OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Catherine DeQuattro Nolin

Collected Wisdom, 2015. 16" x 12"

CATHERINE DeQUATTRO NOLIN's lush, opulent interiors are populated with solitary women, domestic pets and wild animals. Her works convey a sense of comfort and contentment in solitude, as well as the presense of longing, fantasy, a desire for escape. Catherine is a self-taught painter, who makes a living selling her work online. Her originals and prints are displayed in private collections throughout North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. Her paintings have been featured in numerous design publications including Style Magazine Australia, Artisticmoods, Surrounding Magazine and Sasee Magazine. Catherine lives in Andover, Massachussetts, where she works daily in a converted second floor bedroom with high ceilings and great light.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your beginnings as a painter. When did you first start painting? 

Catherine DeQuattro Nolin: Well I have always been interested in the visual arts. A family friend noticed I had some talent when I was ten and enrolled me in a class at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. I was always interested in colors, and I thought about color a lot growing up. I did take a few classes in college, but it wasn't until having my own family that I began painting. I started hand painting t-shirts for fun and selling them to retail shops. As my work got more intricate and in demand, I decided to put my designs down on canvas, and from there I started apply to small local art shows. I had a lot of success at these shows in New England, but once I opened a shop on line everything changed. I liked the idea of not worrying about the weather at art shows and all the hard work involved setting up and the travel. I also had a store retail background as a clothing buyer and was very comfortable setting up shop on the internet.

The Art Teacher, 2017. Acrylics on wood. 12" x 16"

OPP: How did you go about teaching yourself?

CDN: Lots of trial and error. I found all my favorite painters and practiced the way they painted. I have always had a strong sense of composition and color. My work has evolved over the years, and I am still learning something new everyday. At one point, I felt I should switch to oils, but I have come to love Golden acrylics and how they work. Today's acrylics are much higher quality then the acrylics I first started working with.

I work six days a week painting about eight hours a day if possible. I am so grateful to do what I love and make a living at it. I can't wait for Mondays so I can get back into my studio. Perseverance, keeping going, never give up. . . this is what I do. I have a 23-year-old son with profound autism. Everything I ever needed to know about life, my son Samuel has taught me without ever speaking a word.

Off The Grid, 2015. acrylics on wood. 20" x 16"

OPP: When I first encountered your work, I immediately thought of Henri Rousseau’s “portrait landscapes.” Off The Grid (2015) seems to be a direct reference to The Dream (1910), for example. How is your work in conversation with his?

CDN: Many of my customers mention that my work reminds them of Rousseau’s. I am a huge fan of his. His simple way of seeing and painting is in step with how I paint as well. I am self taught, and I believe he was as well. Nature is the best teacher, of course—I love creating lush botanicals and my own version of flowers.

OPP: What other painters influence you and how?

CDN: As a teenager and was introduced to the work of Thomas Mcknight, and that's when I became inspired to paint interior scenes. Obviously, Matisse was a huge influence as well as Vilhelm Hammershoi and the Italian Renaissance.

A Room Of One's Own, 2017. acrylics on wood. 16" x 20"

OPP: There seems to be an even mix of women happily inhabiting their surroundings—as in Interior With Gloria (2017) and Serious Moonlight (2016)—and women turned away from the viewer, looking through windows or exiting the space. I’m thinking of The Moon Will See You Now (2017), Chasing Venus (2016) and Collected Wisdom (2015). I read these as about longing, fantasy, a desire for escape. Your thoughts?

CDN: Yes, you are correct in that I am conveying escape and longing in some of those pieces you've mentioned. Raising my son has been an unbelievably bitter sweet life. I feel that it comes through in my work in subtle ways, but I like the idea of an open narrative, letting the viewer decide. Painting is something I can control. Usually, I decide the outcome. It helps me cope.

Where Are you Going?, 2016. Acrylics on wood. 12" x 16"

OPP: Your paintings are populated with both pets (bunnies, cats and dogs) and wild animals (polar bears, tigers, owls and leopards, to name a few). Are these animals allegorical or literal? Are the "wild" animals also domesticated?

CDN: Yes, woodland creatures would live in my house if possible. Like many artists, I have a deep love and respect for nature and animals and like to paint them in unlikely settings. I love the idea of pairing animals in interiors. I paint a lot of white doves, obviously a sign of peace, and swallows for hope and safety. Gold finches represent the resurrection, which is why they are depicted in renaissance art. Cats, lions, tigers—courage and fearlessness.

Letting Go, 2016. acrylics on wood. 18" x 24"

OPP: I notice a lot of recurring “portals” to other spaces within your interiors. They take the form of open windows, doorways and arches that reveal the outdoors, framed portraits, mirrors and famous paintings, as well as dressing screens painted with landscapes. How do these frames within the frame function in your work?

