OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Justin Richel

Globe (Detail)
2009
Gouache on paper
5 ft x 5 ft

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your interview with Little Paper Planes you mention a compulsion to make work and the meditative experience of painting. Repetitive tasks can be both soothing and monotonous. They can engage your mind or they can free it. In general, what do you think about while you paint cupcakes and presidents over and over again?

Justin Richel: If all is going well while in the act of painting, I am thinking of only line, color and the emotional response. It’s a very interesting and blissful place for the mind to be.

OPP: How does your experience of repeatedly drawing similar objects shift over time?

JR: I usually have a specific image or sense of a particular painting or piece that I set out to create in my mind’s eye before hand, but through the process of translating that idea or wisp of an idea, from a thought to the physical paper, I am always a bit disappointed by the outcome. I feel that with each remaking of a particular idea, the message becomes more clear for me, as though I am able to communicate my idea more clearly with each attempt; understanding my own motivations through the repetition of the imagery. It also gives the image a life of sorts; you see it evolve over time.

When I was at Maine College of Art my major was in printmaking. I never really liked the process of printing very much. I felt that it was too limiting and often monotonous as well as a very dirty process. A lot of energy was expended with the only real benefit being that you can produce multiples of the same image. However, through the print making process, I realized the strength of the multiple. Images, if they are successful, do proliferate either by a cultural embrace or by the interests of a few, they are integrated and bent, changed and imposed upon, and I think it is this phenomenon that urges me to revisit these compositions again and again, manipulating and changing them to suit my own needs. In a sense creating my own iconography.  

Whirling Dervish (Detail)
2011
Gouache on cut paper, nails, adhesive
5.5 ft x 10.5 ft  

 OPP: You have many pieces titled Whirling Dervish, the first one a drawing in 2008 and the most recent your installation of gouache on cut paper at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art in 2011. Then there’s Debacle (2011), a wall drawing you did for the DeCordova Museum, which puts the viewer inside the whirling dervish. How does the shift in scale and media change the meaning of the imagery?

JR:  I have actually been working with most of these themes since the early 2000s and continue to find the rehashing of subjects and compositions completely engaging. I’ve found that the small work draws you in, engaging the viewers’ imaginations, encouraging them to lean in for a closer look, and allowing them to revel in all the fun details. The large work consumes the viewer wrapping them in the imagery. Most people find the miniature works very cute and whimsical, which they are. But there are darker undertones embedded in the work that I really want to be seen and understood.

With the larger work my hope is to dwarf the viewers sense of self with the compositions so that the audience feels like a part of the piece.

OPP: Do you see any of these as more successful than the others, in terms of communicating with your audience?

JR:  So far I think that through the use of various sizes and approach, the work’s message is communicated more clearly, each painting or installation telling a bit more of the story. As of late I am most excited about creating the installation works. They provide me with an opportunity to create an image that just isn’t possible in the confines of my tiny studio. The installation works are composed of hundreds of tiny parts and pieces that allow me to change the overall composition, keeping it a fresh exploration through each evolution. 

Precarious
2008
Gouache on paper
22 in x 30 in

OP: The theme of precariousness is very present in your works, as depicted in the columns and unstable piles of sweets, household goods, presidents’ heads and birds. You’ve written in your project statement: "The stack can only exist so long as all of its pieces are cooperating together, to shift or remove a piece would inevitably send the whole thing crashing to the ground." But, because your main medium is painting, you can endlessly stack objects in more impossibly complex ways without any real danger. You hold the viewer in an endless state of expectation of collapse. Do you have any interest in addressing what happens after the balance is actually lost, when things come crashing down?

Justin Richel: No, not so much. I think it is much more interesting to play with tension—I like creating that suspense and having the viewer’s own imagination complete the story. My hope is that the work communicates the sense that through cooperation of disparate parts and pieces acting as infrastructure, this odd stack or structure is able to exist. Just looking at the structure of present day society, it becomes very clear how precarious things really are. There is a real feeling that you have to hold up your end of the bargain. I think everyone is afraid of what might happen when it all falls apart and you don’t want it to happen on your watch. So we keep adding to and building the “system” so that it holds up, even as it falls apart during the process.

