OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ellen Greene

Something Hiding in There, 2016. Oil on canvas. 30" x 32"

ELLEN GREENE's hand-painted, white gloves and tattoo tearsheets augment the visual vocabulary of vintage tattoos—which often objectify the female body—with empowering, female-centric imagery. Her hybrid creatures, like the many breasted jaguar-mermaid and the tiger-headed lady with a gaping, heart-shaped vagina, confront and complicate the objectified female body with new symbols of what it's like to have a female body. She has recently returned to her first love—oil painting—to explore the expectations surrounding the myth of the Ideal Mother. Ellen earned her BFA in Painting at Kansas City Art Institute in 1998. In 2016, her work was included in the group show Spiritual Garb—Collars at Aron Packer Projects (Evanston, IL). Her solo show Murder Ballads was first shown at the former Packer Schopf Gallery (Chicago) in 2014 and then traveled to Lindenwood University in Saint Louis in 2015. Other solo shows include Invisible Mother’s Milk (2012) at Packer Schopf and Ballad of the Tattooed Lady (2011) at Firecat Projects, both in Chicago. Her gloves have been featured in Bust magazine, Skin Deep tattoo magazine, Raw Vision magazine and online features at Mother-Musing, Lost at E Minor and the Jealous Curator. Ellen lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The aesthetics of vintage tattoos dominated your work from 2011-2013. What first drew you to tattoos?

Ellen Greene: Yes, tattoo imagery really began to dominate my psyche and my body much earlier than when it showed up in my work. It all began in the late 90s. I began to get tattooed in art school as a means of self expression and rebellion. I was determined not be just some girl. I wanted to be THAT girl—the one with the tattoos. There were several women in Kansas City who were heavily tattooed at that time, but it was still a rare thing to see. Tattoo parlors then were still part of underground culture. This was before reality TV shows and any sort of mainstream acceptance of tattoos. It was a real act of bravery to walk into a parlor let alone get tattooed especially as a woman.

Light Bringer, 2016. Acrylic on vintage collar, wood and steel frame.

OPP: What other aesthetic influences do you connect with the tattoos?

EG: I loved early Northern Renaissance painting and the way that symbolic imagery was used to tell biblical stories without words. The themes in the paintings covered everything from redemption, love, victory and grace to the depths of evil, pain, loss and suffering. When I looked on the walls of the tattoo parlor, I saw all these little drawings—glyphs—that covered a similar range of meaning and emotion. It’s a visual language rife with subconscious meaning. When you see a snake, a pretty pin-up, a rose, a heart a dagger you intuitively know the emotional equivalence to those images.

Girls Girls Girls, 2015. Painted gloves.

OPP: How did you merge your own content with existing designs?

EG: Beyond being just an Western Christian visual vocabulary, traditional American tattoo revolves around a vocabulary of the sailor/hero. I was interested in Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey. I was fascinated by the hero, who it is and how he/she functions in society. In looking at my own hero’s journey, I realized that there was little imagery in our Western culture for women to take as their own. Sailors and biker outlaws had ways to mark their victories in their skin but when a woman put those images in her skin she was not a hero; she was a whore.

So I took the sailor tattoos and refocused them as female-centered. For example, I turned the pin-up into a she-beast with a multiple breasts all leaking milk in order to shift the narrative away from the male gaze to an embodiment of the mysteries of female life-giving powers. Giving birth to my two daughters was one of the most gnarly and exhilarating experiences of my life. I had to create images that reflected my personal journey.

Little Omie Little Omie, 2014. Acrylic on gloves. Approx 15"x 23"

OPP: Did you do a lot of research?

EG: I just drew and looked at and drew tattoo images until I could draw in that American tattoo style with my eyes closed. I wanted to have the technical skills of a skilled tattoo artist to really upend the vocabulary. It mattered to me that my friends who were tattoo artists really respected my work. I wanted to reframe the symbols while at the same time respecting the art form.

OPP: Why are tattoos conceptually ideal for exploring stories about and societal expectations placed on women?

EG: In many indigenous, non-Western cultures, women were the main wearers of tattoos, but they were symbols of status not rebellion. In Western culture tattoos are just understood as masculine. It was only recently that women began wearing them. But even today, a woman who is heavily tattooed is viewed as sexually deviant or rebellious by more conservative peers. A man is assumed to have his masculinity enhanced and to have “earned” his tattoos.

I put the tattoo imagery on white gloves initially as a fluke experiment. I just though of a glove as another white canvas to work on. But because the glove is such a symbol of pure, white femininity, the tattoo combined with the glove really had an interesting effect. It became an object that is somewhere between masculine and feminine. It felt like an accurate reflection of who I am and of my experience in my own body. Something unconventional.

Snake Girls, 2011. Acrylic on paper. Approx 11"x14"

OPP: Have you ever designed actual tattoos? Does anyone wear your drawings on their body?

EG: So. I am going to take you to task about the word actual. I am not a tattoo artist, but the designs I make are just as actual as any design hanging on the wall of the tattoo parlor. They have the same potential to be worn as any other tattoo design. But I get what you mean. :)

I have a tattoo of my own design on my body and, yes, several people have tattoos of mine. It’s incredibly cool to see people take these designs that I am using as this theoretical and make them “real” on their body. Maybe thats what you were getting at.

OPP: Point taken. I meant, have you drawn imagery with the intention that it was for skin instead of fabric? I’m curious about the possible difference between drawing for a shaped and moving canvas—the body—as opposed to a static, flat one.

EG: I appreciate your being generous with me on that. Yes, I think that there is a freedom in that I don’t need to consider the body in my designs. So you are right, there is something different about designing on a flat object versus a curved form. But because my designs are based on already existing formulas- i.e. traditional tattoo-they follow certain rules that look inherently look good or function well on a human body. Its why I am so drawn to this particular style of tattoo. There are a lot of trends in tattoo. I’ve been around long enough to see them come and go, but the traditional looks classic, it always will “read” properly. They transcend a certain time or trend, and that is the core component of why I use them in my work.

The Mother's Body, 2015. Painted gloves.

OPP: Tell us about the recurring visual motif of the droplet. It is alternatively a teardrop and a drop of breast milk.

EG: Yes, again, I was/am fascinated by early Renaissance paintings. There is a very famous painting by Dieric Bouts called Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowing Virgin). The way he painted those tears—holy cow! It just blew me away. They are so real looking. His painting skill with those tears allows the viewer to empathize with her suffering. I wanted to be able to use something so small and make it have an impact.

So in the context of my personal symbology the teardrop stands for: tears, milk and blood. These are the fluids of life. In my experience of being a new mother, I remember being so overwhelmed by the degree to which all of these fluids were coming out of me. It was comic and tragic but also amazing.

So I use the teardrop to remember that life-giving power of a woman’s body. Also within our consumer culture “wetness” is somehow related to something shameful. Different products (deodorants, pads, etc.) are always being marketed to us as a solution to “wetness.” These products can only be marketed to us if we buy into the shame of our natural bodies. So to give female bodies constant droplets is part of our heroic symbology. I own all that messy stuff and try to elevate it.

Painted Lady, 2017. Oil on board. 16"x 20"

OPP: You’ve recently shifted away from painting and embroidering on clothing and accessories. Past, Present and Future (2017) seems to be the bridge between the paintings on gloves and the new oil paintings on canvas. What led you to embrace the convention of the canvas?

EG: I began in art school as a painter, but when I had children it was increasingly difficult to have a home studio and oil paint around. I shifted to the gloves and acrylic and mixed media so that I could be efficient and less toxic. During the time that I wasn’t painting, I missed it so much. I dreamt about it; it felt like an essential part of me I wasn’t using.

What led me back to painting was a personal tragedy. In the simplest terms I had a massive emotional and mental breakdown the spring of 2015. My life and family was falling apart, and I was deteriorating mentally and physically to a point where I needed help. Without being too esoteric or spiritually “out there,” it was nothing short of divine intervention that started the healing process for me. So as I have gained a new life perspective I had to finally give myself permission to do my paintings again. And now that I am painting, I feel so healthy and whole. It’s really a testament to the old saying “its never to late to begin again.”

