OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Isak Applin

He Was a Friend of Mine, 2016. Oil on canvas. 36" x 48"

ISAK APPLIN's painted vignettes often depict quiet moments that point to the internal experiences of their subjects. A man chops wood while remembering a betrayal. Solitary figures stroll through the forest in contemplation. Although there is occasional drama—sometimes a man is knifed outside a bar. Regardless, these works balance site with story. His attention to color and texture demands that viewrs take the environments as seriously as the action. Isak earned his BFA in Painting at Maine College of Art and his MFA in Painting and Drawing at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His numerous solo shows include: Dark Holler (Chicago, 2006) at Contemporary Art Workshop, Six More Miles (Chicago, 2008) at Roots and CultureChocorua(Ontario, 2013) at Evans Contemporary, and Now Chicago (Sydney, Australia, 2014) at The Hughes Gallery. Around the Mountain Again, a two-person show also featuring the work of Featured Artist Carl Baratta opened at The New Standard Gallery (Sydney, Australia) in early 2018. He is currently at the Stephen Pace House Residency in Stonington Maine. Isak also runs Titan and Weald, a private press specializing in chapbooks, fine press books and relief prints. Isak lives in Queens, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s your relationship to the woods?

Isak Applin: I see the forest as a place of mystery and change.

I grew up in the woods of the Taconic Mountains on border of Massachusetts and New York State. In the 19th century, lumber mills, small factories and sheep farms deforested much of the region. As these industries waned during the mid 20th century a rich forest quickly grew back. And yet traces of the old way of life remained: logging roads, building foundations, stonewalls, mysterious piles of rocks and weathered fence posts were scattered throughout the woods. I witnessed the tail end of this transformation as a child; even then I found it awe-inspiring, disconcerting and sublime.

As a child and teenager, the forest was also a stage for adventure—it was my African jungle, Sherwood Forest and Siberian taiga. Later it was the place for one’s first kiss and precious hours of freedom from school and parents. 

The inhabitants of this forested area were also equally fascinating. During the 1970s, the area was settled by Whole Earth Catalog inspired hippies, Vietnam Vets seeking solace and New Yorkers who had always dreamed of owning a horse. It was also a place of big dreams and spectacular and frightening failures. Within a few miles of my house there was a thriving Sufi commune, a huge Indian style Peace Pagoda built entirely by volunteers and a failed nudist colony—it had descended into violent, drug-ridden chaos. I’ve always been extremely fascinated and moved by my neighbors’ eccentric and epic lives. 

The Letter II, 2014. Oil on canvas. 30" x 30"

OPP: How you think about the woods when painting?

IA: Many of the paintings attempt to capture the sentiments I described above. They are simply an edited depiction of that landscape or the story set in that landscape. I have always been a collector of stories and situations I find moving, strange and unique. Sometimes, often years after the event, I feel the need to make a painting of one of these stories in an attempt to record and share it. And this is how much of my work is generated: I hear a story or experience something, find myself reflecting on it, and at some point decide that this event needs to be shared with the rest of the world. 

Forked Lake, 2017. Watercolor and gouache on paper. 12" x 9"

OPP: What’s your relationship to landscape painting?

IA: My relationship to landscape paintings is that of a magpie to its nest; I’ll steal from any tradition if it helps me convey the spirit of the story or place I’m depicting! In general, the compositions are largely influenced by Medieval Sienese paintings, Persian and Indian miniatures and various Chinese paintings. Early and mid 20th century European and American modernists often inform my color choices and paint handling. Lately I’ve been under the spell of Monica Poole and Gwenda Morgan, wood engravers from Britain that created marvelously inventive landscape prints.

His Last Night in Randazzo, 2017. Watercolor and gouache on paper. 19" x 14"

OPP: His Last Night in Randazzo (2018) and Goodbye Jay (2017) have a cinematic quality, in the sense that the scenes floating around the central figure indicate something other than what’s happening in the present moment. I keep flipping back and forth between thinking they are the near future, the distant past or a complete fantasy in the heads of the figures in the bottom of the the paintings. Thoughts?

IA: Both paintings are inspired by true events, and both depict several different points of time within one composition. The events are fragments, and they do not necessarily come together to form a coherent narrative. In these paintings I hope to capture what it feels like to hear the stories (or the storyteller) that I’m working with, rather than transcribe these events into a linear narrative.  

Goodbye Jay is a memorial painting, albeit a light-hearted one, depicting events from the life of a friend who was a sailor on research vessels in the Arctic and the South Seas. He lived in a comic book world of maritime violence and South Seas romance. His Last Night in Randazzo is a little less straightforward. I used the space to the left of the tree in the center as a container for vignettes depicting an acquaintance’s escape from Sicily and his flight to Detroit. To the right of this tree is a couple walking down a path in the present day--they are the ones that have to live under the weight of the events on the left.

Fantasy is sparingly added to these compositions, I only include fictional events in the paintings if I feel that it will enhance or clarify the feeling that I’m trying to convey.

Spring '96, 2013. Oil on canvas. 30" x 30"

OPP: Can you talk about the recurring themes of being chased, watched or stalked?

IA: The chase themed paintings began in 2012. A friend and I were cycling along a wooded path on a drizzling November afternoon, and we were suddenly chased by an incredibly fast deranged man wearing a cape of burlap sacks. Around this same time everyone in my apartment building was unexpectedly evicted. I started making some drawings of being chased while cycling, and the chase theme became an allegory for forced flight.

The “watching” paintings are about longing, loss and the quixotic behavior of scorned lovers. Like the other paintings, these are based on true events from the distant past that have haunted and moved me. I never really set out to make a painting about being stalked, but I can see how some of the compositions could inspire that interpretation.

Dennis and Marilyn, 2016. Oil on canvas. 30" x 30"

OPP: Tell us about the process of making collaborative prints with Carl Baratta and Oli Watt?

IA: This series started in 2007. One of our primary goals is to create a collaborative piece where the viewer can’t see each artist’s hand. Put another way, we hope that no one will be able to look at a piece and suspect that I drew the bottom, Carl drew the top and the middle looks like something from one of Oli’s prints. To achieve this, we try to draw in each other’s style, we often take turns carving different parts of the wood block, and we generally make all decisions collectively.

Old Woman Spring Road I, 2016. Collaboration with Carl Baratta, woodcut on paper. 9" x 12"

OPP: Did this collaboration teach you anything about your solo practice?

IA: For a long time, the collaborative work was a place where I (we) explored fantastic and mythological themes that were absent from, or didn’t seem to fit into, my personal work. The collaborative prints were a vessel for passages from the epic of Gilgamesh, invented deities and the depiction of other worlds—content that seemed at odds with my paintings set in the contemporary world. To my surprise, in 2014 the apparitions, ghosts and angels from the collaborative prints started creeping into the personal work, enriching it in a way that I could never have anticipated.

To see more of Isak's work, please visit isakapplin.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). Most recently, Stacia created Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Florine Demosthene

Releasing the Truth, 2018. Mix media on canvas. 32 x 48 inches.

The female figure in FLORINE DEMOSTHENE's mixed media work hovers in a gauzy, blue and gray haze. In some works, she sprouts whole other versions of herself from her back. In others, she lovingly carries herself in her arms or on her shoulders, as a parent carries a child. This figure represents our relationship with ourselves. She is both a physical body and a symbol of the spirit. Florine earned her BFA at Parsons the New School for Design and her MFA at Hunter College. She had had solo exhibitions at Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts (St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands), Gallery MOMO (Capetown and Johannesburg, South Africa), Semaphore Gallery (Neuchâtel, Switzerland) and Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana). She has received grants from Arts Moves Africa and Joan Mitchell Foundation. Florine resides between New York, Accra and Johannesburg, although she's spending 2018 in Tulsa, Oklahoma as a 2018 Tulsa Art Fellow.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you see the relationship between the mind and the body, the internal and the external?

