OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gwendolyn Zabicki

Erotic Puzzle
oil on canvas
16in x 20in
2016

GWENDOLYN ZABICKI's representational paintings recall the long history of still life and genre painting. But her contemporary subjects—wrapped presents, the lit windows of urban buildings seen from ground level at night and construction workers—highlight an empathetic yearning. They are opportunities to imagine what we can't see, what we don't have access to, and to care what's there. Gwendolyn earned her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005 and her MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2013) and at Lillstreet Art Center (2012) in Chicago. She's exhibited widely throughout Chicagoland, including Visitation Rites III (2015) at The Franklin, Cool and Dark (2014) at Comfort Station, Emmett Kerrigan and Gwendolyn Zabicki (2014), a two-person show curated by Melody Saraniti as part of the TRIGGER Project at Hyde Park Art Center,  and solo show Present Paintings (2015) at Riverside Art Center. In the fall of 2016, her work will be included in New Business, a group show at Hyde Park Art Center. Gwendolyn lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your Present Paintings, which “are meant to be given away as gifts to strangers,” instead of sold, emphasize the process of giving, not the having that follows. And yet they are still paintings, which are arguably the most sellable art objects. Can a painting ever side-step commodification entirely?

Gwendolyn Zabicki: Paintings are very sellable art objects, but no one I know makes a living selling their art. Everyone does something else, like teaching or arts administration, that pays the bills. I think most artists are used to the fact that their art isn't going to make them rich, but they do it because they love it. My painting is no different. Painting can never side step commodification entirely, but nothing can. Land art and performance art—art forms that were never meant to be commodified—have been documented and that documentation is what is sold on the market.

Anne Harris (Gift on Wool Coat with Pink Satin Lining)
oil on canvas
20in x 24in
2014

OPP: I recognize many of the names in the titles as fellow Chicago artists—Patrick Q Quilao (Three Black Gifts with Bow), Anne Harris (Gift on Wool Coat with Pink Satin Lining) and Karen Azarnia (Yellow Gift), for example. Were these paintings intended for these artists upon creation, and do you imagine what is in the box, even if you don’t tell the recipient?

GZ: Some of the boxes had real gifts in them—books, shoes, board games—and some of the boxes were empty. I chose boxes that had pleasing sizes and heft and that went well with the wrapping paper I wanted to use. I made the paintings without anyone specific in mind. Last year, I had a show called Present Paintings at the Riverside Arts Center. At the show, there was a sign up sheet that read:

After the close of Present Paintings, the paintings in this series will be given away at random to attendees of this exhibition. If you would like to be considered, please sign below. If you are selected to receive a painting you must agree to the following conditions:

1)This painting cannot be bought, sold, or bartered in the future. It can be re-gifted.
2) We (you and the artist) will be linked in a fiduciary relationship. You (the recipient) will be bound in an ethical relationship of trust and friendship with me (the artist), taking care of this painting indefinitely. Examples of our friendship may include: invitations to sibling weddings, texts, dinner parties, Christmas card exchanges, etc to be carried out in perpetuity.
Note: this is not a mailing list.

Amusement, boredom, fatigue in the face of a man at a performance of Ed Parzygnat, the Polish Elvis
oil on canvas
30in x 31 1/2in
2016

OPP: “At the core of all my work is the fear that plagues many Millennials, the fear of missing out (on potential friends, on experiences).” Why do you think FOMO is stronger for Millennials than others? How does this fear register in your portraits of near-strangers and Night Paintings?

GZ: My parents are baby boomers and living in their cultural wake, I've spent such an enormous amount of time trying to catch up with the music, books, movies, political history, and art produced by their generation. And it's so easy to do now with the internet. You can just stay inside all day and eat cookie dough and watch Mahogany or Johhny Guitar. Or you can fall into a Wikipedia k-hole and spend an afternoon reading about the inevitable heat death of the universe or scumbag Republican strategist Lee Atwater. You will never ever catch up with all of the interesting ideas and people out there; for me that is wonderful and tremendously sad. Looking in someone's window at night is a reminder of that. You can see this person and you'd probably like them if you knew them, but you'll never know them. All you know is that they exist and you've missed them.