Mom, 2017. Oil on board. 18" x 24"

OPP: The thread of the painted body and motherhood connect these new oil paintings to the older work. How are the painted bodies in Mom and Painted Lady, both 2017, different from and similar to the “tattooed” gloves?

EG: So before I had formulated this elaborate tattoo vocabulary, I painted figuratively and mostly self portraits. When I started painting again, I began where I left off. It had been some 16 years since I had last oil painted. I found that I was not really who I was when I last lifted that brush. It was both exciting and terrifying to get in touch with myself and with the canvas as a creative space.

Mom and Painted Lady are part of a larger body of work still in progress. It’s a slow process, but I am working on weaving together the old imagery with the self portraits in a way that makes a conceptual continuous arc. The older work was more theoretical and based on these glyphs that were trying to gain a new meaning. They were autobiographical but also removed enough that I did not really have to identify too closely. But now, I’m painting my face and my daughters’ faces. It’s us unfiltered—well, filtered through my brain :)

With what I have been through, I am no longer afraid to be direct in expressing and owning my own experience. So with these new paintings I am searching for a kind of truth about myself and my life journey. Very similar in the way the tattoo imagery looked to upend the conventions of the form and to create a new dialog about power symbols, this on-going series of paintings looks to tear apart conventional forms of the ideal mother.

To see more of Ellen's work, please visit artbyellengreene.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Deborah Zlotsky

Cottleston pie, 2017. Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 36 inches.

DEBORAH ZLOTSKY's paintings and drawings emerge from a process that embraces accidents, coincidences and contingencies. Whether she's working in powdered graphite, chalk or oil, her abstract, interconnected compositions explore "the necessity of change and the beauty and complexity of living." Deborah earned her BA in History of Art from Yale University (1985) and her MFA in Painting and Drawing from University of Connecticut (1989). In 2012, she won the NYFA Artists’ Fellowship in Painting. She has received residency fellowships at Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, the Saltonstall Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. In 2017, she opened two solo shows at galleries that represent her work: Fata Morgana at Robischon Gallery (Denver) and BTW, at Kathryn Markel (New York). Deborah’s most recent work was an outdoor, interactive work for Out of Site: Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood. Deborah lives in Delmar, New York and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does contingency play in your process?

Deborah Zlotsky: Contingencies and accidents fuel my process. I like to joke that my mother told me at an early age that I was unplanned, and that notion of accident probably permeated my thinking about being in the world starting in childhood. Certainly I never thought of being an accident as something negative—it was not presented that way, and the idea of hidden confluences of forces at work seemed important and revelatory.

As an undergrad studying art history, I loved the research part of scholarship, trying to gather and document all the forces at play to explain a particular decision or situation or mindset. But now I’m much more interested in harnessing or experiencing the variety of rules and responses that activate a process than explaining or describing,

After I research how to begin a painting, I’m buoyed by the thought that I’ve done my homework and feel equipped to start. However, I never know enough or am prescient enough to know how to proceed once I’ve started. Constantly assessing what in the painting is offering a way forward via a stray mark or an unanticipated proximity opens up possibilities and guides the way I value relationships and construct the painting. My reliance on contingencies and coincidences is hugely consoling. I need to work within a process that is, in a way, magnanimous. If I stick with the work long enough, not only am I not penalized for the fuck-up, but I’m actually indebted to the fuck-up.

Plan B, 2016. Oil on canvas. 60 inches x 48 inches.

OPP: A phrase that keeps popping into my head as I scroll through all your work is “abstract systems.” In some cases these systems seem bodily, as in the graphite drawings. In other works, non-uniform, angular blocks appear to grow out of one another, as in The inundation (2014). In paintings like The encyclopedia of obviously (2015), these angular blocks become more fluid and interlaced, evoking networks of air ducts. Does this resonate with you?

DZ: If you go back even further, my first serious paintings were figurative,  exploring the body as an intricate structure with complicated interconnections of form and movement and interval. I was interested in the poignancy of what the body could do, the weight and gravity of fleshiness,  and the complexity of color on and under the skin. Then, for a long period, I worked on a series of dark, invented still lifes, in which all the interconnected forms were cobbled together from disparate 17th, 18th, and 19th century painting sources. Combining still life and figurative imagery from diverse sources  and recontextualizing them somewhat surreally in one space created a new construction that straddled the past and present.  Even though I used a realist vocabulary in these earlier figurative and still life works, I treated the structures as abstract Rube Goldbergian configurations within the pictorial space.

Katchumpination, 2010. powdered graphite on mylar. 60 inches x 48 inches

OPP: Your on-going series of drawings with powdered graphite on mylar that you began in 2005 has such a different surface and line quality than the paintings. The forms are distinctly more organic and the edges are soft, almost blurred. They seem like bodies of creatures I’ve never imagined. Do you think of these as bodies?

DZ: In the drawing series, LifeLike, I manipulate powdered graphite on sheets of mylar through a particular Ouija board-ish  process. I like to say I draw what I imagine I see, as the velvety graphite is spread, painted, blown, erased, wiped and smudged on the surface. At the risk of sounding ponderous, when I’m responding to the graphite smears, I feel like I’m searching for signs of life. I don’t look at anything but the graphite, and I fabricate form and light from a muscle memory that comes from years of teaching observational drawing.

Munter, 2012.powdered graphite on mylar. 48 inches x 40 inches

OPP: Are the titles nonsense words?

DZ: Each drawing is named through soldering together fragments of sounds and grammatical parts to construct a whole, much like my drawing process. While the resulting descriptive drawings are fictitious forms developed from collaged, invented parts, I feel the concreteness of the illusion I conjure up blurs boundaries between documenting nature and inventing nature. The uncertainty between what is credible connects to what is identified as natural at a time when so much is researched and implemented to distort/exploit/mimic/redirect nature. I continue to make drawings through this process as it’s always thrilling to see what it yields, especially because the botanical/biological forms in the best ones acquire some of the irregularities, complexities and beauty of the natural world.

Pillow talk, 2017. Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 36 inches.

OPP: Your most recent paintings tackle the interplay of flatness and volume. Can you talk about the “process of accumulation, rupture and shift” in these new works?

DZ: In a general human way, my neural gravitational compass seems calibrated to discover the purposefulness and connectivity in things that initially appear disconnected and not quite operational. Finding that connective tissue launches a long and unpredictable process. For years, I thought of my role as a constructor, constructing relationships that perhaps weren’t that self-evident at the start. Now I see myself more as a repairer, patching up relationships that need a little TLC and introducing relationships to create a more nuanced infrastructure. That probably sounds overly anthropomorphic. It’s also rather biographical—my mother went to art school and my dad was an orthopedic surgeon. I always thought of my dad’s rarefied actions repairing bones, ligaments and tendons as super-smart and helpful, but grim and bloody, something alien to my squeamish, illusion-based, two-dimensional activities. However, the older I get, I seek remediation, creating flow and access by cementing together necessary relationships. Perhaps this is something I’ve inherited from my lovely dad.

Peccadillo  2017  Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 60 inches

OPP: “The paintings materialize out of a friction between intention and coincidence, much like the daily processing and deciphering required to be in the world.” This is such a precise description of the process that drives the work. How does this investment in process gel with the finished piece as a discrete, complete object?

DZ: There is a moment when the process and product become enlivened together—enough of one and enough of the other to work together. A painting is also painting: both the noun and the verb, which allows for a certain simultaneity of being in the process and deciding that the process has reached a moment of synthesis.

My paintings are about figuring out relationships as much as they are about the relationships themselves: a process of continual revision, revealing the history and poignancy of the making/experiencing/seeing/sensing. Anoka Faruqee said that “a painting is finished when it asserts a presence that I can only describe as the right balance of discipline and unruliness, when its structure unravels in the act of looking.” Her definition connects to what I’m aiming for when I make the decision to let go of the painting and release it to others to look at and fill in the blanks.

To see more of Deborah's work, please visit deborahzlotsky.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennie Ottinger

It's Just For Fun, 2017. Oil on panel.

