OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lee Lee Chan

Cluster (detail view)
Styrofoam, aqua-resin, aluminum, found brick, metal rod, paper collages, acrylic paint and pastel
50 x 15 x 11 inches

The physics of space, reflection and materiality play into LEE LEE CHAN's intuitive, compositional decisions, resulting in poetic juxtapositions of found materials, both natural and manufactured. Her background in painting informs her abstract sculptures, and her experiments with objects inform new paintings, creating an endless feedback loop between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. Lee Lee earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009. She has exhibited at extensively in Brooklyn: Tompkins Projects (2013), Brooklyn Fireproof (2012 and 2013) and Horse Trader Gallery (2009). Other exhibitions include Overseasoned Part Deux (2014) at Artemis Project Space in York, United Kingdom, Faraway Neighbor at Flux Factory in Long Island City, New York and Geography of Imagination (2009) at Adam House in New York City. Her work will be included in the Sluice Fair in London from October 16th -18th, 2015, and works on paper are available online through The Dorado Project. After over a decade living in the United States, Lee Lee has set up her studio in Hong Kong where she was born.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Both your BFA and MFA are in painting, but your sculptural work is so spot-on. What led you to introduce the three-dimensional into your practice?

Lee Lee Chan: My transition to sculpture was not a deliberated decision; it evolved organically. When I arrived at graduate school, I was making paintings by piecing together magazine imagery with painted surfaces. However, I found this limiting and did not know how to move forward. Then I saw a picture of Frank Stella’s paper maquette for Wheelbarrow in the studio, 1986, and it left a strong impression on me. I also discovered Judy Pfaff’s installations, in which she weaved painting and architecture into dynamic spaces. This intersection of pictorial and physical experience and the idea of “collage in space” really opened up possibilities for me.

I began making tabletop-sized, paper models from magazine collages, painted paper and photographs, arranging them as a stage for my photograph work. When I began to incorporate more tangible materials such as Styrofoam, aluminum and everyday objects, these models started to have a sculptural presence and took on their own life. This hands-on process of making the sculpture had started to dominate my practice.

Having a painting background is both a bliss and curse. I instinctively think of my sculptures as objects floating in space, just like images. However, as they grew more complex and larger, I became more aware of their relationship with the physical matter as well as the space between the viewer and the objects.

Acrylic and oil paint on canvas
11 x 14 inches

OPP: Has working in sculpture changed the way you think about painting?

LLC: I usually work in discrete phases within a medium. For a few months, I only make sculptures, then the next few months I make paintings and works on paper. Moving back and forth between these media has made me more aware of the limitations and strengths of each medium. It also helps me embrace the materiality of each medium instead of forcing them to do the things that they cannot do. Coming back to painting allows me to take a step back, and I tend to discover things that I did not notice before. Reoccurring motifs always make their way through: underlying geometry, biomorphic forms, motion, light, atmospheric space. Between the parallel universes of painting and sculpture, all things were interconnected. For instance, the sense of object weight in my painting has been directly influenced by my sculpture.  And the way I use an intricate system of overlapping to create spaces in my sculpture has affected the way I construct pictorial space to look through and hold imagery in my painting. Generally, I want to generate an intimate perceptual experience that encourages the rawness of seeing.

Plaster, pigment, found lamp shade, branches, garden netting, recycled Styrofoam packaging and plastic bottle, threads, metal rod, plexi mirror and cotton rag
36 x 25 x 13 inches.

OPP: Your sculptures are often strange and wonderful juxtapositions of natural materials and recycled packaging, as in Keeper (2015) and Bower (2014). How do you decide what materials to work with? What's your collection process like?

LLC: My collection of objects has always been a reflection of my surroundings. I grew up in Hong Kong and, since I was 17, have lived in Utah, Chicago, New York City and York in the UK. Both Keeper and Bower were created during the time I lived in York. The dramatic change of environment, moving from New York City to medieval York, where I lived very close to nature, expanded my visual vocabulary. I started collecting tree bark and branches on my walks and experimented with incorporating these natural elements with ordinary objects like garden netting that I purchased from a local pound shop (the equivalent to a dollar store in the U.S.). I found the lamp shade in Bower next to a dumpster in my neighborhood.

I tend to collect objects that are mass-produced and easily accessible in everyday life: household items, commercial and industrial materials from the local hardware store, abandoned objects that to me have a pathetic quality. You could say that I collect anything that catches my eye, but then again, I consciously look for objects that do not carry any narrative or nostalgic quality. Any associated meaning gets in the way of my transforming them. The fact that these objects are so mundane and apparently without value prompts my desire to subvert this hierarchy by altering the way they are arranged and treated. Ultimately, I am interested in provoking uncertainty with these objects: how does something become valuable?

Most consistently, I use Aqua-Resin coated polystyrene packaging and plaster to build the structure for my totem-like sculptures. They look substantial but are in fact extremely lightweight, thus subverting the expectation of weight. These materials act both as surface and structure that house multiple micro spaces within the sculpture. They also reveal a trace of my process by highlighting the primacy of the handmade. Aqua-Resin and plaster create a limestone-like surface that reminds me of a construction site or ancient ruins. I guess this specific material sensibility came from my memory of growing up and working with pottery tomb figures in my parents’ Chinese antiques shop in Hong Kong. I imagine myself as an archaeologist of the present.

Found polystyrene packaging, artificial plant, aqua-resin, plaster, wood, epoxy putty and pigment
85” H x 7”W x 5”D

OPP: What’s your process like? Do you sketch beforehand or make intuitive moves as you go?

