OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ryan Pierce

Revisionist History, 2016. Flashe and spray paint on canvas over panel. 72 x 96 inches.

RYAN PIERCE's large-scale paintings operate more like pictoral diagrams of the interconnectedness of nature and culture than representations of the physical appearance of our world. In his most recent solo exhibition, Dusk is the Mouth of Night at Elizabeth Leach Gallery (Portland, Oregon), he continues his ongoing investigation of the "the historical links between natural history exploration and conquest." Ryan earned his BFA in Drawing at Oregon College of Art & Craft in 2003 and his MFA in Painting at California College of the Arts in 2007. In 2016 he was the Keynote Speaker at the Thin Green Line Conference (Oregon State University) and an Artist-in-Residence at the invitational Crow’s Shadow Institute for the Arts (Pendleton, Oregon). He also had two shows with artist Wendy Given: Nocturne at Whitespace Gallery (Atlanta) and Eyeshine at Portland State University. Ryan is a cofounder of Signal Fire, a non-profit that "builds the cultural value of the natural world by connecting artists to our remaining wild places." Ryan's home-base is Portland, Oregon.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The relationship of nature and culture is a primary theme in your work. How do you see this relationship?

Ryan Pierce: Dominant society tells us that nature and culture are separate and perhaps even mutually exclusive. It may sound simplistic, but I think this is at the root of so much injustice in our world. Judeo-Christian creation myths teach us about being cast out from The Garden, and capitalism builds on that binary to encourage the plundering of the Earth. Everything the European settlers of this continent associated with wildness (Native Americans, women’s bodies, predators, intact ecosystems) was simultaneously romanticized and denigrated to allow for its exploitation. Now climate change, in the form of more extreme and unpredictable weather events, is forcing the messiness of nature right into our lives and living spaces, breaking down our walls against the outside in very literal ways.

Retrospective, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 72 x 96 inches.

OPP: In paintings like Retrospective and The Free Museum, tree branches seem to have grown through the walls and floors. Is nature reclaiming cultural spaces, returning them to the wild? (Or do the trees just want to see the art?)

RP: In these paintings, the floods and fallen tree branches have ruined the gallery’s climate control, but they’ve also possibly liberated these stuffy spaces. I often think about Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 novel Housekeeping, in which the eclectic aunt Sylvie allows weather and animals to move through the open doors and windows of the home, the sort of radical embrace of natural systems that eventually compels CPS to intervene. The Free Museum addresses an additional idea: What if all the sacred objects that were never intended to be “art” in a Western sense— objects stolen from their cultures of origin and housed in museums— what if they are all just sleeping, and the storm that destroys the museum walls and floods the galleries allows these things to become re-enchanted and primed for magic in the present day?

The Free Museum, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 72 x 72 inches.

OPP: It often seems that your compositions move back and forth between depth and flatness within a single work. Can you talk about that perspective shift?

RP: That shifting perspective is probably related more to my stylistic impulses. I’m no minimalist, and ideally a viewer would look at my work for awhile and experience multiple levels of visual interest. Like many artists of my generation, I’m influenced by a panoply of picture-makers, including self-taught Balkan painters, comic books and probably the video games of my youth. In a sense, approaching a painting more as a diagram than an illusionistic space allows one to try to impart the essence of an aspect of nature, as opposed to its appearance. I jump back and forth between those approaches, or both in the same composition.

Mask for the Venomist, 2016. Flashe and collage on canvas over panel. 24 x 24 inches.

OPP: Masks show up in works like The Free Museum and Stanley Falls, where I take them to be literal masks, as exhibited in museums. But what about the series of paintings from 2016 with “mask” in the title? Mask for the Venomist, Mask for the Bandit Queen and Mask for Night Farming are just a few.

