OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kristen Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soft Origin, 2017. Installation view.

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

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

To see more of Kristen's work, please visit kristensanders.com.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Paul Kenneth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see more of Paul's work, please visit paulkenneth.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amanda Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink Oil Moisturizer (Winter; Overall), 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see more of Amanda's work, please visit awstudioart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ben Willis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Juan, 2017

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Dean Veca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pony Show, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madder Hatter, 2016. Installation.

OPP: How is Maddest Hatter different from Madder Hatter?

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

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

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

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

OPP: What keeps the process fresh?

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

To see more of Mark's work, please visit markdeanveca.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Meena Hasan

Nape (Fariba at home), 2017. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 37 x 53 inches.

MEENA HASAN paints the texture and patterns on clothing, the places where clothing meets skin and ordinary, transitional moments we all experience with our own bodies. These closely-cropped compositions suggest an intimacy with the present moment and offer viewers the opportunity to contemplate the possibility of universality in many of our everday, individual experiences. Meena earned her B.A. in Studio Art from Oberlin College in 2009 and her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art in 2013, where she won the Carol Schlosberg Memorial Prize for Painting. In 2010, she was awarded the Terna Prize Affiliated Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. Recent two-person and solo exhibitions include Meena Hasan's New Place at Violet's Cafe (New York), wallflower frieze at 6BASE (New York) and PoVs at The Peddie School's Mariboe Gallery (New Jersey). She currently has work on view at Left Field Gallery in San Luis Obispo, Caifornia. Meena currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels:  What’s important to you about highlighting everyday experiences in closely-cropped paintings like Getting Out of Bed, Drying Hair and Taking Off Shoes?

Meena Hasan: I first started dealing with the everyday in my work about six years ago. I was searching for a way to open up my subject matter and to present narratives that could be immediately understood and internally and physiologically felt. Dealing with everyday subject matter gave me the opportunity to speak to the idea of a universal humanity, while still locating the work in specific personal and individualized moments. These moments are very private ones. I am interested in the transparency, intimacy and openness that comes from making a private action such as getting out of bed public.

My Point-of-View series, which features compositions of first person perspectives of a figure performing everyday actions, started as in response to the bathroom drawings and paintings by Degas and Bonnard that are powerfully intimate peeks into private, secret moments. They both depict female nudes in the bathroom, and I always thought it was bizarre the way that the women seemed powerless next to the voyeuristic gaze of the artist. Often times their heads are covered, backs are turned, never is the gaze returned. My intention was to turn this dynamic on its head by making my works from a first-person perspective, complicating the gaze as well as the viewing experience.

Getting Up, 2017. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 53 x 32 inches

OPP: What do you hope viewers of your work will experience?

MH: Ultimately, I hope to create an intimate exchange between the viewer and my paintings where he or she bounces back and forth between being the subject of the work, the viewer and the artist. In understanding the paintings’ composition and process, the viewer is forced to imagine their own body within another’s. Using a relatable everyday subject makes it easier for this exchange to happen. It is a very subjective viewing experience that I hope reflects the way we interact with others in the world. I believe that the act of looking at an artwork, the act of scanning a surface for meaning inherently reflects a person’s desire for connection.

Untitled, 2016. Acrylic on panel.

OPP: Are the PoVs and Napes painted from memory or photographs?

MH: The PoVs and Napes are both painted from a composite of a number of iPhone photos, which allows me the distance for reinvention and for my own sensory memory of the subjects to come in. I am the kind of artist who needs a reference point, something to bounce off of and the photographs serve that purpose.

The PoVs are, for the most part, based on photographs of my own body performing everyday rituals. In that sense they are self-portraits. For example, Walking in the Snow was made right after a big snowstorm in 2015 that turned my routine walk to the train into a perilous, icy hike. I wanted to express the comfort I felt inside my own warm coat and the impending cold of my immediate surroundings. The painting is based off of about five different pictures taken from inside my down coat’s hood, looking out at my feet as they gingerly stepped through the ice and snow.

Walking in the Snow, 2015. Acrylic and fabric dye on panel. 58" x 48"

OPP: Are the Napes friends or strangers?

MH: They are all of friends both new and old. They are of women who I know well or have spent ample amounts of time with, and I used my personal experience with them to inform the texture, color and feeling of the painting. They are women who I think are courageous and visionary, who have helped me to form my own personhood and, in this sense, act sort of as extensions of myself. Each Nape is painted from a number of iPhone shots I take while spending time with the person in a space that is important to her such as her home, workplace or neighborhood spot.

Nape (Ala at the Armory), 2016. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 38 x 54 inches.

OPP: What is exciting about this singular, subjective perspective?

MH: I uniformly use the close-crop viewpoint of right behind the subject’s neck, placing the viewer very close to the subject, in an intimate position that ultimately functions as a sort of compressed third person perspective where you are seeing what the subject is seeing but you are also seeing the subject herself. It is a composition borrowed from film noir; there is a mysterious foreshadowing and an intense closeness in these frames. The Napes are quite large actually (about 3’ x 5’), something that doesn’t translate to full effect in reproduction. I love when my work elicits mirrored physical reactions in the people looking at them, and viewers have told me that looking at the Napes makes their own neck hair stand on edge, which I love.