Died For Want Of Lobster Sauce
2010
Gouache on paper
22 in x 30 in

OPP: Looking at your various projects together, I see a strong sense of the interconnectedness of nature, culture, and the personal. Just like with the stacked furniture and sweets, nature and culture are precariously intertwined in our lives. You’ve worked simultaneously on the series Sweets and the series Big Wigs over the last few years. Could you talk about the differences between these two series, as well as how they inform each other? 

Justin Richel: The Sweets series is concerned with society as a whole: its behavior, its morality and constructions, the general state of things.

I like to think of the sweets and household detritus as characters or stand in for the figure, humans, and their relationships to one another. Creating scenarios that speak to the fragility of circumstance and the consequence of actions. I like to imagine them as functioning, dysfunctional infrastructures.

The Big Wigs are more concerned with those who are in power and, in contrast, the resiliency of nature. Quoting my project statement:  “These men sit rigid and firm in their positions of power and deeply entrenched in their glory, so much so that they essentially become living “monuments” of their own making. Meanwhile nature takes its course, birds move into their wigs, fungus and lichen grow on them freely and fires threaten to engulf them. All the while they struggle to save face and maintain their proud and victorious posture, ignoring their surroundings and the ensuing predicaments.”

I get a certain amount of pleasure creating the Wig paintings. They’re about the idea that if anything sits still long enough, nature will take root and treat that object as though it was simply landscape, a foothold, claiming or re-claiming the space as it’s own. I find the regenerative process of nature very comforting. It takes care of itself of it’s own volition. It’s a feeling of security and trust and one of relief. Nature’s design is one of perfect balance. In contrast, our own brand of design leaves so much lacking; not everyone is represented or even figured into the equation. Nature is both simultaneously finite and infinite.

It is necessary for me to have the two distinct series as a way of communicating this complex relationship.

OPP: What’s next for you? Any upcoming shows or new directions for your work?

JR:  Well, for 2012 so far I have a solo show at Galerie Voss in Düsseldorf, Germany (TBD) and a group exhibition, curated by Natalie Larson, at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. And in the spring my fiancé Shannon Rankin and I will have a two person show at June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland, ME.

Justin Richel has also recently released a beautiful print through The Endangered Species Print Project, which is sponsored by OtherPeoplesPixels. 100% of the proceeds from Justin's print support the endangered Guam Micronesian Kingfisher depicted in his charming work.

To view more of Justinʼs work visit justinrichel.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andrea Myers

Orange Horizon (Detail)
2008
Machine sewn fabric collage
20 x 120 inches

OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as a painter who works in sculpture and your BFA was in printmaking, so I imagine a time when you worked primarily in 2D. Was this ever true?

Andrea Myers: Yes. I began my pursuits as an artist, taking classes in mainly painting and printmaking and finishing my BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I found myself more engaged in the processes I was learning in my printmaking classes than with the actual resulting prints I was making. I was never really good about being precious or careful with prints I made, inevitably getting stray marks or “happy accidents” all over my paper. At some point, I started cutting my prints up, maybe out of frustration and maybe out of rebellion against two-dimensional expectations. I think that’s when I started activating a part of me that was interested in the materials and processes of printmaking and painting, such as paper, fabric, paint and color, and taking those elements and making them more malleable and tactile.

OPP: What prompted the change in your practice that led to "exploring the space between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, hybridizing painting, printmaking and sculpture," as you say in your statement?

AM: The transition in my work from exclusively two-dimensional to predominantly three-dimensional happened very slowly and incrementally. In stages, I found myself stepping off of the flatness of the wall and growing my work out into dimensional space. I began layering materials that I felt comfortable with, mainly paper. I experimented using the materials in multiple, rather than using paper solely as a means to make repetitions of imagery. The paper and then fabric became the subject matter, like painting in dimensional space, creating sculptural objects that relate to the color and forms found in painting.

Plateau
2007
Layered fabric, foam, glue, thread
65 x 50 x 20 inches

OPP: Could you talk more about how your overall process relates to painting?

AM: I really struggled with my first painting class. I was horrible at oil painting, probably too impatient, which is funny to say, because you could look at my current work and assume I am a very patient person to sit and layer small shapes of fabric and glue them together one by one.

