistic that it’s getting better with more awareness and visibility, but there’s still more terrain to cover. A snag in my drawings can either be viewed as a mistake or a beautiful, unique moment. It’s all perspective. How do you look at life?

To see more of Steven's work, please visit stevenvlopez.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Serena Cole

Black Mirror I (detail)
2012
Colored pencil and gouache on paper
35" x 28"

SERENA COLE positions herself as a “hopeless outsider and wary researcher,” as well as as “a cultural anthropologist and an obsessive, self-aware consumer of highly seductive imagery.” Her drawings in colored pencil, gouache, watercolor and ink explore both the repulsion and attraction to an unattainable fantasy promised by fashion advertising. Serena received her MFA (2011) from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is currently an instructor at the Art Studio at UC Berkeley. Her solo exhibitions include Through the Glass Darkly (2012) at Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis and I Wanna Be Adored (2009) at Triple Base Gallery in San Francisco. Serena lives and works in the Bay Area.

OtherPeoplesPixels: According to your bio, "[An] extreme isolation from culture and civilization created a fetishized association with anything perceived of as high art, fashion, or wealth. [Serena] can still recall every page of the only Vogue she was ever given as a child. This incurable affliction followed her into adulthood and her art career. . ." How does your personal experience of fashion magazines influence the art work you make based on this source material?

Serena Cole: I cite this little snippet from my childhood to offer anyone interested in my work the specific root of my obsessions. In many ways, my reaction to a lot of this imagery was similar to that of any other teen girl. It's almost ingrained in girl culture to rip a picture of a something you like out of a magazine and stick it to the wall. However, because I was so far removed from the reality of anything I wanted—a pair of jeans or being at a cool art party or buying even a new album at a record store—my obsessions and fantasies became my dreamscape. I lived in them entirely to avoid the fact that I was physically in the middle of nowhere. I didn't need the real thing, so particularly unattainable images like fashion ads weren't and still aren't problematic for me. I much prefer to live in the fantasy of the images I am drawn to. It’s like living in the Matrix. My drawings allow me to stay there as long as I want, but I can also completely control the dream. I can change the colors, change the composition, change the facial features. I can be outside, looking in. But I also create the fantasy from the inside out in my drawings, allowing me to have pure dominion over all my desires. 

I'm Dead, I'm Dead, I'm Dead
2011
Watercolor, colored pencil, ink, gouache, photo transfer, and gold leaf on paper
46" x 36"

OPP: Are your drawings recreations of specific images taken from magazines? How much do you modify the image in your process? What kinds of images are you most attracted to?

SC: I am mostly drawn to images of people. I am interested in the psychological aspects of the facial expressions and of the gaze. I find all the sources for my drawings in expensive fashion magazines because I am deeply fascinated by the model or celebrity as a vehicle for fantasies. These images of people are made to be looked at, but not only that. They are made to exist as avatars. A glimpse of what kind of you is possible with the right merchandise. It is fascinating that the people in these high-end fantasy images are often emotionally distraught or completely vacant, almost dead. It suggests to me that we don't always fantasize about being one kind of person, but many fucked-up versions of ourselves. I modify these images only slightly, sometimes making these avatar creatures even more emotional, dark or sickly. It comes from a need to control them, instead of feeling that they are superior to me in some way. They become an army of versions of me.

OPP: Why do all these women seem so sad? Do you consciously avoid the fashion campaigns that employ images of joie de vivre?

SC: I have no interest in happy paintings in the same way I can't listen to the Cure past 1989 because they suddenly cheered up. I am interested in telling a subtle story with the expressions in my work, and there is no story in happy. It's boring to me because I am still an angsty teenager stuck in my room.

Ecstasy Face V
2010
Watercolor, colored pencil, and gouache on paper
24" x 20"

OPP: The titles in your Tropes (2010-2012) are really successful at highlighting your position as a self-proclaimed "wary researcher," a cultural anthropologist" and "an obsessive, self-aware consumer." You've identified recurring visual tropes in fashion advertising in works like Ecstasy Face IV, We Wish We Could Find the Sublime I (2011) and I'm An Animal, I'm Going to Eat You I (2010). Do you think the average consumer of these magazines is oblivious or savvy to these tropes nowadays?

SC: I'm not sure what the average consumer thinks. I don't feel it is my job to teach anyone anything that they are not already picking up on. I might not even be right about the armchair psychology findings that I'm presenting. I do find that, in talking to people about my source material, I am always asked to choose a side: am I for or against fashion? This comes from a variety of political beliefs that people are entitled to have. But I would really rather be talking with people about the nuances and hypocrisies of our own dreams, fears and desires. I am 100% aware that I am drawn to sick, unlivable, sexist images. It doesn't mean that I REALLY want it. I just want it for a second. Advertising is highly sophisticated and complex, and there's no surprise that what I want is unattainable. That is practically the definition of desire. But I feel like the difference is owning up to those desires, of being able to admit that you sometimes DO want to be comatose, sexually sublimated, socially deviant, etc. Most people are not honest enough with themselves.

Black Mirror II
2012
Colored pencil and gouache on paper
24" x 36"

OPP: Tell us about your most recent body of work Black Mirrors. What are these drawings reflecting?

SC: I was mostly thinking about my relationship and reaction to specific images I gathered of models who were acknowledging their own positions as subjects of desire. As idealized magazine figures, they were photographed for the purpose of evoking someone else's desire. However, they don't give you exactly what you want from them. These are not pin-ups with come-hither expressions. These are images of subjects choosing to confront the viewer. They look back, essentially making the viewer into the subject. This complicated relationship between desiring/being desired/seeing yourself as being desired is an example of Lacan's psychoanalytic theory of the Mirror Stage (a greater 'gestalt' figure versus reality). I found myself looking at these models as versions of who I wished I was. I also wanted to give them more autonomy than they have in the original photos. These mirrors of me as my fantasy selves are also pissed at being made into subjects, so I gave them all I-don't-give-a-fuck expressions.

OPP: What's going on in your studio right now?

SC: I have my hands in a lot of different cookie jars at the moment. As an experiment, I've been taking my own photographs to paint from, researching objects and figures I desire or find intriguing. I'm working on two series, one of people I know and the other of floral still lives I find. I also have a body of work of narrative, fucked-up, slightly surreal large-scale paintings that are taking a very long time to finish. And I am working on experiments with more three-dimensional, paper headdress projects. It's difficult to prepare for any kind of show working in this way, but all these projects inform each other. With more time, I hope to have a number of paintings I am happy with.

To see more of Serena's work, please visit serenacole.org.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.