OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Allison Zuckerman

Summer Rain, 2017

ALLISON ZUCKERMAN collapses the processes of painting, collage and photography into one another in wall-hung works and free-standing cut-out sculptures. Her imagery is a mash-up of sources from the Western painting canon to porn to cartoons and comics to fashion magazines. Across these realms of visual culture, she examines gendered power dynamics and their relationship to the imagery we consume. Allison earned her BA at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in 2012, followed by her MFA at The School of the Art Institute Chicago in 2015. Since then, her work has been included in group shows in Chicago, Copenhagen, New York and Mexico City. Her solo show Act Natural is currently on view at Kravets Wehby Gallery in New York, NY. You can check it out until June 3rd, 2017. Allison lives in New York City.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s start with Act Natural, your new show at Kravets Wehby Gallery (New York City) that will be on view through June 3rd, 2017. What thread ties this body of work to older bodies of work?

Allison Zuckerman: Satire ties the current body of work to the older. The desire to critique the power dynamics between men and women, told through a personal perspective, fuels most if not all of my work.

Autumn Rhythm, 2017

OPP: And what’s new in this show (thematically, formally or materially)?

AZ: Collaging seamlessly is materially new for me. Previous to Act Natural, I would adhere my collage to canvas but for this show, I opted to imbed my images in the paintings through a process of printing directly onto canvas. I planned a large portion of each painting, but left areas open to painting and improvisation.

Thematically, I’ve been working to create visual “mash-ups” of art history, my own imagery and internet culture. I am very interested in merging high and low art. I find that there is so much visual language available to us today, that visual sampling is an inevitable mode of creation.

Bored Nude, 2016

OPP: I’m with you on the fact that visual artists have so much visual information to respond to and that we should respond to our surrounding culture. And I think artists should think ethically about what to appropriate and to what end. Are there any sources that are off limits in your mind?

AZ: Being a dog person, cats are off limits.

OPP: Have you ever had your intentions in a particular piece grossly misinterpreted because your viewer didn’t understand what sources were being mashed up?

AZ: No—I think part of the fun of these works for the viewer is that they support multiple interpretations. 

OPP: So how do you go about merging all these sources in terms of process? You mentioned that both painting and digital printing are at play.

AZ: I create oil and acrylic paintings and subsequently photograph them. I then integrate portions of the photographed paintings digitally into new work. After printing the hybridized piece, I add paint again.

Bored Apple Picker, 2017

OPP: Tell us about the wide eyes which appear collaged onto the paintings? They work differently in each piece, sometimes creating a look of boredom, sometimes vapidness, sometime panic to the point of trauma. How do these eyes relate to the various representations of female bodies you reference?

AZ: The eyes are sourced from a large scale oil painting I created of my own eyes. I will sometimes repaint them, using the original painting as the source or will directly print them onto canvas, repainting portions of them, therefore changing them in some way every time they are repurposed. They relate to female bodies from pop and high culture in that they simultaneously activate and charge the bodies with subjective anxiety. To me, the eyes are like an “on” switch. The eyes make the bodies forces to be reckoned with, rather than passive bodies intended primarily for visual consumption.

OPP: What’s the significance of that repeated graphic motif that resembles cartoon seaweed or a stylized comb?

 AZ: The cartoon seaweed/stylized comb is sourced from Matisse’s artist book Jazz, which contained prints of colorful cut paper collages. I use his shapes to not only imbue my paintings with movement but also to pay homage to Matisse and art history.

from She Rocks at Kravets Wehby Gallery, 2017

OPP: Tell us about the relationship between the conventional wall-hung paintings and the life size cardboard cut-outs. When did you first introduce the form of the cut-out into your practice? What do the cut-outs do that the paintings cannot?

