OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matthew Hilshorst

Pretty Average Blowout, 2015. Acrylic paint on canvas. 18" x 25" x 4."

MATTHEW HILSHORST's "sincerely pessimistic" work includes painting, sculpture and a plethora of hobby craft techniques—latch-hook rugs, bottle cap murals, and electrical wire "paintings"—that sit right on the boundary between painting and sculpture. He conflates the grid of gingham tablecloths and latch-hook rug canvases with the grid of Modernist Abstract painting. His sculptural shrouds, towels and cakes made entirely of paint explore themes of gravity, decay and longevity. Matt earned his BFA in Painting from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul. He went on to earn both a Post Baccalaureate Certificate and an MFA in Painting from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been including in exhibitions at Sidecar Gallery (Hammond, Indiana, 2016), Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (2015) and Peregrine Program (Chicago, 2013). Matt lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does mimicry play in your work?

Matthew Hilshorst: I don't know if mimicry would be the right word. I am definitely trying to copy something or copy a technique in the way I make a thing though. It is more a form of flattery or reverence for the object and the way in which it is made. Real admiration led me to carve two egg beaters out of wood and then spray painted them chrome. I made them as realistic as possible so that they really represent nothing more than egg beaters. I love banal objects that someone painstakingly designed. I had Egg Beaters up on display at an office building downtown for almost a year. When I finally removed them people told me they had been trying to wrap their heads around why I simply put egg beaters up on a shelf. When I told them they were super delicate wood carvings, they were shocked. It immediately and completely changed their view of what they had been trying to understand.

Egg Beaters, 2003. Carved wood and spray paint. 7" x 1.5" x 1.5."

OPP: Are these works ironic or sincere? Is that question even relevant anymore in the way it was at the time they were made?

MH: It is still a relevant question. Those past works are completely sincere, although it may be read as ironic when the sarcasm or pessimism represented is misunderstood. I spend months and sometimes years creating individual pieces, so putting all that time and effort into creating something, it can't help but be sincere. I love making work that is task-oriented. Making a work that's too simplistic can feel unrewarding, while making a work without a preconceived notion leaves me overwhelmed and unable to begin. I try to give myself a new challenge with every piece, but I always know there is an end point before I start. I recently completed an 8'11" long stained and worn red carpet made of latch-hooked paint. It took me nearly two years to complete.  8'11" is an odd length, but it is as long as the tallest man to have lived was tall. The other measurements of the carpet are in relation to my own body. How it hangs partially on a wall and partially on the floor is also important. I consider every aspect of a work before I make it; little to nothing is arbitrary. But that doesn't always mean I get exactly what I intended. There are always challenges, set backs, and aspects I could have never anticipated.

Much of my work will have a craft look to it because the methods I use to create it are a main component of it. In other words, the process I use to make something is definitely part of the content. The carpets, rugs, towels, and welcome mats are my way of painting a thing where each latch-hooked piece is also a brush stroke, and each brush stroke represents a thread. I do paint very realistically with oil paint too, but I rarely get excited about doing it. I prefer to not represent something in two dimensions. The physical object is so much more satisfying than a representation of it. As I say that though, I'm working on a new group of oil paintings. Ha. 

The Red Carpet, 2016. acrylic paint and flocking fibers. 8'11."

OPP: What’s the new work about?

MH: The oil paintings? Bingo. Seriously. The new acrylic work is more about hostile hospitality. Lots of different takes on welcome mats and entry rugs. In the same way that throw-away gingham tablecloths physically display "Americana," so do welcome mats.  Thinking about the United States being so unwelcoming to refugees and immigrants has really permeated my new work, it would seem.

Worn Out Hand Towel, 2014. Acrylic paint on towel bar. 16" x 20" as displayed.

OPP: Captured Unicorn (2013) and Snake in the Grass (2013) are latch hook rugs in the conventional sense of the word. They are cut yarn attached to a gridded canvas, creating a shaggy surface. What’s different about Welcome Mat (2014) and Worn Out Hand Towel (2014)?

MH: I originally created Captured Unicorn for a medieval themed show at Bureau in New York and Snake in the Grass was made for a show here in Chicago at Peregrine Program. Both rugs were a new direction for me that ultimately greatly influenced most of my future work and methods of production. My work has been described to me as "basement art,” and I think that gets back to sincerity and irony so I decided to go full-on basement craft for my first latch hooked rugs. Both shows had a dedicated theme, so I was able to get away from traditional painting or sculpture and have some fun with fibers for those two shows.