RP: I had a transformative art viewing experience some years ago, at the mask collection of the Museo Rafael Coronel in Zacatecas, in Mexico. The collection exceeds 13,000 masks from different Indigenous groups of Mexico, with maybe a third of that on display at any time. They often include imagery from animistic spiritual traditions, cloaked in biblical guises to survive the Spanish laws, and they're innovative and debaucherous and meticulous and funny.

I fixated on the mask as a formal starting point for the paintings where they're singular in the composition, piecing together objects that, along with the title, suggest a loose narrative. In the larger works like The Free Museum, the masks are stand-ins for looted archeological relics but I invented them all without source material because I didn't feel that it was my right to recreate any culture's holy objects.

Mask for the Welfare Rancher is a direct jab at the bozos who orchestrated the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a couple years ago. The degree of entitlement necessary to seize Federal land for any reason other than to return it to its original Paiute caretakers, let alone to claim it for a bunch of ultra-rightwing Mormon militiamen. . . ugh! I hope they're just a plastic bag hanging on the cruel barbed wire fence of this decade, soon to degrade and blow away.

Casta, 2016. Flashe on canvas over panel. 46 x 42 inches.

OPP: Tell us about Signal Fire, which you co-founded in 2008.

RP: Signal Fire’s mission is to “build the cultural value of the natural world by connecting artists to our remaining wild places.” Public lands activist Amy Harwood and I started Signal Fire as an attempt to merge our respective communities, to get artists outdoors for inspiration and to fall in love with public land, as well as to provide activists with new, open-ended strategies for their campaigns.

Eight years and 350 artists later, we have a real community of people who are sharing critical dialogue about wildlands and ecology, and our role as culture-makers is catalyzing social change. We offer a residency in wall tents, backpacking and canoe retreats, and an immersive arts and ecology field program called Wide Open Studios. Our Tinderbox Residency sponsors artists to work as temporary staff among environmental groups and our Reading In Place series offers a day hike book club in the Portland area. We highlight the work of our alumni in exhibitions and events, such as a film festival this coming fall.

Amy and I share the administrative work with our Co-Director Ka'ila Farrell-Smith, a splendid painter and activist, who brings her work in support of Indigenous survivance into everything she does. Amy and Ka'ila's leadership has helped our organization to evolve from a mix of arts, ecology and recreation, to highlighting the social justice issues that should be integral to any conversation about public lands in the American West.

The Mountain That Devours Us, 2016. Flashe and spray paint on canvas over panel. 42 x 46 inches.

OPP: It took a while to get in touch with you to do this interview because you were actually out in the wilderness, with no reception for long stretches of time. I think many contemporary artists believe they need to stay connected to social media all the time, posting on Instagram and checking Facebook. Why is disconnecting a good idea for all humans? What about for artists specifically?

RP: I’m actually writing these answers in a tent in Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, on week one of a four-week trip. The stars are brilliant tonight and I can hear a rushing, glacier-fed creek, about fifty feet away. Some of the students on our Wide Open Studios trips are young enough that they've never gone a week without a cell phone before.

I'm not a technophobe, but I believe solitude is healthy and increasingly hard to find. Disconnecting is good for building one's attention span and patience to work through a challenge without clicking away. It's reassuring to feel a lasting sense of surprise and the profound smallness that comes with living outside, away from the built environment. It cultivates wonder.

The friendships forged while backpacking through bugs and storms are precious and enduring. The internet is the gold rush of our day: sure, a few artists’ work goes viral, but most of those people are either a flash in the pan or they were damn good to begin with. For the rest of us, myself included, it's a mildly unfulfilling time suck. Every time I hear the little voice encouraging me to scan around for obscure things to apply to, or to sign up for new ways to network online, I try to redirect that energy back into the work itself, or else go do something IRL.