Florine Demosthene: The works are about the relationship we have with ourselves. . . the different parts of ourselves and how we are engaged in this continual battle. I have been investigating the duality between mind, body, emotion, spirit and essence through this series of works. I have not quite formulated a solid understanding of these components and how they interconnect. It's like I have gone down this rabbit hole that keeps getting deeper and more nebulous. 

Disappear Into Myself 3, 2013. Ink, charcoal, graphite and oil bar on polypropylene. 9 x 12 inches.

OPP: It seems like you are really talking about a spiritual path of inquiry. How does art-making aid in that path? Can you share any insights or observations you have?

FD: Making art in integral to my path of self-awareness and discovery. It allows me to create a cocoon around myself where I can delve deeper into my psyche. It has been an intriguing journey. I find when I allow my anger to rise to the surface, I make leap and bounds in my art work. I don't want to be in a perpetual state of rage, but it does serve as a catalyst for me to push past my boundaries.

Illumination #11, 2018. Collage on paper. 11 x 14 inches.

OPP: Are these works self-portraits?

FD: I don't necessarily see the works as self-portraits but rather an exploration of ideas. I reference myself, particularly my body, because it is readily available and I can easily manipulate it in the way that I want. 

OPP: Can you talk about Mind Chatter and The Story I Tell Myself? Is the secondary figure a burden to the first? Or simply an integral part that the main figure must nurture and carry through life?

FD: Those two works are addressing the shadow aspects of who we are and what exactly constitutes our personal narratives. I find that we fear the darkness within ourselves and shy away from addressing that truth within us. With those two works, I was searching for how to unburden this aspect within us.

Meta, 2018. Mix media on wood panel. 40 x 52 inches.

OPP: Blue lines seem to operate differently in different works. In Meta, they grow from the fingertips and remind me of Freddy Krueger’s knife glove. In Wounds #2, they seem more like blood dripping and in Wounds #7, they shackle the feet. How do you think about the blue in these works?

FD: Firstly the large areas of blues and black are glitter. The blue glitter lines are a continuation of the yellow beams that I was using in a previous series. These lines represent energetic communication or a sort of higher consciousness.

There has been this question that has been gnawing at me for quite some time: If we are only using like 10% of our brain capacity, then what would it look like if we say use 55%-100% of our minds? 

In the quest to find answers to this question, I have come to the understanding that it is not about our brains, but rather our connection to our soul/essence/spirit...that spark that ignites the life within us. If we could gain full access to this spark, then we can propel the brain (and how it functions) to level unimaginable. The thing is, we are so disconnected from this aspect of ourselves. In these works (the ones with the radiating lines) I'm attempting to bridge that gap between mind and spirit. . . to somehow build a connection to allow for direct communication.

To Come Undone, 2018. Mix media on wood panel. 52 x 120 inches.

OPP: In earlier works, the figure feels trapped in the backgrounds because there is more visual noise and, in some cases, actual locations with buildings and furniture. But in more recent works, the figure seems to be floating in an empty, abstract space. Can you talk about this change?

FD: The simplified background was just a natural progression of the work. In earlier works, I was concerned quite a bit with the figure/ground relationship. As the series developed, it became more and more about the body—and what's within the body—and less about the space in which the figure resides. This gradual shift helped me to hone in a bit more on what I wanted to convey with these drawings and paintings.

Meta-Two, 2018.  Collage on canvas. 36i x 48 inches.

OPP: In 2018, you won the Tulsa Fellowship, which offers an unrestricted award and brings artists from elsewhere to Tulsa for a year. Tell us about the experience. What has it been like to relocate? And what are you working on?

FD: I have been out of the USA for four years, so I had to mentally adjust for this fellowship. Thus far, the fellowship program has been surprising (in a good way) and it is allowing me to have some much needed time to regroup. I plan on continuing this series as well as possibly incorporation 3D and digital works. . . but we shall see how that goes. 

To see more of Florine's work, please visit florinedemosthene.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). Most recently, Stacia created Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Susan Klein

Small Sculptures, 2017. Oil on ceramic and epoxy clay.

SUSAN KLEIN's work weaves in and out of an irreverence for the sacred and a reverence for the banal. Her sculptures and drawings are playful, colorful and humorous. . . and they take themselves seriously. They are complex explorations of ambiguous forms—urns, gravestones, altars, severed fingers—that evoke the human devotional impulse. Susan earned her BFA in Studio Art at University of New Hampshire, followed by her MFA in Painting at University of Oregon. In June 2018, she was an artist-in-residence at the Wassaic Project in Wassaic, New York, and she will be spending July at theInternational Studio and Curatorial Program in Brooklyn. She is the curator of Nighttime For Strangers, which features the work of Skye GilkersonHeather Merckle, and Holly Veselka, at the NARS Foundation in Brooklyn. The show opens this Friday on July 6 and runs through July 27. Her upcoming solo show Susan Klein: New Work opens on September 6, 2018 at the Sumter County Gallery of Art in South Carolina. Susan's work in represented by The Southern. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you define the Sacred?

Susan Klein: I think of the sacred as that which is imbued with a specific religious or spiritual significance. This can be an object or living being that is revered and often held as directly connected to a god or gods. I am interested in the arbitrary manner that objects can be consecrated and made sacred. An ordinary object can be transformed into a thing that carries power, weight and spirituality. It can act as the connection between this world and another.  

Offering, 2017. Oil and acrylic on ceramic stoneware. 84 x 84 x 6 inches.

OPP: Can you talk about that recurring form which is sometimes a severed finger, sometimes a gravestone, sometimes a monument?

SK: This form references a pattern on an Etruscan artifact. I have played with it many times in painting, drawing and sculpture. I like how it can shift between a finger, figure, phallus and monument. It is a form that symbolizes creation, touch and commemoration. 

It is interesting that you mention it as a severed finger! The violence associated with that connects the form to Shadow Things (2014-2015), a body of work that directly relates to cemeteries, urns, grave markers and funerary ornament. I was thinking about how these markers or holders of the dead are used to commemorate and bridge the living and the dead. Mausoleum and the related works grew out of visits to museums to see artifacts (Roman and Egyptian funerary artifacts to name a few) and out of my experience in Berlin’s Weissensee Cemetery, the second largest Jewish cemetery in Europe that miraculously survived WWII. Many Jews hid in the mausoleums there, but I think most were found and killed. Despite this history—or maybe because of it—it is an amazingly beautiful place. Humans have a way of turning death into something beautiful. Through religion, commemoration, decoration and the use of the sacred object or altars we find ways to grapple with that which we do not understand. 

Three Rainbows, 2017. Oil on canvas and wood. 60 x 48 inches.

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

SK: Humor is a counter to the heaviness in life. It is a way we can process and manage emotions, trauma and current events. For me, it is also a way to prevent work from becoming literal, heavy-handed, overly simplified and a one-liner. It keeps complexity in the work, and that mirrors the human psyche.  

The finger form is as funny as it is serious. I often use shapes or imagery that shift from serious to playful, venerated to irreverent. This slippage is important to me, and one of the main reasons I am currently working with the ubiquitous symbol of the rainbow. It is used in religion, new age spirituality, emojis, stickers, etc. I think it is funny to use a cliched image in "serious," formal work. There are so many associations we have with the rainbow as a symbol. Rainbows are very seductive and silly in reproduction (but a real rainbow is always beautiful). It is fun to play with those associations, to personify and glorify this image. Plus, how can I resist a good color gradient? 