I switched to latch hooking paint because I wanted to work with a larger color palette. I was going to start hand-dyeing and spinning my own yarn, but that started to seem like more of a drag as far as tasks go and made something simple like a latch hook rug way too complicated. Figuring out what ratio of paint to medium I needed, making endless tests, and learning that acrylic paint does not like getting colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit presented challenges, but I knew I could easily manipulate color using paint which was my ultimate concern. I like making objects out of 100% paint because of its plastic perfection. It's also a great way to represent a functional object that only functions as art. Using only paint makes me contemplate gravity, time, and longevity, which have been underlying themes in all of my work. I make my own grid out of paint that I latch-hook into, removing a canvas or a separate support system for my paintings. Many of my paintings have to be viewed from above and can be displayed in many different, irreverent ways; they don't just hang on a wall.

Red Gradation, 2011. Acrylic paint on vinyl tablecloth on stretched canvas. 40" diameter.

OPP: What does the grid mean to you in works like Sagging Tablecloth (2010), Red Gradation and Green Gradation (2011) and Access (2013)? How do the shrouds and Thrown Paint, all from 2014, and Smear (2015) add to this conversation?

MH: I was shopping at an Ace Hardware store that was going out of business (probably late 2003) when I first started at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. There was a bin full of gingham patterned vinyl tablecloths, and I bought the whole pile of them. I hung them up in my studio and was mesmerized by the colors and the pattern. I sat staring and contemplating them off and on for a solid semester. They seemed to incorporate all the ideas that were in my head. They were mathematical and perfectly measured. Time and space were involved in their flatness and their infinite pattern. And they contained patterns within patterns. The tablecloths were bright and in basic colors, equally straddling ideas associated with Op Art, Pop Art, and Minimalism. The gingham pattern also has embedded cultural associations like American idealism, gatherings, mass production, eating, our throw-away culture, and classic picnics.

Originally, I painted pointillist landscapes on them by only using the squares in between the red checks and white checks. I wanted to create imagery that was ghostly and barely visible by hiding it within the pattern of the tablecloth, but in no way disrupting the grid. Those works aren't up on my website because I did the ghostly thing too well—they don't photograph well, or really at all, ha. I then started to create more pattern-based work like the two circular gradations, because it was more visually impactful than the landscapes. The grid continues to play a major role in all my other work including the bottle cap murals, the gridded structure of a latch-hook work, the layers to my graph paper cut outs, smear, the shrouds. I wish I could wrap my head around the fascination with grids, but it seems like some sort of micro/macro truth in organization that verges on spiritual. Basically, it seems to hold some sort very deep secret that I can't understand, so I’m constantly coming back to it and exploring it.

Checkered Drawing 1, 2008. Color pencil on paper. 18" x 24."

OPP: Talk to us about cake and about your cake sculptures and paintings.

MH: The cake paintings bring me back to craft and the method of making things. They came about while I was making my first all paint works. I use a piping bag to create my paint latch hook rugs and towels as well as Caught, Smear, and the Shrouds. I decided that since I was using a technique used for decorating cakes, a cake with a phrase or appropriate decoration could be powerful as a painting.

The cakes have messages about time, aging, gender, and gender roles in their construction. I grew up always being encouraged to be creative, but I was discouraged from being in the kitchen. I would have much preferred to watch and help my mom cook, but my place was in my dad’s wood shop. I made Con to bring up questions of gender roles, gender assignment and gender restrictions. Much like the tablecloth paintings straddle different art movements, I also wanted Con to be a yin and yang of Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. The Pieces of cake that seem to have been cut from Con are all in some way ruined. Maybe someone has run their finger through the frosting, a fly has landed on it, or a cigarette has been put out in it. Gender is brought up again in Pretty Average Blowout where 80 flaccid candles have been extinguished. This cake refers to the 80 years an average adult male in the United States can look forward to living. Once time and gravity take their toll, your celebrations are over.

I'm generally an optimistic person but my work has become sentimental and sometimes literally drips sarcasm. I guess it is sincerely pessimistic! That seems to be even more prevalent in recent work, especially since the election.

Con, 2015. Acrylic paint on canvas mounted on cardboard. 20" x 25" x 5."

OPP: What’s happening in your studio right now? How are current political events affecting your practice?

MH: These current and pressing concerns have affected my newest work for sure. Overall, it’s becoming darker and almost nasty. . .  but in a good way. These last few months, it has been really hard to concentrate and get to work in my studio. For at least a month after the election, every time I set foot in there, I struggled with the question, why is this important? Then I went to D.C. to protest the Trump inauguration and to walk with my sister and many friends in the Women's March. It sounds cheesy, but it was such a powerful and positive experience that when I came back to Chicago, I felt I needed to try to do something more.