In graduate school, I was in the Fiber and Material Studies department at SAIC, and our studios were mixed with the Painting and Drawing department. I found myself in a love hate relationship with painting, enamored by the possibilities of color and form but questioning the traditional format of painting. I began making what I now consider “exercises.” I would make a quick, gestural fabric collage and then make a seemingly exact replica out of painted wood. The pairs would be positioned together, testing the perception of the viewer. The Duplicate Series, as I called them, was a major epiphany in my work. In hindsight, I feel like I was breaking down my practice to the base level of what I was interested in, almost like finding my work’s DNA structure, so that I could then build it back up.

When I talk about my work now, I like to consider myself a “maker.” Each project or form I create leads me to my next work. It might involve sewing, drawing, printing on fabric, or cutting forms out of wood. I try to keep my practice fluid and take elements and processes from mediums that seem appropriate to my concepts for the pieces.

Pretty much every piece I make starts as a black and white contour line drawing in my sketchbook. Over time, the idea grows into a dimensional form, occupying physical space. But what is interesting to me is that the piece inevitably returns to its flat origins when I photograph the piece (usually for documentation for my website). In a way, every piece, no matter how dimensional it becomes, will spend most of its existence, its representation in the world, as a flat two-dimensional image. So perhaps every sculpture I make could really be seen as an idea for a painting of sorts.

Isthmus (Detail)
2006
Layered fabric, glue, acrylic, wood
20 x 32 x 144 inches

OPP: Your work relies heavily on accumulation, which speaks both to the organic and the manufactured. Your titles often evoke naturally occurring processes and formations (i.e. melting, thawing, drifting, fissures, webs, avalanches, plateaus), while your color palette and chosen materials (felt, commercially-produced fabric, paper) conversely evoke the manufactured. Can you talk about this apparent disjuncture?

AM: I have always been interested in presenting contrasts or tensions in my work. The starting point would be exploring the space between two- and three-dimensionality or what constitutes a two-dimensional piece versus a threedimensional piece. My approach to sculpture is to take flat materials and stack, layering and amassing the material so that it loses its initial flatness and starts to become a whole made up of many layered increments.

Inevitably, the central focus in my work tends to be abstractions of nature or perceived nature, and I am interested in how historically human kind has tried to harness and control nature only for nature to become more uncontrollable. My pieces function as a mediated version of nature. I attempt to illustrate the behavior of nature through bold, saturated color in contrast to how we generally perceive nature. I juxtapose natural forms with typically unnatural, intensified colors such as florescent orange or Technicolor striations. I look to color’s intensity as a means to visually illustrate the uncontrollability of nature while also working against the typical white wall format of a gallery space, creating forms that disrupt the linear, clean and neutral setting of the traditional exhibition space. Consistently in my work, there is also a contrast between the presence of my hand and the use of a tool. I go back and forth between cutting layers of fabric individually by hand, implementing a sewing machine to create line work, and using a jig-saw or band saw to cut forms from wood. Even with manufactured materials and machines, the individual artist uses each machine so differently. I see all of my materials like tubes of paint, in line with Duchamp’s notion that tubes of paint are ready-made and so every painting in the world is a readymade object; every artist in the postmodern world is dealing with “readymades,” but each artist’s hand and idea is what makes original works of art.

Everlasting
2010
Fabric, polystyrene, plaster, latex paint
50 x 55 x 30 inches

OPP: I personally find your work unbelievably beautiful. There's something profound to me about forms that immediately reveal their processes and labor, as if the beauty lies as much in the process as in the resulting form. Does this resonate with your interests as an artist? Does beauty play a role in your work?

AM: I love that you mention beauty. Doesn’t it seem like we aren’t allowed to discuss such a thing in contemporary art sometimes? I feel like often times, we can lose sight of the fact that at the core of art making, there is an individual making the work, a person who has feelings and imperfections and is human. My work is a reflection of my personal observations and, for better or worse, is an extension of myself. I have always loved to be in nature and experience the fundamental forms and behaviors of nature that I find fascinating and compelling. The processes I utilize in constructing work emulate events found in nature: slow erosions or accruals that shape and shift land over time, sometimes rapidly, sometimes subtly. I find beauty in the cyclical behavior of nature, in the growth and in the decay and in all of the moments in between.

Spill Thaw
2011
Ink on fabric, glue, foam
15 x 17 x 19 inches

OPP: What's an average day in your studio like?