Landed, 2018. Oil on ceramic stoneware. 18 x 14 x 7 inches.

OPP: It seems like you began in drawing and painting and moved into sculpture. Is that the case? What led you toward sculpture?

SK: In graduate school, I cut up drawings and made three-dimensional structures out of them. I would use these structures as stand-alone sculptures and as still life subjects for paintings. I also began using small foam and spilled paint sculptures as subjects. This process continued after school for many years. Later, I pulled forms from paintings and made them into sculpture. There has been a continuous back and forth, although I had about three years or so where I focused entirely on painting. A collaborative exhibition in Berlin in 2015 brought sculpture back into my practice. I incorporated the furniture in the exhibition space into my work. That certainly changed things! In some ways, straight painting and image making never satisfied me. I continuously was thinking of the painting as object, so moving into sculpture made perfect sense. Strangely, much of the art I admire most are very quiet paintings, like Giorgio Morandiand Édouard Vuillard. Although Betty Woodman and Jessica Stockholder rock my world. 

Looped, 2018. Oil on ceramic stoneware. 15 x 9 x 9.75 inches.

OPP: When did ceramics first enter your tool kit?

SK: In 2016 I began making forms out of Sculpey, epoxy resin and air dry clay as a way to solve an architectural issue with a cement piece. These forms and materials clicked, so I made more and more. A year ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the artist in residence program at Otis College of Art and Design. They have a ceramics studio and an amazing ceramics tech there, so it was the perfect time to experiment with clay. I loved it immediately! Instead of glazing, I fire the clay and oil paint it.  This keeps the work firmly connected to painting and allows me to work with a process that more spontaneous than glazing. I also love how the oil paint takes to the fired surface. It is very buttery and satisfying!

OPP: Talk about your choice to present artist statements in the form of audio and video that doesn’t tell us much at all. You could have no statement at all, as many artists do. Are you a contrarian? Or genuinely mystified by writing an artist statement?

SK: Ha! I have "proper" artist statements that I use for applications, exhibitions, and whatnot, but I like resisting language on the website. I think the work creates its own language and presents that to the viewer. I am not so interested in layering verbal/written language on top of that. Although I am an academic, I have a small problem with the academicizing of visual art.  Artist statements are a direct result of the proliferation of the MFA and the professionalization of the field. . . so yes, maybe I am a bit contrarian! But I also like that image and sound can exist as a statement or descriptor of the work. There is something pre-lingual in my work and in my experience words can obfuscate, confuse and miscommunicate as often as not. One must be a very good writer to illuminate the world.

Peach Diamond Reverence, 2016. Foam, paint, glitter, resin, clay. 12.5 x 11 x 9 Inches.

OPP: What’s frustrating about how viewers respond to your work?

SK: For some reason, I dislike the word whimsical being applied to my work. I don't know why! Maybe because it makes me think of cuteness. My work incorporates play, humor and improvisation, but it is also rigorous. Whimsy feels a bit fluffy. 

OPP: What’s satisfying? 

SK: It is satisfying when viewers really engage with the work. When they spend the time to get lost in it a little, when they start to react the dark side as well as the light. I do like to see people having fun with my work as well! My art idol is Elizabeth Murray, who created work that embodies many things at once. It is playful, humorous, rigorous, serious. 

To see more of Susan's work, please visit susankleinart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). Most recently, Stacia created Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mikey Kelly

Be Love Now v1.0 17.084. Acrylic on linen. 60" diameter x 1-1/2" depth. 2017.

MIKEY KELLY (@mikeykellystudio) explores the spiritual undertones of abstract painting. Line is his primary mark, and his meticulous methods yield surprising, vibrating networks of color. Mikey earned his BFA at University of Oregon and his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art. His work is included in the permanent collections at the Cranbrook Museum of Art, the Frankl Foundation for Art and the Neiman Marcus Corporate Collection, and he has been an Artist-in-Residence at Kala Art Institute (Berkeley) and at Lucid Art Foundation (Inverness, CA). He's represented by Chandra Cerrito Contemporary(Oakland), where he has had two solo shows. His work is on view until May 20, 2018 in the Lucid Art Foundation Annual Artist Show at GRO in Point Reyes, California and in Proto_Pop at Dab Art in Ventura, California. Mikey lives and works in Napa, California, where he recently completed the Painted Poem Mural

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you say, “The paintings truly need to be seen in person to fully experience them.” What am I missing as a viewer who’s only seen your work online?

Mikey Kelly: Changing tonalities and perspectives can’t be caught by the single image capture of a camera and need an advanced brain and the higher resolution of the human eye to truly experience these effects. When one gets closer to the paintings colors begin to separate and what you may have thought was a blue was actuality your eye mixing two or even three different colors to make that blue. There are also times when the canvases seem to bow or stretch visually as one moves around the pieces. These paintings test the viewer’s visual, neural and perceptual plasticity.

Embattlements 13.218.1. Mild steel, powder coat. 26"H x 21"W x 4"D. 2013

OPP: You used to work in powder-coated steel (2011-2014). I see a formal connection between your current systems-based paintings and the line variations in the steel sculpture. Are the processes at all similar despite the difference in media?

MK: All my work starts with a line. Formally they begin at the same place, but the sculpture work is much older than the drawings and paintings. The sculptures did dramatically inform the drawing and painting from their beginning, as I was familiar with playing with lines and the patterns that overlaying subsequent lines create. The process of making work changed dramatically a few years ago when I moved from the sculptural realm to the two-dimensional.

Mantra (Om Namah Shivaya) 17.016. Acrylic on linen. 24"H x 24"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: Can you describe your algorithmic process for making paintings? 

MK: My process starts with an analog program using encryption methods developed for secretly passing information that can convert language into numbers. This is a generative way of designing paintings that leaves the outcome unknown. I start with a base 26 variation of a Vigenere cipher that allows me to convert language into numbers. The result is a string of numbers that I then use to calculate the angle of each series of lines. I end up with an algorithm that directs the line spacing, angle, line width and color in a predetermined sequence before I ever start painting. This means that I work with no preconceived idea of what the final piece will look like. Each series of lines results in color shifting and new interference patterns each step of the way.

Buddha 16.264. Acrylic on Linen. 11"H x 11"W x 1-1/2"D. 2016

OPP: How do you get such straight lines?

MK: The painting process starts with the construction of a scale outside the boundaries of the canvas. This allows me to use a straight edge to maintain the same angle across the canvas as each line is painted. I use a pin striping tool that was developed in the early 1900s—it is essentially a syringe with a wheel at the end. This tool allows me to paint consistent straight lines of the same width without variation.

OPP: What can the paintings do that the sculptures could not? And vice versa? 

MK: While both are quite formal, the paintings feel more like true expression of myself. Sculptures on the one hand allow space, distance, volume, light and shadow into play. This creates a lot of variables that a two-dimensional painting can never encompass. But the paintings have allowed me to incorporate outside interests into the design and underlying structure of the work. This is why I have been exploring ways of combining the two so I can incorporate what I love in both into one piece.

P.O.S., Acrylic on goatskin, wood and deer lacing, 62”H x 42”W x 1-1/2D.” 2018.

OPP: Recently, you’ve shifted away from the conventional rectangle to the circle and even stretched goat skin. What’s led you to this format change? Are these anomalies or an entirely new direction?

MK: This is definitely a new direction that the work is heading in. Working the way I do, I find that using a shape other than a square or rectangle allows for more freedom and a less confined feeling to the painting. This came about from working on a few murals and installations that I completed in the past year.