It's only been a week since I've returned, but I contacted two other artist friends who had also been in D.C. and asked if they were in a resistance group. If they were, I wanted to join, and if they weren't, I wanted us to start one. There are now five of us dedicated to inviting people to create a group that will encourage and promote creativity, accountability, information sharing, and a way to make more of a visual impact around the city and at protests. As much as we kind of cringed at the look of the pussy hats, we all loved that people came together and each created a handmade pink hat which was worn as a unified front. We hope to invite many and become a group that channels the creativity of the Chicago artist community for good against evil.

To see more of Matthew's work, please visit matthewhilshorst.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ryan B. Richey

Lawn Job

RYAN B. RICHEY paints humorously poignant vignettes that exude a humble awe of the everyday. His signature close-cropped compositions suggest an intimate point of view, one so close, in fact, that we can't always recognize what's in front of us. Ryan received a BFA and MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has published written work in online literary journals including independent presses Beard of Bees and Spork. Selected solo exhibitions include Everyday Romances (2016) at Illinois Wesleyan University, Ghostbuster (2015) at Loyola University, and Gathering Smoke (2010) at the now-defunct Rowley Kennerk Gallery. His work has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions, including the recent Chicago and Vicinity at Shane Campbell Gallery. Ryan’s work will be included in an upcoming group show—also features the work of Mel Cook, Em Kettner, Celeste Rapone, Allison Reimus—at Roots & Culture in Chicago. Close to Me opens on January 27, 2017. Ryan lives and works in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s the underlying thread that ties all your paintings together, whether style, content or process?

Ryan B. Richey: The paintings I make come from a combination of stories from my past and daily ruminations. A while ago, I started writing down everything I could remember throughout my life and what my relatives told me about their lives. I continually add to these writings as the present becomes past, and experiences begin to take shape. The writings serve as a reference when I begin imagining a new painting. I often think about how I internalize the world around me. I consume individual and collective experiences, personal outlooks and political views everyday. I think about how they relate to the past, future and to everyone on a micro and macro level. Every painting I create is tied to this narrative.

Husky

OPP: Your titles ground your imagery by adding an emotional tone, which I would describe as humorously poignant. Is that an accurate description of the tone you want to evoke? Could you talk generally about pairing language with image for effect? Have your strategies for titling changed at all over the years?

RBR: I really like those two words to describe my work, “humorously poignant.” The word and image pairings usually begin with the text. I go through a struggle between the image and words, oscillating between the too obvious or not obvious enough, too cheesy or sentimental. I relish in the challenge of taking on overdone ideas and making them my own.  The crux of the challenge is to have all of life captured. Things are funny and sad and weird, funny, beautiful, ugly and unknown. My goal is to uncover the vulnerability of living, and for me it’s also punctuated by a desperateness to belong. I want to communicate a universal truth to everybody, and be someone everybody can relate to. My paintings, narratives, and titles, are an extension of this yearning. 

The titles of my paintings have evolved. My older works had titles that included most of the text from which they came. Through the years, the titles have been consolidated to a sentence, a few words or only one.

Laundry Day

OPP: Can you talk about your use of the zoomed-in and cropped perspective in paintings like Misfit, Ether Arms, Laundry Day and Sad Song?

RBR: I like to have just enough visual information and text for the viewer to be able to figure it out. Zooming-in and cropping are a few of the tools I use to focus on my subjects. I also employ the perspective from how the viewer would see the image, which also determines the painting’s size. My paintings are intimate experiences for the viewer. There may be a vast sky, but the you can only see so much of it at one time. Most of what I focus on are small moments in life, like the sandwich you are bringing up to your mouth or a glimpse at the hand of a loved one.

L Couch, 2008. Fabric Charcoal Chairs on Paper

OPP: Back in grad school, you were working with fabric and charcoal to make portraits. I’m looking at works like L Couch, LOVE and Elvince, all from 2008. Now it appears you work exclusively in painting. Have you turned away from sculpture?

RBR: I don’t feel that I’ve turned away from sculpture altogether. I base my art medium on what makes the most sense in terms of delivering the message, understanding the context and working with the physical space of the show. Most recently my paintings have sculptural elements: underneath the oil paint is a surface of carved gesso, and carefully added textural elements.  