AM: Ahhh, I wish I could have a whole “studio day,” but usually my practice comes in fits and starts, typically a couple hours at a time or less. Now that I have an almost two-year old daughter, her naptime and bedtime dictate when I can concentrate on my work. I have maintained a home studio ever since I was the artist-in-residence at Central Michigan University in 2007, where I was given a house in the woods with a studio to live and work in during the school year. I sometimes miss having a studio outside of my house, but ultimately it is so convenient and nice to be able to go look at something I am working on, even if it is just for a moment. It seems like I try to do a lot of mental pre-planning and drawing in my sketchbooks, so that when I do have the time to work, I am focused and decisive. Some days, I will just sit down and try things, making little collages or work on developing new processes. It also depends on deadlines, if I have a commission deadline or a show deadline. I am more likely to be very strategic when I go to my studio. When I am working in my studio, it feels very much like a meditative process. The repetition of accumulating layers or stitches from the sewing machine over and over allows my mind to rest or wander, and I get absorbed into the present moment of making.

To view more of Andrea Myers’ work visit andreamyersartist.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Parker Smith

Pussy Fart, detail
2011
Printed canvas, 14k necklace
20" by 30"

OtherPeoplesPixels: Interdisciplinarity is a staple in your work, from photography to painting to sculpture to installation to collage. Many of your wall-hung works, such as Crush, Dead Clay, and Pussy Fart, are hybrids: part photograph/part sculpture. Could you talk a bit about working in so many different media?

Adam Parker Smith: I like the idea of mutual dependency between materials and idea. In my recent work concept seems to always dictate the materials used; however concept is normally reliant on the materials. I like to think of these “hybrid” works as combinations of inert materials that, when combined, have a catalytic reaction. This forms concept that is far removed or contrary to the original materials that make up the work. I spend time mining for ingredients that will lend themselves to this type of conceptual transformation and that blend or polarize ideas.

OPP: Has your practice always been this way or did you ever have an emphasis in one specific medium?

APS: I have my MFA in painting and originally confined myself to painting on canvas with oil or acrylic, but moved quickly away from this my first year of grad school.

OPP: What kinds of subject matter did you paint back then? Anything that is a clear precursor to the work you make now?

APS: Actually, my paintings morphed directly into my sculptures. In grad school I was working figuratively, setting up scenarios that were essentially snapshots from the everyday, transformed and glorified. What began to happen was that I was having a hard time finding models to do the things I wanted to paint. I decided to make my own figures and paint from these, at which point I had full control and no restrictions. The figures were constructed from nylon and cotton filling and were sewn together in a rudimentary way. At a certain point I looked around the studio and realized that the sewn figures were much more interesting than the paintings that were being created from them, and so I abandoned painting and focused on developing my sculptures. So initially my sculptures were informed by my paintings. It took me a while to return to painting. In the last couple years I have started painting again, and now my paintings are informed by my sculptures.

Bad Dog
2011
printed canvas, porcupine quills
30" by 30"

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

APS: Humor in my work is closely related to a more academic definition of comedy with origins in the theater of Ancient Greece: dramatic performances pit two societies against each other in an amusing conflict. I see this agon of comedy as a struggle between the powerless youth and societal conventions. The youth is left with few options other than to take dramatic, unconventional action.

OPP: Is youth in this metaphor the figure of the artist in general? Or is this more a representation of your personal experience? Is the “unconventional action” all art or is it specifically the kinds of unexpected juxtapositions you make it your work?

APS: I like to think that artists, musicians, actors, activists, and writers are a voice for their generation. So when I speak of the youth, I am speaking of a group that includes not only myself and artists in general but also a larger group of individuals who face similar struggles but who may not have a conventional venue to voice their views. With this in mind, "unconventional action" can range from irreverence toward medium specificity in a painting to violent revolution.

Disco Ball
2009
Plexiglas, paper, matte board
24" by 12"

OPP: Many of your pieces depend on convincing illusions. Burn Out (2010) and Burn Out (2011) list a smoke machine as one of the materials, leading me to believe that the Lamborghini isn’t even turned on. Disco Ball (2009) turns out to be impressively handmade with small squares of colored matte board instead of mirrors. Is illusion the point or a means to convey something else?

APS: Luckily vision often dominates the other senses, which makes visual illusion a great tool to exploit the audience's assumptions about the physical world. For me these illusions are not the point, but a way for me to skirt the normal restriction of the physical world in an attempt to convey an idea or concept that otherwise may not be possible. These illusions are not meant to be permanently deceptive, only to suspend conventional notions of time and space long enough for viewers to be intellectually transported before they have the chance to peer behind the curtain. I like to think about illusion as something that is not true or false but as an alternative experience that supplements meaning.

