OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Porterfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jonathan Keeton

Fall Afternoon, Rio Chama
Watercolor
29" x 57"

JONATHAN KEETON's
large-scale landscapes and nocturnes create a solemn sensation of being immersed in the outdoors. Using watercolor, acrylic and gouache, he works from photographs taken on hikes and conveys a quiet reverence for the natural world. Jonathan documents his sources and his process on his blog. His work will be included in the Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Exhibition, opening on September 16, 2016  at Foothills Art Center in Golden, Colorado. He recently won Best in Show at the New Mexico Watercolor Society Spring Show, and you can see his work (almost) every weekend through October 2016 with the Santa Fe Society of Artists. Jonathan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

OtherPeoplesPixels:
In your statement, you say: “I’m lucky to be able to return many years later to my first love, although I am keenly aware of where my art might be had I been working as a full time artist all those years, and am mindfully anxious to make up lost time now.” What took you away from painting and what brought you back?

Jonathan Keeton: After working as a school teacher and an actor (and a waiter and picture framer), I stumbled into the beginning of computer graphics in California and ended up pursuing a career in visual effects for thirty years. It was nice to actually be paid to do something like art, and I felt a strong need to prove that I could succeed in the ‘real world.' After many years, with some prodding from my wife, I thought that if I was ever going to be an artist I had better start in earnest while I still had energy for it. Most people prefer me now to how I was then…!

Laguna Mesa, Chama River Canyon
Acrylic
11" x 14"
2016

OPP: Your landscapes never have people in them, but in every case, I imagine the point of view of a solitary hiker. These are intimate experiences of nature, not grand, romantic landscapes. There’s a solemn mood of contemplation. Is this just me reading your work through my own history of hiking in Northern New Mexico and Marin County or a tone you’ve intentionally set out to evoke for the viewer?

JK: What a perceptive question! In my landscapes, what I am most intrigued by is the sense of being in the landscape, as opposed to viewing it from a distance. That’s when I have the most powerful response myself, and it is usually a result of having hiked some ways first. So I try to convey that feeling if I can.

Cataract Bridge
Watercolor
30" x 40"

OPP: Why is it important to convey that sense of “being in the landscape?”

JK: I think that it’s a question of intimacy. Like the difference between seeing something, however pretty, at a distance, versus being in it. There is a sense, I think, of still being at a remove that I am trying to avoid; this is the same reason why I prefer to work large if possible. In a large painting the viewer is more likely to enter into it, as opposed to observing it from a (physical and emotional) distance.

OPP: Have you ever painted anything other than the natural world?

JK: Well, of course I paint nocturnes quite a bit. They are often cities or towns, but I feel that they reacquire a magical quality after the sun goes down somehow, that otherwise I find only in nature. I am intrigued by pools at night and also by florist shops in big cities. I would love to do a series of them. In each, I feel like there is a kind of a temple to the natural world of water and flora; a temple of yin if you will.

The Boarding House, Madrid NM
Watercolor
34 1/2" x 54 1/2"
2015

OPP: I should have phrased that differently; I was thinking of the nocturnes as landscapes, too. Although clearly they are not untouched by civilization, as evidenced by the electricity, architecture and roads. But these are rural spaces, not urban spaces, and the human presence is again limited to the point of view of the hiker, or in the case of the nocturnes, the wander. Can you say a little more about similarities and differences between the nocturnes and the landscapes in terms of that “magic quality?”

JK: Well, I am attracted to landscapes that give me a certain feeling, and although I might not be able to describe or predict what I might find, there is a strong recognition when I see it in front of me. Whether I can paint it is another problem! And at night, the sense of being on a planet in space is much stronger than during the day. There is almost a science fiction sense of newness in certain landscapes and night scenes for me, as if they were being seen with fresh eyes, or for the first time. I remember being a camp counselor in Vermont long ago and the kids were always loud during hikes, so that their noise kept away any animals or sense of wonder, bless their hearts. Another counselor had the idea of taking them into the forest on night walks when there was no moon, so one couldn’t even see one’s hand in front of one’s face. It was striking how the kids' attitude completely changed then—they definitely felt like visitors and were awestruck. That’s kind of the feeling that I get and want to convey if possible.

Dawn, Turqoise Trail
Watercolor
8" x 12"
2016

OPP: What’s your process? Do you paint from photographs, on site or from memory?

JK: I would be pretty darn proud of myself if I could paint them from memory! I take photographs and work from them in my studio. I learn a lot from painting on site, but dislike the result. Also, though, I am trying to paint a moment, when the light is a certain way, and everything in the scene changes when the light changes, so it’s pretty much impossible to do this work en plein air for me, when in five minutes everything changes.

A trick that I use to help is to print a version of the image that is exactly the size of my painting, and cut it into pieces to which I refer when I paint. By looking sideways instead of up at a reference, I don’t lose my place so much. I usually make a somewhat pale watercolor of the scene based on a pencil drawing, and that becomes a sort of watercolor sketch that then allows to paint with more boldness, once I have some idea of how everything fits together.

Upper Canyon Road
Watercolor
22" x 30"
2014

OPP: What should a non-painters know about watercolor, acrylic and gouache? Do you have a preference? If so, why?

JK: As it turns out, watercolor is by far the most difficult medium. For some reason many people beginning an exploration into painting feel somehow that they should use watercolors, then abandon the whole idea as a result. Acrylics are considerably easier, although that’s not to say they are a cakewalk, and every medium requires study and practice. Gouache is a medium that I learned in order to not have to throw away ruined watercolors. Basically gouache is watercolor paint with added chalk, and then extra pigment to overcome the chalkiness. It’s opaque, unlike watercolor, and one uses white instead of the paper as white, as one does in watercolor.

I have come to have fewer prejudices against particular mediums, and ultimately see painting images as the goal. There are certainly images that I would only paint in acrylic. When I started painting in acrylic this year, there were several images that I had not considered possible to make as paintings that are now in the queue.

Highway 100, Vermont
Watercolor
22" x 30"
2016

OPP: Why is landscape still relevant/more relevant than a time in history where painting the natural world was the only way to capture it?