Most recently I have been working on a project that represents spending time with family. I have been making little pillows out of relative's clothes that I would like to like to display where the wall meets the floor all along a space. In 2014 I collaborated with the members of ADDS DONNA for Sunday Afternoons, a show that took place at SWDZ Gallery in Vienna, Austria. I drew each of the ADDS DONNA member’s facial portraits to pair with a piece of their clothing which created a three-dimensional portrait of each of the members.

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain was a show hosted at Pilsen Village in Thrift in 2010 that included Pea in My Bed, a piece I created in reference to the popular fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. The small pea disrupting the massively large, stacked mattresses is an analogy we can all relate to.

Over the Bridge

OPP: You were a Chicago-based artist for quite a long time and most of your exhibitions are there. But now you live in San Francisco. How has it been adjusting to a new art scene? What’s different in San Francisco?

RBR: This process of moving has inspired a number of new paintings too. Of course the weather is consistently pleasant, which leads to good painting conditions. But I miss being physically close to the Chicago art community. Before I left I helped with getting ADDS DONNA into their new space. It was a labor of love. Everyone, please support galleries like ADDS DONNA. They are vital to the art scene in Chicago.

I haven't been in the Bay Area that long, however, I have found some spaces that feel like home, Chicago. Kirk Stoller runs a space out of his dwelling, c2c project space, that connects artists from the coasts. Takeshi Moro has a gallery in his house, tmoro projects, which reminds me of The Franklin, Terrain, and The Suburban. He cooks the best food for his openings too! There is also Minnesota Street Projects that has a Mana Contemporary vibe. Jessica Silverman Gallery is my favorite blue chip space. There is a lot going on in Oakland. I like the Land and Sea gallery there.

Used Cars

OPP: Do you have a favorite painting that doesn’t get enough props in your opinion? Will you tell us the background story?

RBR: A painting that I really enjoy is Laundry Day. It sprang from the years I spent doing our laundry at Yo-Yo Coin Laundrymat in Chicago. This painting was about relationships to me. It highlights how two people can be mixed in each other’s lives and sharing the same experience. It also brings to surface the cycles we go through, as well as the routines.

A painting that has sentimental value to me is Used Cars. All of my cars have been used cars. As a teen I was driving home one night from my job as a dishwasher at Ponderosa Restaurant when my car broke down out in the country. The hood was up and the stars were reflecting in the windshield. It was sad, but beautiful. My mom came and towed me home using a quilt we connected to both cars, which became another painting.

To see more of Ryan's work, please visit ryanbrichey.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Porterfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nash Bellows

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

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

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

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

Untitled, 2015. Digital

OPP: When did digital drawing enter your practice?

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

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

Untitled, 2015. Digital

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

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

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

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

Shirley Kaneda, 2015. Spray paint and acrylic on canvas

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

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

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

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

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

Girl Power, 2014. Digital. 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Seastripe, 2015. Digital Repeat Pattern

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matt Phillips

Luxor at Dawn and Bungalow

MATT PHILLIPS expertly wields color, line and texture in mid-sized paintings and smaller works on paper. Drawing a clear parallel between Geometric Abstraction in painting and in quilting, he divides the rectangle into endlessly-surprising, smaller shapes. He renders the repeated triangles, rectangular bars, half circles and curved lines in varying colors with repetitive, overlapping brushstrokes, balancing the importance of each mark with the overall composition. Matt earned a BA in Art/Art History from Hampshire College (Amherst, Massachusetts) in 2001 and an MFA in Painting from Boston University in 2007. He was a McDowell Colony fellow in February 2016 and has had solo exhibitions at Cerasoli Gallery (Los Angeles, 2009), Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects (New York, 2013 and 2016), Branch Gallery (North Adams, Massachusetts, 2013), Kate Alkarni Gallery (Seattle, 2013) and the University of Maine Museum of Art (Bangor, 2014). His work was recently included in Summerzcool: A Group Exhibition at David Shelton Gallery in Houston. In September 2016, his work will be included in a three-person show, also featuring the work of Austin Eddy and Benjamin Edminston, at Charlotte Fogh Gallery in Denmark and in October 2016, his solo show Yard Sale will open at Devening Projects in Chicago. Matt is a professor of art at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent paintings evoke quilts, especially the Gee’s Bend Quilts, which are often asymmetrical and slightly irregular. Are these an influence for you?

Matt Phillips: The Quilts of Gee’s Bend have been very important to my relationship with painting. They share so many affinities with geometric abstraction and synthetic cubism. I love the spontaneity of the quilts’ imagery and the resourcefulness of the artists. Quilts and textiles teeter on the edge between image and object. Many of the Gee’s Bends quilts have such an incredible and varied physical surface found in well worn clothing and old denim. It is a kind of imagery that is generated by the exchange between the body and a swatch of fabric—a process not unlike the act of painting. I am also interested in how, as a sculptural object, fabric gives form to some of the more invisible forces of the world such as gravity.