To see more of Ryan's work, please visit ryanpierce.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kirsten Furlong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Unchopping a Tree #8
String and poplar tree
2015

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

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

Rings - September 2013
Tree branches
15' diameter

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

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

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Rogan Brown

Clone
2012
Layered lasercut paper sculpture (limited edition)
74 x 74 centimeters

Self-taught artist ROGAN BROWN’s monochrome, hand-cut paper sculptures reveal the interconnectedness of human beings and nature by conflating the microscopic, the cosmic and everything in between. His labor-intensive process and choice of paper as a material emphasizes “the delicacy and durability of the natural world.” In 2013, Rogan won Best Installation in the UK National Open Art Competition. In 2014, he was awarded first place in the Sculpture/Installation category of the Florence-Shanghai Prize, allowing him to exhibit his work at the Present Art Festival in Shanghai (July 2014). He was recently appointed to be an artistic adviser to the Eden Project, a well-known ecological education center in the United Kingdom. He will collaborate with both scientists and artists to create exhibitions and programs exploring the theme of the human body and its hidden microbiological wonders. Rogan lives in Les Cevennes National Park in the Languedoc Rousillon region of France.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your history as an artist. Have you always worked in cut paper?

Rogan Brown: My history as an artist is a little unconventional in that I did not go to art school but studied literature and cultural theory at university. Although I wouldn’t call myself an “outsider artist,” I do see myself and my work as coming from outside the establishment and this perhaps accounts for its hybrid quality: part craft, part design and part sculpture. I started working on the paper sculptures about four years ago after a period of experimenting in the studio. The work is a direct response to the move that I made from London to a remote, rural area in southern France. I was looking for a way to engage with the subject of nature that avoided both painting and photography because I felt that the weight of history and tradition in these media was simply too great. I began drawing detailed fragments of leaf, tree moss and rock textures that I discovered on my walks in the forest. I realized that my approach was more in the tradition of scientific observation and illustration. I developed this further by buying a microscope and delving deeper still into detail.

The monochrome paper cuts emerged because I was looking for a technique that focused purely on process and form. Time is a key element in the work. The process had to be slow, progressive and meditative in order to reflect the natural processes that I observed around me: seasonal change, growth and decay. Few other art forms foreground the time that went into their construction as well as paper cutting does: every cut is a moment, every sheet a month, every sculpture a season.

Cut Pod (detail)
2013
Hand-cut Paper/ boxframe
150 x 84 centimeters

OPP: You mentioned the fact that the pieces are monochrome. I agree that having the work be one color highlights the process and form, but why do you choose the color white? Have you ever considered other colors?

RB: White maximizes light and shadow and evokes marble, dead coral and fossils. I think of my work as creating fossils, time fossils, imaginary fossils. I see myself as an archaeologist of the interface between nature and the imagination—nature IS imagination, according to William Blake. The fossil allusion also contains a warning about what we are in the process of doing to nature. In addition, white carries associations of purity and innocence, which is a counterpoint to the explicit sexuality. But above all, the calming effect of white allows me to be as frenetic and excessive as I like in terms of form without overwhelming the viewer. I have tried using color (or rather tonalities of the same color). It works very well but carries different associations. It is certainly something I will be developing in the future.

Seed
2013
Lasercut paper sculpture (limited edition)
50 x 40 centimeters

OPP: What is the difference between the hand-cut and laser-cut works? What makes you choose the automated process for certain pieces?

RB: There are technical, conceptual and economic differences. It is possible to do things with a laser cutter that are impossible by hand. There are certain shapes that are very difficult to cut at a small scale by hand. Clone exemplifies this. Conceptually, the hand and laser cuts are completely at odds with one another. One could argue that the laser cuts destabilize and question the value of the hand cuts, that they undercut—pun intended—the aura of authenticity in the hand cuts. However, there are also simple, real world economic imperatives at play. The hand-cut work is so labor-intensive and time-consuming that it makes no commercial sense at all. It doesn’t merely subvert the time-money nexus; it completely torpedoes it. In short, the limited edition laser cuts allow me to sell work at an accessible price. Since I wish to make my living from my work, this is very important.