I have been working towards the goal of making more dimensional paintings that incorporate many different techniques and materials. I plan on incorporating more leather, steel and neon into my work in the near future. I find the flat surface of a painting to be confining and would like to see how warping or stretching the canvas or leather over other shapes will influence the viewing of the work.

The Happiness Project, 2018. StARTup Art Fair LA, Acrylic on Cardboard, 96”H x 192”W x 192”D.

OPP: Tell us about the Happiness Project.

MK: The idea was to make an installation that felt like the positive energy that was in the paintings. The Happiness Project started while I was preparing for StARTup Art Fair LA and was trying to figure out how I could transform a hotel room into a full immersive experience. I decided the way to accomplish this would be to fill the entire room by lining every square inch of the walls with painted cardboard panels. I began by taking two word positive affirmations, running them through my analog program and then painting the resulting angles on cardboard shipping pads. Over 30 panels were cut and fit around all the furniture, light switches and outlets.

After the initial installation, I had the opportunity to install the panels again this time at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary. For this iteration I decided to further cut the panels down and to also rotate them creating more complexity to the installation as the lines now ran both vertically and horizontally and the joints became more complex and varied.

The third iteration was as a Special Project Artist at StARTup Art Fair SF.  This installation became the backdrop for their panel discussion series and broadcast on Facebook live. This most recent version included much smaller pieces while still playing with the complexity of the previous version.

16.058. Acrylic on Paper. 40"H x 26"W. 2016

OPP: What does the phrase “spirituality hacking” mean to you?

MK: I started looking at different forms of religion and certain religious movements during a time I attended a series of events at the Rubin Museum in New York City. Most religious belief systems seem to have a short cut to attaining enlightenment or a closeness with God. Saying a certain prayer, doing a certain form of meditation or the spinning of a prayer wheel are all ways to cheating the system in a sense.

So this Idea of “spirituality hacking” became an element that I started incorporating in my work. I began by using the analog program I developed, which enabled me to take a prayer or mantra and to use it as the input. This then gave me a series of numbers that I could use as direction to paint from. This also led to incorporating rotations of the canvas during the painting process to create a painting as a representation of a spinning prayer wheel.

Mantra (Om Ami Dewa Hrih) 17.040. Acrylic on linen. 12"H x 12"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: But it sounds like the precise complexity of your process isn’t really a short cut at all. Perhaps the focus and flow of the studio is the direct path to enlightenment. . .

MK:  Although there are elements of my work that have a very spiritual jump off point, I feel like the work truly needs to be viewed as an abstract piece of art first and foremost. Throughout art history spirituality has played a very specific role. When abstraction began in painting, that role did not diminish; it just went unspoken. I have chosen to be vocal about the influences of spirituality in my practice. But if I am not there or if the wall label doesn’t tell you, then the work simply becomes a painting to be judged on its formal qualities.

Many people think that making this work must be meditational. Making these paintings means making the same type of mark thousands and thousands of times. Muscle memory aside, if I just leave the present for a moment while painting, I will make a mistake. It can be very stressful and physical. I endure the struggle because the end result contains such an amazing vibratory power. I hope the work brings joy and physical beauty into the lives of others and maybe helps them find a direct path to enlightenment.

See more of Mikey's work at mikeykelly.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center. Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Babinec

Golden Rule Mine (Glass), 2016. Acrylic on panel. 12 x 16 in.

AMY BABINEC's (@amybabinecdrawings, paintings and plaster casts are driven by the recovery of memory. Informed by her educational background in Archeology, she emphasizes the fragment and the excavated object as poetic stand-ins for all that is lost. Amy earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA in Visual Art from University of Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include Remnants (2015) at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois and Underlayer (2012) at Morton College Gallery in Cicero, Illinois. Amy's upcoming solo show Golden Rule opens at Riverside Arts Center’s FlexSpace (Riverside, Illinois) on June 2, 2018 and runs through July 7, 2018. The opening reception is on Sunday, June 3 from 3-6 pm. Amy lives and works in Evanston, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Generally speaking, how do fragments relate to the whole in your work?

Amy Babinec: My work uses fragmentation as a metaphor for memory and the failure of memory. So many of my memories are fragmentary, particularly of my childhood. Images such as a wallpaper pattern, a book cover, and the smooth texture of a rock, conjure up a host of memories of my family, and a reminder of their loss over the years. Objects isolated from their environments can become artifacts, evidence and mementos. Subtracting context leaves the object open to fantasy and speculation. These fragments embody the nostalgia and longing I have for family relationships for those who have passed on. The objects become substitutes for keepsakes and stories from my own family. 

Reenactment 14, 2009. Oil on canvas. 24 x 18 inches.

OPP: In your 2017 artist statement, you say,"By combining elements of archaeology, personal history, and fiction, I set up an opposition between abstraction and figuration, past and present.” And I see this very much in the series Reenactment (2009-2010). Can you talk about this body of work in relation to this statement?

AB: I created the Reenactment paintings in graduate school at the University of Chicago. As an instructor of a beginning painting class, I found stacks of paintings that college students had discarded after the class ended. Many of the paintings were abstract, thus presenting an opportunity to use them as a free-association prompt. I selected and cropped the abandoned student paintings that had compositions, spatial relationships, or colors that reminded me of a place, person, or situation from my early life in Belleville, Illinois, the town in southern Illinois where I grew up. For example, a vivid orange geometric abstractioncould be turned into the orange brick cul-de-sac behind my elementary school. I intervened in the paintings with the minimum I needed to do in order to visualize that memory. The resulting paintings remain abstractions, but with my memories (the figuration) embedded within it.

Wildwood Mine, 2015. Plaster, 4 15/16 x 4 5/16 x 3/4 inches.

OPP: When did you first start making work based on artifacts found in abandoned coal mines?

AB: I started my research into this topic in 2009 when my parents discovered cracks in their basement foundation in their house in southern Illinois. The cracks were caused by subsidence, or the collapse of coal mines under the surface. Unfortunately, the area under their house, and most of the town, was undercut by underground coal mines which had been operated by individual owners or small companies from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Buildings and roads on the surface could prove unstable because of hidden processes under the earth and could cave in at any time. I was struck by the metaphorical possibilities of that phenomenon, that events in the past could affect the present, sometimes suddenly and drastically.

I used Illinois State Geological Survey maps, Google Earth maps and historical records, and triangulated the location of mines, then drove out to find them. These sites were largely on private land. Many had been completely erased from the surface, but some had pits, coal and slag piles, railroad tracks, and other evidence of the coal industry. I discovered that many of the abandoned mines had been used as a trash dump for domestic items such as plates and cups from the 1880s to the 1960s. As part of my studio practice, I visit the abandoned mine sites throughout the year, conduct surveys and digs and bring artifacts and documentation back to my studio in Evanston, Illinois.

Hill Mine Grid 3, 2013. Acrylic. 30 x 30 inches.

OPP: You work in a variety of drawing and painting media, as well as cast plaster. How do you make choices about which fragments should be painted in watercolor or oil versus cast in plaster? Does the object dictate this?

AB: I am a materials and techniques nerd. I enjoy the process of experimentation (most of the time!) to find the technique that fits the idea. In the Subsidence project, I have used a variety of materials to interpret the data I have found. I document the mine sites through drawings, video, and photography, and collect personally resonant objects to bring back to my studio. My focus on particular facets of this process leads to the media that will reflect my investigation.

Abandoned, Golden Rule Mine, Lenzburg, Illinois, 2017. Watercolor, colored pencil, and charcoal on paper. 11 1/4 x 15 inches. 