Gym People
oil on canvas
24in. x 32in.
2015

OPP: I read the Night Paintings (2011-2015) as fundamentally empathetic, not voyeuristic, despite all the looking into windows. I think of long, directionless walks I’ve taken through Chicago, wondering about the lives of others and appreciating the idiosyncrasy of whatever is visible through the windows. Is this my own lens or would you call yourself an empathetic painter?

GZ: Your take is right. They are more wistful than prurient. My paintings need other people to exist, and I need other people. Painting is a very solitary practice, but I don't like to be by myself. I've been doing a lot of portraits lately, and it's really just like hanging out. I go the the sitter’s house, and we pick out something cute for them to wear, and then we usually eat or drink something. And then we think about poses and what to include in the background. It's collaborative, and it's social.

I am glad that there is such a social element to being an artist, that every Friday and Saturday I can go to an art opening and see all my friends there. I also get a lot of joy from teaching. My students are so much fun to be around, and I feel so energized after spending time with them. Movies about isolation or outer space are like my personal hell.

Roofers
oil on canvas
24in. x 36in.
2013

OPP: You are also a skilled interviewer and have interviewed numerous painters for figureground.org. If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask? And the answer, please.

GZ: I was asked two very simple questions recently, but they are ones that everyone should think about. The questions were: What was the first piece of art that resonated with you? And when did you know you wanted to be an artist (and why)?

So the first piece of art that really mattered to me was an advertisement on the side of a carton of Dole brand Pineapple-Orange-Banana juice. My parents used to buy it, and it would sit on the table during breakfast when I was a kid. I had been to museums and I had seen important, iconic artwork, but I couldn't relate to any of that. It just seemed like museums were full of pictures of naked people fighting. So back to the juice carton. This advertisement on the juice carton was for a promotional contest. You could win a pair of baseball tickets if you sent in the UPC code on the bottom of the carton. The advertisement showed a grandfather and a grandson at a baseball game. The grandfather was holding a baseball mitt up into the air like he was going to catch a fly ball and the look on his face was of pure joy. He was in ecstasy. The grandson next to him was maybe five years old and not as good at faking emotion. He looked not upset, but a little bit bored and not nearly as thrilled as his grandfather. I looked at this image every day for weeks and I thought, oh my god, this moment that I am seeing is the moment just before the grandson says some awful, nasty thing to his grandfather. I am seeing the moment before he stabs him in the heart and says, "I'm bored. Baseball is stupid." I thought maybe the grandfather couldn't afford baseball tickets and only got them because he won them and that he wanted to share this special thing with his ungrateful grandson. This could play out in two ways. The best thing would be if they both forgot this moment, like it never happened. If the grandson remembered someday what he did, by the time he was old enough to apologize, his grandfather would be dead.

I was about ten or twelve years old at that time, and I had said nasty things to my mom. At that age I was embarrassed to be seen with her, not because of anything she did, but I was embarrassed by everything, to be seen at all. I snapped at her once in the grocery store for buying generic butter. We did not have a lot of money at the time and the generic packaging was so awful back then. I was ashamed to be poor and I was ashamed to be ashamed. All of this, this entire narrative was contained in that image on the juice carton, in the subtle expression on that young boy's face. This picture was devastating. I had to turn it away. This image was really my first deep read of anything. Because it sat on the table every morning, I was in a place to analyze it. When I was a little bit older, I learned that there was a whole profession of people who made images and who studied them and obsessed over them. So being an artist was a natural fit for a sensitive baby like myself.