 AZ: The cut outs function as extensions of the paintings and are collage pieces that occupy the viewer’s space. If the paintings act as bricks, the cut outs are the mortar. I began using the cut outs during graduate school and because of their light weight, I was able to place them in public contexts as well and experiment with art interventions and performance. As I continued creating the sculptures, they became more intrinsic to my practice, and I began treating them like free standing paintings. Thus, I changed from creating them on cardboard and opted for aluminum. They are much more durable and archival, and reference phone and computer screens because of their one-sidedness, thickness and materiality.

In Media Res II in Extract at the GL Strand, Copenhagen, 2015

OPP: You recently curated The Staging of Vulnerability for SPRING/BREAK Art Show in New York. Can you talk about this foray in to curating and how it relates to your painting practice? What was your curatorial strategy?

AZ: I approached this curatorial project much in the same way I approach my installations. I wanted to create a dream-like world with these artists’ work, using color, material and content to emphasize mood and context. For example, while one artist created a rose from thread, another painted a rose as a tattoo onto his figure. In another instance, a cut out sculpture of enlarged feet was placed in close proximity to a painting of isolated feet. Repetition of motifs tied the entire show together. I wanted the space to feel surrealist and liminal. To me, curating has so much in common with collaging, and I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with these talented artists to create an installation that functioned as a singular piece.

To see more of Allison's work, please visit allisonzuckerman.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interview Tom Pazderka

Heaven Abyss, 2016. Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel. 43"x 57"

Informed both by "Czech fatalism and American optimism," TOM PAZDERKA's interdisciplinary practice is loaded with symbols of conflicting ideologies: burned books, raw two-by-fours, buildings crashing down, remote rustic cabins and the famous, solitary individuals who retreated there. In Freedom Club, he highlights underlying connections between notorious (Ted Kaczynski) and beloved (Henry David Thoreau) cabin dwellers. In Twenty Years of Progress, he explores a never-ending cycle of creation and destruction in drawings on charred book pages. Tom earned his BFA at Western Carolina University in 2012 and his MFA from University of California, Santa Barbara in 2016. He just closed a solo exhibition called Into Nothing: New Paintings in Ash and Oil at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara, that was accompanied by a public discussion with artist Maiza Hixson titled Art(ists) of Survival. Since June 2016, Tom has been an Artist-in-Residence at Red Barn Project Space, UC Santa Barbara, where he curated the group show Somewhere or Nowhere At All. In June 2017, his solo exhibition American Gothic will bring the Residency to a close. Tom lives and works in Santa Barbara, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say “Often I combine a particular Czech fatalism with an American optimism to strange effect.” Can you say more about how you bring this fatalism and this optimism together in your choice of materials, images and subject matter?


Tom Pazderka: Yes, great question right from the start. Czech culture is by nature fatalistic and pessimistic about the future. It comes from centuries of struggle for its own voice and freedom from the rule of neighboring nations and empires. For the past one to two hundred years, there has been an unofficial national discussion about the ‘lot of the small nation’ and what this really means. History is offered as a solution and as an obstacle to national progress and interests. Throughout history, Czechs have struggled for freedom from oppressive forms of religion, then feudalism, the aristocracy and monarchy, the empire, then communism. Finally, with today’s freedom comes another kind of servitude in the form of consumerism and political and cultural deferral to the West. It’s only taken 25 years for pessimism and fatalism to rear its ugly head again.

America and Americans do not have this issue. The world to them is open and wide. Perhaps an entire century of victories and becoming one of the world’s superpowers is a way to achieve cultural hegemony and solidify positive feelings of optimism for the future, regardless of the true nature of these victories. Even the smallest of American grassroots movements—no matter how big or terrible the opposition is—always maintains optimism and hope for change. American nature seems to be one of persistent triumphalism that seems to go back centuries to the Protestant work ethic. This is unheard of in Central Europe. If I was to boil it down I would say that America seeks to constantly renew itself at the expense of the old, while Europe and Czech in particular, seek to solidify and reconcile its present with a chaotic and problematic past at the expense of its future.

Outpost, 2016. Burned image and woodcut on recycled pallets. 72" x 72"

OPP: So how does this affect you personally?