JK: Wow, another great question. Well, first of all, we are more divorced from the natural world than at any time in our species’ history. There is a neo-Confucian idea that really struck me when I first encountered it in high school, expressed by the character, ‘Li’ (理). As I read then, it refers to the patterns in jade, but is intended to express the perfection in the apparent chaos of nature. That is exactly what I want to convey in my work. As to why I don’t just make photographs, especially since my paintings are so close in some ways to those photographs; I would describe my work as meditative and devotional, as opposed to emotional or expressive, per se. This is my own personal zen meditation in many ways, and if that feeling of awe and inspiration comes through at all, then I’m pretty happy.

To see more of Jonathan's work, please visit jonathankeeton.net.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kyle Triplett

Test Dream
Backlit Digital Print
24" x 48"
2016

Combining digital projection, wood and ceramics, KYLE TRIPLETT evokes vast, outdoor places within the confines of the gallery. The romantic, the picturesque and the artificial are foregrounded in his simulated landscapes, but each is very much a real place. His backlit digital prints, which began as documentation of his installations, capture the wistful, longing figure in relation to his created spaces. Kyle received his BFA from Southeast Missouri State University (2008), a Post-Baccalaureate certificate from Louisiana State University (2009) and his MFA from Ohio University (2013). He's been an Artist-in-Residence at Red Star Studios (2015) in Kansas City, Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts (2014) in Newcastle, Maine and Kansas State University (2013-2014). His most recent solo exhibition False River just closed in March 2016 at Yeiser Art Center in Paducah, Kentucky.  Kyle's backlit photographs are currently on view until May 21, 2016 in the group show Garden Party, alongside a collaborative sculpture with Rain Harris (also of OPP blog fame), at the Belger Art Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Kyle lives and works in Ruston, Louisiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you say "I am interested in producing work that is specifically of place, as opposed to work about place. That is, asking questions and responding to the ‘virtual here and there’ rather than traditional ideas of site specificity." Could you parse this out further?

Kyle Triplett: My installation work is rooted in the desire to create place. I’m interested in using the space of the gallery as a platform to create an imagined, constructed landscape as opposed to recreating a known or remembered experience. The work is site-reactive in that the gallery only dictates the size of the piece. Other than that, the work is not about a specific site. It’s about constructing a structure that attempts to hit most of the notes that a real landscape does. I approach the work with the understanding that it’s fundamentally impossible to recreate nature, but I think there is something compelling in the attempt and failure. The number of individual elements that make up a scene is a little maddening, but again, there is something interesting in the attempt to create a landscape one single grass blade at a time as in Untitled, OH #8.

Untitled, OH. #8
Ceramic, Wood, Cloth, Projection
32ft L x 16ft W x 12ft H
2013

OPP: You employ ceramics, wood and digital projection to create immersive environments. What was your first medium and how did you come to this balanced combination of the digital and the tactile?

KT: My first experience with ceramics, like most, came through pottery. I took a ceramics class in high school and really enjoyed it. I took another ceramics class in college after three years pursuing a degree in American History and haven’t left it since. At the beginning of the last semester of undergrad, I shifted away from pots and started making ceramic-based mixed media sculpture. I started playing with digital tools shortly after starting graduate school at Ohio University in 2010. For the first batch of work, I created ceramic objects onto which I projected a digital surface. That work morphed into larger installation pieces. I can honestly say I had no interest in working this way prior to graduate school, but I deliberately chose a graduate program that was concept driven rather than anchored in a specific material in order to have more flexibility with my work. I started playing with space as a material due in large part to the spacious critique rooms available for installation-based projects and a desire to work on a larger scale..

The balance of digital and tactile is still a struggle. Because I’m interested in working on a landscape-sized scale, I’m always searching for something that feels substantial or big in the work. Sometimes that manifests as nine thousand wooden dowels with pinched clay on the end as in Once a Day or as a large projected live video feed as in Untitled, OH. #7.

In Other Fields, SD. #1
Ceramic, Video, Digital Projection, Wood
Dimensions Variable
2013

OPP: The images titled In Other Fields appear to be documentation of installations (based on how the media is designated), but they are quite evocative as photographs? Can you explain this work for those of us who have only encountered it online?

KT: While I was working on large installation pieces in graduate school, I became interested in the documentation images I was making to record the work. Those documentation images morphed into creating staged images. The first few from 2013 were both documentation images as well as specific installations designed to be photographed. They were a way to work through ideas. These projects allowed me to interact with a site as an installation and to create images of that interaction that could stand alone as independent works themselves. Since 2014, I have been creating images that are solely shown as backlit digital prints. I am attempting to do the same things with these prints as with my larger installations. The digital images portray a built environment with handmade ceramic components. Conceptually, I am interested in presenting a moment of contemplation and longing while also presenting a window in the image leading to a different place, such as an in Tulpomanie.

Once a Day (detail)
Clay, Wood, Light
48ft L x 24ft W x 6ft H
2015

OPP: Fields are visual staples in your work. They show up as video projections and as ceramics. Once a Day (2015) and Untitled, OH. #8 (2013) are examples. I'd like to hear your thoughts on fields, both how you use them in your work and how you experience them in your life.

KT: I grew up in western South Dakota: fields and open spaces are very much ingrained in me. I don't know that fields really specifically registered with me when I was younger, but I remember feeling literally and figuratively a long way away from a lot of things. 

Beyond that, a field is a single space, demarcated by use or purpose. A field is a place. I think about place as defined by three elements. First, a specific location is needed: a here and there. The second is a locale, the material setting in which social relationships take place: a wall, a road, a field. The final element is “a sense of place,” the subjective and emotional attachment a person or groups of people have to a place. This final requirement begins to function conceptually rather than as a social or graphic reality. As an artist I am interested in ways that I could construct and provoke this subjective and emotional attachment in a viewer. . . or at the least a sense of familiarity or distinctiveness.  A field is a tract of land, which makes me think about distance and time. A field as an image tends to look like everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. 

The work that is titled In Other Fields is in large part about longing or yearning to be some other place, be it in time or space. Each piece in the series presents a figure in a given place interacting with an image of someplace else. The constructed objects that make up the piece are, much like the installations, again this attempt to recreate nature or another place.

In Other Fields, KS. #1
Backlit Digital Print
24" x 48"
2013

OPP: What are you working on right now? What's on the horizon?