Slow Dance (for E.E.)
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: I’ve noticed quite a few contemporary painters referencing both quilting and weaving in the last few years. What’s really interesting about abstraction in these textile forms is that it grows directly out of the process. In traditional quilting, one cuts just squares and rectangles from different fabrics and rearranges them using the grid to make other shapes. It’s a process of building up into a rectangle, but the rectangle doesn’t exist at the beginning. Painting, on the other hand, seems to be partly about dividing up the clearly defined rectangle. Your thoughts?

MP: I feel like the way that I approach my paintings has certain similarities with the process you just described. The painted image ultimately has to exist within the edges delineated by the support. In much of my recent work, though, the pictures don’t entirely fill the rectangle. Instead, the image form either extends towards or recoils from the edge of the canvas, sometimes both at once.

Untitled
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: Can you talk about the texture within your fields of color? It reminds me of coloring a large expanse of space with a very fine-tipped marker. The hand is really present. Is this effect something you sought to create or a happy accident that emerged from your process?

MP: This texture comes primarily from the paint that I use which is made by dispersing raw pigment into a silica binder. Making my own paint naturally creates inconsistencies in the opacity and transparency of the color. I also paint on a course linen using small brushes. The result is that the viewer can see many discreet passages of the brush within the larger flat areas of color. The place where two marks overlap create a darker seam that is slightly more opaque. Lately, I have been really interested in how this process creates a secondary illusionistic space within my paintings. It appears almost as if someone took the completed painting, crumpled it up, and then tried their best to flatten it back out. I remember turning in a lot of homework in a similar condition as a younger child.

Untitled
Silica and Pigment on Linen
24" x 20"
2014

OPP: In 2015, you translated Belay (2013) into a ceramic tile mosaic called Ascent. This translation really highlights the texture in your paintings in a new way. Did you execute the mosaic yourself or just lend the design? How do you feel about the translation after the fact?

MP: This work was a commission that I received from the New York City Public Art for Public Schools Program and installed in PS106, an elementary school in the Bronx. I collaborated with a great mosaic artist name Stephen Miotto. We worked together to find a way to translate some of the material issues I just described into tile. It was a great back and forth process as we tried to use hard pieces of ceramic tile to describe the way that wet paint looks. The school itself is designed in such a way that the youngest children are on the ground floor and the oldest children are on the third floor of the building. I wanted to try and make an image that somehow marked the student’s process of vertically climbing through the school as they learn and advance through the different grades. I also like that the work, like a ruler, consists of regular parallel stripes. My hope is that the students actually use these line as a tool to measure how they grow taller while attending the school.

Ascent
Ceramic Tile Mosaic
14' x 8'
2015

OPP: I’ve noticed a few recurring compositional motifs. House of Hands (2013), The Well at the Watering Hole (2014), Campfire by the Comfort Inn (2015) and Arboretum (2015) all have a figure-ground relationship, while simultaneously reading as pieced quilts. I see stacked boxes, stairs, mountains or buildings against a backdrop of blue sky. Can you talk about repetition of compositions and forms in your work from a process point of view?

MP: A lot of my works are built upon similar compositional structures or divisions of the rectangle. I like the idea that two things can have a similar point of origin but end up having two totally different conclusions. Those works you mention present the viewer with architectural forms. I think that such archetypal forms are a way I try and entice a deeper relationship to the picture on the part of the viewer—to get one’s eyes to pull their body through the picture plane.

Arboretum
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: What’s your experience like when painting these works with similar origin points? Do you long to paint that form again or does it surprise you?

MP: It really happens both ways. Sometimes I make a painting and then later feel compelled to revisit it through successive pieces. For example, I may want to see the picture at a different scale, or develop a new idea about light or color in relation to the original image. At other times though, I will just be following a painting wherever it takes me and I’ll end up finding out that there is some unfinished business with regard to a certain form or motif. The four paintings that you just mentioned were made over two years. There were times when each one of those paintings had drifted into really different territory. The final four works ultimately returned to this related motif of stacked blocks, yet each one has its own distinct and winding path to this shared commonality - I think this gives each painting its own unique voice and story.