LLC: I see both my paintings and sculptures as a physical embodiment of the inside in a different form. They are a self-exploration of the subconscious.

Generally, my works do not start with sketches; rather they generate meaning through the process of making. I am completely open to the process and let my works develop intuitively. It’s a kind of a call-and-response approach, which involves ongoing subtracting and adding until an image or form slowly emerges. The decision-making is at the same time deliberate and improvisational. Ultimately, it is all about potential: I want to make known the unknown and make works that surprise me.

When painting, I usually start with a list of colors or a certain mood that I want to evoke. But, of course, everything tends to change once I actually put the paint down. Likewise, with sculpture I begin with materials or objects that trigger my imagination. I spend a lot of time looking at and playing with the relationships between them. Painting is a more direct, internalized process. With sculpture, I am dealing with the physics of actual space, gravity, weight and volume. I often rely on problem-solving experiments to better understand the properties, potential and technical issues of different materials. What are the elastic possibilities of my materials? How far can I feasibly push them? Which properties do I want to embrace? I work towards sculpture that generates its own internal logic, structure and energy, and thus functions more like an entity rather than merely an object.

Bottle Neck (detail view)
Styrofoam, aqua-resin, pumices, plaster, plexi mirrors, Lego, aluminum, recycled bottles, PVC, collages, cinder blocks, photograph collages, acrylic paint and pastel
48 x 60 x 36 inches

OPP:  What role does reflection play in your work?

LLC: I want to explore this interplay of space in my sculpture and one way of doing so is through the use of reflections. It facilitates a material shift from the exterior surface to the interior structure, blurs the boundary between inside and outside; between the actual and painted surface. My intention is not to use reflection in a highly technical way to deceive the eyes. I’m not attempting to hide its mechanisms; instead, I am interested in the junction of a pictorial way of looking and materiality of things in space.

Embedded in my sculptures are micro spaces, constructed either by Plexiglas mirror or aluminum. These materials reflect and absorb the surrounding light, generating a different sense of light for the micro space. This creates both an architecture and a landscape. I always think of the densely layered space in urban environments. In Hong Kong, for example, hidden areas exist everywhere in order to maximize space. I have always been intrigued by the way people expand their everyday, constrained surroundings in an organic and illusionistic way.

I want to offer viewers a rewarding discovery by creating work that demands more than a glimpse. I create space that you can either dive into or step back from in order to complete the whole picture. My sculptures generate new meanings depending on the angle from which viewers approach them. The aim is always the same: to evoke the fleeting moments that we encounter in daily life.

To see more of Lee Lee's work, please visit leeleechan.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 Carlton Scott Sturgill

Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
24 X 38 in / 61 X 97 cm

CARLTON SCOTT STURGILL's paintings, mosaics, and sculptures combine branded materials that evoke the upward mobility of the American Dream with appropriated imagery from amateur porn sites and Craigslist to explore the discrepancy between public persona and private desire. Sturgill received his MA from Chelsea College of Art and Design in London, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell me a little about your history as an artist… before you were working with paint chips as your palette.

Carlton Scott Sturgill: I started out as a painter, working mostly with oil, acrylic, and household paint. My first cohesive series of work consisted of paintings that juxtaposed pornographic images, which were concealed within color fields, with wholesome scenes appropriated from 1960’s advertisements. Third Date (2004) would be a good example from that series. I would paint the background image as a grisaille using acrylics, and then apply thin layers of tinted household glaze —the kind that you would use for faux painting techniques, such as ragging and sponging—until the background image was barely visible. I would then paint the 1960’s scenes in oils on top of the color field, further obscuring the background image.

When these paintings were seen in person, the viewers’ eyes were immediately drawn to the “top” image, so much so that a large percentage of the time people would walk away without having seen the more explicit “bottom” image. Only people that were patient enough to spend time with the paintings were eventually able to see what was concealed within the color fields. The paintings were like a one-way door; it took time to notice the background image, but once you did you would never be able to look at the painting again without seeing it. It was that observational shift that I became most interested in. I think that people looked at the paintings in much the same way they observed their friends, family, and others that populated their everyday lives. We often accept without question the public face that each one of us shows to the outside world, but if you look beyond the symbols that we use to piece together our personas—logoed clothing, nice cars, homes with manicured lawns—then you’re likely to see a very different person behind closed doors. My interest in the dichotomy between person and persona developed in this first series of paintings, and, to this, day, I’m still exploring it through my work.

Larry Flynt
Acrylic and latex on panel
60 X 48 in / 152 X 122 cm

OPP: Could you talk about the specific materials you use now?

CSS: Yes. During the period I was just referring to, I started to place greater importance on the materials that went into creating my work. I began using Ralph Lauren brand household glaze, not because of a personal affinity for the brand, but simply because I needed large amounts of glaze and I could buy it at Home Depot in one-gallon cans. The first hint of meaning came when I realized that I was using interior household paint to separate the 1960’s images (the persona) from the pornographic ones (the person). To me, that thin layer of paint came to represent the barriers that we erect between our private spaces and the public sphere and the difference in behavior one exhibits depending on which side of the divide they happen to be on.

Working with a particular brand’s products enabled me to borrow and work with the associations inherent within the brand. I began working with Ralph Lauren paint by happenstance, but over time I realized that the brand was a symbol of many of the traits that people cobble together to create their personas: financial success, upward social mobility, suburban happiness—all the things that feed into the American Dream. By using their products as a medium, I’m able to connect with the audience at a gut level. They know what these signs, symbols and signifiers mean, because they’ve become part of the American vernacular. This urge to impart meaning through medium is another aspect of those early paintings that has become central to my work throughout the years.