TP: I was born in the Czech Republic, while it was still Czechoslovakia, but moved to the U.S. when I was 12. I have been in the country long enough to be considered half Czech and half American. But I often feel like I am neither Czech nor American. The particularities of the two cultures at play here are sometimes in opposition. I, myself, have become infected by the optimist bug. This is why I am drawn to dark and beautiful imagery and the grit of raw materials. I am attracted by things that are terrifying but also aesthetic. And I use a lot of wood because it’s a humble material, readily available everywhere, but at the same time it is what the U.S. is built upon.

Falling Twilight, 2014. Charcoal on burned book paper. 120" x 48"


OPP: A recurring strategy in your work is burning images onto tiled two-by-fours and book pages. How do construction and destruction meet, physically and conceptually, in your series Twenty Years of Progress (2014).  


TP: In Twenty Years of Progress I chose several significant events that took place between the years 1994—the year I emigrated to the U.S—and 2014, when returned to the Czech Republic for an artist residency. All of the events have negotiated destruction in some way. Some were quite notorious, such as the burning of churches in Norway or the demolition of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. But one of them went completely unnoticed and that was the demolition of the building of the former Czech Communist Party newspaper Rude Pravo (Red Law). It was as if the shame of those years had to be erased without fanfare and masked by a new type of ideology; what replaced the building were offices and a shopping center.

The physical destruction came through actually burning books in a pit—a symbolic act for the willful destruction of knowledge. The charred remains of the books were then used to make works like those in Twenty Years of Progress. Years earlier, I had used torches to ‘draw’ into wood. The resulting images were quite strong because they became part of the substrate instead of sitting on top of it. They were burned into the wood like memory is burned into one’s mind. Then there was the smell. During my grad years, the joke was that everyone knew when I was around because there was a strong smell of a burning fire inside the studios. Conceptually, destruction seems to always precede a new beginning.

Lost Wisdom: a Secular Book Burning, 2012. Burned books

OPP: That makes me think of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes. Fire, in particular, is important in your work.

TP: Yes, fire is this basic element that gives warmth and comfort but can hurt or kill if one gets too close. I also think of fire in metaphysical terms, as the fire inside that burns with anxious desire for knowledge. Gaston Bachelard wrote a great, short book on this subject called Psychoanalysis of Fire. He identifies certain archetypes—from the arsonist to the Promethean figure— who are drawn to fire.

Despite what we know about the world through science and religion, we know very little about fire itself. Fire is not a just a simple consequence of heat. There must always be an excess to heat to create fire and an excess of something to fuel the fire. . . otherwise it disappears. As such, fire is simply a manifestation of some inward potential that moves outward. Enough heat and a spark create fire, but the physical manifestation itself is as elusive as electricity. One cannot touch it or feel it or grab it, but one can definitely be burned by it. The movement of fire creates powerful meditative states in its observers, and I know this because I’ve stared into fires since I’ve been a young kid.

Drawing for Genius and Madness, the Thoreau Kaczynski Tableau, 2012. Recycled wood and charcoal. 36" x 17" x 2"


OPP: You’ve been exploring the cabin as a form and a symbol for several years. When did the cabin first show up in your work?

TP: I can pinpoint this pretty precisely. In 2012, I made a drawing on on some scrap two-by-fours of two cabins: one was Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin and the other was Ted Kaczynski’s Montana cabin. The scrap wood was made to look like it might have come out of each cabin as a sample of a floor. I called the work Drawing for Genius and Madness, the Thoreau Kaczynski Tableaux because I intended it to become a larger work, an installation perhaps. When I came across the images of the Kaczynski cabin and compared it to the images and floor plans of Thoreau’s cabin, I was immediately struck by the similarities. There were differences, of course. But on the whole, the size and layout of both cabins were eerily alike. This is when I got really interested in the writings of and about Thoreau and Kaczynski.  What were the circumstances that made these two who they were/are and how might this be significant to the American experience? I was then introduced to the work of filmmaker James Benning, who built replicas of both cabins in the mountains of California for very similar reasons. Benning’s work culminated in a very provocative book called Two Cabins with critical essays by Julie Ault and Dick Hebdige (with whom I studied at UC Santa Barbara). The essays describe Thoreau and Kaczynski’s relationship to the strange tapestry that is the American experience of wilderness and to one another. 