To see more of Matt's work, please visit paintingpaintings.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jonathan Keeton

Fall Afternoon, Rio Chama
Watercolor
29" x 57"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cataract Bridge
Watercolor
30" x 40"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn, Turqoise Trail
Watercolor
8" x 12"
2016

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

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

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

Upper Canyon Road
Watercolor
22" x 30"
2014

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

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

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

Highway 100, Vermont
Watercolor
22" x 30"
2016

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Washington

Talking Board
2016
Chalk and acrylic on panel
18" x 24"

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

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

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

wormhole shape = headstone shape
2015
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

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

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

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

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

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

Negative Positive
2011
Blackberries and oil paint on canvas
12 " x 12 "

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

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

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

Suprematism (After K.M.)
2012
Charred bone and oil on paper
(Left image: found bone, before charring. Right image: Charred bone and oil ground into 40" x 50" paper)

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

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

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

eternal return
2015
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

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

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

Hand of Mouth
2016
Metalpoint, gouache and acrylic on panel
11" x 14"

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

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

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

Faith in Fakes (holodeck)
Mixed media installation.
Dimensions variable.
2016.
Also on view, Ron Ewert painting.

OPP: What new work did you present?

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gwendolyn Zabicki

Erotic Puzzle
oil on canvas
16in x 20in
2016

GWENDOLYN ZABICKI's representational paintings recall the long history of still life and genre painting. But her contemporary subjects—wrapped presents, the lit windows of urban buildings seen from ground level at night and construction workers—highlight an empathetic yearning. They are opportunities to imagine what we can't see, what we don't have access to, and to care what's there. Gwendolyn earned her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005 and her MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2013) and at Lillstreet Art Center (2012) in Chicago. She's exhibited widely throughout Chicagoland, including Visitation Rites III (2015) at The Franklin, Cool and Dark (2014) at Comfort Station, Emmett Kerrigan and Gwendolyn Zabicki (2014), a two-person show curated by Melody Saraniti as part of the TRIGGER Project at Hyde Park Art Center,  and solo show Present Paintings (2015) at Riverside Art Center. In the fall of 2016, her work will be included in New Business, a group show at Hyde Park Art Center. Gwendolyn lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your Present Paintings, which “are meant to be given away as gifts to strangers,” instead of sold, emphasize the process of giving, not the having that follows. And yet they are still paintings, which are arguably the most sellable art objects. Can a painting ever side-step commodification entirely?

Gwendolyn Zabicki: Paintings are very sellable art objects, but no one I know makes a living selling their art. Everyone does something else, like teaching or arts administration, that pays the bills. I think most artists are used to the fact that their art isn't going to make them rich, but they do it because they love it. My painting is no different. Painting can never side step commodification entirely, but nothing can. Land art and performance art—art forms that were never meant to be commodified—have been documented and that documentation is what is sold on the market.

Anne Harris (Gift on Wool Coat with Pink Satin Lining)
oil on canvas
20in x 24in
2014

OPP: I recognize many of the names in the titles as fellow Chicago artists—Patrick Q Quilao (Three Black Gifts with Bow), Anne Harris (Gift on Wool Coat with Pink Satin Lining) and Karen Azarnia (Yellow Gift), for example. Were these paintings intended for these artists upon creation, and do you imagine what is in the box, even if you don’t tell the recipient?

GZ: Some of the boxes had real gifts in them—books, shoes, board games—and some of the boxes were empty. I chose boxes that had pleasing sizes and heft and that went well with the wrapping paper I wanted to use. I made the paintings without anyone specific in mind. Last year, I had a show called Present Paintings at the Riverside Arts Center. At the show, there was a sign up sheet that read:

After the close of Present Paintings, the paintings in this series will be given away at random to attendees of this exhibition. If you would like to be considered, please sign below. If you are selected to receive a painting you must agree to the following conditions:

1)This painting cannot be bought, sold, or bartered in the future. It can be re-gifted.
2) We (you and the artist) will be linked in a fiduciary relationship. You (the recipient) will be bound in an ethical relationship of trust and friendship with me (the artist), taking care of this painting indefinitely. Examples of our friendship may include: invitations to sibling weddings, texts, dinner parties, Christmas card exchanges, etc to be carried out in perpetuity.
Note: this is not a mailing list.

Amusement, boredom, fatigue in the face of a man at a performance of Ed Parzygnat, the Polish Elvis
oil on canvas
30in x 31 1/2in
2016

OPP: “At the core of all my work is the fear that plagues many Millennials, the fear of missing out (on potential friends, on experiences).” Why do you think FOMO is stronger for Millennials than others? How does this fear register in your portraits of near-strangers and Night Paintings?