Self-Pleasure (#1)
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
48 X 48 in / 122 X 122 cm

 OPP: What are the sources for your imagery and titles? Are they the same?

CSS: The evolution of my source material closely tracks my change in medium, so much so that a shift in the source pushed me into dropping paint in favor of using paint chips. In that early series of paintings, the “bottom” images came mostly from Hustler Magazine. It was a nod to my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the city’s rather complicated relationship with sexual imagery. After the obscenity trials of the late 1970s (portrayed in the film The People vs. Larry Flynt), the magazine was banned for over twenty years in the city and surrounding county. In 1999, the controversy was sparked again when Flynt decided to take on the city and was once again tried for pandering obscenity. (Ironically, the squeaky-clean married prosecutor in the case was later involved in a sex scandal with a subordinate, which only intensified my curiosity about the differences between public persona and personal behavior.)

After the first series of paintings, I began to question whether my source material was appropriate for the work, especially with all of the associations that come along with commercial pornography. In the hope of finding something more “genuine,” I turned to online sources and began appropriating images from amateur and swinger websites. I was often working with small pixelated thumbnail images, which when enlarged, reminded me of the beautiful in-store displays of perfectly square paint chip samples that I would see every time I went to Home Depot to buy glaze. Once the connection was made, I became excited about working with the material and began collecting them en masse. I liked the fact that they were part of the suburban landscape and almost anyone could recognize and relate to them. After I began working with the paint chips, I continued painting for a few years, but over time I came to believe that the chips were a better medium for the work, and eventually I quit painting altogether.

The websites where I source my images have evolved over the years. I’ve used images from websites that specialized in swingers [easygoing4424 (2006)], leaked celebrity photos [drlaura1.jpg (2006)], and amateurs [ba0606.jpg (2006)]. The titles have changed as well. Some reference the poster’s handle, while others are named after the computer file. For the last few years, I’ve been getting most of my material from the "Casual Encounters" section . The titles for these works come from the subject line of the post [Gorgeous Wife....ISO Stud Tonight – mw4m – 32 (North Cincy) (2011)]. Craigslist postings have become my preferred source for subject matter. They often include both images and text, so you get a better idea of the subject as a person looking to explore their sexuality.

Thinking about a threesome - mw4w - 28
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel

OPP: You've talked about the pixelation in earlier pieces, such as easygoing4424 (2006) and Self-pleasure #1 (2005). Newer works, like Muscles1111 (2011) and bananas725 (2009), are more posterized. Can you talk about this shift?

CSS: In 2004, I moved to London for graduate school and ended up living in the United Kingdom for three years. I had already started working in the pixelated style when I moved overseas, but not long after the move, a couple of factors converged, pushing my work in another direction. The first was a matter of process. I enjoyed the effect that the pixelated work had on the viewer: the images were completely invisible from up close and only became clear through distance. But once I developed a solid technique for building the image, the challenge of creating the works quickly diminished. There’s only so many ways that you can put one square next to another. To put it frankly, I began to find the studio work excruciatingly boring. I needed a technique that would challenge me throughout the creative process.

The second factor came about from the amount of travel that I was doing while I was living abroad. For the first time, I had the opportunity to see an incredible variety of artwork that spanned millennia. In London, I could spend the morning at the Tate Modern looking at the Young British Artists from the 1990s and then hop the tube to the British Museum to see the Elgin Marbles. I can point to two types of art that had a dramatic effect on my work, one ancient and one contemporary. The first were the Byzantine mosaics that I had the opportunity to see at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and especially those at the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. I found the craftsmanship involved in shaping and piecing together these intricately designed mosaics inspiring, and it helped me to break away from the square format that I was using at that time.

The other influence came from the street art that I was seeing in Paris, Berlin, and all around me in my neighborhood in east London. I grew up seeing New York-influenced freestyle graffiti. But in the mid-2000s, stencilled street art was really beginning to dominate the urban landscape, especially in Europe. It felt like you couldn’t walk down a city street without seeing work that was breaking down images in a new and interesting way. Once I began carving the paint chips using scalpels, my style landed somewhere between the two: a simplified image that still has the intricacy and attention to detail of traditional mosaics. I think that this is where that posterized effect first emerged.

OPP: Can you break down the current carving process for us?

CSS: It has changed dramatically over the years, which is apparent if you compare my first “carved” work born2boogie (2006) with a work like Muscles1111 (2011). Some of the changes are obvious: the expansion of the palate from four to hundreds of colors, the increase of the size of the overall work, and the reduction of the size of the bits of cut paint chip, which can sometimes be less than one millimetre square. Other changes came about simply because I had to create my own process; after all, I didn’t have a resource to teach me how to carve paint chips so that they fit perfectly together or how to adhere them to the board without tearing the painted surface and exposing the white backing. It’s a fairly detailed process, but basically it involves breaking down the image into an outline drawing, choosing a palate of colors for each section from the 700 or so in the Ralph Lauren collection, using the drawing as a guide to cut each piece using an extremely sharp medical scalpel, and fitting them together to build the image one piece at a time. It’s a slow process, but I will say that I never find it boring.

friday night fun - mw4mw
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
12.5 X 17.5 in / 32 X 44 cm

OPP: The abstract color bar "paintings" are especially interesting, because they are more subtle than the recreations of porn imagery. They tie sexual desire to the art world in an unexpected way, because they reference modernist painting. They make apparent that aesthetics emerge as a result of desires—desires that aren't usually named in the work itself. Do you agree or disagree?