Freedom Club: Martin, 2016

OPP: How has your thinking about what the cabin symbolizes changed over the years? When did your interest in the cabin shift to an interest in the cabin dwellers?

TP: From early on the cabin seemed to me to be the symbol of freedom, a particular kind of American freedom, tinged with a rustic patina of traditionalism. The more I dove into research about Thoreau and Kaczynski, other patterns started to emerge and now I tend to think of the cabin more as a place fantasy, similar to ‘the room’ in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, where one’s innermost and deepest desires are supposed to come true. This is of course a trap, because nobody truly knows what one desires. By going to a place where desires become reality, one’s confronted with the very knowledge that desire is nothing more than desire for desire itself.

My entire graduate thesis, Psychoanalysis of the Cabin, was based on a reading of the cabin as a place of refuge not just for individuals but also for the entire nation that used the symbol of the cabin as a nostalgic vehicle for a collective national unconscious. Scenes of rustic Arcadia show up in post-apocalyptic sci-fi films like Oblivion, and since the filming of Birth of a Nation, where the last showdown scenes take place inside a log cabin, Hollywood’s been unable to extricate itself from the Romantic fantasy of a rustic nationalism.

Once I’d exhausted the material on Thoreau and Kaczynski, the figure of Martin Heidegger and his hut in the Black Forest of Germany emerged. It was an opening into the cabin life of Europeans, which is entirely different from the American experience. I partly grew up in a cabin in the mountains of Czech Republic and all of a sudden here was a method by which to understand that experience. I began to read studies done on what’s called the ‘cottaging’ culture in Czech Republic and what little there is known about the tiny house movement in the U.S. This is where some of the cabin dwellers first appear, but mainly as a result of their relationship to one another, either directly or indirectly through similarities in outlook or politics.

Freedom Club Cabinet of Ted and Henry, 2016. Photo credit: Tony Mastres


OPP: What strikes me about all the cabin dwellers you’ve chosen is that they are all men, except Leni Riefenstahl—but in this case, the exception might prove the rule. I don’t want to imply that the qualities of nationalism, individualism, madness and desire for dominance are only present in men. But I do see them as conditioned by Patriarchy and cultivated by looking at History through a patriarchal lens. What are your thoughts on how Patriarchy affected these Cabin Dwellers?


TP: I think that historically, our culture has focused mostly on the men that managed to be seduced by escape and solitude and then occasionally turned their otherwise non-participatory, non-social behavior into anti-social behavior. Ted Kaczynski is a case in point. The most obvious example here is Henry Thoreau, a philosopher, metaphysician, radical, curmudgeon and anti-social in one person. Our conditioning as a society comes at us from many directions, the strongest of which seems to be media. When the story broke on Kaczynski, it was hard to make out what was actually true about the person who was being portrayed. Thoreau was shunned during his lifetime, and nobody read Walden until well after his death. Why or how Thoreau’s work was appropriated as symbolic Americana is anybody’s guess. Rebecca Solnit identifies several counter-intuitive issues at play in the figure of Thoreau in her short essay The Thoreau Problem. Thoreau writes of country life, the cabin and solitude, but nothing about the fact that he frequently went to town to purchase items he needed or that his aunt did his laundry. I believe that the Patriarchal lens you mention is used to clean up the image of a man from a vaguely ambiguous idealist to one of a resolved activist for strong values. This lens narrows and simplifies what would otherwise be a much more interesting portrait, and this is the case of all of the individuals in this series.