GZ: My parents are baby boomers and living in their cultural wake, I've spent such an enormous amount of time trying to catch up with the music, books, movies, political history, and art produced by their generation. And it's so easy to do now with the internet. You can just stay inside all day and eat cookie dough and watch Mahogany or Johhny Guitar. Or you can fall into a Wikipedia k-hole and spend an afternoon reading about the inevitable heat death of the universe or scumbag Republican strategist Lee Atwater. You will never ever catch up with all of the interesting ideas and people out there; for me that is wonderful and tremendously sad. Looking in someone's window at night is a reminder of that. You can see this person and you'd probably like them if you knew them, but you'll never know them. All you know is that they exist and you've missed them.

Gym People
oil on canvas
24in. x 32in.
2015

OPP: I read the Night Paintings (2011-2015) as fundamentally empathetic, not voyeuristic, despite all the looking into windows. I think of long, directionless walks I’ve taken through Chicago, wondering about the lives of others and appreciating the idiosyncrasy of whatever is visible through the windows. Is this my own lens or would you call yourself an empathetic painter?

GZ: Your take is right. They are more wistful than prurient. My paintings need other people to exist, and I need other people. Painting is a very solitary practice, but I don't like to be by myself. I've been doing a lot of portraits lately, and it's really just like hanging out. I go the the sitter’s house, and we pick out something cute for them to wear, and then we usually eat or drink something. And then we think about poses and what to include in the background. It's collaborative, and it's social.

I am glad that there is such a social element to being an artist, that every Friday and Saturday I can go to an art opening and see all my friends there. I also get a lot of joy from teaching. My students are so much fun to be around, and I feel so energized after spending time with them. Movies about isolation or outer space are like my personal hell.

Roofers
oil on canvas
24in. x 36in.
2013

OPP: You are also a skilled interviewer and have interviewed numerous painters for figureground.org. If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask? And the answer, please.

GZ: I was asked two very simple questions recently, but they are ones that everyone should think about. The questions were: What was the first piece of art that resonated with you? And when did you know you wanted to be an artist (and why)?

So the first piece of art that really mattered to me was an advertisement on the side of a carton of Dole brand Pineapple-Orange-Banana juice. My parents used to buy it, and it would sit on the table during breakfast when I was a kid. I had been to museums and I had seen important, iconic artwork, but I couldn't relate to any of that. It just seemed like museums were full of pictures of naked people fighting. So back to the juice carton. This advertisement on the juice carton was for a promotional contest. You could win a pair of baseball tickets if you sent in the UPC code on the bottom of the carton. The advertisement showed a grandfather and a grandson at a baseball game. The grandfather was holding a baseball mitt up into the air like he was going to catch a fly ball and the look on his face was of pure joy. He was in ecstasy. The grandson next to him was maybe five years old and not as good at faking emotion. He looked not upset, but a little bit bored and not nearly as thrilled as his grandfather. I looked at this image every day for weeks and I thought, oh my god, this moment that I am seeing is the moment just before the grandson says some awful, nasty thing to his grandfather. I am seeing the moment before he stabs him in the heart and says, "I'm bored. Baseball is stupid." I thought maybe the grandfather couldn't afford baseball tickets and only got them because he won them and that he wanted to share this special thing with his ungrateful grandson. This could play out in two ways. The best thing would be if they both forgot this moment, like it never happened. If the grandson remembered someday what he did, by the time he was old enough to apologize, his grandfather would be dead.

I was about ten or twelve years old at that time, and I had said nasty things to my mom. At that age I was embarrassed to be seen with her, not because of anything she did, but I was embarrassed by everything, to be seen at all. I snapped at her once in the grocery store for buying generic butter. We did not have a lot of money at the time and the generic packaging was so awful back then. I was ashamed to be poor and I was ashamed to be ashamed. All of this, this entire narrative was contained in that image on the juice carton, in the subtle expression on that young boy's face. This picture was devastating. I had to turn it away. This image was really my first deep read of anything. Because it sat on the table every morning, I was in a place to analyze it. When I was a little bit older, I learned that there was a whole profession of people who made images and who studied them and obsessed over them. So being an artist was a natural fit for a sensitive baby like myself.