Fall Into The Void
2011
Photo collage on paper
126" by 126"

OPP: In Super Fight (2010), Superman, the paragon of wholesome American masculinity, fights only himself. He is frozen in constant battle, becoming both the perpetrator and victim of violent conflict. In Fall into the Void (2011), male heads are placed on female bodies and vice versa. No one looks at all comfortable. It appears that this gender-bending is not a welcome change, but a destabilizing force that leaves all the figures struggling to find any ground to stand on. Is talking about a contemporary experiences of gender your intention with these new collage pieces?

APS: While the complex social spectrum through which sexuality is now viewed is something that I am interested in, I would like to attribute the destabilizing force in both of these works to the mounting uncertainty of our times. Both works deal with ideas of negation and arbitrariness, which can of course be applied to ideas of gender or the absence thereof. But I would like conversation to extend beyond ideas of sexual identity and gender identification to more universal concerns of disorder, entropy and cultural disarray. Fall into the Void runs visually parallel to Rodin’s Gates of Hell, which depicts the falling of the damned into an eternity of brimstone and fire. It also evokes contemporary images of well-documented, man-made catastrophes. Super Fight lends itself to notions of the utter futility of man’s endless courtship with war and conflict and our societies celebration of sensationalized violence.

Installation at Times Museum, Guangzhou, China
Preggers, Fox in Box, Crush, and Cage
2011

OPP: Could you talk a bit about the issue of how individual pieces relate to your body of work as a whole?

APS: Because of my background in painting, I often think about these issues in a more formal sense. One of my teachers once stressed that a work (she was speaking about painting) must operate from three distances and be interesting from each perspective. These distances were from twenty feet away, from six feet away and from inches away. So from across the room a work must have something that draws you near, that compels you to look longer. Its overall composition must be stimulating in some fashion. As you draw closer to the work, details become clear. The work grows and begins to operate on another level; concept and form begin to merge. Directly in front of the painting you should become engaged with the nuances of the work that are only apparent from that perspective. These, too, add depth and understanding to the work so that, through a combination of different perspectives, a very rich appreciation can be drawn from the work. I like to think about my entire body of work in this way: from across the room (my work all together), from a few feet away (my work paired with another work or in a specific location), and from a few inches away (my work standing as an individual piece). For me each one of these hypothetical perspectives is important. If one is lacking, then the overall experience that the viewer has with my work is less rich.

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

APS: Sewing together thousands of colored friendship bracelets from Guatemala. I am working on a series of tapestries. Some of the tapestries are image based while others have text formed from different organizations of colors from the bracelets. One of these texts reads, “will you marry me?”


To view more of Adam Parker Smith’s work visit adamparkersmith.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aaron Johnson

Tea Party Nightmare
2011
Acrylic on polyester knit mesh
42 x 54 inches

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your paintings are primarily acrylic on material such as knit mesh and construction debris netting. How did you arrive at the painting surfaces you employ in your work?

Aaron Johnson: It’s been a long slow journey. I didn’t get a BFA in college, I got a degree in Molecular Cellular Biology. Meanwhile, painting was a hobby. I got more and more seduced by painting and eventually—to make a long story short—ended up in New York to really be an artist but had no clue what that really meant.

When I moved to New York in 1998, the Jackson Pollock retrospective was up at MoMA, and it blew my mind, I had never heard of the guy nor did I ever fathom the existence of mega-scale drip paintings. My favorite artist prior to seeing the Pollock show was Salvador Dali (my main exposure being a poster I purchased at a head shop in Tucson and then hung it over my bed all through college), so the show was a really shattering experience for me.

I went home to my Lower East Side apartment and started making squirty drip paintings, acrylic squirts on canvas, with dreadful results, but lots of fun. Because I was painting in an apartment and I needed to keep the floor clean, I had plastic on the floor and got intrigued by the "spill-over" squirts of paint that were accumulating on the plastic. Eventually I began peeling the drips off the plastic and collaging them onto canvas. Soon, I was squirting and pouring paint directly onto the plastic and making collage pieces out of the paint solids.