JENNIE OTTINGER's paintings explore power dynamics, hive mind and social belonging. Uniforms—both official and casual—indicate group belonging, while the faces of her figures point to the complex emotional experience that belonging entails. Their expressions range from stunned to disgusted, pleased to anxious, dumbly triumphant to horrified and grotesque. After earning a BA (1994) at University of the Pacific and a BFA (2000) at California College of the Arts, Jennie went on to earn her MFA at Mills College in 2008. Recent solo exhibitions include Spoilers (2016) at Conduit Gallery (Dallas, Texas) and Letters to the Predator (2015) at Johansson Projects (Oakland, California). Rabble Rousers (2017), a two-person show with Megan Reed, closed recently at Johansson Projects. Jennie is a 2017-18 Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts, which will host an Open House on October 15, 2017 (12-5). She lives and works in San Francisco, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What are the major themes in your paintings of cheerleaders, clubs and secret societies?

Jennie Ottinger: I’m interested in that complexity and ambiguity of power dynamics. Each of us expresses power in the ways available to us and I try to depict some of these in my paintings. I’m also interested in the role clubs and organizations play in our society. We develop rituals and indicators to signify belonging. Where do we each belong and what is expected of us?

Whoooo!, 2017. Oil on canvas

OPP: The faces are all pretty equally grotesque. At some moments, these figures and the power dynamics they seem to stand for, are horrifying and I feel Schadenfreude at their suffering. Then, a second later, I feel pity and sadness for those cheerleaders and bros in neckties cause they are so desperate and trying so hard. Tell us why you paint the faces the way you do.

JO: I’m glad you experience that fluidity of reaction to the subjects. I love the variety of human faces and even though the ones I paint all look the same in a lot of ways, it demonstrates how with the slightest differences, people look different and expressions change. And when there is so much similar, you do notice the small differences between individuals. I guess it addresses that intersection of individuals and groups which is always on my mind.

I use uniforms (both formal—cheerleaders and causal—preppy) as short hand to signal a certain type. I like to play with the baggage that those preconceptions bring to the story. Preppy boys mean different things to different people, and it might be very different than how you feel about that one preppy boy you know personally. It’s like that “some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” phenomenon.  We can separate how we feel about a whole group from how we feel about one member of that group.

Are You Buying What We're Selling?, 2013.

OPP: Are you laughing at or empathizing with the figures you paint?

JO: Maybe a little of both. I use humor as a way to talk about issues I’m interested in. I present them as if I’m laughing at them but try to leave hints that I take their situation seriously. This ambiguity again is why I’m so interested in cheerleaders and sororities. Both are considered frivolous in certain circles. But though there is a case that they are outdated, they both relied on the relative feminists of their times.

On the one hand cheerleaders traditionally exists for the benefit of men—to help the men succeed in their endeavor—but cheerleaders have evolved to be mostly women and girls because at one time, only men and boys could participate in sports. Before Title IX, there wasn’t much girls could do in the way of extracurricular sports, so they flocked to cheerleading. It has further evolved into something that stands on its own. Cheerleaders are amazing and tough athletes who are not valued as much as they should be in the culture—or would be if they were men, I suspect. In fact, pop culture narrows them down to a few different types creating an almost virgin/whore dichotomy of the mean girl or the wholesome over-achiever.

Full disclosure, I tried out for my freshman cheerleading team but didn’t make it. I think you should know that. I was, however, in a sorority and although I do totally understand the criticisms of sororities, women started them because they weren’t allowed into the secret organizations that men were members of. After three years as a member, I still don’t understand exactly why they exist, but if fraternities exist, it seems feminist to start a club for women. And, for what it’s worth, I loved my time there.

Trustfall Among Taxidermy, 2015.

OPP: Many of your recent paintings refer to fictional stories, both novels and movies. What's your relationship to stories in general?

JO: I love books and almost always read fiction. A while ago I started to panic because there were so many books I wanted to read, but I felt like I would never get to them. So I started Read the Classics, a series where I painted new covers for books that were considered classics or modern classics and wrote summaries so that if you didn’t have the time or attention span for say Moby Dick, you could just read my summaries. They won’t get you through even a middle school class but they will get you through a cocktail party conversation. Which also ties into the themes of being in the club or not.

I learned a lot from this project (which is ongoing as I still do commissions of these). As you can guess, whenever you look at the western cannon of anything, it is obvious how white it is and to a lesser degree how male dominated the list is. It led me to seek out classics by women and people of color, and I read several amazing books I wouldn’t have gotten to. It also made me notice the way women were portrayed and their ultimate fates in the novels by men over the centuries.

Spoiler: He’s Already Married (Scene from Jane Eyre), 2016. Oil on panel. 16 × 20 in.

OPP: What about the Spoiler paintings? I love the reframing of the classics through the lens of contemporary television.

JO: I was looking to see if I could notice any patterns in the plots of classic novels and one thing that stood out was that many of them end either happily with a wedding or tragically with the female protagonist dying in torment. I made the Spoiler paintings as a way to take the summaries to the next level and just telling the viewer how the book ends. I also always think it’s funny when you get a book and the cover is so vague and has nothing to do with the actual story, but then the jacket summary gives the whole plot away.

There Must Be a Clover in the Atmosphere (Scene from Bring It On), 2016. Oil on panel. 18 × 14 in

OPP: What do texts like Bring it On have in common with Jane Austen, Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre?

JO: I love Bring It On because it is dealing with serious issues in the guise of a silly cheerleading movie. It doesn’t try too hard to broadcast that it is dealing with profound social issues like cultural appropriation, race and feminism. Jane Austen is similar in the way that she is interested in class and feminism but conceals these issues in a pretty, pleasant, intimate story. It’s interesting to me when something seems frivolous, but you discover it’s actually profound instead of just assuming something’s profound because that’s the way it’s presented.

I also see Bring It On as one of the very few films that presents cheerleaders as actual human beings. Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre, as different as they are from Bring It On's Torrance and from each other, were all treated a certain way because of who people thought they were from surface judgements. As I was saying in the earlier answer, I like to use stereotypes to challenge the viewer to reassess what biases come up for them. It might be easier to admit to ourselves that we're a little dismissive of cheerleaders than it is to admit we might also be a little dismissive of a marginalized group in society.

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

JO: I’m still working on cheerleading and sororities. I’m planning on sewing some cheerleader uniforms and want to include a performative element mainly so people will have to let me do their hair and makeup.

To see more of Jennie's work, please visit jennieottinger.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 solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Julio Cesar Rodarte

Be Still My Soul, 2013. Acrylic on Shaped Panel. 22.5 x 24 inches.

Both figurative and abstract threads run throughout JULIO RODARTE's colorful paintings and illustrations. In work that celebrates sex and pleasure, he counters prudish taboos by rendering the body in geometric abstraction. Other works explore balance, symmetry and the interconnectedness of natural systems through pure, geometrical pattern. Julio earned his Associate Fine Arts degree at Glendale Community College in 2007. He has had solo exhibitions at A.E. England Gallery, Practical Art and the defunct One Voice Community Center, all in Phoenix. Two paintings will be included in Present Tense, a group show that opens on September 1, 2017 at MonOrchid Gallery (Phoenix, Arizona). You can purchase prints of his work here. Julio lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona.

OtherPeoplesPixels: First let’s talk about the queer, sex positive works like Friends Forever (2015) and Sit On It (2014). There’s a lightness, fun and joy in these paintings. Can you talk about how the bodies seem to merge into one another through your use of geometric patterns?

Julio Rodarte: The idea behind this series was to express that sex is not something dirty and perverse. It should be talked about it, rather than kept quiet. I remember when I was taking art classes and going to the museums and looking at these beautiful paintings of couples kissing. Sometimes they were naked, but there were no paintings of sexual intercourse because obviously sex is still a taboo. So, in my life drawing classes I would draw the human body by using shapes. That helped me draw better. By using geometric patterns, shapes and color I made something “dirty” look fun. I want the viewer to engage with my artwork, to take a deep view of what is in front of them. Sometimes people don’t quite get it first until they analyze it deeper and that’s when I know I have succeeded. Friends Forever was quiet a challenge, sometimes colors and shapes don’t get along with others and I go back and change things. The funny part of these works is when people ask me, if I get an erection by working on these type of paintings. I just think to myself “If you only knew all the work I put on it” and laugh. People are funny!