CSS: I agree . . . mostly, but for different reasons than one might expect. In order to explain, I’ll need to go into the evolution and a bit of the process of making stripped mosaics. If you’ve ever seen one of the Ralph Lauren brand chips, you might remember that it’s a solid square of color with the name of the hue and a cataloguing code printed on the front in a metallic ink. From the very beginning I was interested in utilizing the text. In the pictorial work, it allowed me to communicate to the viewer that the work was created using paint chips instead of paint, but I had always wanted the text to have a more central role. Seven Decorating Schemes (2007) was my first attempt to slice the chips and rearrange the letters. Color names like "Linen" and “Rust" were merged to become “Lust," and, in the process, I created a striped composition. Unfortunately, after I finished that piece, I didn’t really know where to go with the process. I considered using several sources for text, but nothing really fit so the process stayed on the back burner for a couple of years, until I began using Craigslist as a source and found the text just as fascinating as the images.

In order to create the work, I had to match each grouping of letters from the Craigslist text to a corresponding grouping from the paint chip names, which already had a hue assigned to them. Therefore, the Craigslist text helps to determine the colors used in the work. For example, there is only one hue name that has the word “sex” in it—“Essex Cream." So if a person (or a couple) used the word “sex” in their Craigslist post, the final composition would include a pale yellow. By adding color to black-and-white text it was almost like I was visually representing the personality of the poster through their words. So yes, I agree that the aesthetics emerge as a result of desires.

Having said that, it was not my original intention for the striped works to reference modernist painting. That was just a happy accident that came about as a result of the process, but it was something that I learned to exploit. You mentioned that these works are more subtle. I like the fact that if ten people walk into a gallery filled with the striped pieces, nine of them will think “modernist painting” and not investigate further. I’m interested in that small percentage of viewers that are willing to take the time to question their initial assumptions and dig a little deeper to find out what lies beyond the facade. In this case, the resemblance to modernist painting is simply a way to camouflage the sexual desire embedded within the work. I like the fact that someone could hang a work like this in their home, and, depending on the light in the room, almost no one would discover the text hidden within the composition.

OPP: I think you are right, but it's pretty sad that so many people have so little attention for detail. To me, if you haven't noticed the text, then you didn't really look at the piece. At the same time, this inattention to detail can also be viewed as turning a blind eye to hidden truths, and that resonates with some of the themes you've already talked about. Plus, in the context of your work, modernist painting becomes just like the Ralph Lauren brand: something that confers status on the owner.

CSS: I tend not to think of people’s lack of attention for detail as something sad, but instead as an opportunity to give the viewer a feeling of delight—or shock, or disgust, or arousal—when they finally see something that they hadn’t noticed before. The French street artist Invader is a good example of someone that is an expert at hiding things in plain sight. I remember seeing his work for the first time in a busy neighborhood in Paris. It was a small, brilliantly-colored mosaic that was placed on a building just above everyone’s line-of-sight. I felt like I was the only person on that crowed street that was seeing it. I had stumbled upon a secret that I could keep to myself or share with others, depending upon my mood. A few people noticed that I was looking up and glanced to see what I was looking at, turning the experience into a social activity. Since then, I’ve seen his mosaics in Berlin, London and New York. I look out for them now, so seeing his work has fundamentally changed the way that I view my surroundings.

The same thing happens when I show the striped mosaics. If there are only a few people in the gallery, then people are more likely to miss the text and stick to the work’s persona as a modernist painting. But if they see another person reading the text, then it usually prompts them to investigate further. Or better yet, a viewer might actually bring a friend over to the work and show them the text, making it an even more intimate experience. In a crowded gallery, it’s like a nuclear reaction. People discover the text and then show others what they’ve found; then they show more people and so on. So it really doesn’t bother me when someone doesn’t notice the text. I just think of them as someone who hasn’t seen it...yet. The delay in seeing makes the eventual discovery all the more interesting.

Cougar/Milf needs a boy toy – MW4M – 41
Ralph Lauren brand paint chip samples on panel
12 X 18 in / 30 X 46 cm

 OPP: The Bridle Creek Casket (2008) stands out as so different from the rest of the work, although I see the connection to the bouquets made from Ralph Lauren shirts, because they look so funerary. What is being mourned in these pieces? What led to the building of the casket?

CSS: The casket and the flower arrangements came from a series of work titled Afterlifestyle, which I worked on after moving from London to Brooklyn in 2007. Living overseas during a time of war was an eye-opening experience. In the United Kingdom, I was constantly aware of developments in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Discussion of the wars was everywhere; you read it in the papers, heard about it on the radio, and it was a common topic of conversation amongst friends and colleagues. Ironically, the only time that I escaped the coverage was during visits to the United States. With the exception of the occasional faded yellow-ribbon car magnet, you could go weeks without realizing that you were in a nation that was embroiled in two wars. I would go to restaurants and stores or watch television and see very little evidence of shared sacrifice. It was as if everyone had taken the “go to Disney World” advice and applied it to their everyday lives.

With the Afterlifestyle series, I wanted to explore the theory that widespread over-consumption can result in a self-induced social blindness. I was questioning whether the pleasure that comes from excess can trump grief and anxiety, even in the most extreme circumstances. Can one really reflect on the geopolitical situation during a trip to IKEA? Is it possible to worry about your own mortality while selecting a sofa? Consumer products seemed to be the materials with which people build and adorn their own private suburban oases in order to separate themselves from the perceived dangers of the outside world. I wanted to see what would happen if you extended the good feeling that comes with the “Good Life” beyond the normal clothing, furniture and the other accoutrements of material success. It was my way of envisioning a society where the American Dream extended beyond life. If I could create a product that made preparing for one’s own death more like picking out a new pair of shoes or selecting a wallpaper pattern, would the experience become more enjoyable?