I’ve opted for inclusion of a couple women, Leni Riefenstahl, who more or less went into hiding after the second World War and Judi Bari, a fairly notorious anti-logging activist involved with Earth First!  A third woman was going to be Hannah Arendt, whose work on culture and totalitarianism is exceptional, but her main and only tie to cabins was through Martin Heidegger.

I believe that culture, and Western culture in particular, conditions men to be escapist. This is where we get the idea of the man cave, a place within one’s home to which a man can momentarily escape from the pressures of the outside, including the family. Women are conditioned differently, I suppose to be more oriented toward social groups. This is why it is difficult to find women among the above mentioned Cabin Dwellers. That is not to say that women do not go to cabins, they just do not tend to go on their own, or at the very least they do not tend to plan various acts of domestic terrorism from a place of solitude.

I also have to point out that the cabin as escapist refuge seems to be more an American phenomenon.  Again, this is not an absolute, but in Czech culture, cabins and cottages were used primarily as second homes for entire families (similar to Scandinavia), not just for the sole purpose of an escape for the male head of the family. There are of course exceptions. In the U.S. however there seems to be a line of a kind of Eden associated with the cabin stretching back to early American history with the Homesteading Act, Thoreau and Emerson at the beginning and Edward Abbey and Ted Kaczynski at the end. Each instance is a type of exercise in existential freedom and self-exile. The flip side to the Kaczynski scenario could perhaps be the case of the Lykov family in Russia. They escaped persecution for their religious beliefs by hiding in the far eastern portion of Syberia, living virtually isolated for more than four decades until Soviet scientists rediscovered them when they flew overhead in a helicopter sometime in the 1970s.  Agafia, the last remaining Lykov, is still living in the same hut, living off the land, and practicing religion as her ancestors have always done.

Bringers of the New Dawn, 2017. Oil on burned wood panel with charcoal and ashes. 50 x 33

OPP: You’ve described American history and culture as “a history of space and stuff (objects, property, etc) which contains its absolute inverse, the unspoken history of lack and loss (spirituality, individual rights, etc). This opposition is itself driven by the strictly American concept of power, and the myth of growth at the expense of everything else.” This statement resonates with me so strongly right now in the third month of the Trump Administration. Has this current political moment spawned any new directions in your work?

TP: I have to say yes. While I wasn’t a close follower of the presidential campaign because deep inside I knew that Bernie did not stand a chance of winning, I was nonetheless keenly aware of the situation. Trump represented everything that is currently wrong with Western culture: vulgarity, baseness, an absorbing self-interest bordering on pathology and above all an insatiable drive toward power that means nothing beyond itself. The Ego’s desire to announce itself endlessly plays itself out in the figure of Trump first as a real estate mogul, then as a celebrity and finally as president of the United States. But this desire for endless adoration and validation creates an abyss in its wake. What this abyss is, is currently unclear.  I tend to personalize a lot of my work so that the abysses that I paint now are directly related to personal loss. It is then a bit easier to point outward, toward our culture and say, this is our collective loss that we try to cover over with a seemingly endless supply of stuff and entertainment so that we may not deal with our own responsibility and grief. As a result, my work has become much darker and brooding. I’ve eliminated all color and left only black and white. The paintings I make now are sooty black from the ash and charcoal I use to smear over the burned surface. Sometimes I think they should be uglier, but the small amount of optimism I still have keeps the images rather beautiful to look at. I make no reference to cabins, except for the fact that I paint on wood and leave some of it exposed. I think that this move leaves the cabin symbolically in place. The latest turn back toward painting is a direction I started to call the American Gothic, after the famous painting by Grant Wood.  Wood’s painting is an enigmatic piece. The only reason that it’s called American Gothic is because of the Neo-Gothic window at the top of the house. Everything else about the painting, including the architecture of the house and style of clothing, is rural American. The painting is for that reason not about the couple in the foreground, but entirely about the house in the back. I find this kind of ambiguity fascinating because it seems to me to be the opposite of today’s climate in which everything has to be spelled out.