Since 2002-ish, my interest in peeled acrylic solids has continued to evolve into the process that is my practice today.  Eventually I did get an MFA from Hunter College in New York, but I was self-taught first, which was crucial to me inventing my own nonconventional process. Lately my paintings are reverse-painted acrylic polymer peels on polyester nets— the nets came into the process in 2005 when I just realized through experimentation that synthetic nets are a great pseudo-canvas for holding together the acrylic peels.

Studio Shot
2007

 OPP: The “studio” images included on your website give me a clue into your process but I am still curious about the specific steps that go into the making of your often incredibly large paintings. Can you describe your process?

AJ: The works are painted completely in reverse (like reverse glass painting) on clear plastic sheeting. The figures and small details first, the back grounds and loose forms last.  At several points in the process the plastic is laid flat and I pour on puddles of squirty paint and clear coats of acrylic polymer. These layers accumulate as I build the picture in reverse, and the layers physically add up to a solid acrylic sheet that is finally peeled off the plastic, and in the end mounted on a polyester mesh.

Freedom from Want
2011
Acrylic on polyester knit mesh
84 x 66 inches

OPP: What comes first—an idea for a specific person/icon to address conceptually or or an aesthetic idea about texture, pattern and composition, or do they occur to you simultaneously in a recent painting like Freedom From Want?

AJ: They always start with a figurative and/or narrative idea, sometimes from a sketch, sometimes in relationship to contemporary politics, and sometimes from an art-historical precedent. Freedom From Want is my version of the famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting of the same title. My interest was in articulating how the 1940s American Dream vision of the Rockwell would translate in our contemporary context of our current great American Nightmare. Like a lot of my work, this piece exposes the subverted horror of America. Grandma and Grandpa serving the turkey in my painting have been appropriated directly from the Rockwell, they have turned only slightly monstrous. As the view descends down the composition to the front of the table, we see the characters turn more and more grotesque and fiendish. Among those dining at the table we see a burning earth head, and a horribly wounded veteran.  The turkey itself may be a roasted American Eagle. The fixings on the table include severed heads, mashed guts, fuck-burgers, spurting oil rigs, a dead Indian head, mutant sea creatures, etc.—it’s a very loaded painting.

OPP: You seem to have moved away from incorporating collaged material in your paintings as you did in your earlier works. Your paintings from 2009-present accomplish the level of detail the collaged elements previously provided in highly-detailed painted passages. Can you speak about your shift away from collaged materials?

AJ: When I began painting in reverse, it was incredibly difficult to achieve any clear detail, so collage was a convenient and easy way to insert details, mostly National Geographic animal parts, fast food greasy globs, and porno sexy bits. Now I can paint all that stuff in ways that I find more interesting than what I was doing with collage, so as my painting skills improved, collage slipped out of the process.

OPP: In your daily life outside of the studio do you see the people you encounter as the grotesque figures you paint? I imagine you at the grocery store or on the subway looking around and seeing the world through the lens you’ve created for your paintings.

AJ: Haha, not quite. Recently though, I had a dream where I had a meeting with a curator at the gallery, and the curator, upon shaking my hand, turned into the demon critter I was painting in the studio that day—a little undead guy with an emaciated body and long spindly tentacle-like arms. He jumped on me, suddenly I’m naked, and we’re rolling around on the floor as he is clawing me to shreds, gallery-goers standing around watching like it’s performance art. Then the demon violently digs his claws into my butt-cheek and rips my butt-cheek off as a I awoke with my heart-pounding. Thankfully my butt-cheek still intact.

It Ain't Me Babe
2011
Acrylic on polyester knit mesh
52 x 72 inches

OPP: That is an amazing dream, I'm glad to hear your butt-cheek survived it! So, if you don't necessarily see the world through the lens you’ve created for your work, what is inspiration for your grotesque figures?

AJ: Way back when I was a biology student, I used to draw grotesque little creatures in the outlines of my bio lecture notes, which were influenced by the anatomical and biological forms we were studying. I also was crazy about Garbage Pail Kids and Madballs and other comic-grotesque toys as a kid. Fast forward to that Jackson Pollock moment at the MoMA I mentioned before, when I started being a “serious” painter in New York with my squirty abstractions... I had convinced myself that those juvenile/adolescent monster drawings I used to do were not “serious." I had a few years of making gooey weird “serious” abstract squirty works, and at a certain point, which coincides with watching 9-11 happen from my Brooklyn roof, I started painting monsters into the works, with a new urgency to speak to political issues happening in our contemporary world. The grotesque nature of my monsters comes from the Madballs and the biology, and from current affairs nightmares, but also very largely from the painting process itself. The reverse painting technique doesn’t allow for much accuracy nor for editing, so the figures end up looking sort of naturally deformed and hideous, which is part of the fun. It’s like the process and the figures grew up together and neither could be what they are without the weird symbiotics involved.