KT: I’ve just finished up a busy run of exhibitions. I had a solo show at the Yeiser Art Center in Paducah, Kentucky where I was able to put up a new installation. The piece was a companion to the installations Once a Day that I did last year. The new piece, titled False River, employed a similar structure as the one used in Once a Day to divide the gallery rather than fill the space completely. False River is a very long and narrow lake in South Louisiana that was once part of the Mississippi River and that has since been cut off. The name caught my attention because it describes something by what it is not, but there’s also irony behind it. It’s interesting to live in a state that has a very unique relationship between land and water. Nothing is solid, and it feels like there is water everywhere.

I teach full time at Louisiana Tech University, so summer break brings welcomed studio time. This summer I will be heading to Bechyne, Czech Republic for an international ceramic symposium in July. I am currently researching different milling methods using a CNC router setup on ceramic surfaces as a way of potential manufacture. This could open up some avenues for creating more complex pieces. Teaching at a university with a strong architecture program has also got me thinking about different ways that my work can become more public by incorporating it into interior design.

To see more of Kyle's work, please visit kyletriplett.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 Scott Patrick Wiener

Northeast United States in Forest Green (circa 1975)
2015

SCOTT PATRICK WIENER is not a landscape photographer. However, he does use a camera to explore how our personal and collective visions of place are manifested in the clichés of landscape photography. Whether using drones to capture images that blur the line between surveillance and Romantic painting or printing appropriated images from his father's travel archive in the least archival way possible, he participates in and interrogates the attempt to hold on time and place. Scott earned his BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2001 and his MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. In 2010, he attended Skowhegan and received a DAAD Scholarship for Fine Art to study in Leipzig, Germany. His extensive group exhibitions include shows at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York (2014), the Boston Center for the Arts (2014), and Kunstverein Weiden in Oberpfalz, Germany (2012). In 2015, his work was included in Another Spectacle at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Survey Without Surveillance at Nave Gallery in Somerville, Massachusetts, and he mounted solo exhibition I Can't Hear What You Can't See at Emmanuel College in Boston. Scott lives and works in Arlington, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Where does your interest in landscape come from?

Scott Patrick Wiener: First and foremost, the medium of photography. I don't say this to be coy. I excavate and invoke all manner of photographic traditions in my work. Landscape just happens to be the focus at the moment. . . well many moments. . . or really all of them since grad school. What really draws me to the genre is how it used for colonialist purposes in both personal/private and socio-political arenas. (Yikes, have I become a landscape artist?) I’d really like to get back to portraiture at some point or at least invoke it in some project connected to either Landscape Acquisition or Surrogate Parables.

Untitled 2 (Spies in the Sky)
2013
Archival Inkjet Print
40" x 60"

OPP: Are photographic landscapes simply mediated experiences of nature or something else entirely?

SPW: Hmmmm? That’s a big question so please bear with me. Yes, landscape photographs are mediated experiences of nature, but so is simply walking through the woods. Humankind constructs an ideal from that experience and produces/reproduces it in language. Then we make decisions, based on our cultural dispositions, about what are appropriate representations for those concepts. This starts with painting and ends in the hands of the tourist, ultimately finding its way to postcards, calendars, computer desktops, etc. All this to say that cultural norms for the representation of nature are most purely expressed as cliché.

To your question, I find landscape photographs to be some of the most fascinating expressions of banality in our culture. Yes, these clichés flatten out meaning, reducing it to a cultural norm, but there is also something amazing about clichéd representations: they are one of the few places in human culture where large groups of people can agree on something. This is incredible to me. So I use extremely familiar representations of landscape in my work to establish a zero ground for consumption before distorting the view and making it unfamiliar. I like to think that happens at the moment of reception, when my materials work to disintegrate the line between the subjective (interpretive moment) and objective (banal representation). Most of my recent work with landscape imagery is appropriated as well, so the images already exist and have been consumed. I simply work to transform them, to give them another life beyond the one they already lived. It’s a kind of bastardized resurrection.

I was giving a talk recently and someone asked whether or not it was barbaric to embody the view of an other in re-presentation. This was a great question and held me accountable to the famous Adorno quote that I use in my lectures: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” I thought for a moment and responded by saying that I am not embodying an others gaze but taking its evidence (the photograph) and subjecting to an filtration process where it is transformed in its final expression. Therefore I do not propose that an other's gaze, or subject position, is my own. Rather, I am a consumer of images, and those images must be revisited so the suppressed content of the original can emerge for consideration dressed in its new skin.


Southeast from Neutrals Camp at Bergen-Belsen
2010

OPP: "The ongoing project Landscape Acquisition (2012–Present) is a multidisciplinary exercise in the collision between familiar vocabularies of airborne surveillance and the Western history of beauty in art." This in-progress project seems connected to The Luxury of Distance (2008-2010), in which you photographed views of the landscape looking out from various concentration camp sites. The connection for me is a collision between what we see and what we know—based on text— to be true of the point of view. Thoughts?


SPW: I really like your read! When working on The Luxury of Distance in Germany, I wanted to establish an antagonism between seemingly opposite forms of representation established as baselines for depictions of wartime trauma and beauty in nature. The connective tissue for me is banality. Our culture knows and expects certain kinds of images to stand in for particular subject matter. Also of importance is the mutually constitutive dimensions of the language/image dichotomy. When one views images, one describes to themselves; when one reads text, one imagines based on description. I aggressively positioned the body between depictions of the the sublime and horrific. Further, the commemorative view of trauma is utterly denied.

I want to paraphrase Sontag here from Regarding the Pain of Others. She says that photographs make distance explicit in reception, not close proximity, but the latter remains our demand for the image. This closeness is impossible. I want to invoke that position so once again the body is compromised by geographical, psychological, and temporal distances.

The Landscape Acquisition project also invokes physical distance through the detached gaze of unmanned aerial surveillance, but here that distance is collapsed by the very real and violent consequences one can inflict on an other from afar. It is said that the more images one has of another culture/people/place, the more power the producer has over that space. Not only can one see more, but behind the visual production of the subject lies the implication that the seer has more advanced technology and therefore is more of a threat.

The Untitled (Spies in the Sky) pictures abide by this menacing framework and are most similar to the work in Germany in that they visually conflate beauty in nature through landscape aesthetics established by Romantic painting and the sinister, detached view of aerial surveillance. The latter uses the position of looking down and grain in the photograph to invoke cold-war style surveillance pictures. Here, the exertion of power over geography becomes the will to establish control over place via the production of technological imagery.