You Really Are My Ecstasy, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 60 x 80 inches.

OPP: Symmetry plays an important role in many of your paintings. What are your visual influences in works like Encounter (2011), Be Still My Soul (2013), Invasion (2013), The Pyramid of Love (2015) and Anahera (2017)?

JR: Symmetry is balance and balance is harmony for me. My first experience with symmetry was when I was a kid. My mom would make these beautiful cross-stitched designs for tablecloths or handkerchiefs, mostly flowers. She was so meticulous about her work, she would make in one corner one design and then another. Her work was extremely symmetrical and very addictive. She would use vibrant colors, red, blues, greens, yellow. My mom was my first art teacher, now that I think about it. She taught me beauty and balance. So in college, you explore painting and get to go to museums. I went to the Phoenix Art Museum and there was an Al Held painting on the wall. This painting was gorgeous, more beautiful than any realistic painting there. So when I got home that day I looked online for more of his work and I discovered other artists working in geometric abstraction like Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland and artists from Argentina working with geometrics, among many others. Every time I discovered a new artist, I fell more in love with pattern and color and that’s when it hit me that’s what I wanted to do.

ANAHERA, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 20 X 24 inches.

OPP: I can totally see that connection to embroidered tablecloths, especially in When it Ends, It Starts Again (2014). I also see pinball machines, video games and sacred geometry. I was thinking a lot about the presence of sacredness in play and in the everyday. Is this something you are interested in?

JR: I have never been a spiritual person. But I like to listen to a lot of vocal trance music, which in a way is spiritual and very uplifting. I like the progressive beats of this music, the melodic parts which combine vocals from mostly female singers. The title for the painting When It Ends, It Starts Again was actually a title by the DJ ATB from his album Contact released in 2014. My latest painting Miracle Moment was inspired by Andy Duguid's song "Miracle Moments" featuring the vocals of Leah. Parts of the lyrics are in the painting. so I guess vocal trance music is a source of inspiration for me. Some other paintings are also titled after vocal trance songs such as Higher.

TOGETHER AS ONE, 2016. Acrylic on Canvas.

OPP: Can you talk about balance in non-symmetrical works like Together as One (2016), Where Life Begins (2016) and Overenthusiastic (2016)?

JR: These paintings are so different from the rest. They don’t have symmetry but they have balance. Overenthusiastic was a really hard painting. I was adding pattern on one side but then I would do something on the other side, and it quite didn’t get along. I was going back and forth. Sometimes color helps to balance everything; sometimes it just ruins everything. I didn’t start with a sketch like I did with Together as One and Where Life Begins. Together as One I had a simple linear sketch with no color. So when I was painting it some colors were not getting along. The blue background was initially lighter and it looked awful. I went back and changed that and I decided that it was done. Where life Begins was an interesting process because it went by so fast. I knew how the outcome was going to look because I did my preparatory work. I didn’t go on an adventure like with Overenthusiastic.

OPP: Can you talk a bit about the imagery in Together as One and Where Life Begins? These aren’t entirely abstract.

JR: Together as One is a painting inspired by connectivity. The first sketch I did was very similar to the final result. It was a very spontaneous drawing on a sunny day in Phoenix by the pool. I used to go tanning by swimming pool and take my sketchbook. I would draw nonsense drawings. Some never survived, but others like this one did. I guess I tend to relate how all things in this world all connected somehow. As for Where LIfe Begins is a painting that deals with nature and how it hangs on to survive in a very busy world full of human construction. I have a geometrical-looking star that represents the sun, a cloud watering three plants that represents nature and life. An empty building that symbolizes the darkness in humans and how we destroy natural beauty with the things we make and expand.

ELECTRIFY, 2016. Acrylic on shaped panel.

OPP: When and why did you first begin painting on shaped canvases? What makes you choose the conventional rectangle for some pieces and a shaped canvas for others?

JR: My first shaped painting was This or That Way? created in 2008 after discovering Elizabeth Murray, who’s artwork deeply impacted me. She inspired me a lot to be wild and adventurous. So I went to the woodworkers store bought my self some big pieces of MDF. I drew shapes, cut them carefully, assembled and gessoed them, and started to draw. It was a very spontaneous process but very detail-oriented. In 2010, I had my first show at Practical Art. The show was titled Shapes and it included all these shaped paintings. It was quite an experience and a very successful. Overenthusiastic was the last shaped painting I did, and the reason why is because I have not bought anymore MDF and cut new shapes. But I have a sketchbook full of shaped paintings I want to do, I just need a day or two to fully do all of these. If I don’t do it at once, I just not gonna do it because it’s time consuming just to prepare the surface.

1937-PINK TRIANGLE, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas.

OPP: One of your newest works is 1937—Pink Triangle (2017), referencing the pink triangles homosexuals were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps. Why paint this right now? Do any contemporary viewers not get the reference and simply see this as abstraction?

JR: You know, I was invited to participate in a show about the LGBTQ history organized by the Phoenix Public Library back in March. The show was titled LGBTQ: Rights and Justice. Looking at what the other artists were putting together, I realized that we were omitting gays that were put in concentration camps, humiliated, raped, starved and murdered. I needed to paint that Pink Triangle that identified them from the rest. People were taking pictures of it. I think most people know what that symbol means, even young generations. But my painting was meant to be more educational than artistic. Somebody offered me money for it, but I didn’t sell it. I won’t make money from the pain of others.

To see more of Julio's work, please visit juliorodarte.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 solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ryan Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kristen Sanders

One Million and Six Hundred Thousand Years Ago, 2016. Acrylic and Oil on Canvas. 47 x 60."

KRISTEN SANDERS describes her paintings as "prehistoric science fiction." In a satured pallette of pinks and greens, she explores the origins of human existence, mark-making and self-awareness. Her work is populated by both female hominids and female AI robots, both of which call into question our contemporary understanding of what it means to be human.  Kristen earned her BFA in 2012 at the University of California Davis and her MFA in 2016 at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her work has been included in exhibitions at Present Company (Brooklyn), Pro Arts (Oakland) and Basement Gallery (Davis, California). In 2017, she collaborated with artist Devin Harclerode for Maternity Leave: Para-Natural Pregnancies at Sediment Arts in Richmond, Virginia and mounted her solo show Soft Origin at Sadie Halie Projects, an artist-run space in Minneapolis. Kristen lives and works in Minneapolis.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the recurring pink hominids that show up in paintings, ceramics and costumes. Who are they and why do you keep telling their story?

Kristen Sanders: The pink hominids are all ambiguous human ancestors (or perhaps future human descendants). They are fluid characters who fluctuate between the prehistoric and the futuristic, and sometimes they appear as green or red in addition to pink. They are nonhuman discoverers and inventors, and they allow me to explore ideas of origin, consciousness, gender and ultimately, humanness.

It all started when I became curious about the origins of image making—what kinds of images were made before cave paintings and petroglyphs? What was the first image? I imagined that the first image, unpreserved in the fossil record and therefore unknowable, must have been a line in the dirt drawn with a finger. I designated the hominid as the maker of this first mark, and I have explored and expanded upon this narrative in my work ever since.

Painters in the Grotto, 2015. Acrylic on Canvas. 48 x 64."

OPP: Your palette is distinctly pink/red and green. Why do you choose these colors for this subject matter?

KS: I want to keep the images I paint within the realm of fiction (a "prehistoric science fiction" as I like to call it) so I knew I didn't want to use any naturalistic colors. I chose pink/red and green as color compliments. The green initially came about as a mysterious, sci-fi glow, which confounds the timeframe in which my painted imaged might exist. Pink is an interesting color because it feels strangely plastic and uncanny when used to depict something in nature or something prehistoric. I am also interested in examining pink's initial connotations of the feminine and what happens as it shifts into red.

Prehistoric Posthuman, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 22 x 30."