OPP: What are you working on now?

AJ: I’m taking a break from painting. My current solo show Freedom From Want is up at Stux Gallery in New York through October 22nd and I’m working on drawings through the course of the show, in order to generate new ideas and to chillout a bit and not obsess over new paintings just yet. I’m really excited about some tattoos I’m designing for people.

To view more of Aaron Johnson’s work, visit aaronjohnsonart.com

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Molly Schafer

Specters / Bloodwrath; At my end I will take you with me
2008
Graphite, acrylic, colored pencil on paper
60" x 48"

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you think the concept of “going feral” shapes your work? It seems to factor into a number of your works dating back to your 2006 video Centaurides, in which a computer modified child—like voice shares her fantastical observations and dreams; most of which involve a desire to break—free from the mundane, civilized, or unjust.

Molly Schafer: Yes exactly!  “Going feral” is my out to the mundane daily human life.  As I see it back in the day we had it all—tons of time outside, traveling around with the seasons, NOT MULTITASKING, self-reliance, physical strength and endurance, being in the moment and more connected to nature/each other/other animals/Earth/the universe… and then we decided to live in dark, dirty cities buy stuff from stores and sit in offices all day. Blah who wants that? Well it turns out lots of people do. And the idea of “going feral” becomes threatening to society. Perhaps it partially represents everyone’s underlying longing for freedom and/or fear of that desire.

Feral is a term referring to a domesticated creature that has returned to a semi-wild state. In a way, a hybrid state of being—not truly wild, no longer domesticated. I related that to the work I was doing with lady centaurs, themselves a hybrid of woman and horse.

While in graduate school I received feedback that people had trouble relating to the centaurs since they didn’t reflect their own human bodies (unimaginative, no?) so I decided to take that wildness and hybridity I depicted through the physical body of the centaur into a fully human body having gone feral. A major influence on this work is my first entry point into this theme: young adult novels featuring a girl who has isolated herself from society, lives in the wild with an animal companion.

I have had a life-long desire to live in one of those narratives, and I do realize it is slightly silly but I am sincere in that longing. My journey to and stay on Asseateague Island with my cat was my attempt to access a bit of that world. The trip resulted in a body of work Dawn Horse. The drawings in that work reflect the iconic images on the cover of such novels, often the only image in the whole book, their function is to only tell part of the story.

Clan of the Cave Girl (We went feral y'all)
2009
Graphite & watercolor on paper
20" x 20"

OPP: Hearing a child-like voice narrate Centaurides makes me curious about what you liked to draw as a child. What were your early sketchbooks like?

MS: Ha. Yes they weren’t too different from now. Animals, girls/women. More penguins (I was into penguins way before it was cool). My brother and I grew up drawing while we watched TV. Our parents were/are artists.

My junior high sketchbooks featured pencil drawings of awesome punk girls playing guitar. Lots of piercings, Mohawk hairdos, Tribe 8 shirts, L7 tattoos. The boys I knew were into drawing dragons, wizards and punk dudes. They always had trouble getting that we were into the same things. The gender difference or concept/awareness of gender (dragons vs unicorns) was so huge they couldn’t see past it. Not to mention they were intimidated by my skills. Lame.

Ha ha.

I dunno I’ve always liked drawing mice. I guess I’ve always fell somewhere between Beatrix Potter and fantasy novel art. Which may explain my limited successes.

Still From Barrier Island
2007
digital video

OPP: Your arctic-looking house cat plays a prominent role in your video from your Barrier Island series. In reviewing images from your subsequent solo show, Dawn Horse, at Lump Gallery in Raleigh, NC, I noticed at least three other pieces that include visual references to your cat; one that even lists “my cat's fur” in the material list. Can you speak about the role your cat plays in your artmaking? Where does your house cat fit in your work’s relationship to real and imagined animals like centaurs what you describe as “similar hybrids”?

MS: Well I’m glad someone is reading my detailed descriptions of media. Yes that is my boo. His name is Sid and he has been my dawg for 18 years now. I’ve always tried to let him be a cat and as wild as he wants to be.