Some Kind of Equilibrium
2010
Video still

OPP: When you work in video, it is with a photographer's eye. Videos like The Wanderer (2011) and Some Kind of Equilibrium (2010) are static shots of barely moving bodies. They function like photographs with sound, but also remind us that an inherent part of photography's nature is the illusion of stopping time. Why do you sometimes choose video instead of a still image?

SPW: You’re picking up on years of my trying to understand and use video, which remains difficult for me, but ultimately necessary. The only way I could initially approach the medium is from an understanding of the still image. That is why the earlier video works you mention are so static. I chose video for those pieces primarily because the still images I made initially for the works were so booooooooooring. Later I realized that movement within a single static frame was very important and that I could trap gestures of im/balance when confronted with a natural environment in Some Kind of Equilibrium and striving for a sublime experience in The Wanderer. The latter was particularly significant for me in that it places a slightly overweight dude—me in another life—in Friedrich’s wanderer/hero role and forces him to repeat the same walk up a set of stairs placed intentionally at the top of some sad hill. The video loops infinitely without cuts to make clear the Sisyphean dimension of the act. This experience for me is about longing for the sublime experience of nature idealized by the western world in philosophy, painting, photography and moving images. But standing in front of an aesthetic object is not the sublime as Kant would have it because the body is not present in the wilderness, comprehending simultaneously the horrific and beatific dimensions of the natural world. It is an experience of the idea of the sublime.

More recent video work has moved beyond the static shot into places with far more movement (eg. Rehearsal for Sonata in C and  Three Surveys). I guess my exploration of the still frame eventually gave me permission to move beyond it.


My Light Bulb Burn Gray (After My Father)
2012-13
16 Archival Inkjet Prints (11” x 17” each)

OPP: Processes in I Want the One I Can't Have (2012-Present) and My Light Bulb Burns Gray (2012-13) are significant to the content of the work about fading memory and the inability to hold on to our experiences or grasp the experiences of others. Can you explain how you reproduced these images and talk about why you choose those particular images?


SPW: Both of those series from the Surrogate Parables project use images appropriated from my family's travel archive, mostly photographed by my father. Selecting the pictures was based on a simple premise: I chose the most common pictures that a tourist might take to show how they had both acquired and established image-ownership over their destinations. The Eiffel Tower, the Hollywood sign, the Grand Canyon all exemplify those types of pictures. People who travel for the purpose of leisure all make images like this, myself included. I wanted to use the recognition of that common language to establish a foundation for the reception of the work. The pictures also indicate ownership over place in the act of “capturing” the destination and containing it within the four edges of the frame; a kind of image-based bourgeois colonialism.


In the My Light Bulb Burns Gray series I digitally drench the images in 18% gray (neutral photo gray), leaving no white highlight or black shadow. This was the first iteration of the Surrogate Parables project and makes literal a ‘graying out’ of nostalgic experience of travel imagery. The attempt to preserve a moment deemed historic through photography is at the heart of this work.

The process in I Want the One I Can't Have is a bit more involved. Memory motivates this work as well, which pulls images from the same travel archive. Here, I turn the originals into inkjet transparencies, place them against a piece of construction paper under glass, and expose them to sunlight for a week. After this time, the image appears due to the fading of the non-archival dyes in the paper. In display, they are never fixed. They are transient, fugitive images that change and fade over time, just as memory does. Eventually they disappear completely, forcing a confrontation with the human obsession with preserving the self beyond death by denying the image that possibility. No matter how permanent we want our images to be, we continue to change, as does our understanding of them every time we open a history book or remove the top off the shoe box that houses the most personal of family pictures.



I remain frustrated by the way the paper is ignored in photographs to focus on the depicted event. In this work I prioritize the material before the image so that the paper itself has conceptual consequences for the interpretation of the event in question. This way the paper is a significant part of how the picture is interpreted and experienced. When encountered, there is no denying that the material is construction paper. It may even be the first thing one notices. This forces the recognition of a place in time where the past and present coincide in an impermanent and consequential way, which is antagonistic to a historicist understanding of photography as an image that forever places a halt on a given moment. This idea is continues to motivate all of the work I do with technologically reproducible imagery.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Cable Griffith

Deception Pass
Acrylic on panel
24 x 30 inches
2014

CABLE GRIFFITH creates and explores fictional worlds in landscape paintings informed by the aesthetics of early video games, visually triggering the nostalgia of a generation. Fictional worlds, of course, are simply analogs for the world we live in, and these colorful, cartoony landscapes use formal reduction to hint at the expansive complexity of imagining what might still be left to discover. Cable earned his BFA in Painting from Boston University in 1997 and his MFA in Painting from the University of Washington in 2002. His numerous solo exhibitions include Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start (2013) at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, Washington), FlotsamJetsamLagan: The Oneness (2013) at SOIL Gallery (Seattle), Domestic Landscapes (2014) at two shelves (Seattle). The forthcoming Sightings will open in December 2015 at G. Gibson Gallery (Seattle). Cable is a faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, where he lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The earliest work on your website (2006-2008) is characterized by intense, accumulative mark-making. Works like Orange Jungle (2008), Green Canopy (2007) and Vertical Shear (2007) hover between abstraction and chaotic environments. Did you consciously shift towards the more designed, organized landscapes that came later or was this an organic evolution in your practice?

Cable Griffith: That transition was definitely organic and happened gradually over several years through several bodies of work. Looking back at the shift, I can try to make sense of it now. The earlier work was a record of me arriving at an invented place, mark by mark, with little-to-no pre-defined plan. I still rely heavily on improvisation, but in 2009, I made World One Overview, my first “map” painting, which attempted to conceive many separate locations into a more fully connected world. Using the maps, I began to locate myself in a more intentional way inside that world and the continuing description of it. Now, some paintings take a vantage point from far above, and some are at ground level. In short, I think that as the invented world became clearer in my mind, aspects of my process became more deliberate.

World One Overview
Acrylic on canvas
48 x 60 inches
2009

OPP: In your most recent work, I see clear influences from both the aesthetics of early video games—specifically, Nintendo and Atari—and Modernist painting. Do the discourses of these seemingly disparate fields share territory? What are the connections for you?

CG: I grew up with Atari and Nintendo and have played video games ever since. More recently, I’ve realized that my understanding of landscape has been heavily informed by video games’ systematic and formulaic way of reducing the complexity of natural environments. This influenced me long before I knew what Modernism was. I’m attracted to the reductive qualities of both and their potential as language. Once I identified that my work was influenced by the history of virtual space as much as painted space, I set out to explore that territory.