OPP: In both Golden Rule and Remnants, the found objects are isolated from their original context in backgrounds of (almost) black or white. Is this an erasure of the sites that inspire your work? Why or why not?

AB: My background includes a masters degree in Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland and twenty years’ experience as a museum professional. I use archaeology as a touchstone throughout much of my work. The white background evokes the practice of archaeological illustration of objects uncovered at a dig, and the photographic documentation of objects in a museum. I also use the square format as a reference to an archeologist’s grid. I often show objects in a meditative, quiet manner echoing the precision of archaeological drawings. I repeat certain objects, such as a spoon, to provide a sense of scale, following the archaeological practice of including a ruler or penny in photographs of finds.

Unlike an archaeologist, I am selective about what I collect at a site and represent in my work. Recently I have been most drawn to domestic artifacts dating from my grandparents’ generation in the early to mid-twentieth century. For example, a small triangle of colorful glazed ceramic, which had been broken off from a figurine of a house, takes on further resonance for me. I feel the pathos of this object, once highly valued by someone, but now abandoned by its owner to be buried in the dirt and be subjected to the elements. 

To see more of Amy's work, please visit amybabinec.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). Her most recent installation Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hector Arce-Espasas

Dancers (Metallic), 2015. Fruits, Flowers and Porcelain. Dimensions Variable.

HECTOR ARCE-ESPASAS explores the relationship between desire and exploitation by employing the loaded symbols of tropical paradise in paintings, ceramics, and screenprints. Hector earned his BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA at Hunter College in New York. He has had solo exhibitions at Taymour Grahne (2016) in New York, Evelyn Yard (2015) in London, and Luce Gallery (2014) in Turin, Italy. In 2016, he was named one of 10 Exceptional Milennials to Watch by artnet.com. Hector lives and works in New York. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the myth of the Tropical Paradise and how you use it/subvert it in your work?

Hector Arce-Espasas: Throughout the history of mankind, different cultures, in their pursuit of the ideal, have invested symbolic meaning into objects and elements of their environment. In the process of exteriorizing inner quests, these objects have become sensuous representations, i.e. symbols that express intangible truths or states. A symbol corresponds to a precise time in history and it transcends history to become universal in its function as an image. Universality of the symbolic image enables the transformation and adaptation of the symbol by different cultures, but this process also carries numerous misconceptions, misappropriations and colonial fantasies.

The idea of the Tropical Paradise is the present day transmutation of the ancient historical myth of the Garden of Paradise. The concept of Paradise as a garden is found in most eastern cultures: a secure, everlasting place in which Man can transcend his frail human condition. In biblical terms the notion of Paradise became associated with the Garden of Eden. Its earthly representation became a walled garden with dominant water features and planted with date palm trees. In western societies, this idyllic garden idea was often associated with the Latin term Locus Amoenus, a pleasant place which in time became a poetic convention for a description of an idyllic setting where a romantic encounter could occur or which belies an impending threat. 

The transformation of the eastern idea of the Garden of Paradise into the western version of Eden as Paradise combined with the notion of the Locus Amoenus became the seeds for the creation of the new Tropical Paradise: an exotic, idyllic place with palm trees by the sea. Unlike its theological version, this Paradise is within easy reach, ready to be appropriated, consumed exploited and spoiled. In present times, commercial media and the advertisement industry have successfully reconfigured some of the Paradise images, within different contexts, transforming their traditional meanings, adapting them and making them trans-cultural, with far more reaching and readily consumable results.

Untitled (red) Clay Paintings, 2014. Stoneware and Acrylic on Linen. 60" x 72"

OPP: Palm trees and pineapples are recurring images in your work. Are these symbols stand ins for Tropical Paradise?

HAE: All the compositional elements from this garden are transfigured and transubstantiated to recreate the new Paradise. The river becomes the sea. The coconut palm tree, brought from the Pacific Islands by the Europeans to the coasts of West Africa and the islands of the Caribbean, replaces the date palm tree as the official iconic image for this new exotic landscape. The insertion of the pineapple as the attainable, sensuous new fruit of this Tropical Paradise emerges. My images visually demonstrate how easy the association and transition from the date palm tree to the pineapple might have occurred; thus becoming the fruit associated with the coconut palm tree. 

No, these are not paintings they are Pineapple Decor, 2015. Acrylic on Canvas. 60" x 79"

OPP: Can you talk about the abstract screen print works? I have a sense that this is representational imagery, but blown up so large that its referent disappears?

HAE: Some of the work deals with the deconstruction and recombination of images of the pineapple, in order to demystify its meaning as a fruit representative of the Tropics. The images lure and repel while playing with the idea of the pineapple as the easily attainable commercial fruit of the Tropical Paradise. This idea is extended metaphorically in regard to having viewers question their expectations of a Tropical Paradise in itself: at what cost, to their own reality or to that of the place to stand for their fantasies.

Still of Paradise (Purple Shade of Light), 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 24" x 29"

OPP: You’ve recently shifted into more painterly representations, whereas in the past, the palm tress have been more graphic and reproduced through printmaking processes, which connects them to mass produced media. What led to this shift?

HAE: After a few years of working with printmaking, I wanted to take a shift from the mechanical to the hand-made process without loosing the elements that I was working from. The paintings that I did in the past are created by photographing palm tree leaves then zooming in to create an abstraction. Then the images were made into transparency that get exposed into a screen. The end result is painting with acrylic and the use of large format screen-printing. I use a similar process with the derriere paintings. First a model derriere wearing jeans gets directly painted, later she makes a mono print using her derriere in the canvas leaving the in prints by her moves (similar to Yves Klein). Later these are photographed and altered using the same method as the palm tree paintings.

Dancers (White), 2016. Fruits, Flowers and Porcelain. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: It’s really jarring to see the body—well, the hips and ass, in particular—as a vessel for serving fruit. How does this work speak to exploitation of the Caribbean world?

HAE: My intention is to leave interpretation open to the viewer. Sometimes I like to ignite dislike, discomfort, disagreements with the elements I choose. A good example is the derriere sculptures. Its an image we constantly see exploited, usually direct in the Latin culture. As once the pineapple or this idea of the tropical paradise was a coveted and luring concept, in today’s culture it is the derriere. My last installation of the sculptures, named Ode to Paradise was made into a pyramid like stage/shape with a lot of tropical foliage on the top with the idea of empowering the figure, which I feel is what our culture has greatly done.

To see more of Hector's work, please visit hectorarceespasas.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). Her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? is on view at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois) through April 20, 2018. In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text Where Do We Go From Here? Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Zoe Hawk

Dreaming As The Summers Die, 2017. Oil on aluminum.

ZOE HAWK's allegorical paintings and drawings are populated by adolescent girls in knee-socks and and Peter Pan collared dresses. Matronly women in veiled funeral garb sometimes stand guard, representing an oppressive and depressing future. These paintings point to a dominant narrative of idealized American girlhood and the nuances of  navigating inherited gender expectations. In these paintings, growing up female is an unfolding process of resisting and participating, subverting and submitting. Zoe earned her BFA in Studio Art from Missouri State University and her MFA in Painting from the University of Iowa. Her work has been included in exhibitions both in the United States and abroad, and reproduced in publications such as New American PaintingsThe Oxford American, and ArtMaze Mag (London). She has attended artist residencies in Belgium, Norway, and the United States. Her latest residency experience was at the Doha Fire Station in Qatar, which culminated in group exhibitions both in Doha and Berlin. Her work was recently included in the current issue of Create! Magazine. Zoe lives and works in Doha, Qatar.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you think of your paintings as allegories? If so, for what?