CDN: Portals, doorways and windows for me are symbols of hope, change and possibility. Again, having a son with special needs has greatly influenced my work in so many ways. Painting has been such a necessary therapy, however cliche that may sound. When I walk into my studio, I leave my worries at the door. Time seems to stand still, and I am taken to a place of peace but where I am in control. I am so grateful for that. The idea of letting go is also a reoccurring theme. 

The Garden Rules, 2016. acrylics on wood. 18" x 24"

OPP: What role does opulence play in your work?

CDN: My work is very conducive to opulence! The objects and home furnishing in a lot of my paintings stem from my childhood: chandeliers, French Provincial furniture, Chinoiserie, pianos, mirrors and statues. As a child, I was always interested in colors and fabric. I have vivid memories of when my parents redecorated our living room. I was maybe 10-years-old, but I was more interested in the swatches and paint chips they were choosing from than in playing outside in my neighborhood! Our house was small, but it was a little palace in my mind. I had forgotten about all that. Thanks for such interesting questions that made me think back.

OPP: And now a practical question. How do you go about selling your work? Any tips for younger artists without gallery representation?

CDN: I started with an Etsy shop in 2009.  It took time to develop a following but now Etsy is so huge I believe it's a lot harder to get noticed. Art shows were a natural first step as well. I never liked or was comfortable with the gallery route. I suppose because I was self-taught, I was a bit intimated by that scene. Things have changed so much with the internet and art that with hard work and perseverance anything is possible.

OPP: You also do commissions. Are they a drag that pays the bills but keeps you from your real work? Or are they a surprising creative challenge?

CDN: I use to do a lot of them, but yes, they kept me from doing what I really wanted to do. But depending on my client, they could also be very exciting. Over the past five years I have developed a wonderful following of clients that are so awesome and supportive. I still do some commissions that interest me.

To see more of Catherine's work, please visit catherinenolin.org.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Cook

Swimmers, 2016. Acrylic on Paper

Painter BENJAMIN COOK's abstract, mostly colorful works live as physical objects and as images on the Internet. . . and he values both equally. His work is driven by a fascination with the structures, rules and algorithms that guide both our online and offline lives. Ben earned his BFA at the University of Louisville in 2012 and just completed his MFA at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the Spring of 2017. He is represented by Zg Gallery in Chicago, where he had a solo exhibition titled How Do I Know You in 2016. Other solo shows include Paintings for the Internet at Rochester Museum of Fine Arts in New Hampshire and Image Construction at Project 1612 in Peoria, Illinois. He is a founding member and Co-Director of Say Uncle Project Space, an experimental residency and nomadic exhibition program located in Central Illinois. Ben lives and works in Champaign Urbana, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Where do you position yourself in relation to the history of abstraction in Painting? What part of the discourse are you most interested in? What are you adding to the conversation with your work?

Benjamin Cook: I tend to jump back and forth between looking at historical movements in painting and contemporary works by artists on social media. I usually stray away from positioning myself within the typical art historical cannon because I feel it sets up a hierarchy that favors a certain vein of artists. I prefer to look at “nameless” artists making work today with the same level of seriousness that I look at artists in the Washington color school, abstract minimalism, early digital art, etc. I have noticed that artists in the early digital movement often pulled protocols and strategies from abstract artists that came before them, and I see what I do now as the next step in that process. I am pulling from the digital world and making it physical again.



Psychosis in Pink, 2015. Acrylic, Spray Paint, Glitter Paint on Paper

OPP: What influences your work outside of fine art?

BC: I am really interested in social media and the Internet in general. As spaces of analog and digital creep closer and closer together, the structures and rules that guide them tend to affect one another. My research into the reverse flow of information (from digital to analog) propels me to ask questions about how and where we allow these systems to have control over our lives, the decisions we make and our taste. We saw in the last election, the power that platforms like Facebook can have over our lives. I am largely influenced by those powers.



OPP: Tell us about Paintings for the Internet (2014). Are these painted as a gift for the internet as an entity—as in poetic odes—or are they somehow about the internet? 


BC: That series started off as a sort of experiment. I was interested in seeing where I could move images around through figuring out what blogs were influenced by other blogs, what Instagram users followed other users, things like that. I was attempting to deconstruct the algorithm and reveal the structures that played a role in what I was seeing.

Untitled 071315, 2015. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: So, are the paintings then, not the point, but rather a pretense to figure out influence and viewing trends?

BC: It might have started off with that question of trying to figure out the system and its biases, but the physical paintings were always important, too. I tend to see very little distinction between the physical and digital versions of the paintings. Sure, there are things that can only be seen by standing in front of the painting on a wall, but there also things that can only be experienced through a digital interaction. The methods and processes in which the paintings are created come from protocols of both the digital and analog world, and I see the works as a sort of merged experience. You can see this sort of thing happening all over the place. In pop culture, the fidget spinner, a toy that spins in your hand using ball bearings, also exists in countless forms as a smartphone app. Modern finance is so tangled in the digital that being physically closer to the massive computers that buy and sell stocks in fractions of a second can give a company an advantage. In education, supercomputers are able to let humans reach beyond the limits of the human mind to calculate immense equations and sort through incredible amounts of data, creating a system in which the literal facts about the world we know are structured through a  digital lens. To claim that the paintings are just a means of getting at the “trend” or “algorithm” would significantly diminish the importance of the analog within the digital.