To see more of Gwendolyn's work, please visit gwendolynzabicki.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Paulus

American Endurance (The Creep)
12 panels, approx 25" by 90" with spacing
2015

Interdisciplinary artist MICHAEL PAULUS works in video, painting drawing and sculpture. From his slow, lulling videos of repetitive phenomena to his pithy, layered drawings of the imagined skeletal systems of well-known cartoon characters, he expresses both awe at the natural world and criticism of the constant human drive to manipulate it. Michael's videos have been screened nationally in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas and internationally in Taipei, Taiwan; London, England; Banff, Canada and Basel, Switzerland. Most recently, Wind Farm was included in the Gödöllo International Nature Film Festival (2015) in Gödöllo, Hungary. Michael is currently hard at work on a collaborative, multi-media project with Glenna Cole Allee that examines "the ghostly remains of the annexed people and township from the Hanford Reach." In 2015, he exhibited work in Obsidere, curated by MicroClimate Collective in San Francisco and had a solo show called Claimed, Found and Gifted at Oranj Studio in Portland, Oregon where he lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work in drawing, sculpture, painting and video. What’s the underlying thread tying together all your work in various media?

Michael Paulus: I’ve never had a very disciplined studio practice, investing in technique and familiarity with a chosen medium. I’m generally restlessness with sticking with one medium. I do recall very much my foundations professor Greg Skinner at Cornish College in Seattle impressing upon me to “choose the medium to suit the vision, not the other way around.” He was a conceptual artist coming out of the post-minimalist 60s.  Actually, I came back to visual art about 15 years ago after burning out on the two-dimensional image and the limitations of illusion, which brought me to sculpture after a couple-year-long hiatus, during which I was more concerned with creating audio compositions. 

The mediums do differ throughout, and the work tends to be motivated by a respect of this natural world, as well as a critical view of the awkward attempts we humans make to define and control it.

Tweety
Fig. 7

OPP: You’ve drawn the imagined skeletons of 22 well-known cartoon characters in Character Study. Does personal fandom play into how you selected your subjects or is it more about the bodies themselves? Can you also talk a bit about the urge to deconstruct childhood icons?

MP: The cartoon skeletons were really an exploration and experiment to deconstruct iconic figures from my childhood. In their day, these characters were stand-ins and figureheads for many. Actually, I never had much interest in comics, and I really do not like the act of drawing, so that project was a bit of a challenge for me. I had the notion to do somewhat literal drawings of their very physical bodies (skeletons in this case) in a kind of medical or devinci-esque rendition and apply a hinged, translucent digital overlay of the flat and colorful cartoon image over the top, intentionally retaining the pixilation and artifacts that came with them when pulling the figures off internet searches. The intent was to have an onion skinning, transparent layer with the drawing underneath, like the anatomy books I paged through as a youngster with the various Mylar layers of circulatory, nervous, cardiovascular systems, till finally one is left with an opaque skeletal system, which cannot be denied.

I chose Charlie Brown and Hello Kitty first, as they were both very iconic and grotesquely distorted from the original human or animal from which they were derived. For the rest of the series I did the same. I retained the general skeletal system of whatever their actual origins were, regardless of how anthropomorphically derivative of a cutesy human they were with speaking mouths and huge eye sockets.

Vertical Migration
HD video
4min, 15 sec.
2014

OPP: It seems you’ve been focusing on video work in the last few years. Videos like Vertical Migration (2014), Wind Farm (2014) and Dip (2013) all have a slow, contemplative quality. To me, they are all about the value of slowing down to look at what we might be missing and the beauty of cyclical repetition. Earlier videos like The Journal of John Magillicutty or: The Time Afforded To One Lucky Enough To Be Living Comfortably (2006) and The Preoccupied Occupant (2009) have all those same qualities plus humor and a little absurdity. Thoughts?  

MP: Well, I suppose I tend to look at this life a bit distanced. Both critical and amazed at what it is all about.  And I certainly like combining contrasts and the marriage of opposing elements,  kind of a ‘more than the sum of the parts’ kind of thing. 