One of the crossovers is how reductive form is used in both modernist painting and early video games. Many modernist painters were trying to reduce form intentionally towards a simple and efficient result. They might say they were trying to capture the “essence” of something. In early video games, however, the reduction wasn’t intentional, but rather a limitation of the technology of the time. Because of the limited colors, chunky resolution and minimal memory, the game designers needed to be very inventive with how they maximized the given set of parameters. Some of my favorite games—Zelda and Mario Bros., for example—felt like expansive worlds, when in fact they were entirely made up of only a few variants. In many ways, I’m trying to do the same thing by limiting my parameters while trying to built something that feels limitless.

OPP: What can games do that paintings cannot, and vice versa?

CG: Some games sell millions of copies? And some paintings make people travel thousands of miles to see them in person. Honestly, I’m having a hard time with this question. There are many painfully obvious answers one could come up with that separate the two. But the more I think about it and consider the vast range of things that people have done already and the unlimited potential of both fields, I’ll go out on a limb and say that hypothetically, there’s nothing one can do that the other can’t.

Mountain Stream
Acrylic on canvas
48 x 36 inches
2014

OPP: Tell us about your collaborations with programmer/artist Brent Watanabe.

CG: In 2012, I was working on a large painting installation Side-scroll World One for my exhibition Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. It was my first body of work that explored the crossover of video game space through painting. Side-scroll was composed of over 20 connected/sprawling paintings and referenced the classic platformer video game convention. I posted an image of the paintings in progress on Facebook, and Brent made a comment about mapping a game projection on top of the paintings. I really wanted to see that happen, so we started talking seriously about it.

Although we didn’t use the Side-scroll installation at the time, we got together and came up with a game and world concept, then went our separate ways to work. Brent designed the game system, and I developed the background environment. The final piece was called for(){}; and was a playable triptych, very loosely based on the Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. This year, we revisited the playable painting/video game collaboration on the original Side-scroll World One installation and the game used much more of the wall space in between and around the paintings, including various objects in the room. Both games shared a lack of any clear objective. And this was intentional. As the "player" you could explore the world freely, interact with the environment, try to figure out various cause and effect relationships, consume and leave waste behind. Kind of like humans on earth! We’re continuing to develop these ideas and are looking forward to a new collaborative project in 2016.

for(){};
(collaboration with Brent Watanabe)
Projection mapped video game, acrylic on canvas
2013

OPP: Recent paintings from 2014—Desert, Landguage I, and This is the place - Be prepared to defend yourself, among others—read like pictographs, hieroglyphics or maps key symbols, while still maintaining a clear connection to both video games and landscape. Are these new works landscapes or texts?

CG: They’re both. To me, all landscape paintings are texts. Of course, the more we know about a painting, the more it tells us. And the perspective of time gives us a much different reading on paintings now than 300 years ago. Or even 20 years ago. Everything about a painting is part of its story, down to the pigments and tools, the artist’s social or political relationships, patrons, and trends of the time. Generally, I’ve found that the more you look, the more you find. Of course, the artist’s intention is important, but that’s not where meaning always resides.

The code paintings are, in some way, are a further reduction of natural forms from my map paintings. But I’ve become increasingly interested in the domestic function of paintings. Generally, domestic space is where paintings eventually spend their time. Paintings have a very strong connection and history with living spaces. And yet, artists like to think of their work in a clean, white, empty gallery space. I certainly do. The code paintings and  “tapestries” (painted on loose, raw canvas) are explorations of landscape with a relationship to a domestic site in mind, referencing wall paper and textile patterns.

Desert
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
2014

OPP: Tell us about your upcoming solo show Sightings. This body of work takes an entirely new inspiration as its jumping off point.

CG: The Sightings series was conceived in conversation with the history of landscape painting, notions of the Sublime and the role of painting as documentation. The paintings are all inspired by reports of various unexplained phenomenon in contemporary culture. I’m hoping to evoke a similar sense of wonder and awe as the Romantic landscape paintings of the 19th Century, but in an updated way.  Artists like Thomas Cole and Casper David Friedrich depicted a magnificent and untameable world that suggested the insignificance of man in the face of overwhelming natural forces. Today, much of that landscape has been conquered and covered by a civilization whose aspirations now aim beyond the terrestrial. In a world where anything seems possible, perhaps we give the most pause to things that seem impossible.

Many of the paintings are based off of actual UFO reports in the Pacific Northwest. I use part of the witness’s actual description as the title and research the location and time of the sighting as a starting point for the painting. I don’t take a position on the validity of any of the claims. I’m mainly interested in the sighting phenomenon overall. There are images of several studies of the series on the G. Gibson Gallery's website, but the full show will open in December 2015.

To see more of Cable's work, please visit cablegriffith.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 Jonny Green

Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste
2014

JONNY GREEN’s meticulously-rendered paintings of slapdash sculptures merge still life and portraiture. The crude, tiny objects—built from plasticine, ribbons, electrical tape, screws and mismatched clock parts—further his exploration of the human experience of smallness in the face of disaster, loss and uncertainty by portraying these flawed creations with unabashed dignity. Jonny earned his B.A. from Norwich School of Art in 1989 and his M.A. from Royal College of Art in 1991. He has exhibited widely throughout the United Kingdom. Most recently, his work was included in the juried exhibition Contemporary Visions V (2015) at Beers Contemporary and in Saatchi’s  New  Sensations  and  The  Future  Can  Wait (2014) at Victoria  House in  London. In 2013, Jonny was shortlisted for the prestigious Threadneedle Prize. You can see his work until May 8, 2015 in Still Life: Ambiguous Practices, curated by Frances Woodley, at the Aberystwyth University Galleries in Wales. His work will also be included in Distorted Vision, the inaugural exhibition at The Dot Project in London, where Jonny lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Past works have focused on disaster scenes, masquerading as landscape and influenced by famous paintings from art history. Carpark of Earthly Delights (2012), for example, references Hieronymus Bosch's masterwork from the 15th century, and many works are reminiscent of Albert Bierstadt, not just Dead Lake (After Bierstadt) (2012). Are these natural or man-made disasters?