Zoe Hawk: I do see them as allegorical. Ultimately my work is about the experience of girlhood, the transition to womanhood, and ways we learn our roles in society. The paintings are like stage sets, or dollhouses—little social microcosms where various stories can play out. All of the poses, facial expressions, colors and scenes are carefully chosen to represent different aspects of the girlhood experience. Many of the decisions are made to function as metaphors, and I often include references to classic stories, films, games, folk songs, etc. I want the narratives to seem sweet and familiar, like a story in a children’s book, but at the same time cause a bit of unease in the viewer, as if something is not quite right. 

In Her Willows, 2017. Oil on aluminum. 17.5" x 23"

OPP: Can you talk about the difference between girls and women in your work?

ZH: Most of the girls in my paintings are at the transitional age of adolescence, when the realization hits that womanhood won’t be all excitement and romance, but that there will be violence, fear and unrealistic expectations to bear. This is where my depiction of the veiled women in black funeral dresses comes from. They are mourning the death of their childhood freedom and innocence. But from the point of view of the young girls, the women are something mysterious and unknown, both alluring and foreboding. Often the women are confining the girls, trying to rein in their wild energy, or looming over them with a watchful eye. Other times they are leading them by the hand towards the inevitable.

Aqua Culture, 2016. 11 x 16.5"

OPP: Very few of your paintings feature girls alone. This Way Over Obstacle (2016), Aqua Culture (2016) and Dream Home (2014) really stand out. In each case, the solitary girl is totally focused on something that has nothing to do with the group. How are these girls different from the rest? 

ZH: The girls in groups are learning how to navigate their social environments. They sometimes work in tandem, like a flock of birds, while other times there is frustration, rebellion and contention between them. The solitary girls are more about introspection and curiosity—showing that girls have scientific minds, deep inner lives, and a sense of self that maybe conflicts with social expectations. Aqua Culture is about an intense moment of awe, wonder and a dark realization about the future. The girl in Dream Home is engaged in an act of curiosity, peeling back the artifice of her environment, exposing darkness, while symbols of domestic perfection are looming over her. I think the isolation of the figures feels much more stark and dramatic when seen in contrast to the group images. It becomes less about interactions and more about the potency of one singular action, and about the impact of the surrounding environment. 

Cry, Sally, Cry, 2014. Oil on aluminum. 15 x 17"

OPP: Tell us about the clothing in your paintings. Lots of white knee socks, white collars, skirts and dresses. I don’t think a single pair of pants. They seem like school girls, but not contemporary teenagers.

ZH: The clothing the girls wear represents different modes of feminine identity: the uniforms are a metaphor for socialization, institutional power and conformity, while the floral patterned dresses and white bridal/baptismal dresses represent femininity, purity and innocence. I like to reference clothing from the 1930s through the 1960s—like the white collars and pastel dresses—because to me it is the epitome of American idealized girlhood, and represents the gender ideals that are still woven into the fabric of contemporary culture. I think imagery from the past functions well as a stand-in for the current social climate, because it allows distance from our daily lived experience. And as much as the paintings are a critique of these gendered constructions, I acknowledge my own pleasure that I take in these things—the childhood joy I felt as a girl in a puffy, pink dress—and the internal conflict I feel as a result. 

Waterway, 2015. Oil on aluminum. 16.75 x 18.5"

OPP: I think about these paintings as about the conflict between wanting to belong and wanting to assert individuality. Sometimes the girls fall in line and sometimes they rebel. To what degree do these characters have choice in the matter?

ZH: I think adolescence is so interesting because of this conflict between the desire to fit in and a need to rebel. I want that tension to add to the overall sense of uneasiness in the paintings. I often like to paint the girls’ faces and actions in a way that expresses their curiosity, sadness, fear and frustration, in spite of the rigid idealism of their clothing. The question of choice is interesting, because I think we are all a product of environment, upbringing and circumstances. But I love the idea that some of these girls can break free. 

Rite of Passage, 2014. Oil on aluminum. 16.5 x 19"

OPP: I agree about each of us being a product of our environments, upbringing and circumstances. So how does that fact relate to the dominant cultural narrative of “idealized American girlhood,” which seems to be predominantly white, middle class and suburban? How do we deal today with this inherited—and limiting—storyline about how girls should be?

ZH: Yes, I definitely see that idealized narrative as a misrepresentation of the broader girlhood experience, and something that has been an oppressive force for many. It certainly differs from my own experience growing up, but it is a narrative that I consumed along with most other girls because it was the only one offered by the mainstream. For me, the discovery of alternative female voices in books, music, comics and art was essential. I think diverse options are more accessible to girls now, thanks to the Internet and social media, but we still have far to go. Representation is important, so I think we need to amplify the creative voices of women—especially women of color, trans women, immigrant women, and others who have traditionally been denied a place at the table—in order to culturally redefine what it means to be a girl. 

To see more of Zoe's work, please visit zoehawk.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jenn Smith

Untitled (Flashlight), 2017. Acrylic and oil on panel. 22" x 20"

JENN SMITH's paintings and drawings feature Adam and Eve, a very chill Jesus Christ and a silly serpentagainst a rural Midwest background. Corntractors and signs of worship also populate her oeuvre. Her style is simple, evocative of a child's Sunday school drawings. But her exploration of evangelical belief and her own upbringing as an evangelical Christian is anything but simplistic. Humor and sincerity are both present, proving that you can take something seriously without believing in it. Jenn earned her BS in Studio Art at Illinois State University and her MFA in Painting from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited at Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), the Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food (Chicago) and Julius Caesar (Chicago). Her work was most recently on view in Winter Romance at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (Chicago). Jenn lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s your relationship to Christianity?

Jenn Smith: I was raised evangelical Christian in the rural midwest. We attended the kind of church where people would spontaneously begin speaking in tongues or fall down in a trance-like state. They call it being “slain in the spirit.” We thought we were living in the end times and the Rapture would happen at any moment, so there was a lot of excitement and fear. I’m no longer a believer, but many of the ideas and images from that time in my life continue to fascinate me.

Book of Acts, 2017. Acrylic and oil on panel. 20" x 26"

OPP: Your painting style is silly, cartoonish, and evocative of a child’s drawings. Have you always painted this way? Or is it a style that is particularly suited to the content of your recent work?

JS: I learned how to draw and paint representationally as an undergraduate, but pretty soon after that I started making abstract paintings, drawings, and collages. I continued to make abstract works off and on for about ten years. Then, in grad school, I decided I needed to paint figuratively. It was a big jump. I was pretty sure I’d forgotten everything I learned as an undergrad, but I knew it was the only way I could wrestle with more personal content in my work. So, I started to paint figures, animals, cars, cornfields, angels and snakes from my imagination, very simplified and without too much fuss. I’m not very interested in realistic representations of things. I like diagrams, game boards and flat, matte shapes and symbols. I look at a lot of medieval paintings. I like how they’re so often flat with a confusing sense of space. A too-short arm, an awkward gesture, or foreshortening gone wrong keeps things interesting. 

OPP: More than just being visually interesting, it seems to suggest that the reality you think you know is a lie. . . which brings me to the recent snake drawings, like Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #16) and Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #3). How do your goofy snakes relate to Eden’s snake?

Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #7), 2017. Colored pencil on paper. 11" x 8.5"

JS: I found the inspiration for the snakes in a deck of Bible character memorization cards a friend gave me as a gift. The cartoon serpent was depicted on the Adam and Eve card, slithering in and out of oval-shaped holes in a flat green cartoon tree. The cards were meant to be straightforward educational materials, but I felt there was some level of (unintentional?) sexual innuendo. . . I mean, snakes going in and out of holes and so on. . . It was kind of funny, but it also hit on my interest in the complexities of what is hidden and what is visible in a painting or drawing. My snake drawing series has allowed me to explore these ideas within a very limited framework, in almost a diagrammatic way, using a set of symbols including snakes, boxes, holes, lines, dotted lines. 