To see more of Tom's work, please visit tompazderka.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. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Stacia just completed Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago), which could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kevin Blake

Quaint Anticipation Of A Famous Phrase, 2017. Oil on Paper. 53" x 65."

KEVIN BLAKE’s chaotic surfaces contain abstract marks, figures, graphic line drawings and worked, textured accumulations of paint that might have been applied with a palette knife. Ultimately this multiplicity of rendering styles serves to underline the intertextuality of American cultural myths inherited from print, television and film. After earning a BFA in Painting and Drawing (2004) and an MA in Art Education (2011) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Kevin went on to earn his MFA in Visual Arts (2014) from The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. What the Cool Pigeon Knows (2017), his first solo exhibition, is currently on view at Riverside Art Center's Flex Space until April 15th. Another solo, Post Celestial Intemperance, will open at The University of Indiana Northwest in Gary, Indiana in November 2017. Kevin is a contributing writer at Bad at Sports and New City. He lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you use incomplete images—or voids—and spatial confusion of foreground and background in your work? I see it most in A Pretty Thing of Pure Diversion, but it certainly shows up elsewhere.

Kevin Blake: I remember seeing an engraving by William Hogarth called Satire On False Perspective, which changed the way I make images. With such simple visual devices, Hogarth is able to create a novel connection with the viewer by creating what would later be classified as an “impossible object”—an idea thoroughly explored by the surrealists, Marcel Duchamp, M.C. Escher and many others. When the viewer finds these perspectival errors, impossibilities, or nuances that defy the reality of the image, the idea becomes clearer. The author becomes present in that moment. Suddenly, everything becomes possible in the space, and the clue which sent you back into the image to review it as an object infused with an idea (rather than a picture about ideas), begins to betray its secrets.

Eventually, the image unfolds completely to reveal a dialogue that you've been engaged with in your own mind. When I found Hogarth’s etching, I could see myself following the sign posts in the image, just the way they are aesthetically set up to do. I could see myself standing back and watching it all happen. I remember this being the first image that somehow took me outside of myself to reveal myself, and it was done through language. Through visual pun. Through cuing a historical visual cannon that makes the definitions for things like the “impossible object,” possible. This image by Hogarth encouraged me to try to understand what it means to communicate with the audience by somehow occupying multiple roles in the making of the image. Storyteller. Painter. Writer. Viewer. Diplomat. Poet. Dreamer. The roles are infinite. The perspectives are infinite. The paintings are an attempt to communicate and highlight the co-presence of history through these various lenses.

Twig of The Hider That Tanned Him, 2016. Oil on Paper. 60" x 84."

OPP: And how does your combination of abstract, gestural marks with figurative representation feed into this multiplicity of perspectives?

KB: I think I’ve gone some distance in explaining the conceptual approach to the kind of fragmentation you suggest is happening in the paint itself, but I think it follows that the aesthetic is born in this mosh pit of ideas. And the paintings certainly are a mosh pit. A garbage heap. A junk closet. Paint slams against drawing. It obliterates the ground it rests on. And within its bounds, ideas rest, waiting for a viewer to bring them to life in their minds. Fragmented space, voids, and confusing perspectives not only support my conceptual framework, but also create and represent a break in the continuity of thought. My work is impulsive. It is reductive. It attempts to capture the viewer at a colloquial baseline in its imagery, and from there, the onion can be delayered—crying eyes and all.

The Desperado Concept, 2014. Mixed Media on Paper. 10" x 10."

OPP: What role does text and textuality play in your work?