So to answer the question, I made The Bridle Creek Casket to see if purchasing a coffin has to always be a sorrowful experience or if it is possible to take the buyer’s mind off of their ultimate demise if the coffin is made from reclaimed heart pine siding with a 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton percale lining and hinges from a century-old barn in Maine.

The Heritage Pointe Spray
Ralph Lauren Shirts, reclaimed barn wood, wire, floral tape
30 X 20 X 12 in / 76 X 51 X 30 cm

OPP: Anything new in the works?

CSS: Yes, in fact I’m in the middle of what might be the greatest periods of change since I stopped painting and started using paint chips. I’m on schedule to show with my gallery, Masters and Pelavin, in New York every other year, so I have a full two-year period to develop a body of work between shows. I haven’t had this much uninterrupted time in the studio since graduating with my BA, so it has given me the opportunity to completely re-evaluate my studio practice. Lately I’ve been fascinated with the role nostalgia plays in consumer culture, especially with brands such as Ralph Lauren and Anthropologie. I’ve made several road trips between New York and Cincinnati, stopping at antique stores along the way and picking up objects to incorporate into my work. When I show again in 2013 you’ll see many of the mosaics housed in vintage mirror frames, some of them double sided, incorporating both the text and images from Craigslist posts.

Sculpture is something I’ve dabbled in over the years, but in my current work, it has taken a starring role. With the sculptures you’ll see the flower arrangements made from Ralph Lauren shirts combined with micro-paint chip mosaics—often composed inside of R.L. gift boxes or on the back of shirt hang tags—and vintage items such as tables, shelves, and blown-glass taxidermy display domes. The palate of the entire collection of work is very floral, with lots of greens, pinks, violets, and yellows. I’ve also become interested in the variety of ways gardens have been depicted as sexual sanctuaries throughout the ages—from the more judgmental themes in Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to the lighter depictions of medieval Gardens of Love in 15th century art and poetry—so there are also strong religious themes emerging in this body of work.

To view more work by Carlton Scott Sturgill, please visit carltonscottsturgill.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Laurel Roth

Mixed media including fake fingernails, nail polish, barrettes, false eyelashes, jewelry, walnut, Swarovski crystal
61" tall, 37" wide, and 22" deep

LAUREL ROTH uses such diverse art practices as carving, crocheting, weaving and assembling to make sculptures in an even wider range of materials. Her work explores parallels between humans and animals, using the cultural codes of her materials to reveal the nuances of the human impulse to modify ourselves and the natural world around us. She has been a long-term collaborator with last week’s Featured Artist Andy Diaz Hope. Roth exhibits internationally and currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your history as an artist. How has your earlier career as a park ranger influenced the work you make?

Laurel Roth: What drew me into natural resource conservation, even before I was a park ranger, was the idea that humankind and nature could work together and that I could be a part of that process. It was a mediation between society and the wild, a spot that felt somehow very fitting to me, and I continue to explore it in my current work. It’s also very focused on interactive systems and adaptation, both of which I’m interested in.

OPP: How is being alone in the studio similar to being alone out in nature? How is it different?

LR: I would compare it more to gardening, which I love, in that there is an element of collaboration and control that I don't feel if I'm just spending time in nature. I guess that you could say that being in nature is a learning from observing experience and gardening or making art is a learning while participating in experience.
Lap of Luxury: Persian Cat
Hand carved and polished Polysulfone industrial plastic, base (not shown) walnut, Swarovski crystal, aluminum
2.5 x 3.25 x 4 inches

OPP: Man's Best Friend is a series of hand-carved and polished sculptures of dog and cat skulls in walnut, acrylic and Polysulfone industrial plastic, adorned with Swarovski crystals. What makes this work interesting to me is that these sculptures are so beautiful, but there's also a critique of human attachment to animals as objects. Can you talk about this place where beauty and critique meet?

LR: Beauty can be a snare that opens people up and makes them more receptive to things they might otherwise dismiss or become defensive about. No one wants to be clubbed over the head with someone else’s opinion—and I actually intend most of my work to be more of an exploration of something that troubles or intrigues me than a diatribe against it. I love animals. I’m kind of obsessed with them as pets, in the wild, and as metaphors in art for aspects of ourselves. I love the variety of ways in which they seem to experience the world, and it makes my world a bigger place to try and understand that. There’s a beauty in the humanity of people yearning for animal companionship in a world where we’re so separated from nature, but there’s also a willful selfishness to breed them to the point that they are physically uncomfortable or unhealthy for our own aesthetic pleasure.
Food #5, Pig
Walnut, gold leaf, Swarovski crystal
11 x 6 x 7.5

OPP: Peacocks is a series of mixed media sculptures made with fake fingernails, nail polish, barrettes, false eyelashes, jewelry, walnut, Swarovski crystal, to name some of the materials. What came first: an interest in these specific materials or an interest in the peacock as a metaphor? Can you talk more about the idea of plumage and how the peacocks relate to us as humans?