Jonny Green: Both. That series of works began in 2008, right after the big financial crash. My studio at the time faced onto Canary Wharf, one of London's financial centers. I was listening to the news reports of the panic and looking out onto the bank buildings. That particular atmosphere of shock and fear are what triggered and informed those paintings. I started looking at the apocalyptic works of people like John Martin with their strong sense of human smallness, something his work shares with the Hudson River Group, particularly Bierstadt. What interested me in particular was the notion that the whole thing was a fabrication, Bierstadt's visions of the Rockies are exaggerated and romanticized in order to instill awe in the audience. It's very Hollywood. So in my paintings of that period, people are reverting to primitive states within these apocalyptic environments, making peace with their gods, seeking absolution or having sex.

The Cleansing
2012
Oil on linen
136 x 200 cm

OPP: The Oil Cloud Series (2012-2013) isolates the colored smoke/clouds from the disaster landscapes. You give the amorphous forms personality by giving them human names, referring to the convention of naming hurricanes. Beryl and Alberto, both hurricanes from 2012, even have eyes, further supporting the personification of natural disasters. What else can you tell us about your intentions with this series?

JG: This series is an ongoing one actually. I've recently made a couple more of them. I'd been looking at a lot of archival photographs of early ecological and industrial disasters. I found a series of daguerreotypes of fires in early oil fields and began to use them as a very loose source material for that group of paintings.

At the same time I’d been researching the convention of attaching human names to hurricanes, which has its beginnings in the Caribbean hundreds of years ago. Storms were initially named after the saint of the day the hurricane occurred on from Roman Catholic Liturgical calendar. I felt that it was a symptom of our need as humans to anthropomorphize the things that we don't understand or that frighten us. We have a habit of seeing faces or consciousness in almost anything. It's an evolutionary throwback that’s still pertinent to our survival.

Alberto
2013
Oil on linen
68 x 61 cm

OPP: Now let's turn to your most recent paintings of haphazardly-made sculptures. These are part portrait, part still life. What led to this shift in your work?

JG: I'd had to take a break from the painting studio for family reasons and leave London for a few weeks. I was staying with my  family in Yorkshire in the North east of England. Unable to paint, I found a box of filthy old plasticine from my childhood and began modeling with it late at night when everyone else had gone to bed. I then photographed these weird little objects, using the materials available to me, i.e. kitchen towels as a backdrop, an old lamp as the only lighting. I was surprised by the power of the images and decided to try and make paintings from them on my return. I think the reason they worked is that I have absolutely no personal investment in sculpture as a practice, which allowed me to be completely free and open with their construction in a way that is perhaps impossible for me with painting.

I really just free-associate and slap things together. Their flaws and lack of artistry are what makes them interesting to me. This is completely at odds with the process of photographing and painting them, which is really painstaking. I think every artist is looking for a process for making their work that suits their temperament. It's a surprisingly difficult thing to find, but this combination of carefree and painstaking works for me.

The First Cut Is The Deepest
2014
Oil on canvas on board
88 x 122 centimeters

OPP: The tendency to anthropomorphize and our neurologically-wired habit of seeing faces is of course also at play in this body of work. All this has got me thinking about the human brain, which is a recurring motif in the sculpture paintings. How do you think about the brains in pieces like Tipping Point (2014) and Fracaso (2013)?

JG: I think about the brains as characters just like the sculptures that are more suggestive of human beings. A couple of years back I'd gone to visit my father in hospital. He had pneumonia and was also being treated for a particularly aggressive water infection. Although temporary, the change in his behaviour was dramatic. His memory had gone, and he had lost all sense of time and place. He was extremely confused. On speaking to the doctors, we found out that the infection was the cause of this. It was bewildering to me at the time that something so minor as a urine infection could cause such a change in personality, and I began to investigate the condition. I began thinking about the brain as this fragile, sensitive jelly-like entity, that contains everything about a person. The rest is just dressing.

OPP: Have you ever considered exhibiting the sculptures themselves?

JG: Not so far, but I wouldn't rule it out for the future. I don't think they work as they are largely because I work on them from one angle. I’m looking for an image to paint so I rarely consider what the back, top or bottom looks like. It might be quite interesting to play with the scale of them, to make them human-sized for instance, which would be quite a challenge technically as most of them are only a couple of inches tall.

White Wedding
2015
Oil on canvas on board

OPP: Some of the paintings are not large at all—Romeo (2014) is 21 x 16.6 centimeters and Grand Mal (2014) is 21 x 17 centimeters—while others shift the scale of the sculptures dramatically. Babel (2013) is 145 x 122 centimeters and Agitant (2013) is 122 x 153 centimeters.

JG: Making choices about scale is largely intuitive. Sometimes I get it wrong the first time around. For example, The Rt Hon started off as one of the really small paintings. When it was complete, I realized that it didn't resonate the way I'd hoped and needed to be substantially bigger.

There is something about the nature of little objects—their abject and pathetic demeanor, the fact that they appear to be trying to validate their existence with flowers and the draping of ribbons—that drives me to give them a voice, assert their rights. I’m aware that there is something ridiculous about the notion of asserting human rights for a lump of dirty old plasticine, but it's that anthropomorphism that makes them more than bits of old rubbish.


To see more of Jonny's work, please visit jonnygreen.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. 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 Tom Ormond

Inside Out
2013
Oil on Linen
183 x 193 centimeters

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

Work in Progress
2013
Oil on Linen
128 x 183 centimeters

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

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

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

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

Sol Space
2010
Oil on linen
92 x 76 inches

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

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

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

Tumbler
2008
Oil on linen
72 x 88 inches

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

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

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

OPP: Do you share any conceptual ground with them?

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

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

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

Hardtack Moon
2008
oil on linen
60 x 70 inches

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

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

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

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

General
2010
Oil on linen
22 x 18 inches

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

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

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

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

 
To see more of Tom's work, please visit tomormond.com.


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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Colin O'Con

Untitled (Black Mountain)
2014
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas
53" x 78"

COLIN O'CON presents viewers with the mystery of nature in paintings and immersive installations. His fluorescent palette appears at times otherworldly or manufactured because we sometimes forget that nature itself creates such intense colors. Colin graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of North Texas in 2000. In 2004, he earned his MFA from Hunter College in New York (2004) and won the Tony Smith Sculpture Award. His work has been included in exhibitions at Fresh Window (Brooklyn), Rawson Gallery (Brooklyn), Lesley Heller Workspace (New York), The Alexandria Museum of Art (Louisiana), Boston Center for the Arts, Artspace (San Antonio), and CSAW (Houston). Alongside his visual art practice, he plays in the bands Dark Carpet and Sportsman's Paradise. Colin lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your color-saturated landscapes appear otherworldly, like they might exist on a planet with a different atmosphere. Are you painting our world or another?