Growth
2013
Hand-cut paper
110 x 75 centimeters



OPP: The beauty of the work is in their delicacy and precision. Do you experience any anxiety about ruining a piece with one sloppy cut?

RB: The cutting itself is very precise and controlled. Everything is minutely hand drawn in advance, each layer giving birth to the next one. There is no real anxiety during this phase. It is in the final gluing process that problems emerge: each layer has to be placed with perfect precision on top of the preceding one. There are usually about eight layers of paper separated by a hidden spacer to create the illusion of floating. The glue does not allow repositioning. I have only one shot, and mistakes are sometimes made.

OPP: What do you like about the process?

RB: The process can be frustrating, but it’s also exciting. I only see the work properly for the first time once all the gluing has been completed. Each piece suddenly comes alive when it is placed vertically in the light. Photos only catch them at a certain moment. In reality, the pieces move with the changes in the ambient lighting, so they are always slightly different. There is a transient play of light and shadow that creates a feeling of incredible delicacy and fragility.

Erode
2010
Hand-cut paper/ boxframe
110 x 75 centimeters

OPP: What strikes me most about your imagery is the connection between the very small and the very large. Some pieces are identified by title as being based on spores and kernels, but these pieces make me think of weather systems and the cosmos, as well as cell structures. Obviously, the vagina is clearly present, but so is the more metaphoric spiritual void at the center at many of the pieces. What inspires you most about the imagery you create?

RB: I dislike giving titles to my work because it limits the free play of interpretation, but it is a practical necessity for identification. It’s marginally better than a numbering system which would carry its own freight of meaning and association. I create pieces that encourage multiple readings because I’m interested in representing interconnectedness. The vagina or yonic element is, of course, present (a nod towards Georgia O’Keeffe), but there are multiple references to the human body including organs such as the heart and lung, intestines, arterial systems, neurons, tissue membranes and cell structures. The point here is that we are not physically separate from nature but contiguous with it: it is us and we are it. Consciousness imposes a completely fictitious division. What fascinates me in nature is the beauty and barbarity, the barbed beauty, the deadly voluptuousness. When you observe nature closely, you come to realize that it’s a vast process of feeding and breeding. Everything is devoted to this end. . . this primal Darwinian purpose. Beauty is there. It exists. It is not merely a cultural construct but a key element and strategy in this process. Perhaps it is there you can find your spiritual void. . . in this sheer godless logic.

To see more of Rogan's work, please visit roganbrown.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kevin Earl Taylor

Shrine
2013
Oil on panel
25" x 30"

KEVIN EARL TAYLOR's oil paintings are part fantasy, part allegory and part social commentary. He highlights humanity's repeated, misguided manipulation of nature, asking, "how can we relate to animals as beings rather than objects?" Kevin received his BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design in Illustration (1994) and exhibits internationally. His numerous solo exhibitions include shows at Circle Culture in Berlin and Hamburg, Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina and Guerrero Gallery and Eleanor Harwood in San Francisco. His solo show Inner Wilderness at Rebekah Jacob Gallery runs from November 1 to December 31, 2013 with an opening reception on November 14. Kevin lives and works in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: My favorite paintings are Sympathetic Situation (2013), Negotiation (2012) and Red Thread IV, which portray interactions between animals that usually don't interact. Sometimes there's potential danger. Sometimes there's a sense of poignant possibility that these animals could be friends. Are these paintings fantasies or allegories?

Kevin Earl Taylor: A bit of both actually. I enjoy a sense of mystery in my paintings, so I’d rather imply a story than tell one. The narrative becomes the abstraction. It's a way of letting the work transform with regard to the viewer. The best way I can explain my approach would be similar to starting a story at the end instead of the beginning. I prefer things to feel somewhat unresolved. It's that type of situation that draws a person in. It's in our nature to want to solve it. When my paintings are most successful, they are making people's minds restless.