OPP: How do you balance research and myth in your practice?

KS: Research is typically a starting point in my work. I read books and essays, watch movies, conduct google image searches and check in on current anthropological findings. I will pick out an idea as a jumping off point, whether for a single piece or a series of works, and I will then imagine scenarios or invent narratives surrounding the idea. The latter is the myth. However, sometimes myth comes first and then I use research to clarify or expand the narrative. If I consider my larger body of work over the past several years, then I can see that research and myth are continuously bouncing off one another—this is the process by which I conceptualize the images and objects I make.

The First Self Portrait, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 30 x 40."

OPP: Why is it important to challenge the patriarchal bias of Anthropology?

KS: It’s important to address the history of patriarchal bias in Anthropology because it has shaped our understanding of our evolutionary history. If biases influence how anthropologists have pieced together the lives of our ancestors, these biases can then reinforce the gender stereotypes that initially generated them, and it becomes a cycle. For example, say an anthropologist theorizes that male hominids were aggressive hunters while female hominids focused on mothering offspring. The theory then gets published, and perhaps a museum installs a diorama that illustrates this scene. The public can then conclude that the stereotype that women are nurturing and men are aggressive must be true because it has an evolutionary basis. However, the ways in which a particular hominid species might have conceptualized gender (if at all) are simply unknowable. It's important to remember that any reconstruction of the day to day lives of our ancestors is based on our own human projections.

OPP: What books should we read if we want to know more?

KS: A great book that addresses this history is called Women in Human Evolution, edited by Lori D. Hager. It's a collection of essays by women anthropologists, and one essay in particular, The Paleolithic Glass Ceiling: Women in Human Evolution by Adrienne Zihlman has been very influential for my work.

What Happens When I Turn Around and Tell You I'm Real 2, 2016. Oil on Wood Panel. 16 x 20."

OPP: What Happens When I Turn Around and Tell You I'm Real 1 and 2 (2016) hint at AI instead of our prehistoric ancestors. What’s the connection between robots and early hominids?

KS: For me the AI robot is a futuristic mirror of the hominid. One is pre-human and the other is post-human, and I merge these two figures into one within my paintings. That is why the hominids sometimes have mask-like faces or peeling skin. One anthropologist once asserted that female hominids were incapable of inventing anything useful, and therefore incapable of crossing that threshold into ‘human.' I am interested in drawing parallels between this de-emphasis of women in prehistory and the tropes of sexualized female robots in film.

Maternity Leave: Para-Natural Pregnancies, 2017. Installation view.

OPP: You’ve recently collaborated with artist Devin Harclerode to create Maternity Leave: Para-Natural Pregnancies (2017) at Sediment in Richmond, Virginia. Tell us about the show. How did the collaboration come about?

KS: Devin and I are friends and colleagues from Virginia Commonwealth University's MFA program. We became interested in future collaborations after seeing our work exhibited together for our first year candidacy review. Devin, who is currently based in Richmond, approached me last summer when Sediment had an open call out for proposals. We both had been thinking about different ideas surrounding pregnancy and birth. We decided to make outfits and suits because that is where our practices overlap formally, and each suit addresses a myth or narrative surrounding birth or anti-birth. Some examples are the dated idea that maternity was incompatible with invention for female hominids and the historic ritual of placing an onion in the vagina to test for fertility. We made objects and accessories corresponding to each suit that were sold to raise money for Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, where Devin has also been working.

OPP: Can you explain what you mean by the term anti-birth?

KS: Anti-birth can refer to the opposite of a birth or an obstruction of birth, such as Devin's use of the abortifacient tansy in Heretic Suit. It can also refer to an alternative birth, such as my Future Suit, which considered robot birth as an assembly of parts rather than a gestation and a delivery.

Soft Origin, 2017. Installation view.

OPP: Soft Origin just closed at Sadie Halie. What new explorations do you tackle in this show that you haven't addressed before? And new directions for the next body of work?

KS: Sadie Halie is a small space so I got to play around with smaller scale paintings. I also wanted to make some paintings that don't feature a figure, and instead focus more on the objects and tools that the hominid characters might have made. Moving forward, I am beginning to research some of the robots that exist today, such as Sophia the robot, and I want to further explore the connections between the hominid and the AI robot.

To see more of Kristen's work, please visit kristensanders.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 solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Paul Kenneth

Reva Lucille Wood (great-aunt), 2016. Acrylic and pencil on canvas. 10" x 10"

PAUL KENNETH paints portraits, but he isn't a portrait painter. His works are based on a variety of sources from photographs of his distant ancestors to the first bloodcurdling screams in horror movies. He uses gestural paint application, line drawing and a collapsing of foreground and background to express his interpretation of how these unknowable people and characters might feel about being painted. Paul earned his BFA in Painting at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2010. Since then he has exhibited throughout Chicago, including shows at Mana Contemporary, LVL3 Gallery, Ebersmoore Gallery, Heaven Gallery and the stARTup Art Fair. Paul had his first solo exhibition One Wall: Curious Kin (2016) at Jackson Junge Gallery in the  fall of 2016. He will be featured in the 2017 summer edition of Studio Visit Magazine. Paul lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: All the works currently on your website are portraits, but your style of rendering the human face isn’t exactly realistic. How do you approach the age-old form of the portrait? What’s changed about your approach over the years?

Paul Kenneth: I approach my portraits not as a depiction of a person, but rather a portrayal of a personality through a defined set of mark making. This idea is the fundamental foundation of my practice.

When I began painting twelve years ago, I wanted to pay homage to the history of the portrait genre while investigating the relationship between the human body and paint. My first breakthrough was while attending The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During my final years of earning my BFA, I constructed a complete series which was entirely based on babies. Until that point, I had approached the portrait in a straightforward manner by attempting to create a literal representation of the subject matter. While creating this series, I discovered that the paintings were more unnerving when the subject was rendered in a half completed state. The most recent change in my approach came with my last series of work Curious Kin, where I depicted portraits of my ancestors. In this series I incorporated drawing elements over and under the paint. This latest exploration has allowed me to fuse my drawing and painting practices while also highlighting to the slighted underdrawing.

Franklin DuBois Sidell (grandfather), 2016. Acrylic paint and pencil on canvas. 10" x 10"

OPP: Have you always only painted the human face? Tell us a bit about earlier work.

PK: I have investigated many subject matters in my painting practice but I always find myself returning to the human face. Some of my earlier work focused on portraits of sad cats, dead owls, and fast food. In these paintings, I emphasized the traditional tropes of kitsch, the grotesque and pop art.

OPP: Tell us more about Curious Kin. How is the way you chose to render them connected to the distance between you?

PK: Curious Kin was sourced from images that were taken from family photo albums from the late 1800s to the early 1980s. I invested a considerable amount research to trace the exact relation of each individual as this information was not recorded in many of the albums. The title of each piece is the name of the person followed by their exact relation to me. Some of the portraits are rather direct relations like great-grandparents while others are extremely far removed with a few completely unknown. With the exception of my grandparents, I did not have the privilege to know any of these people even though we are connected by blood and family bonds. As each portrait was made I strived to maintain a sense of respect to the ancestor while imposing my creative aesthetic in the mark making. In a way, each of these paintings is a loose self-portrait.

Mary Marquis (great-grandmother), 2016. Acrylic and pencil on canvas. 10" x 10"

OPP: What about works like Augusta Hulda Verch (second great-grandmother) and Mary Marquis (great-grandmother), both from 2016, in which they faces are partly covered over? It’s almost like these women are silenced by your paint. It makes their eyes look panicked to me.

PK: These two paintings in particular demonstrate the idea of myself, the creator, giving consciousness to his subjects the way Frankenstein gave consciousness to his monster. During this creation process I ask myself, what is he thinking? and how does she feel about what I am doing to her? At times, their gaze suggests a state of unease with the way that I have depicted them.

Garrett Wood (fourth great-grandfather), 2016. Acrylic paint and pencil on canvas. 10" x 10"

OPP: I’m really interested in the way the backgrounds—whether stripes, ovals, halos or horizon lines—intersect the line-drawn faces, which highlights parts of the faces, often the eyes. Talk about this choice.