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: And what did you figure out about the trends in the process?

BC: One of the patterns that became apparent through this project was a constant visibility by a certain group of artists. Through the structure of the algorithms, many different publications, blogs, galleries, and institutions that all are functioning under the pretense that their curatorial selections are based upon the judgment of an actual human. Through the consistency of this small group of artists being shown in these spaces and publications, it became apparent that the algorithms are playing a role in curation, helping to decide who “gets in” and who is “left out” though visibility. This all may seem like not that big of a deal, but when you think about the people writing the code, they’re not writing it while thinking about the art world. They’re thinking about engagement in general. This sets up a system that has the potential to favor specific groups of artists and disenfranchise others. The art world already has plenty of problems with excluding the voices of women and people of color, and if the algorithms are not considering that (and they aren’t), it only further exacerbates the problems.

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: How do you think about the paintings as paintings?

BC: I love them! I have always been a painter at heart. As I said before, I see very little separation between the digital and the analog. This allows me to both work with paint, in all of its physical viscerality, while still asking questions about my place within a digital world. There is always a new way to push paint around, and I always get excited about that process of discovery.


OPP: You have a strong tendency toward multicolored-ness. What does it mean to you to balance colors by using so many? 


BC: Color theory has always been an interest of mine. Each color on a painting is individually mixed and unique. I use that process to further test my boundaries of color knowledge. Placing them all in a grid or right next to each other becomes a sort of game for me. It is an attempt to replicate randomness, which is impossible. I pull a lot of my knowledge of color from the impressionists. I think about combinations of cool, warm, light, dark, and balance colors of the same value but a different hue right next to one another.

Arch, 2015. Graphite on Paper

OPP: In relation to your other work, I read your graphite works as having had the color drained from them. Were you excited or bored by working in grey tones?


BC: The graphite works come in moments of respite. When I find that I am leaning to heavily on the color to make a painting work, It helps for me to eliminate it all together. I can think about the composition and structure in greater depth without any distractions.

Static Structure 3, 2016. Acrylic, Resin on Basketball Net

OPP: How do you think about Static Structures (2016), a series of paintings on deconstructed basketball nets? How is working on the net different or the same as working on canvas or paper?

BC: They each have the ability to utilize structures from digital spaces in the same way. For me, the basketball nets came from how I interact with different social media platforms through the limitations and controls set up by the algorithms and code that structure them. The basketball nets acted as a given set of parameters that I had to work within to manipulate into something new. The element of gravity, through the drips of poured resin, invited an aspect of larger analog controls to the undulating net and froze it in a new form. From that new structure, I find and pull patterns out of the grid. The process of working within the structure to create my own image was largely metaphoric of the task of defining yourself through a digital platform. What images show my best side? What short bio, best promotes how I see myself? These types of questions that seem mostly open ended are actually largely confined to the set of parameters that each platform allows. The images created in the nets of patterned bands of color were defined in a similar fashion, a decision all my own, but severely limited in its possibilities.

To see more of Ben's work, please visit benjamincookart.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Allison Zuckerman

Summer Rain, 2017

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

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

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

Autumn Rhythm, 2017

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

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

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

Bored Nude, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bored Apple Picker, 2017

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

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

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

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

from She Rocks at Kravets Wehby Gallery, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interview Tom Pazderka

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

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

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


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

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

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

OPP: So how does this affect you personally?

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Freedom Club: Martin, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see more of Tom's work, please visit tompazderka.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Stacia just completed Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago), which could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kevin Blake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Stacia just completed Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago), which could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matthew Hilshorst

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does mimicry play in your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: What’s the new work about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ryan B. Richey

Lawn Job

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

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

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

Husky

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

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

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

Laundry Day

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

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

L Couch, 2008. Fabric Charcoal Chairs on Paper

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

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

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

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

Over the Bridge

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

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

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

Used Cars

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Porterfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nash Bellows

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

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

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

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

Untitled, 2015. Digital

OPP: When did digital drawing enter your practice?

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

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

Untitled, 2015. Digital

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

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

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

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

Shirley Kaneda, 2015. Spray paint and acrylic on canvas

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

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

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

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

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

Girl Power, 2014. Digital. 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Seastripe, 2015. Digital Repeat Pattern

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matt Phillips

Luxor at Dawn and Bungalow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ascent
Ceramic Tile Mosaic
14' x 8'
2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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