KB: Language is the foundation of my work. Well, it’s the foundation of everyone’s work, of course, but I happen to make my bed in it. Whether the text remains simply as a title or it shows up on the canvas, it remains integral to the delivery of the message. Even if the viewer is not taken by the image, the text can make them look again. It is the ego that guarantees the double-take. The mind wants to figure “it” out. I see text as an opportunity to assure re-entry into the visual space. It both guides and deceives. This pause that text creates is very similar to the effect of the strategies I use to deploy paint. The words push the visual elements into different potentialities. They represent by both historical protocol and personal motivation; they are both designative and denotative,  representative and connotative. They take us outside of ourselves and back into ourselves. To me, text is a tool and an inseparable working component of my output.

Every Time He Wakes Up, There's Another Mouth to Feed, 2014. Mixed Media on Canvas. 96" x 78."

OPP: That leads me to think about the references to 1980s media texts—E.T., Iron Eagle, Rambo, He-Man and She-Ra—in Salvaged Mirages. Can you talk about this exploration of TV and movies as mirages?

KB: I named that series Salvaged Mirages for many reasons, but my favorite is that it is somehow hard to say mirages. Or it feels like that word should be singular only. Does a mirage so totally envelop immediate experience that only one mirage can exist at a time? Again, this simple device creates a break in the continuity of my thought, just as a mirage of an oasis might disrupt the mind of a thirsty traveler in the desert. Clever metaphors arise when you attempt to think about what your own thoughts may have been just a couple years after making a body of work.

Salvaged Mirages, from 2014, feels both foreign and necessarily my own. As a kid, I never thought about the ideas inherent in the things I consumed—visually or otherwise. No kid thinks about the implications of seeing Rambo obliterate an army, or how Night Rider sculpts the idea of the modern male hero, or how Married. . . With Children instilled the normalcy of disfunction in the familial unit. Though when you look in the mirror as an adult and want to know how this could be what you are seeing, you retrace your steps. All systems teach you to look behind you to understand what’s in front of you, and the inclination to mine that decade’s cultural residue, comes from the never-ending endeavor of trying to know oneself.

Defender of the Flag, 2013. Mixed Media on Panel. 48" x 48"

OPP: Have you gained any specific insights into how these media texts have affected you as an adult?

KB: I wonder if watching MacGyver religiously might have shaped the way that my paintings are made. MacGyver was a bricoleur—using whatever he had at his disposal to solve a problem. No object was without value. All things had multiplicity. Every object carried with it the ability to defy its quotidian value. So the mirage is something you think you see but, upon closer inspection, turns out to not be what you thought it was. However, what is salvaged from the mirage, I think, is whatever happens during the investigation of it. The mirage dissolves, but the picture becomes clear.

He Was On Like A Leech And Off Like A Dart, 2016. Oil on Paper. 18" x 24."

OPP: In The Fisherman’s Fables, I see representations of different kinds of “working”—from domestic and manual laborers to military officers, white-collar workers and pin-up girls—which seem to relate to the myth of the American Dream. How do these visual references to the 1940s, 50s and 60s operate in this work made in 2016-17? What’s the moral lesson in these fables?

KB: This newest series is a direct result of pursuing this trajectory—of tracking down threads of ideology and looking for the absolute edges of things. In casting such a wide net, I was forced to confront the spectrum of affects created by print. For centuries, print media was the intellectual marketplace in which all ideas were peddled and consumed. Its affects are responsible for the values that have, since its inception, become the chorus line of the archetypes I hone in on in my paintings. The home-grown country boy is one of these remote-controlled heroes. I collage him into time the way he feels collaged into my time—into my world of understanding, knowledge, and exploration. He exists as a kernel of the pastiche of the American Dream—just as his polarity rounds out the idea at the other end of the spectrum.