PK: Throughout my practice, the background holds as much importance as the painterly and drawn elements on the surface. I highlight the process and materiality in each piece by leaving much of the ground visible. The stripes, ovals and blocks of gesso ground are formal additions that level the subject matter. This flattening of the portrait removes it from a representational space forcing the image to hover in a state of flux. The cropping and placement of the face on the canvas in relation to the background shapes is critical to achieve the most active visual balance. This balancing act tends to revolve around the subject’s eyes. Thus, the eyes anchor the painting preventing the portrait from drifting into complete abstraction.

Penny Appleby, 2017. Acrylic and pencil on paper. 5" x 7"

OPP: Tell us about the Scream Queens, which is a new direction. So far, these are all from the 60s. Why did you start here? Where do you see the series going?

PK: Scream Queens is a new series of works that delves into the horror films of my youth. Each piece investigates the cinematic moment when the heroine reacts to the monster with a bloodcurdling scream. By removing these women from the context of the source, their fear becomes a direct reaction to the manner in which I have depicted them. These women are afraid of the monsters they have become. The subjects of these portraits are sourced from various films that range from the 1960s through the 1980s. I am drawn mostly to this thirty-year period of cinematography as I consider it the golden era for the horror film genre. The trajectory of this series holds many possibilities, and I plan to continue exploring the use of paper as a substrate as well as further developing the cut and pasted acrylic paint technique.

OPP: You've said you are interested in the grotesque and your new series demonstrates an interest in terror. What in the world or in your life makes your own face turn to a grimace?

PK: I am rather immune to gooey gore and the average creepy crawly. But there are a few specific specimens that come to mind when contemplating my own terrors. Here is my filthy five from gross to wretched:

5. The story The Red Spot from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
4. The lumps on the old dog Dutch, that frequents The Corner Bar.
3. The stench of rotting meat.
2. Earwigs. Not afraid? Watch the episode "The Caterpillar” from the TV series Night Gallery.
1. The removal of a Guinea Worm from a foot. If you are fortunate enough not to know what this is DO NOT LOOK IT UP!

To see more of Paul's work, please visit paulkenneth.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 solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amanda Williams

Uppity Negress, 2017. Site-specific installation at The Arts Club of Chicago. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan

AMANDA WILLIAMS explores the intersection of color, line and material with social, political and cultural meanings inherent in architecture and urban environments. For her well-known project Color(ed) Theory, she painted eight houses slated for demolition on Chicago's South Side in a palette derived from African American consumer culture. Her work hinges on this cultural specificity while simultaneously addressing the broader themes of impermanence, transformation and healing, as they are sited in the human-built environment. Amanda earned her Bachelor of Architecture with an Emphasis in Fine Art at Cornell University in 1997. Her numerous awards include a 3Arts Award (2014), a Joyce Foundation scholarship (2013), and an Excellence in Teaching Award (2015), for her work at Illinois Institute of Technology, College of Architecture. Amanda was named Newcity’s 2016 Designer of the Moment, was a 2016 Efroymson Fellow and has been tapped to be part of the team working on the exhibition spaces at the Obama Presidential Center. Uppity Negress, a site-specific installation for The Arts Club Garden Projects (Chicago), is on view through September 2017. Her solo show Chicago Works: Amanda Williams just opened and is currently on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art through December 31, 2017. Amanda lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Uppity Negress, a site-specific installation for The Arts Club Garden Projects (Chicago), just opened in June and will be on view through September 2017. Tell us about this new work. What about the title and form of the “fence” in relation to the site?

Amanda Williams: I am so excited by this new body of work and how it has expanded the ways in which I’m continually contemplating questions of space, race and color. The title has tangential beginnings related to sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who was an early exhibitor at the Arts Club, as well as a portion of a chapter from author, Natalie Moore’s book, The South Side. I am fascinated by the way the Arts Club garden operates as neither completely public or private. How could I use this spatial condition to consider questions of authority and access, particularly as it relates to the black female body in public space. By venturing “out of line,” the fence creates a disorienting space that allows occupants to experience this liminal social condition. The pickets of the fence disperse and eventually lead to a large banner displaying the arrest transcript of Sandra Bland interspersed with excerpts from a commencement speech given by former First Lady, Michelle Obama. The mashup charts an alternate narrative to the potential of getting out of line. 

Uppity Negress, 2017. Site-specific installation at The Arts Club of Chicago. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan

OPP: Tell us a bit about the process of painting the abandoned houses marked for demolition in your project Color(ed) Theory. Is it a guerrilla act or a permitted one? Who are your artist assistants? Compare painting the first house in the series to painting the last one.

AW: I chose properties that were at the end of their life cycle and use the project as a way to ask questions about how and when we value architecture. Because of the temporal nature of the structures and the project, I enlisted the help of fellow artists friends and family members who wanted to support my artistic practice and also understood the stakes in working under such conditions. They were collaborators in the truest sense.

My husband Jason Burns was probably the most prolific painter. He also cleared the overgrown weeds, bushes and grass. I didn’t know what to expect when I started. The idea was to load up as much paint as would fit in our truck , or that I had the budget for, go out at daybreak and paint until someone challenged us or until we ran out of paint. By the final house, the project had gained the attention of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and had been folded in as a part of their programming. We went from about 9 people helping to 70. It meant a lot of tiny brushes. It was a good moment to terminate the project, before it turned into something else with external agendas.

Newport 100/Loose Squares, 2015 (Overall), 2015

OPP: How do the painted houses operate in their natural environments? What kinds of responses have you heard from people who live around them? How many are still standing?

AW: Approximately half are still standing. The responses and reactions to the houses are as varied as the houses themselves. Some neighbors don’t like the project at all and think it exacerbates the issues that I’m attempting to call attention to. Many residents near the Currency Exchange and Safe Passage Houses find the color offensive. Some neighbors have described them as odd or thought provoking, while other neighbors have become friends of mine, and we’ve developed relationships that extend beyond the project’s initial intentions.

I think its important to emphasize that it’s fundamentally flawed to imagine homogeneity with words like “community” or “black people,” etc. We are often treated (and discriminated against) as a monolithic group, so its great to have a project that is not black or white, but gray.

Perhaps one of the most unique reactions came from photographer/artist, and Englewood resident Tonika Johnson. She included one of the painted houses as a backdrop to a photo composition she created for a billboard series, Englewood Rising, that offers positive images of everyday black life as a counter narrative to what we hear on the news or see tweeted by uninformed nationally elected officials. It is exciting to have my project interwoven into other local artists’ efforts to raise awareness and change the conversation. The landscapes feel more pronounced when you watch nature reclaim these voided lots.

Color(ed) Theory, Chicago Architectural Biennal, 2015. Photo Credit: Steven Hall

OPP: Most viewers—myself included—have only encountered Color(ed) Theory in the form of photography. What do the photographs do that the actual painted houses can’t. And how have the different display iterations of these photographs changed over the life of the project?

AW: The photographs do a few things. They allow the project to be read as an aggregate, you can never physically occupy or absorb them as a singular spatial body. The photographs also contextualize the houses in relation to one another. They also make the context, namely the general isolation of the structures as important to the visual story as the houses themselves. Lastly, they freeze an ephemeral moment. While this allows the project to be widely shared, I’m still not sure this is a completely desirable strategy for a project that was intentionally temporal.

Pink Oil Moisturizer (Winter; Overall), 2014.

OPP: As I was researching your work, I became aware of just how much sudden attention your work has received since the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015. So you’ve done a ton a interviews and received a lot of press over the last couple of years. Is there anything about your work that you don’t feel gets proper attention? What gets overlooked?

AW: The social nature of the Color(ed) Theory project overshadows a parallel thread about this as a project that is attempting to help inform my painting practice and a desire for a better formal understanding of color. There is also a levity that gets overshadowed by many. I’m always thrilled when someone laughs or smiles after reading a title of a piece, or has an ‘ah-ha’ moment related to a personal connection to the content.