In both the Napes and the PoVs I hope to depict strong, singular, subjective perspectives that are dependent on the viewer. So, although the compositions are very singular, they are also inherently social in that they are made to be looked at: they implicate the viewer because of their first-person perspectives and their zoomed-in presences. I am interested in how the idea of individualism functions in contemporary society, in the status of American individualism and Modernist individualism today. I'm interested in the agency of a single person—given their specific gender, race, sexuality, etc—to question, challenge, reflect and empathize with the world around him or her.

Charulata 12, 2015. Acrylic, oil stick and china marker on embossed paper. 24.25 x 36.5 inches.

OPP: The specificity of substrates seems important to you. You paint and draw on Indian Khadi paper, Okawara paper, mylar, vellum, Tyvek, jute paper. What’s your favorite surface and why?

MH: I don’t think I could pick a favorite surface or material; I use each one for very specific purposes based on their absorbency and flexibility. The surfaces not only determine the process, but also the ultimate effect in texture, color and feeling of the work. For example, the Napes are all done on thick Indian cotton-rag Khadi paper that has an irregular, bumpy edge that holds the close crop, symmetrical composition well. The Khadi paper is also highly absorbent so I can load it up with layer upon layer of color and acrylic until it reaches a tactility that is like skin, and it gives me the opportunity to juxtapose a thin watery stain next to solid, three-dimensional acrylic. Also, because the Khadi is so thick, I can actually cut into the surface, erasing what I’ve painted, creating a three-dimensionality and defining the sharp edges where a material meets a surface.

The 3D paper pieces are made with only Japanese Okawara paper and acrylic paint. The Okawara is a Japanese kuzo paper I found thanks to the artist Ellen Gallagher, who once described it as holding ink the way skin does. It absorbs the ink under its first layer, holding it within itself. It is exceptionally durable, which allows me to really challenge its shape, to crumple it up into a ball and unfold it without damage.

Shoes, 2014. acrylic, ink, fabric dye and Tyvek paper on Japanese Okawara paper. 20" x 15."

OPP: What led to those cut-out, somewhat 3D articles of clothing? They are still flat, non-utilitarian drawings of clothing, but you’ve discarded the rectangular frame.

MH: I have been making paper versions of articles of clothing for the past four years. It is a many-step process, and the series has served as an excellent tandem practice. I work on the 3D paper pieces while working on paintings and drawings as a way to keep me moving in the studio, to keep things fresh and dynamic.

I literally trace the article of clothing’s shape and scale and then do observational drawings from different perspectives like top, side and bottom. Then I cut out the drawings, load them with acrylic medium, dye them in ways that mimic wax-resist techniques like Batik and Shibori. They are painted and re-painted. The final form is determined by the shape of the drawings and the way that everything fits together. I never really know what they will look like until the end, which I love. I think of them as three-dimensional paintings, particularly since they start as flat drawings.

The 3D pieces stay very close to their original form and yet are made only of paper and acrylic. . . even the shoelaces are pure acrylic. The original forms are not only my own clothing or shoes, but also those of my friends, which turns the artworks into portraits. They are often objects borrowed from the artists and curators involved in a given exhibition, adding a collaborative element to each piece. They become a way to mark a specific show, almost memorializing the event and the social dynamic of that event.

Graham's Cowboy Boots, 2016. Acrylic, fabric dye and Okawara paper. overall 12 x 12 x 12 inches.

OPP: You worked for several years in stop motion animation. How did that form serve your conceptual interests? What led you to shift away from it into more conventional drawings and painting forms?

MH: The stop-motion animations are another multi-step, side process that I work on concurrently with my paintings and drawings. I make about one per year, but they aren't all on the website. I think of them as stream-of-consciousness, automatic drawings where the narratives are cyclical and based in material exploration and process.

There is a rhythm and speed to creating a stop-motion animation that I love. It’s a very ritualistic and repetitive process, and I hope for them to ultimately feel like a meditation on the possibility for transformation in material and physicality. Making the animations is very freeing since everything is so impermanent. The process informs my painting and drawing, giving me ideas and the opportunity to discover new applications.

To see more of Meena's work, please visit meenahasan.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Catherine DeQuattro Nolin

Collected Wisdom, 2015. 16" x 12"

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

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

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

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

OPP: How did you go about teaching yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: What other painters influence you and how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: What role does opulence play in your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Cook

Swimmers, 2016. Acrylic on Paper

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

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

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



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

OPP: What influences your work outside of fine art?

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



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


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

Untitled 071315, 2015. Acrylic on Paper

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

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

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

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

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

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

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

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


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


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

Arch, 2015. Graphite on Paper

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Allison Zuckerman

Summer Rain, 2017

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

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

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

Autumn Rhythm, 2017

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

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

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

Bored Nude, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bored Apple Picker, 2017

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

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

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

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

from She Rocks at Kravets Wehby Gallery, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interview Tom Pazderka

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

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

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


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

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

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

OPP: So how does this affect you personally?

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Freedom Club: Martin, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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