Once I took Sid to hang out in a park in Pennsylvania (where we both were born and raised) after an hour or so of us just chillin in some woods he started loosing control. He ran around, ate some rabbit poop and got this crazy look in his eye—shiny and wild, like he didn’t recognize me. There are moments—the realization there is no leash and he can run far, when he is at the top of the tree and is considering leaving me—when I dare say he is hearing the call of the wild. Those moments were fascinating and frightening. I related to them and was inspired by that to make this work.

As I mentioned earlier I wanted to live like the characters in my favorite novels—Reindeer Moon, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins. These characters all had a faithful friend/sidekick who was a non—human animal. I had Sid. And I wanted to see how feral he would go. So we went to Assateague Island to get weird.

Also I mainly make my objects out of whatever I have around with a nod to the materials used by and usefulness of the characters in those novels. Often they validate the killing of animals by using all of it’s parts. I don’t really kill anything for parts but do want animal parts in my work. Sid has plenty of fur to spare. And he and I are linked in a way that it adds meaning and magic to work parts of us into objects.

OPP: Your drawings of animals, centaurs and similar hybrids are often incredibly detailed. What kind of research goes into creating each piece?

MS: Hmm looking at books— field guides, pony guides, Equus Magazine. Reading about how their parts work. I also spent time with and photographed my aunt’s horses. Observing creatures in the wild or growing up around them helps. Just getting to know them. Repeatedly sketching. Honestly I have one trick that I think works best but I consider it a trade secret. Let’s just call it “becoming animal” because I like phrases that sound like the cover of hilarious fantasy novels.

Endangered Species Print Project

OPP: Your own art practice is hybrid in nature. You maintain an individual art practice exhibiting your work widely but also operate outside of the gallery system using your artistic talents to directly support conservation efforts and biodiversity as the co-founder of The Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). Let’s talk about what ESPP is, how it got started, and how it relates to your work as an individual artist.

MS: Sure. The Endangered Species Print Project, according my collaborator Jenny Kendler, is our brain-love child. We both have strong feelings about conserving biodiversity on this planet.  We had been fumbling around looking for a way to use our artistic talents and skills to benefit a cause we cared about and to make an impact. ESPP is our best version of those efforts. ESPP sells limited-edition prints of critically endangered species. Prints are editioned to reflect the remaining population count of the species depicted. For example, there are only 37 Seychelles sheath-tailed bats remaining in the wild. So only 37 prints of my drawing of this bat will ever be made. Currently 100% of the proceeds from print sales are donated to a conservation organization working to conserve the species on the front lines.

When we started it was only Jenny and me. We have grown to include many guest artists, a blog, and an ESPP extended family which includes artist Christopher Reiger, OtherPeople’sPixels, who sponsors the project, Michael Czerepak of the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) Service Bureau who masterfully prints our work (and who asked me to marry him), and P.O.V. Evolving in Los Angeles, who handle our large print orders. Our work would not be possible without the help of the conservationists and organizations that we partner with nor without the many people who buy ESPP prints!

How it relates to my work as an individual artist? Well, for awhile it has taken over most of my studio time! Jenny and I do ESPP in our spare time. It quiets questions that may interrupt my concentration while drawing like “Why didn’t I go back to school for mammology instead of studio arts?” and “Shouldn’t I be doing something less selfish than this?”

OPP: What are you working on now?

MS: I’m in one of those stages were I am doing lots of little stuff, working up to the next big thing. So I’m slowly working on some books, maybe they fall into the graphic novel category with the chimp hybrid women I was drawing a few years back, I still have a few paintings to make to round out the Dawn Horse work. I’m also working on a collaborative project with artist and pal Tory Wright. I’ve collected a bunch of video and text to make a new narrated video, but at the moment I’m planning the piece to incorporate a good amount of hand drawn animation so I predict this will be a years long project. I’m fascinated/jealous of large predators so I collect pics of them on my blog Megafauna .

I’m moving into a new studio soon so I’m looking forward to that!  Honestly, I’m designing my wedding invitation. Is that lame? So far it features an eagle, a hawk, a peacock, a fox, a bear, a badger and a hare. I think someone else but I’m not sure. Oh! That’s right a slow loris.

To view more of Molly Schafer’s work visit mollyschafer.com.