OPP: It’s nice to hear you say that because I love the way the color itself both challenges and lives in harmony with the surrounding environment. It asserts itself, dominates the landscape and then just becomes another part of that space. What colors are you thinking about now?

AW: My Chicago Works exhibition at the MCA, curated by Grace Deveney, has afforded me an amazing opportunity to produce an almost entirely new body of work that contemplates several themes that emerged as a result of the response to Color(ed) Theory. Some of the narratives you’ll see emerging include gold as a signifier for social, cultural and political value associated with land use and ownership, as well as deep material explorations of salvaged building material. It has been really wonderful to continue to think through these fundamental questions in a variety of formats and media. This exploration of gold will also move beyond the MCA walls in a companion project funded by my Efroymson Fellowship, in which Golden Brick Roads will be embedded along short cuts (desire paths) in vacant lots on the City's south and near west side.

A Way, Away (Listen While I Say)—Translating Phase, 2017. Collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez. Photo Credit: Michael Thomas

OPP: Are these Gold Brick Roads connected to A Way, Away (Listen While I Say), your collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez in Saint Louis? This project applies five transformation actions—marking, subtracting, translating, shaping and healing—to 3721 Washington Boulevard, which was slated for demolition. Will you use some of the salvage bricks for the brick roads, and are those bricks also the bricks in your MCA show?

AW: The gold leafed bricks in Chicago share some themes with the gold painted bricks salvaged in St. Louis, and in hindsight will inevitably all be part of my gold color phase—I also had a Peanut Butter and Jelly phase in the 3rd grade—but they are intentionally not the same actual bricks. For A Way, Away, it was important to the premise of the project that the St. Louis bricks STAY in the St. Louis area and contribute to a new life cycle for that place. The four projects that were selected all share concepts of healing and legacy; either material or social/cultural. Andres and I recently participated in a day long charrette with the four organizations leading the projects. We have found that these formal transformations of the material also serve as metaphors and platforms for dialog about personal healing and transformation.

To see more of Amanda's work, please visit awstudioart.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 solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ben Willis

Man Candy (detail), 2017. Acrylic, Flock, Glitter, Resin, Spray Paint on Panel. 14" x  24"

BEN WILLIS creates vibrant juxtapositions of color, texture and brushwork, which appear to be separated by clean borders. But in actuality, the smooth, one-directional brushwork never meets the swirling impasto at this sharp edge; the matte acrylic and the glitter never square off defending their own territory. Instead, each hovers above or below the other, floating harmoniously on layers of resin. Ben earned his BFA in Sculpture at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (2005) and went on to earn his MFA in Painting at Arizona State University in Tempe. He received a Contemporary Forum Artist Grant in 2014 and has had solo shows at Rhetorical Galleries (2016) and Pela Contemporary Art (2013), both in Phoenix, Arizona. His most recent solo show Candy Man opens this Friday, August 5, 2017 at Fort Works Art in Fort Worth, Texas and is on view through September 9, 2017. The show is accompanied by Candy Castle, a group show curated by Ben, who lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The title of your solo show Candy Man makes me think of the term eye candy. This description was often used in a dismissive way in my own grad school critiques. Have you encountered this kind of attitude about color?

Ben Willis: I envision Candy Man as an immersive experience in both color and pattern. The challenge has and will be creating an exhibition that has something for everyone. A lot of what we learn and how we speak in graduate school is for such a secluded group, that the majority of your audience members are lost before they begin.

When I was working towards my MFA I painted portraits of the artists who shaped my experience. Early on I kept hearing “you need to expand your color palette” or “find more ways to apply the paint.” I was encouraged to experiment but to also build towards a body of work that was cohesive and meaningful. I went on to use more complex paint mixtures by pushing color into a higher Chroma and found alternative paint application methods that didn’t use a brush. Ultimately my portraits had become more vibrant, but I was so invested in color, texture and mark that painting the figure seemed mundane.

PPAP, 2016. Acrylic, Glitter, Resin on Panel. 18" x 12"

OPP: What would you say to these haters? What don’t they get about color?

BW: I would educate them on the subjectivity of color. It has the ability to trigger emotional and symbolic responses, both good and bad. I’d assure them that it’s more than just eye candy at play and that there is intention behind that sparkly surface. Materials like glitter, flock and even spray paint have certainly been used with negative connotations in my experience, and I like to think of myself as an artist who is not afraid to break the rules if it enhances my message. The color palette references “sweet treats” and the overwhelming presence often displayed in a traditional candy store. In many ways, I want to create a visual experience that is both fun and satisfying yet leaves you hungry for more. I truly enjoy what I am doing right now and believe there is some healing power behind this body of work.

Little Juan, 2017

OPP: Big Juan (2016) and Little Juan (2017) evoke a classic quilt pattern known as Tumbling Blocks. Are you influenced by quilts? If not, can you talk about how you’ve come to work with repetitive squares and triangles?


BW: As far back as I can remember, my mother has always made quilts as well as crocheted various blankets and garments for the entire family. My father is very much a handy man and for all intents and purposes a wood worker. I hadn’t considered it much before, but would certainly be steering you in the wrong direction if I said my parents and up bringing haven’t played a role in my work.

What really tipped the scale in terms of pattern and abstraction relates once again back to portrait painting. My process involved visiting other artists to capture poses in their studio. It was a great challenge trying to replicate the artist’s physical presence in front of their work. I distinctly remember several paintings using impasto techniques, hard edges and geometric shapes. At the time, there was something about that style, using tape and thinking about what paint can do that felt fresh and exciting.

Original Woodie, 2016. Acrylic, Glitter, Resin on Panel. 18" x 12"

OPP: Tell us a bit about your process which involves layers of epoxy resin, glitter and dry pigments as well as acrylic and spray paint. Have you always worked in layers this way? 


BW: All of the panels I work on are handmade. I start with a variety of primers from traditional gesso, spray paint, acrylic paint, resin and collage. From there, it’s more of a classic way of drawing or working general to specific. A loose pattern is sketched on top of the primer followed by resin often mixed with a combination of flakes and pearls (glitter and dry pigments). I build up layers but feel like there is a lot more intuition and freedom involved allowing the composition to evolve on its own.

It’s rare for me not to use a variety of media on any piece and I have always worked in layers. For example, my oil paintings are never really just oil paintings. I typically build up value on canvas with compressed charcoal. The drawing is then sprayed with fixative and squeegeed with amber shellac. From there I use a scumbling technique to build up layers of oil paint as I progressively work towards finer detail.

#groundrules, 2016. Installation at Rhetorical Galleries. Photo credit: Airi Katsuta

OPP: What were the ground rules in your 2016 show #groundrules at Rhetorical Galleries? Did the hashtag #groundrules work the way you’d hoped?

BW: I’ve been working full time as a preparator at Phoenix Art Museum for almost two years now. My job entails closely handling valuable historical and contemporary objects. I think a big portion of the idea for this show came from what I see on a day to day basis.

For #groundrules I wanted to create the same road blocks visitors are confronted with in a museum—don’t get to close or touch the art, no flash photography, no food, no drinks—but in a shipping container. I posted said rules both on social media and on a large didactic at the entrance of the space. I used the same censors and warnings we use at work and even recorded visitor interactions (they were warned). The only real change was that there was no security to stop occupants from acting out.

In my opinion, the entire process revealed rules that exist when it comes to interacting with art and that there is value in finding new outlets to allow your audience to connect with your work. I would say the hashtag was a success and provided new avenues for getting my ideas outside of Phoenix.

So Post Post Modern, 2016. Acrylic, Resin, Glitter on Panel. 18" x 12"

OPP: You’re in the process of curating a show called Candy Castle, featuring the work of Derick Smith, Christina West, Adam Hillman, Sean Augustine March, Sean Newport, Rachel Goodwin, Wheron, Kristina Drake and another of our own Featured Artists Dan Lam. How is the process an extension of your studio practice? What was your curatorial process like?
 