I am interested in these now smoldering images that remain the well from which print-based ideas continue to infiltrate an evolving digital world within the human psyche. The internet has transformed human records. We can now see the stuff in the cracks of our history, the deep fissures that for so long were left unchallenged and unexplored. We can see the thread of our past, like Ariadne following her way out of the labyrinth. Over here and over there, a different vision of the same idea is delivered in high definition and with all the confidence that a culturally sanctioned notion can offer. And every new day brings another perspective that evolves with the everyday task of being alive. The getting older. The work. The stress. The love. The everything. I try to let it all in, and let it all out. Inhaling and exhaling. When I step back from the work, the connected trees of association make their way back to each other, both in the individual paintings and on a macro scale when they hang together. This happens conceptually and aesthetically. At multiple levels. With multiple meanings. I craft them this way. I recognize these places I get to in the mind, in the imagination, and I am reminded once again, that we are living in the co-presence of our history. It doesn’t exist in the books. It cannot be contained by the words. It is scrambled. Always scrambled. And you must go into the imagination, into the mind, into that place with nutpick and toothbrush and work away at it. You have to try to unscramble the letters. That’s what these paintings do. They attempt to brush away a little dust by bringing other times and places into the forefront as a way of trying to understand how that imagery operates in the here and now. In my psyche, as well as the viewer’s.

Old Fruit Ripening Behind Famine Built Walls, 2016. Oil on Paper. 26" x 23."

OPP: I see a menacing, looming threat in a lot of the works, especially those in Last Gas Lamp on the Wagon Road (2013), where white men in dress shirts, military uniforms and cowboy gear wield guns. I see this as a representation of toxic masculinity. Does this relate to "the stuff in the cracks of our history, the deep fissures that for so long were left unchallenged and unexplored?"

KB: Last Gas Lamp on The Wagon Road was initially called Systems of Attrition For An American Patriarch. Your intuition serves you well. However, I don't think toxic masculinity is a social disease that I would qualify as a phenomena that has fallen into the cracks of our history. This idea has been, and continues to be, an intolerable symptom that people are more or less aware exists and rage against. That is not to say it isn't a clear and present danger to an evolving world. I do think a patriarchal society is one of many reasons that we have gaps in our history in the first place. We exist within a perpetually evolving tale that has been doggedly edited and refined. As human beings are born into this story, it is the circumstances of the present condition that shape the character. This reminds me of a Bruce Lee quote where he says something about pouring water into different containers. His point is that the water takes the shape of the container, as human beings take the shape of their surroundings. While I am interested in this idea and how patriarchy has shaped the world we live in, the thrust of my intention concerns complexity, in and of itself. I dive into this ocean knowing I’m not aiming for another coast. My intention is to stay at sea, floating in the collective debris of humanity. This doesn’t mean that I don't want to talk about about the issues inherent in the images I make, it means that I am presenting information in a way that is supposed to be about trying to parse culture. In this way, I try not to tie my hands to ideas. It is the mechanism that brings ideas into reality that I attempt to undermine, distort and project anew.

Breakneck Servility For The Relics of Our Time, 2016. Oil on Paper. 30" x 30."

OPP: You have a show up right now at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, IL) called What The Cool Pigeon Knows. Tell us about the work in the show. What is the underlying current drawing together works in the show?

KB: What The Cool Pigeon Knows, is an extension of the thesis I suggest in The Fisherman’s Fables—all of the paintings are a part of this series. Though, the work for this show was selected specifically for the Riverside Art Center. I’ve been going to shows there for the last couple of years, and I’ve noticed that a majority of the artists I meet there are women. So, I selected work that represented my investigations into female archetypes or their polarities, knowing that it would say more about me than it does about women. I began by thinking about the idea of the reporter which morphed into the informant or stool pigeon. I felt like I was putting my biases, conflicting ideas and ineptitudes on display—both conceptually and aesthetically. I felt like I was snitching on myself for the flaws inherent in the ideas present in the images. I felt like the images were telling myself why I think the way I think. There is a stool in the show with a box full of cut-up paintings sitting atop it, prompting show goers to take a sliver of failure with them. This is the trash heap of ideas from which these paintings are a natural extension. It is the pile of fleeting ideas that form the nexus of my conceptual framework. It is the elephant in the room. It is the stool pigeon.

To see more of Kevin's work, please visit kevinblakeart.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) 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. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Stacia just completed Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago), which could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse.

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.