Sympathetic Situation
2013

OPP: Animals are often portrayed as objects in many of your paintings. Could you talk about the differences and similarities in pieces where animals are surrounded by scaffolding, as in The Whale Structure (2013), The Chimp Construction (2013)) and The Rhinoceros Construction, and pieces where animals are portrayed as art objects on pedestals, as in Pisces (2013, The Ram Installation (2012) and 23:12:56.78 (2013)?

KET: The scaffolding pieces, or "constructions," reference humanity's ongoing action to dominate, manipulate and reinvent nature. The animals are synthetic, seemingly forgotten and "in progress." They could exist in the not so distant future as relics, initiated during a time which parallels man's own extinction from earth.

The pedestal series presents organic matter as artifact. I was amused by the idea that preserving a thing often requires removing it from its natural environment. We put something in a museum or zoo to appreciate it, making it untouchable, dysfunctional and guarded. I was hoping people might think more about appreciating animals while they still exist in nature.

I've had people feel sympathy for the animals in these paintings, but it's not necessary. The animals in the pedestal and construction works are no more alive than a church or hospital. What these works have in common is the now absent human hand which constructed, plotted and staged the elements within them. They ask us to remove ourselves from the center of our own universe.

Polaris
2013
Oil on panel
48" x 26"

OPP: What about Shrine (2013) and Beckoning (2013)? Is worship a different impulse?

KET: The idea of worship runs through much of my work, but it exists more as a vehicle to focus on things being mesmerized by other things. It's a way to emphasize an admiration between disparate entities.

OPP: Do the animals admire the humans in any of your work, or just each other? Is admiration a necessary part of coexistence?

KET: It's more of an equal respect for one another and their respective roles within the ecosystem. Essentially, I'm trying to dissolve the imaginary boundaries separating humans from nature and coax people to treat everything as an imperative part of the cycle. The more I can twist the characteristics of the diverse elements of nature, the better. It's easy to forget that we too are animals, and our ever increasing separation from the natural world tends to spawn poor decision making. I'd like to think that if we treated our habitat with the same sensitivity as non-human animals do to theirs, we'd consider the consequences of our actions much more than we do presently.

OPP: The very notion of animals as art objects brings to mind Damian Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), et al. Whatever this piece was originally about is constantly overshadowed by its price tag, and whatever potential meanings it had are almost shutdown by the spectacle of it. I'd like to put aside speculation on Hirst's intentions and his personality, and think about the work itself. A painting of a dead shark as an object can do something an actual life-size, dead shark cannot, and vice versa. Were you thinking of Hirst's shark at all when you painted Chapel (2013)? Are there any similarities between your piece and his?

KET: I wasn't thinking about Hirst directly when I painted Chapel.However, 03-23-56-48 is another painting from the Pedestal series that references his work directly. For me, it was a way to make the museum scene more "realistic.” As far as similarities within our work, I imagine we're skirting along the same lines; asking questions which challenge the concepts of nature, art and mortality.

Chapel
2013

OPP: Many new and emerging artists receive no comprehensive professional practices training, even in graduate school. Even the most practical amongst us has had the fantasy of randomly being discovered and offered a solo exhibition. And that does happen to some artists, but not most. You've had a lot of solo shows, more than one every year since 2005. Can you offer any practical advice or anecdotal experience to younger artists who are seeking solo exhibitions and confused about how to land them?

KET: Persistence and patience. Strive to make unique work for the right reasons and eventually people will take notice. If things aren't happening fast enough, don't get discouraged. You don't want to be in the spotlight when you're not ready. It's hard to recover from something like that. Let things happen organically, so you're always where you're supposed to be, working with people who genuinely believe in what you do. Whatever you do, NEVER be completely satisfied with the work you're making. . . and remember, it's not a contest. If you want to compete, go out for the football team.

To view more work by Kevin Earl Taylor, please visit kevinearltaylor.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.