OPP: And what about your version of Jesus? Does he have a different backstory than what the bible taught?

JS: Well, he retains his biblical backstory—there’s no way to separate him from that, even if I wanted to. But it’s interesting to put him in other contexts to see what happens. There’s so much emphasis in evangelical culture that we should strive for a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. So for believers, they don’t think about him as a historical figure or a far-away savior; they think of him as their best friend who they talk to every day. So I feel like I got know him pretty well when I was growing up. When I first started to include a Jesus-looking figure in the work I wasn’t exactly sure why I was doing it. But now I’m starting to wonder if the Jesus in the paintings is actually a version of me, in the same way the Jesus a Christian talks to every day is actually just a part of their own mind. 

Untitled (figure and Jesus), 2016. Oil on canvas. 22" x 20"

OPP: What does the word irreverent mean to you and do you consider your work to be irreverent?

JS: I think irreverence and a sense of humor have served me well in my life, but I’m still getting used to the fact that they’ve made their way into my work. As I said, I was making abstract paintings, which were pretty safe (also sort of boring) before grad school. I know that people find my recent work irreverent, and I think it probably is. But I also try to make it complex and layered and to allow a lot of space for the unknown.

OPP: Tell us about the Demons. They are the most abstract works. I interpret the titles as referring to dates, so I imagine that these works represent some kind of event or “dangerous influence.

JS: That’s a good guess! I usually don’t say much about the demon paintings because I think part of what makes them interesting is their ambiguity.

Demon '87, 2016. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 22" x 20"

OPP: You’ve been out of grad school for a little over a year. I remember my own first year out as particularly difficult. How’s it been? Has anything changed in your practice?

JS: It has been a real rollercoaster, but I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to continue making my work and have had opportunities to show it. I draw a lot more now, as a way to develop ideas and plan paintings, but also as an end in itself. I have intensified my practice of collecting Christian ephemera, which I share on Instagram. Painting is still the center of my practice and I don’t think that will change. I’m still excited about it every day.

OPP: What are you excited about in the studio right now?

JS: I’m working on a series of paintings on the front sides of wooden boxes about the size and shape of cereal boxes. They are hollow inside and have coin slots on top. They resemble the collection boxes we used to have on the walls of our church. I’m interested in the idea of having these paintings/boxes on a gallery wall where anyone can drop a coin or a folded-up note or anything else into the slot, and whatever is dropped inside becomes a permanent part of the piece forever. 


To see more of Jenn's work, please visit thejennsmith.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Liz Tran

Lightspeed Five. Mixed Media on Panel. 24" x 24"

LIZ TRAN's paintings and installations hum with vibrant, synthetic color, hovering between abstraction and representation. The versatility of her visual language—replete with circles, paint drips and swooping, sagging lines—allows the forms themselves to constantly shift meaning. Explosions become flowers. Party streamers become tent tops. Wreathes and beaded necklaces become an expanding and contracting universe. Liz earned a BFA in  Painting and Print Art at Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle) in 2002. In 2017, her work was included in exhibitions at The Brain Project (Toronto) and Parlor Gallery(Asbury Park, New Jersey). Also in 2017, her solo show JaWbReAkEr was on view at ZINC contemporary in Seattle. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Babayan Culture House (Ibrahimpasa, Turkey), Baer Art Center (Hofsos, Iceland), the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists (Reykjavik, Iceland) and Vermont Studio Center with a full fellowship from the Clowes Foundation. In March 2018, her work will be included in Elation Station at Russo Lee Gallery in Portland, and she is working on multiple installation projects across the country. Liz lives and works in Seattle.

OtherPeoplesPixels: A defining element of your work is its multi-coloredness. It’s not just colorful, but rather explosively colorful. What do you love about color? How do you think about color?

Liz Tran: I make paintings that, because of their vibrancy, are extremely difficult to ignore. I love the emotions evoked by color and how the injection of color can completely change the way a space is read, even more so in my installation work. Adding vibrant pattern to monochrome structures and landscapes forces the audience to pay attention to something that would otherwise go unnoticed. I wrote a statement for the Seattle Art Museum Gallery’s Color Excursion exhibition that accurately sums up my feelings on the subject.

“The use of color in my work is an unapologetic form of escapism from the long stretches of grey weather that continually blankets my Pacific Northwest home. Each year my palette of luminous, unnatural hues provides a defiant objection to winter’s approach. Pulsing fluorescent paints massage the naked eye with ultraviolet light, creating an energized glow impervious to dull environments. Maroon does not belong to me. Tubes of brown remain unopened. There is safety in muteness. My paintings speak to extroversion, experimentation and play. Through color, I aim to activate.”

Current. Mixed Media on Canvas. 48" x 60"

OPP: That injection of color into a bleak landscape is present in much of the work you've done during residencies, especially in Iceland, where you've done at least six. What is it about Iceland that kept you returning year after year? How did the environment affect the work you made there?

LT: What draws me to Iceland is the sense of solitude, of being at the edge of the world. The naked shapes of the volcanic landscape create a vastness that leaves space for the mind to wander. There are few trees or structures obstructing the view, which makes it difficult to discern distances. What appears to be a short walk can turn into hours. The hot pots, the steam, the sulfur, the 24 hours of daylight in the summer and the harsh, low angle of the sun in the winter are all things that I can’t experience back home. I could wax poetic about Iceland for hours but, ultimately, the country is very conducive to creativity.

Extreme Boulder Makeover. Completed while in residence at Samband íslenskra myndlistarmanna / Reykjavík

OPP: What is more important in your process: control or surrender?

LT: The process is a constant conversation between control and surrender, push and pull. Surrender is the preferred action (or rather, inaction), where “flow” and intuition lives. However, control must step in occasionally, before things get completely out of hand. It’s not one of my strengths, but without control my work would bleed into complete chaos, which it often does. With the multitude of media and layers I work with, it’s easy to overwork. Quite a few of my paintings are sacrificed to complete surrender and therefore make their way to the burn pile. 

Swell. Mixed Media on Panel. 24" x 30"

OPP: The same recurring forms read differently in different paintings. What looks like a planet in one piece is a bauble, ornament or balloon in another. Sagging lines look like party streamers in Last Call but they become tent tops or waves in Swell. To me, this points to the connection between human culture—in the form of decoration and celebration—and the cosmic. Thoughts?

LT: Forms repeat and are re-purposed naturally and intuitively. This is my visual language, developed over decades and just like any language, there is repetition.

Not only does the work refer to the human connection, it refers to interconnectedness. In some ways, I’m reaching for an accurate portrayal of that universal connection, which is completely impossible but keeps me challenged. Interconnectedness IS something to celebrate. We are all in this together. 

Big Bang One, 2014. Mixed Media on Panel. 36" x 36"

OPP: What keeps you painting circles in particular?

LT: Circles are the shape of infinity, the world, the moon, the feminine, wholeness, self and to some, God. It’s the shape that comes most naturally to me. I’ve never been drawn to hard edges, geometric forms or angles. Circles leave things up to interpretation. 

OPP: About a decade ago, trees, especially with gnarled, curvy branches were recurring images in your paintings. Can you talk about how that body of work shifted into what you are doing now? Was it a slow evolution or an abrupt change?

LT: Although I still love the tree series, it came to the point where I couldn’t push it any further. It was time to move on. I became much more interested in imagery that couldn’t be defined as a particular object. Stripping away the trunk and branches left me with the rich material that I am still exploring today. Taking away the “tree” gave me unlimited possibilities.