So, yes, there are some outright absurd and comical elements in contrast to and as a kind of veil over the profound. It’s possible that I’m self-consciously masking spiritual leanings I have or constructing a retainer in case I stray too far. I grew up with contrasts in a family of Catholic faith but where science and logic was king. I am conscious of this instinct to manipulate and control the world around us: designed dog breeds, damned rivers, foie gras, binary codes. The cyclical repetition is a result of this constant. I suppose, it’s a kind of a meditative response in the face of absurdity or incomprehension.

General paranoia in our culture and surveillance flavor my recent work. I am currently working on a couple projects examining the paranoid undercurrent. One is a small but ongoing attempt to finish a video where I am matching shot for shot the opening sequence from the ubiquitous movie The Shining. I am matching the locations and the blocking of the movie’s ominous, helicopter eye in the sky intro sequence as it looks down, following the subjects as they wind up the mountain. . . but in this case looking back up at it. 

Another very multi-media project is working with artist Glenna Cole Allee on an interactive piece that examines the ghostly remains of the annexed people and township from the Hanford Reach in what became The Manhattan Project’s plutonium-producing mega-site in the scablands of Washington state—now also the notorious Superfund cleanup site. It’s a large undertaking incorporating massive stills, video, projected audio elements spoken from natives and some sculptural constructions.

Grasping Right and Grasping Left: Hands of Abraham
Watercolor on rag paper
2015

OPP: Please tell us about your most recent body of work Claimed, Found and Gifted. What’s the significance of the blades of grass your drawn versions of the hands on the Lincoln Memorial? Why have you revisited Abraham Lincoln again after a decade?

MP: Well, I was offered an opportunity to exhibit some new work along with existing pieces so I decided to explore where my head was at 10 years prior in a show I did titled The Stars and Abraham. I found myself a bit perplexed in how I had merged the myth and popular vestige of Abraham Lincoln with astrology and its arbitrary symbolism. More to the point, of how they relate in Americana folklore and institutions for the faithful believers in both. I certainly held Mr. Lincoln in high regard since childhood for his virtue and fortitude. Most of this was drilled into children in grade school it seems.

Honestly, it was a bit of an awkward exercise with that association between the two; comparing Lincoln’s vacillation between right and wrong, this and that with the union and slavery. Anyways, I borrowed from Lincoln again. In addition to the cascading stovepipe hats upon pretzels and hotdogs, I inserted blades of very suburban, green grass clenched in the Lincoln memorial hands—just more Americana from a child’s backyard looking up at the sky. And, as a counterpoint to the somewhat austere and critical renditions involving Abraham, I created large, rag-paper fans in full, saturated, color from fabric dye as a celebration of his sensual and feminine counterpart, Mary Todd. . . or, my creation of her into this complement to him.

The exhibition title Claimed, Found and Gifted refers to the idea of American expansionism westward, manifest destiny and eminent domain. One piece, the broken and elongated pop American tchotchke black panther titled American Endurance—(the Creep) is basically the title piece.

Rorschach in loft foyer
96 Blots with designer and artist Trish Grantham.

OPP: Your painted walls resemble wallpaper in their repeated patterns of flowers and Rorschach blots, but each image is uniquely hand painting. Some are the interiors of private homes; others are in bars and restaurants. Did these folks seek you out or did you bid for the jobs? Can you offer any practical advice for artists who want to do commissioned work?

MP: I have been doing work like this for a while. I first began with commercial work in a more corporate environment, designing and building permanent art installations for the offices and conference rooms of a large company.  The patterned “wall paper” painting began really with Angle Face bar in Portland, Oregon, owned by John Taboada and Giovanna Parolari. It’s kind of a tweak on the current trend of wallpaper and repeat patterns, but with an application by hand so that each motif is unique.

Local designer Trish Grantham conceived the Rorschach blots. The Rorschach blot-inspired work I particularly like in that the context—often a residence—plays into the reception of the work. One peripherally ‘feels’ a delicate pattern of flowers surrounding you like conventional wallpaper when entering a space and then, once taking a closer look…
 
My fine art practice and discipline as I said earlier is lacking at times and I consider myself aligned with a design instinct more than I would have appreciated when I was younger. Do I actively search out paid work like this? Not so much. That is a great benefit of the World Wide Web really, in that it is very helpful for individuals dealing in visual images.