Colin O’Con: All of my experiences come from this world, so I'm definitely painting our world. It's more a questioning of what our "world" is and how we perceive and create that idea. The palette is a conceptual choice. I use fluorescents for their visceral punch, their popular culture implications and the otherworldliness that they evoke.

But it's an interesting question. . . what other worlds are beyond our planet? I am certainly fascinated by pictures of space but mostly because of how fictitious they are. I'm interested in that illusion. And it’s not only the images. Take the recent satellite comet landing and the so called "song" it was emitting. Listen to the "song." Someone made that song. It is made from a frequency that is sped up so we can hear it and whoever "produced" it put a bunch of reverb on it and panned it back and forth to make it sound "spacey,” I guess. It’s a complete fabrication!

Untitled (Earth Like Planet)
2014
Acrylic on Canvas
40" x 41"

OPP: Does that fabrication relate to art-making?

CO: Yes, both involve illusion masquerading as fact. It is this illusion of nature or representations of that I'm most interested in.

OPP: What does the Sublime mean to you?

CO: It is the awe that ensues when you see something horrible but have that safety net of distance or reproduction. I often paint images of the sun, which is the most constant thing in our lives. It literally gives us life. We gaze upon it in awe and bask under it. . . yet it's a giant explosion in the sky. That is the sublime.

Untitled (Big Sun)
2008
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas
60" x 60"

OPP: What is your most memorable experience in nature?

CO: This one is very hard for me. I grew up near the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, and the swampy bayou landscape seeps through in most of my work. I've spent an enormous amount of time hiking and camping. I’ve had so many great experiences, but two memories come to mind. One is the swirling toxic colors in the hot springs at Yellowstone. I was in the third grade, and I couldn't quit looking at those colors. More recently, I hiked to the base of a glacier in the North Cascades in Washington with my wife and some friends. It was incredible, like being on the surface of the moon. We hit the summit right at dusk. Then a full moon rose and spot lit all of the mountains and glaciers around us. Amazing. The next morning we saw an avalanche. It was very far away, but the sound and the sight was an insane experience.

OPP: Tell us about commissioned installation for Immersive Space (2013) at the Alexandria Museum of Art. Is this your only installation to date?

CO: Actually, it is not. I came to painting through the back door. I was making installations and conceptual work most of my academic career. For example, I made large, walk-in gardens with trails that viewers could stroll through, composed mostly of objects bought at dollar stores. My first painted floor piece, composed of hundreds of two inch flowers, included a viewing platform and every wall was painted and collaged with trees.

My work has always been based in nature, and I wanted to translate those ideas into paintings. An installation physically solves or completes everything for the viewer. With painting, the viewer has to complete the experience in their minds. But even while primarily painting on canvas for several years, I continued to make sculpture, particularly the arch sculptures.

Untitled (Installation), Alexandria Museum of Art Commission for Immersive Space
2013
Plywood, acyrlic/latex paint, styrofoam
21' x 26'
Photo credit: Jeff Stephens

OPP: What inspired the arch sculptures?

CO: They were inspired by the mountain forms I was painting. Several years before, I had seen the Delicate Arch in Utah. That area of the country had a big impact on me. The forms are so surreal that they almost seem fabricated. You see the arch form as well as the rainbow form over and over in contemporary signage, and I was interested in exploiting that idea.

And then, the arch sculptures led me back to creating installations mostly because they needed a place to live and the painted floors were the perfect environment. In turn, the sculptures influenced the paintings, resulting in the more abstracted Rainbow Paintings. It's an exciting conversation between the paintings, the sculptures and the installations. The viewer can have the visceral experience of the installations or the intimate experience of the paintings.

Untitled (Rainbow #2)
2014
Acrylic on Canvas
9" x 12"

OPP: Dark Carpet, also featuring the work of Jeff Byrd and Tracy Grayson, at Fresh Window in Brooklyn just closed on December 13, 2014. What was the organizing principle of the show?

CO: The show was named after our band Dark Carpet, which played a few shows in conjunction with the exhibition, including the closing on December 12th. Our music started out as improvised noise but quickly became more straight-up rock n roll diverging into noise freak outs. Jeff Byrd comes from an improvisation background. I've done a lot of that as well, but have also played in several traditional bands. However, in Dark Carpet I moved from drums, my main instrument, to guitar and vocals. That was a big change for me. Our third member, Tracy Grayson, had never played an instrument before, and we convinced him to try it. We are all pretty limited musicians, but we use that to our advantage by crafting simple songs and creating interesting sonic textures.

The three of us are all visual artists and musicians. Dark Carpet is our collective music project, but we each maintain separate studio practices. It was interesting to see our visual work together in the show. We spend an enormous amount of time together. We all share a common sense of humor and a love for the history of music and art. We are constantly introducing one another to new music, artists, books and movies. There is a shared aesthetic that is flowing between us.

OPP: How is creating music different than making visual art, aside from the obvious?

CO: They are very different mostly because music is collaborative and art making is usually a solitary endeavor. However, I feel that they have a lot more in common than most people think. Mike Kelly said that even though he didn't know how to play an instrument he realized that he didn't have to know, and that noise and sound could be his instrument. I realized that early on as well. I knew that I wasn't a virtuosos. Virtuosity rarely leads to anything good. It's the approach that matters.

To see more of Colin's work, please visit colinocon.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 Joe Wardwell

Just as Bored as Me
2014
Oil on canvas
38" x 54"

The stenciled text—most often rock music lyrics—in JOE WARDWELL's paintings alternatingly reads as aphorism, advertising, proverb, propaganda and cliché. Combining landscape painting and abstraction, he poetically echoes a persistent human struggle with longing and impermanence in the visual confusion between foreground and background. Joe earned a BA in Art History and a BFA in Painting from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1996 and his MFA in Painting from Boston University in 1999. Boston-based LaMontagne Gallery, where he has had three solo exhibitions there—Die Young (2009), Big Disgrace (2012) and Party Over (2014)—will take his work to Pulse Miami in December 2015. Joe will have two upcoming solo exhibitions in 2015: at Heskin Contemporary in New York City and Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Joe is an Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachssettes where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Rock music has been a strong inspiration in your work for at least the last decade. What do you listen to while you work? Do you tend to listen to the same albums over and over again?