From Whence We Came. Mixed Media on Panel. 60" x 144"

OPP: My favorite piece on your website is From Whence We Came. Can you talk about that central void in the composition in relation to the title?

LT: That’s one of my favorites as well. Because of the large scale (60” x 144”), there was automatically a physicality in the making of the piece. The title refers to the place where we all originate, the womb. To a certain extent, I am creating my own womblike environment and celebrating it. 

To see more of Liz's work, please visit liztran.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Felicita Norris

Ignorance Ain't Bliss When It Ends Up Like This, 2012. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 72 x 52 inches.

FELICITA NORRIS's large-scale, figurative paintings are disturbing, empathy-evoking and ambiguous. The intimacy of confined domestic spaces is the setting for power dynamics to play out. Physical bondage is mostly self-imposed, but hints at the possibility of violence. And yet, these haunting works are metaphors for emotional truths, not stories to be taken literally. Felicita earned her BFA at San Francisco Art Institute (2013) and her MFA at Stanford University in California. She has exhibited at Root Division (2014 and 2015), SOMArts (2014) and Glass Rice Gallery (2017), all in San Francisco. Felicita is currently Visiting Faculty at San Francisco Art Institute. She lives and works in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I can’t decide if I’m more concerned about the subjects’ bodies or their psychological well-being. How much of the visual signs of physical violence are intended to point to psychological violence?

Felicita Norris: This is an excellent question. When I give talks, I make sure to mention that the works are metaphors, or rather, dystopian fantasies. They are not literal; they’re paintings. The paradox in the work is that, at times, I choose to paint realistically and figuratively, which causes discomfort because it’s relatable and tangible. The works are interpretations of memories growing up in a tumultuous household and the effects of that, as well as my experience as a multi-racial woman, then and now. But again, they are not real. They are an altered reality, which is what painting is, in essence.

I often use myself as the character because, for one, I’m available, but even more so, I am given the opportunity to represent others like myself. Sometimes it’s hard to stomach, but I realize that I can be a voice for the past and the present. Is it my responsibility? I don’t know yet. I have looked to performance artists like Karen Finley for inspiration and use experiences of all kinds to examine the human psyche. I wonder, why do we do what we do? How do certain experiences affect certain people? My intention however, is not to advocate violence, but rather to allow room for introspection, if that’s what the viewer chooses to do.

Thank you for the worthless day. 2015. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 96 x 48 inches.

OPP: Plastic tarps or drop cloths show up in several paintings. In some cases, they seem mostly self-imposed, but no less disturbing. How do you think about these drop cloths in Thank you for a worthless day (2015) as opposed to About a Boy (2015) and Outlet (2015)?

FN: I appreciate the “self-imposed” comment. If you look closely, all of the actions in the works are self-imposed, yet escapable. The idea for Thank you for the worthless day started out as female body examination and ideas about shame with regard to youth versus age, mother and child, potentially, and how American media celebrates certain aspects of womanhood and not others. For me, the whole scenario is ridiculous because I know it is self-imposed, but the characters are faceless or “hooded” because it allows the viewer to enter the space without having to recognize the “who” - the viewer is left to decide whether they are the voyeur or the participant. The difference in the use of plastic from one painting to another is again, a metaphor for the act of painting itself. We don’t paint to document anymore, so the conversation remains, why is this so important? So I talk about the plasticity of the act of painting as well as the falseness of the content that at one time could have been “real.”

Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. 2014. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 84 x 56 inches.

OPP: Can you talk about other forms of confinement in your paintings? It’s not just in the drop cloths, but also in the tight spaces and the cropping.

FN: The idea of confinement is another contradiction. Of course it depends on how you view tight spaces. Some people are terrified and others feel a sense of security. It also depends on how you view life and death, in a way. For example, some cultures embrace death as part of life, so they celebrate it, not because they don’t feel loss, but because they hope for continuation; other cultures fear death and hide it or choose to prolong suffering. But this is all my opinion—I’m very in between how I feel about confinement; I like to be held by loving arms or blankets, but on the other hand, the idea of feeling trapped is terrifying to me. I’m still trying to figure out how to visually and mentally balance these two ideas…

OPP: Have you ever used trigger warnings in a show or been asked to?

FN: No, I have never used or been asked to use trigger warnings for a show. I think it’s implied that the works are not photographs, which could be taken as fact, but these are fantasies, not facts.

Untitled (hanging legs), 2015. Oil on linen. 50 x 24 inches.

OPP: How often does the content of your work lead viewers to tell you stories about their personal lives? Do they feel a permissiveness because of the intimacy? Or are they generally too shy to talk to you about the content?

FN: Early on, I noticed that many people enjoyed finding a way to relate to the content of my work. I think it makes people feel safer. I do get some personal stories, or “this reminds me of…” comments as well. I think what the viewer contributes to the work is just as important as the work itself. Artist Gregory Crewdson said as much about the content of his own work as well. And yes, the viewers who want to, will talk about how they feel about the work, and others, understandably, are too shy to talk about it. But I think any reaction is a good reaction, and for me, misinterpretation is expected.

Not White Enough, 2014. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 96 x 64 inches.

OPP: Not White Enough (2014) stands out for me from the other works in that it points to the collective psychological effects of white supremacy as opposed to the power dynamics within a domestic space among individuals. Is this a false distinction in your opinion? How does Not White Enough relate to other works painted in 2014?

FN: Not White Enough does stand alone because it represents a shift from the early melodramatic family portraits to something more subtle. I do like the drama of the previous works, but this type of work allows the viewer to enter because everything is not given at once. The viewer can easily place themselves into the scenario, and it allows for more questioning. The painting literally portrays a person who pulled a sheet over themselves and had their photo taken. But there is definitely something else going on. I chose to title this painting Not White Enough because for me, the concept of not being white enough comes from self-projected, self-critical, defensive and assumptive ideas based on observations that contribute to stereotypes about how white men view women of color. The persona of the white man functions as another important, yet undefined and even unseen character in my work, representing my personal desire and “his” perceived fetish for what is exotic or different: To him my “race” signifies ignorance, hyper-sexuality and disposability. Again, the viewer can see what they choose to see…

Folie à deux, 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 68 x 82 inches

OPP: That fetishization by the white male of the brown, female body is so clear in Folie à deux (2012), which is for me one of the most unsettling works. It's one of the most difficult to look at because my first read is one of sexual violation. I imagine that the woman is being held captive over a period of time, unable to escape. I want to help her escape. And yet, my eye keeps being drawn to the man's face, and I find myself wondering if he is feeling tenderness—which then infuriates me because he's holding this woman hostage! How do you see the relationship between these two figures? Do you see this painting differently 5 years later?

FN: Your read is correct in that the woman is being held captive; but again, it is not forced, instead, it is self-imposed. I purposely gave no real indication that the woman’s hands were bound, thus leaving her free to free herself… This painting is more of a reflection on "woman as martyr," much like the deposition and lamentation paintings of Christ by Baroque artists like Caravaggio and Rubens. Because she is a woman of color, the political implications to her potentially being a slave are heightened because of her white “partner.” And the man does look loving, because he is; the contradiction however, is that she is not his prisoner, but her own. As an artist, I find myself struggling to transcend the metaphorical and visual capacity that this painting embodies, but I do see it as having the same meaning as it did five years ago. I am in a different place now, mentally and emotionally, so sometimes I ruminate on the painting when I see it again, and sometimes I reflect on how much I have grown since then.

To see more of Felicita's work, please visit felicitanorris.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?