LR: I had been doing work about birds and adaptation to urban living when I began the Peacocks series. In this case, the material came first, seen in a 99 cent store, but the rest came naturally. The first one I made, though smaller than the rest of the series, was the largest sculpture I had made at that point. Like a lot of my work, it took so long to make that I had plenty of time to think about and refine the ideas while I worked, so the sculptures became progressively more refined. It started with peacocks as a fairly recognized symbol of beauty. I’m interested in the choices that humans have about what they eat, with whom/when/if they mate, etc. So, looking at fashion and beauty accessories as a means of communicating mating status let me look at society in a whole new light. The fake nails and barrettes represent not just the beauty of the feathers but also the concept of humans donning mating plumage voluntarily. Many of the sculptures show two birds in mid-fight, but I work to keep it slightly ambiguous as to whether they might be mating or fighting and which one might be dominant.

OPP: Swarovski crystal and polished walnut are expensive materials, while the barrettes and fake nails are not. This leads me to thinking about the social constructions of economic class and how taste develops in relation to it. How do these ideas play out in your work?

LR: I didn't want those pieces to focus on one economic class too much, because that conversation can easily subvert the subtler one about collective human behavior that interested me. The colors and some of the materials—the fingernails and barrettes—can almost bring an element of kitsch that I tried to temper with the richness (no pun intended) of the forms and other materials.

OPP: You have worked collaboratively with Andy Diaz Hope for many years. How has the work the two of you make together influenced the work that you make alone?

LR: Having each other to collaborate with allows us to tackle more complicated themes and projects. Hard as it can be, we both have to be receptive to questioning from each other, which expands concepts in exciting ways but also keeps them more rigorously examined. That spreads into my solo work, too. It’s also inspired me to be more interested in engaging the viewer (Andy is a very sociable guy who likes interactive work).
Allegory of the Infinite Mortal
Woven jacquard tapestry
76" x 106"
A collaborative tapestry woven through the Magnolia Tapestry Project, designed by Andy Diaz Hope and myself.

OPP: One of you collaborative projects is a series of tapestries woven with a Jacquard Loom through the Magnolia Tapestry Project. Could explain for viewers about the Jacquard Loom and MTP? What was it like to design these pieces collaboratively?

LR: Andy and I were inspired by the Unicorn Tapestries of the late 15th century while we were working on a collaborative show called Future Darwinist. We wanted to create a tapestry that stayed true to that inspiration and used the more formal tapestry structure and motifs to explore current scientific themes—namely, the end of Darwinian natural selection and the beginning of human-centric evolution. We realized that we couldn’t weave it ourselves and were fortunate that the folks at the Magnolia Tapestry Project decided to work with us. We spent months taking botanical illustration, reading and studying, painting, and compositing the individual elements into a massive Photoshop file. Magnolia had the expertise to help us translate that into a weavable file with an appropriate color palette—each color is made of a selected palette of woven threads with carefully controlled color changes. It’s then woven on a computer controlled Jacquard Loom in Belgium. Jacquard looms were the first machines to use punch cards for programming and were an important step towards the invention of computers, so that fit perfectly with our theme of exploring current science and technology through aesthetics and practices from the Age of Enlightenment.

The collaboration went pretty smoothly, both between Andy and myself and our partnership with the Magnolia Tapestry Project—so well, in fact, that as part of our current fellowship with the de Young Museum we’re working on the third tapestry in what turned out to be a triptych! People often ask whose idea a piece was or which of us worked on which aspects of our collaborative work, but it really doesn’t work that way for us. It’s a fairly free flow of ideas back and forth that constantly change and evolve until we’re both satisfied.
Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons: Carolina Parakeet (detail)
Crocheted yarn, hand carved pigeon mannequin, walnut stand
8 x 9 x 13 inches

OPP: What new idea are you excited about in your individual practice?

LR: I’m looking forward to developing two bodies of work that I started in the last few years but haven’t had a chance to develop as fully as I’d like—Biodiversity Suits for Urban Pigeons and the Hominid series. The Biodiversity Suits are a series of small crocheted suits that disguise pigeons as extinct birds. Two of them will be on display later this year at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. The Hominids are hand carved and polished wood sculptures of various hominid skulls, one of which will be part of a show at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC and then the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

To view more of Roth’s work, please visit loloro.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Montgomery Perry Smith

Oh Mother, 2009. Detail. Chair frame, fake flowers, plastic dome, glass, paint, mirror.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work feels both man-made and organic at the same time. The craft materials and discarded domestic elements remind us that we are dealing with manufactured goods, while the forms those materials take suggest that these sculptures have grown organically. This paradox leads me to wonder about your process. Do you have plan or is the process more instinctual?

Montgomery Perry Smith: Most of my pieces have been planned out and sketched several times before they are finished. I’ll collect many objects that interest me and arrange them in my studio, then sketch and arrange and sketch.  It is a nice way for me to work, because some of my pieces take forever to complete. Along the way I will find new things that interest me, or months later I’ll look at sketches and want to expand on something that I initially wasn’t interested in.

OPP: Your material lists are comprehensive. Do audience members care about the materials and their meanings the way you do? 

MPS: I like rewarding the few who choose to learn more about a piece. My work has many layers, details, and holes that require the viewer to spend more time exploring than they are probably used to. And my materials are another one of those layers. I can’t expect everyone to dedicate the time to really inspect a piece, but the ones who do are usually pleased. Being in the Fiber and Material Studies Department at School of the Art Institute of Chicago made me pay close attention to the objects I chose. I think it is important to know when you use a certain material or object it can bring very specific meanings along with it. I’m personally interested in playing with found domestic objects and materials that would traditionally be used for craft or decorations.

Baby Blue, 2010. Paper, pen, paint, lace, fake flower. 14 inches.

OPP:  What is it about domestic objects and craft materials that is so appealing to you?