Joe Wardwell: I listen to music from all sorts of genres, from country swing to Norwegian Death Metal. While working, I listen less as source material for the individual pieces but more for the overall feel of the work and to get me into the right mental space to create the work in the first place. Most of that albums that get repeated are from my vinyl collection: Neil Young’s Live Rust and Boris with Merzbow’s Rock Dreams and Lightning Bolt’s Wonderful Rainbow. I tend to binge a bit more on digital music. Sometimes I will spend an entire day just listening to the Melvins, the Flaming Lips, Black Sabbath or Boris.

Quickly Look Away
2013
oil on canvas
38" x 54"

OPP: What is the relationship between rock music and landscape painting, as you see it?

JW: Landscape painting represents an American ideological orientation to wilderness and landscape that embodies a lot of similar yearnings, desires and attitudes I see expressed in rock music. There is something in that shared psyche that I am trying to tap into and tweak. But I am not solely looking for comparisons between the two or necessarily even looking to unify the painting from genre to concept to form. I see painting as a container that I am trying to fill up with many ideas and images that are struggling to get out. 

OPP: Early paintings like Masters of My Reality, Oblivion and Power Cord Serenade, all 2005, portray musicians and their entourages as heavenly flights of angels reclining on clouds. Others from 2004, such as Live Free Bird or Die, visually position the guitar as a portal through which we can enter another reality. But in 2007, you first introduced text, more specifically rock lyrics, into your paintings. What led to this development and how did it grow out of the earlier work?


JW: In 2007, I felt like I was on a gerbil wheel with the work, running round and round. It was too tongue and cheek and ultimately limited my expression. I didn’t see the heavenly rock figures going anywhere. The text and landscape combo has allowed me to be flippant, ironic, sentimental and political with the work. The work is a lot more versatile as a mode of expression for me now.

If you look at one of those earlier pieces and compare it to one of the first text and landscape pieces like Look West (2007), all of the same connections are still there though the representative form appears very different. The abstract, high chroma flames become the stylized text. The text is taken from song lyrics, and the fonts are derived from silkscreen rock posters. The heavenly cloudscapes are replaced with an idealized wilderness landscape, and the figures in the cloud still exist within the prepositions of the text. The implied Me, You, We or I in the text functions as the figure in the landscape.


Talk Past the Future
2008
oil on canvas
30" x 48"

OPP: More recently, the text has begun to completely take over the landscapes. Can you talk about this change formally and conceptually?


JW: Yes, earlier it was too polite. I still love those first paintings and stand by them, however it does seem to me now as if the text is too apologetic in its presence in the painting. It functions too much like an advertisement: first draw them in with beautiful landscape, then sneak in the message. I like the one to one relationship that occurs now.

Each painting has a stage in the process when it is a complete abstract painting and a complete landscape painting. Sometimes I paint the landscape first and sometimes I paint the abstraction first. However the painting starts, I work it until I wouldn’t paint over either the landscape or the abstract painting, and that’s how I know it is ready for the text stencil. It is a painfully destructive process but one that I feel imbues the paintings with a lot of energy. I love having these competing elements battle it out within the confines of the rectangle.

OPP: After recognizing some of the lyrics—like "And this bird you'll never change" from Free Bird, "a man and his will to survive" from Eye of the Tiger and "clowns to the left" from Stuck in the Middle with You—I unintentionally began to play a game as I viewed the work on your website. My initial experience as I looked at each of the text paintings became about trying to name that tune before I began to think about the relationship between the text and the image. I wonder if this is a common experience with your work . . . has anyone told you that? Is this kind of response a problem or an asset? 


JW: In short, yes, yes, and yes and no. I have heard that a lot, and it was certainly more common with the first paintings. Most of the lyrics I first chose were easily discernible to the reasonably musically inclined. I think that gave my audience a way into the work. As the paintings evolved, they tended to be more obscure and less obviously from a single source. My reliance on the music as source entry point into the work has faded. The lyric source for Choose Not To (2013), a mural at Rag and Bone in New York City, is taken from the punk band NoMeansNo. Nothing to Win, Nowhere to Go (2011), currently on view at Northeastern University, takes text from Ad Reinhardt’s writings about his black paintings.

In the beginning, I enjoyed it when people could recognize the songs, but now I don’t care as much. I feel confident that the recognition of the songs is no longer the central way an audience approaches the work, and I enjoy the greater freedom that provides. Lastly, I would add that often I am drawn to lyrics that evoke a visual sense that can’t really be felt in the music that they originate from, such as the pieces Untied We Stand (2011), Mankind is Unkind Man (2011) and Free to Be Evil, Free to Believe (2014).

Something Flickered then Vanished and was Gone
2014
Oil on canvas
84" x 48"

OPP: Because they are presented out of context, the lyrics in your work sometimes read as ironic. Other times they have the ring of profound wisdom. Could you talk about lyrics as aphorism, as proverb, as spiritual teaching or as cliché . . . whatever most interests you?

JW: I certainly try not to be preachy, and a lot of what you describe really depends on the mood I am in and the mood of the piece. I want the work to be flexible and not easily pigeonholed. I am often very upset about the political situation and environmental degradation in this country, and that can drive the landscape and text in a piece. Other times, I feel impish, ironic and silly and make a piece that is quick and off-the-cuff to counterbalance the more serious pieces. Then there are other paintings that are more sentimental. A Big Commercial and On and On and On and On are heart-felt responses to the death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch. Similarly, the recent painting Something Flickered for a Minute Then Vanished and was Gone (2014) connects both to my interest in environmental awareness and is a homage to the recently deceased Lou Reed.

In all the work, I try and convey an almost subliminal counter-culture, propaganda-like attitude. Through the use of the text, I tap into and twist the collective psyche I describe above. . . like chaotic advertising exposing our dystopia. I am deeply inspired by the painter Leon Golub. Much like him, I think of my paintings as warriors that set off into the world to change it one person at a time, slowly seeping into the minds of the viewers and irrevocably altering them.

To view more of Joe's work, please visit joewardwell.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. 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. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 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.