To see more of Gwendolyn's work, please visit gwendolynzabicki.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Paulus

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

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

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

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

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

Tweety
Fig. 7

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

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

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

Vertical Migration
HD video
4min, 15 sec.
2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Clint Jukkala

Telepath
2014
Oil on canvas
44" x 52"

CLINT JUKKALA's color-saturated doorways, windows, and unidentifiable creatures with humongous eye-portals are either goofily mesmerizing or mezmerizingly goofy. In either case, they captivate the eye and speak to the transportive power of looking, being seen and seeing in a new way. Clint earned his BFA from University of Washington in 1995 and his MFA from Yale University School of Art in 1998. Solo exhibitions include Lenses, Portals and Escape Plans at Finalndia University (Hancock, Michigan, 2014), Cosmic Trigger at Bravin Lee Programs (New York, 2014) and Off Course at Fred Giampietro Gallery (New Haven, 2013). Clint’s work was recently included in the group exhibitions HeadSpace (2016) at Morris Warren Gallery and Receptive Fields (2015) at Edward Thorp Gallery, both in New York City, and a two-person show with John Newman (2015) at Fred Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Clint lives and works in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are your portals just for looking through or are they also for moving through? What do you imagine on the other side?

I've always been drawn to the window-like qualities of painting, and paintings that have spaces you can imagine entering. Certain Sienese paintings, like Sasetta, or De Chirico's Piazza paintings really have that quality for me. They are not perspectivally correct and aren't entirely rational, but they are fully convincing worlds that create a sense of place the viewer can mentally project into. I hope my paintings have a little bit of that. I want them to suggest the possibility of a place to transport to. It's less a physical space than a psychological one. What's on the other side is a different way of seeing.

Inside Out
2010
Oil and acrylic on canvas
16" x 20"

OPP: In an interview with Sharon Butler for Two Coats of Paint, you said “Color is a portal.” I couldn’t agree more. Can you say more about this and how you approach color in general?

CJ: Color is experiential. It affects us on a physical, emotional and psychological level and allows us to access different states. David Lynch's red room in Twin Peaks is a perfect example. The red curtain is so present and it provides a door to entering Lynch's strange world. Of course color is associative too and it conjures memories of places we've been and things we've experienced. Color is a frequency and like sound it can take us out of ourselves and to another place.

Cosmic Trigger
2013
Oil and acrylic on canvas
80" x 66"

OPP: In recent years, what used to look more like doorways and windows seem to have morphed into eyes or goggles or view finders on the faces of humanoid aliens, muppets or robots like Number 5 from Short Circuit (1986). Whatever they are, they’re staring back at me, and I’m looking through them to some other space. Thoughts?

CJ: That evolution happened unintentionally. I was painting window like forms and one day I doubled them. All of the sudden I saw something staring back at me—it freaked me out! At first the images felt so goofy, and I wasn't sure what to make of them. They were exciting to me though, so I just went with it. I liked that they didn't take themselves too seriously and they had an unnameable thing-like quality about them. I'm interested in that dual situation of the paintings looking back at you while you look at them. I hope they make the viewer more aware of their own seeing.

Revelator
2007
Oil on canvas
65"x 72"

OPP: Earlier paintings from 2005-2007 evoke computer glitches, digital noise and Atari graphics—I’m thinking of Space Invaders and Berzerk. Were you thinking of the digital realm or video games as portals? Or is this work doing something else entirely?

CJ: Atari was very much on my mind! Those paintings evolved out of grid paintings I was making. I was interested in squares, pixels, textiles and simple building blocks used to make more complex images. Early video games were interesting because you saw the pixel structure that made the images and I've always been drawn to simple systems of image making. I wasn't thinking of those paintings as portals really, but I was interested in screens and I think it was screen space that led me to exploring windows and portals. I was also thinking a lot about the additive light of screens versus the subtractive light of paintings. Screens are lit from within and emit light. That may have been the beginning of thinking about the paintings facing out toward the viewer. 

Psychic Continuity
2015
Oil on canvas
60" x 52"

OPP: A year ago, you were appointed Dean at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts after having served as the Chair of Graduate Programs at PAFA since fall 2013. How does academic administration affect your painting practice? Any advise for artists with other demanding jobs?

CJ: Teaching and running a program can be wonderfully creative experiences. While I currently have less time to paint, there is so much exciting stuff going on at PAFA that I've been happy to focus some of my creative energies there. Luckily for me, my administrative work extends beyond my office to the classroom and our museum. I'm around art and artists all the time so I get a lot of energy from that. From student work to my favorite paintings in our collection (like those by Horace Pippin!) I'm constantly seeing great stuff. PAFA's historic building, designed by Frank Furness blows me away. It is an incredible space full of amazing ornament. I'm sure it's going to seep into future paintings. I also walk through our cast hall almost daily and see students painting. I don't have as much time to work right now, but when I do get into the studio I have a lot to draw on. Most artists need to have multiple practices to build a sustainable creative life. The key is to find a good balance of different practices that complement each other.

To see more of Clint's work, please visit clintjukkala.com.

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