MPS: I like how domestic objects hint at a specific way of life or use. When incorporating these objects it gives my pieces a sense of nostalgia. I think of craft materials the same way. They imply the pieces had a purpose other than being decorative. Each piece has this absence of a body or a living being to activate it. 

I personally connect with these objects because they remind me of childhood.  The ceramic dishes and light fixtures bring up memories of my grandmother’s house and the hours of craft projects I would work on while visiting her. I was always fascinated by the dollhouse she had made from scratch, and I wanted to make my own. I remember secretly constructing little rooms out of cigar boxes, and hiding them, because I was convinced that little boys were not allowed to show interest in dollhouses.

Bottom Feeder, 2009. Starfish, lace, paper, pen, paint, fleece, plastic dome, fake flowers, the cone, google eyes. 40 inches.

OPP: The formal language in the work (repetition of concentric circles, cascades, gaping holes, concave and convex domes, fringe, symmetry) is quite engaging, if I think of your sculptures in purely abstract terms. But there is also a sense that your sculptures are representational, but of things I’ve never seen before. Some pieces, such as Bottom Feeder (2009) and Just Like You Should (2008), remind me of Muppets. They are aliens or animals we haven’t discovered yet. Many, like Gasper, (2009), Pit Worship (2010), and Hardcore (2010), evoke Victorian memorial art. Do you think of your sculptures as abstract or as representational? What, if anything, are you memorializing?

MPS: I think of my sculptures as representational. I like creating these objects that are pulling from various sources and playing with them until they become disturbing and familiar at the same time. I’m very interested in the uncanny and the emotions it brings out in people.

I’m memorializing moments, ideas, and people of interest. Some pieces seem more like mounted trophies on a hunter’s wall, while other objects appear to have a specific purpose or ceremonial use. I try not to be too specific with the subject that is being referenced; I’m drawn to the more open and accessible pieces. But there are definitely pieces, like Gasper, that are memorializing something specific (David Carradine).

Pit Worship, 2010. Pleather, felt, faux fur, fake flowers, satin, fleece, leather. 50 inches.

OPP: Many of your titles, like Pearl Necklace (2008), Creamy (2009), and Daisy Chain (2009) evoke sexual themes. How do your sculptures talk about sexuality without any images of bodies? Are the titles jumping off points for creating a piece, or do they come after?

MPS: The titles usually come after the piece is complete. The ideas are there throughout the whole making of the piece, but I tend to wait till the end to name them. I wouldn’t say that I don’t use images of the body. There is a definite orifice throughout my work, and it is often a representation of just that. But I like abstracting it and playing with it and bringing a new visual vocabulary to it.

OPP: I can see what you mean about the orifice, and you are definitely abstracting it in a very compelling way. Are you trying to say something specific about sexuality?

MPS: I’m interested in societies’ views on sexuality. It is a very uniting and polarizing subject, and it is something that everyone shares, in one way or another. I’m fascinated by its ability to cause euphoria and anxiety, life and death, love and hate.

Loads and Tools, 2011. Glass, foam, beeswax, fake flowers, paint

OPP: Loads and Tools (2011) from your recent threewalls show Milking (2011) includes a contextualizing narrative in the promotional materials: “two new sculptures that focus on an otherworldly relic and the tools used to milk it.” Was this the first time you offered an explanation as to the nature of your sculptures as part of the exhibition support materials? Does this represent a new direction for your work in general?

MPS: Milking was the first time I had used text along with my work, I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. I wanted to add another level to the narrative, but in the end it seems too specific for me. I think it is more of a test than a new direction, my next show I’m letting the pieces speak for themselves.

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

MPS: I'm continuing to work on a new series of pieces that should show up on my website within the next couple months. I will also have my work in Flowers, the upcoming issue of Monsters and Dust. They recently won the Propeller Fund Grant to create a print edition in addition to their web release.

To view more of Montgomery Perry Smith’s work, visit montgomeryperrysmith.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andrea Myers

Orange Horizon (Detail)
Machine sewn fabric collage
20 x 120 inches

OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as a painter who works in sculpture and your BFA was in printmaking, so I imagine a time when you worked primarily in 2D. Was this ever true?

Andrea Myers: Yes. I began my pursuits as an artist, taking classes in mainly painting and printmaking and finishing my BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I found myself more engaged in the processes I was learning in my printmaking classes than with the actual resulting prints I was making. I was never really good about being precious or careful with prints I made, inevitably getting stray marks or “happy accidents” all over my paper. At some point, I started cutting my prints up, maybe out of frustration and maybe out of rebellion against two-dimensional expectations. I think that’s when I started activating a part of me that was interested in the materials and processes of printmaking and painting, such as paper, fabric, paint and color, and taking those elements and making them more malleable and tactile.

OPP: What prompted the change in your practice that led to "exploring the space between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, hybridizing painting, printmaking and sculpture," as you say in your statement?

AM: The transition in my work from exclusively two-dimensional to predominantly three-dimensional happened very slowly and incrementally. In stages, I found myself stepping off of the flatness of the wall and growing my work out into dimensional space. I began layering materials that I felt comfortable with, mainly paper. I experimented using the materials in multiple, rather than using paper solely as a means to make repetitions of imagery. The paper and then fabric became the subject matter, like painting in dimensional space, creating sculptural objects that relate to the color and forms found in painting.

Layered fabric, foam, glue, thread
65 x 50 x 20 inches

OPP: Could you talk more about how your overall process relates to painting?