BW: The idea for this companion show to Candy Man was spawned during a conversation with Dan Lam a little over a year ago about Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas. I’m told it’s not out of the ordinary for artists showing at the Nasher to curate additional works on view during the run of their exhibition. The space at Fort Works Art is quite large and stunning. I knew it would be difficult to truly utilize it entirely on my own and felt I could expand my reach by getting more artists involved. 

From a curatorial stand point it has been about finding work that speaks to my senses. I was still thinking in terms of color, texture and repetition but also looking for artists who are currently pushing the conversation on materials and form. Eye Candy, as you put it earlier, is an underlying theme in both shows paying some homage to the Hasbro board game Candy Land. As the creator and curator, my aim is to provide a sense of adventure for all ages through concepts of desire, play, nostalgia and maybe just a tiny bit of death.

The experience thus far has certainly provided a new set of obstacles and amazing opportunities for collaboration. There certainly is and will continue to be a lot of takeaways that will benefit my practice moving forward. I am grateful to everyone involved for the opportunity and support.

To see more of Ben's work, please visit benwillisart.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 open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Dean Veca

Hatter 2 (detail), 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 72 x 72"

MARK DEAN VECA’s paintings and immersive, temporary installations are bold, biomorphic worlds. Carefully balancing the sacred and the profane, he renders mass media imagery in a drawing style that adds organic movement to the usually flat graphics of recognizable cartoon characters. The skin and clothes of Mickey Mouse, Uncle Pennybags and Tony the Tiger seem to writhe with maggots, billow like smoke and drip like slobber, semen or pus—not to mention random eyeballs. Yet, in spite of all this bodily grossness, the lines are sleek and elegant. Mark earned his BFA at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He has received fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts, Lower East Side Printshop and the Pollack Krasner Foundation. His long exhibition record includes solo shows at San Jose Museum of Art (2012), Site:Lab in Grand Rapids, Michigan (2015), Western Project in Los Angeles (2013 and 2014), and Azusa Pacific University in California (2016). Upcoming shows include the group exhibition LA Painting: Formalism to Street Art at Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis, which opens on September 2, 2018 and a solo exhibition of Mark’s prints and posters at Agent Ink Gallery in Santa Rosa, CA, which opens on September 16, 2017. Mark lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a signature style, which I would describe as “intestinal line work or visceral chaos organized into contained, recognizable forms.”  Firstly, how do you respond to my description?

Mark Dean Veca: Yeah that's a pretty clinical and concise description of what I've been doing in my work for a while now. People do seem to latch on to the intestinal aspect, but there's a lot more going on. It’s a kind of biomorphic abstraction that references all of the biological systems, not just the digestive.

Mothers' Worries, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 66 x 66"

OPP: Secondly, is it a style that you’ve consciously cultivated, part of an existing drawing lineage or simply the way you’ve drawn since you were a kid?

MDV: It's just something that developed and evolved over time. I don't think I ever necessarily tried to pursue it or reject the idea. One of the many ways I learned to draw as a kid was copying from comic books, and I was always attracted to the more organic forms rather than geometric. Later in my career I made a conscious decision to explore the visual vocabulary of cartoons and to speak in that vernacular.

Oh Yeah, 2011. India ink and acrylic on canvas. 48 x 48"

OPP: Tell us about the commercial logos and cartoon characters you choose to render this way. What do they have in common across your body of work? Are your choices driven by fandom and/or critique?

MDV: The found images in my work are always carefully chosen, never random. I use an idiosyncratic set of criteria to choose images that are personal as well as universal, and that serve the needs of the particular piece I'm working on. Very often they are simultaneously celebratory as well as critical. For example in Pony Show (2015) I painted a corrupted version the Ford Mustang logo on the exterior of a former auto repair shop in a work that celebrates and critiques American Car Culture. My first car was a 1965 Mustang which imbues the logo with sentimental value to me personally, but it's also universally recognized and has religious connotations via its cruciform shape. In other works, like Natch (2016), I've chosen an iconic image from popular culture (R. Crumb's Mr. Natural) and manipulated it into a baroque kaleidoscopic composition within which to improvise my particular brand of mark-making. I think of it as a celebratory mash-up of genres that also draws upon the psychedlic culture of my youth in the Bay Area of the 60s and 70s.

Pony Show, 2015

OPP: I’m really interested in the Toile de Jouy paintings like Klusterfuck (2002), West Coast Story (2006) and Toile de Boogey (2008). Tell us about these textile-influenced works. Do you have a favorite? What kinds of images of everyday life are buried in there?

MDV: I discovered Toile de Jouy in the wallpaper of my mother-in-law's bathroom in the late 90s. I became fascinated with this 18th century French style and with Rococo decorative arts in general. I love the draftsmanship and intricacy. In 2001, I started using it as a found composition within which to improvise, combining found imagery from popular culture and art history with the aforementioned biomorphic abstraction, among other things. Klusterfuck has to be an all time fave.

Klusterfuck, 2002. India ink on paper. 59.5 x 39.5"

OPP: Tell us about the various museum installations that include huge, encompassing wall drawings replete with bean bag chairs. Madder Hatter (2016), Virgil’s Vestibule (2016) Le Poppy Den (2014) and Son of Phantasmagoria (2012) are just a few. I’ve sadly only seen pictures online, but I imagine these spaces as energizing refuges from Museum Fatigue. What experience do you hope viewers will have in these spaces?

MDV: I like that idea of a refuge and always appreciate a good chair. My goal usually is to create a spectacle: something monumental and awe-inspiring, immersive, overwhelming and interactive. I often aim to alter the function of a sterile white-cube museum space into a trippy, psychedelic lounge. When I first visit a potential space, I try to let it dictate to me a course of action, to let it reveal to me what should be done. In this way the work is truly site-specific and made for the site in which it will exist—typically for a limited time before it's destroyed. The process therefore becomes temporary, ephemeral and performative. I'm usually working in public and claim the space as my own studio for a while.

OPP: Most recently, you created Madder Hatter, followed by Maddest Hatter, for Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose, a touring exhibition that has its final stop (and is on view through September 17, 2017) at Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. What’s your connection to Hi-Fructose?

MDV: I randomly met Attaboy, cofounder of Hi-Fructose at a San Diego Comic Con afterparty, which led to a spread in the magazine a couple of years later. The curators of the show chose me and 50 or so other artists who had appeared in the magazine over its first 10 years.

Madder Hatter, 2016. Installation.

OPP: How is Maddest Hatter different from Madder Hatter?

MDV: I made Madder Hatter for Turn the Page at Virginia MOCA in 2016. This installation was derived from an earlier painting called Hatter (2015), that referenced the art from a tab of LSD depicting the Mad Hatter from Disney's Alice in Wonderland, which was, in turn, based on Lewis Carroll's book—there’s a rabbit hole for ya. For the show's final presentation at the Crocker Art Museum, I adapted the work to fit the scale and proportions of the room. I altered the colors and redesigned the floor graphics, but the concepts and general design principles remained the same. In both cases there's plenty of improvised, stream-of-consciousness wall-painting.

OPP: What’s the process of creating these temporary, improvised wall drawings like for you?

MDV: There's always an essential improvisational element to my installations, which is most often made possible by a lot of careful planning and design. A lot of prep work goes into them ahead of time regarding compostion, scale, color, allowing me the freedom to be spontaneous and direct in the execution. There's also a lot of adrenaline associated with the monumental projects as time is always of the essence. I've enjoyed traveling to places I'd never been like London, Tokyo, and Guadalajara and setting up shop, so to speak, living and working in a strange place and meeting the locals and exploring a little. I does take a lot out of me, so I try to limit these to a couple per year. It's nice to spend the rest of my time at home with my family and in the solitude of my studio.

That's All, 2010. India ink and acrylic on canvas. 66 x 99"

OPP: What keeps the process fresh?

MDV: Since I was a child, I've been drawn to the more intimate side of art—drawing in my room alone or with a friend. The combining of oppositional elements—micro vs. macro, elegant vs. vulgar, spontaneous vs. calculated, high culture vs. low—is a recurring theme in most of my work. That opposition is echoed in these alternating modes of working, which keeps things fresh and interesting, always giving me something to look forward to.

To see more of Mark's work, please visit markdeanveca.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 open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.