AM: I really struggled with my first painting class. I was horrible at oil painting, probably too impatient, which is funny to say, because you could look at my current work and assume I am a very patient person to sit and layer small shapes of fabric and glue them together one by one.

In graduate school, I was in the Fiber and Material Studies department at SAIC, and our studios were mixed with the Painting and Drawing department. I found myself in a love hate relationship with painting, enamored by the possibilities of color and form but questioning the traditional format of painting. I began making what I now consider “exercises.” I would make a quick, gestural fabric collage and then make a seemingly exact replica out of painted wood. The pairs would be positioned together, testing the perception of the viewer. The Duplicate Series, as I called them, was a major epiphany in my work. In hindsight, I feel like I was breaking down my practice to the base level of what I was interested in, almost like finding my work’s DNA structure, so that I could then build it back up.

When I talk about my work now, I like to consider myself a “maker.” Each project or form I create leads me to my next work. It might involve sewing, drawing, printing on fabric, or cutting forms out of wood. I try to keep my practice fluid and take elements and processes from mediums that seem appropriate to my concepts for the pieces.

Pretty much every piece I make starts as a black and white contour line drawing in my sketchbook. Over time, the idea grows into a dimensional form, occupying physical space. But what is interesting to me is that the piece inevitably returns to its flat origins when I photograph the piece (usually for documentation for my website). In a way, every piece, no matter how dimensional it becomes, will spend most of its existence, its representation in the world, as a flat two-dimensional image. So perhaps every sculpture I make could really be seen as an idea for a painting of sorts.

Isthmus (Detail)
Layered fabric, glue, acrylic, wood
20 x 32 x 144 inches

OPP: Your work relies heavily on accumulation, which speaks both to the organic and the manufactured. Your titles often evoke naturally occurring processes and formations (i.e. melting, thawing, drifting, fissures, webs, avalanches, plateaus), while your color palette and chosen materials (felt, commercially-produced fabric, paper) conversely evoke the manufactured. Can you talk about this apparent disjuncture?

AM: I have always been interested in presenting contrasts or tensions in my work. The starting point would be exploring the space between two- and three-dimensionality or what constitutes a two-dimensional piece versus a threedimensional piece. My approach to sculpture is to take flat materials and stack, layering and amassing the material so that it loses its initial flatness and starts to become a whole made up of many layered increments.

Inevitably, the central focus in my work tends to be abstractions of nature or perceived nature, and I am interested in how historically human kind has tried to harness and control nature only for nature to become more uncontrollable. My pieces function as a mediated version of nature. I attempt to illustrate the behavior of nature through bold, saturated color in contrast to how we generally perceive nature. I juxtapose natural forms with typically unnatural, intensified colors such as florescent orange or Technicolor striations. I look to color’s intensity as a means to visually illustrate the uncontrollability of nature while also working against the typical white wall format of a gallery space, creating forms that disrupt the linear, clean and neutral setting of the traditional exhibition space. Consistently in my work, there is also a contrast between the presence of my hand and the use of a tool. I go back and forth between cutting layers of fabric individually by hand, implementing a sewing machine to create line work, and using a jig-saw or band saw to cut forms from wood. Even with manufactured materials and machines, the individual artist uses each machine so differently. I see all of my materials like tubes of paint, in line with Duchamp’s notion that tubes of paint are ready-made and so every painting in the world is a readymade object; every artist in the postmodern world is dealing with “readymades,” but each artist’s hand and idea is what makes original works of art.

Fabric, polystyrene, plaster, latex paint
50 x 55 x 30 inches

OPP: I personally find your work unbelievably beautiful. There's something profound to me about forms that immediately reveal their processes and labor, as if the beauty lies as much in the process as in the resulting form. Does this resonate with your interests as an artist? Does beauty play a role in your work?

AM: I love that you mention beauty. Doesn’t it seem like we aren’t allowed to discuss such a thing in contemporary art sometimes? I feel like often times, we can lose sight of the fact that at the core of art making, there is an individual making the work, a person who has feelings and imperfections and is human. My work is a reflection of my personal observations and, for better or worse, is an extension of myself. I have always loved to be in nature and experience the fundamental forms and behaviors of nature that I find fascinating and compelling. The processes I utilize in constructing work emulate events found in nature: slow erosions or accruals that shape and shift land over time, sometimes rapidly, sometimes subtly. I find beauty in the cyclical behavior of nature, in the growth and in the decay and in all of the moments in between.

Spill Thaw
Ink on fabric, glue, foam
15 x 17 x 19 inches

OPP: What's an average day in your studio like?

AM: Ahhh, I wish I could have a whole “studio day,” but usually my practice comes in fits and starts, typically a couple hours at a time or less. Now that I have an almost two-year old daughter, her naptime and bedtime dictate when I can concentrate on my work. I have maintained a home studio ever since I was the artist-in-residence at Central Michigan University in 2007, where I was given a house in the woods with a studio to live and work in during the school year. I sometimes miss having a studio outside of my house, but ultimately it is so convenient and nice to be able to go look at something I am working on, even if it is just for a moment. It seems like I try to do a lot of mental pre-planning and drawing in my sketchbooks, so that when I do have the time to work, I am focused and decisive. Some days, I will just sit down and try things, making little collages or work on developing new processes. It also depends on deadlines, if I have a commission deadline or a show deadline. I am more likely to be very strategic when I go to my studio. When I am working in my studio, it feels very much like a meditative process. The repetition of accumulating layers or stitches from the sewing machine over and over allows my mind to rest or wander, and I get absorbed into the present moment of making.

To view more of Andrea Myers’ work visit andreamyersartist.com.