To see more of Michael's work, please visit michaelpaulus.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Clint Jukkala

Telepath
2014
Oil on canvas
44" x 52"

CLINT JUKKALA's color-saturated doorways, windows, and unidentifiable creatures with humongous eye-portals are either goofily mesmerizing or mezmerizingly goofy. In either case, they captivate the eye and speak to the transportive power of looking, being seen and seeing in a new way. Clint earned his BFA from University of Washington in 1995 and his MFA from Yale University School of Art in 1998. Solo exhibitions include Lenses, Portals and Escape Plans at Finalndia University (Hancock, Michigan, 2014), Cosmic Trigger at Bravin Lee Programs (New York, 2014) and Off Course at Fred Giampietro Gallery (New Haven, 2013). Clint’s work was recently included in the group exhibitions HeadSpace (2016) at Morris Warren Gallery and Receptive Fields (2015) at Edward Thorp Gallery, both in New York City, and a two-person show with John Newman (2015) at Fred Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Clint lives and works in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are your portals just for looking through or are they also for moving through? What do you imagine on the other side?

I've always been drawn to the window-like qualities of painting, and paintings that have spaces you can imagine entering. Certain Sienese paintings, like Sasetta, or De Chirico's Piazza paintings really have that quality for me. They are not perspectivally correct and aren't entirely rational, but they are fully convincing worlds that create a sense of place the viewer can mentally project into. I hope my paintings have a little bit of that. I want them to suggest the possibility of a place to transport to. It's less a physical space than a psychological one. What's on the other side is a different way of seeing.

Inside Out
2010
Oil and acrylic on canvas
16" x 20"

OPP: In an interview with Sharon Butler for Two Coats of Paint, you said “Color is a portal.” I couldn’t agree more. Can you say more about this and how you approach color in general?

CJ: Color is experiential. It affects us on a physical, emotional and psychological level and allows us to access different states. David Lynch's red room in Twin Peaks is a perfect example. The red curtain is so present and it provides a door to entering Lynch's strange world. Of course color is associative too and it conjures memories of places we've been and things we've experienced. Color is a frequency and like sound it can take us out of ourselves and to another place.

Cosmic Trigger
2013
Oil and acrylic on canvas
80" x 66"

OPP: In recent years, what used to look more like doorways and windows seem to have morphed into eyes or goggles or view finders on the faces of humanoid aliens, muppets or robots like Number 5 from Short Circuit (1986). Whatever they are, they’re staring back at me, and I’m looking through them to some other space. Thoughts?

CJ: That evolution happened unintentionally. I was painting window like forms and one day I doubled them. All of the sudden I saw something staring back at me—it freaked me out! At first the images felt so goofy, and I wasn't sure what to make of them. They were exciting to me though, so I just went with it. I liked that they didn't take themselves too seriously and they had an unnameable thing-like quality about them. I'm interested in that dual situation of the paintings looking back at you while you look at them. I hope they make the viewer more aware of their own seeing.

Revelator
2007
Oil on canvas
65"x 72"

OPP: Earlier paintings from 2005-2007 evoke computer glitches, digital noise and Atari graphics—I’m thinking of Space Invaders and Berzerk. Were you thinking of the digital realm or video games as portals? Or is this work doing something else entirely?

CJ: Atari was very much on my mind! Those paintings evolved out of grid paintings I was making. I was interested in squares, pixels, textiles and simple building blocks used to make more complex images. Early video games were interesting because you saw the pixel structure that made the images and I've always been drawn to simple systems of image making. I wasn't thinking of those paintings as portals really, but I was interested in screens and I think it was screen space that led me to exploring windows and portals. I was also thinking a lot about the additive light of screens versus the subtractive light of paintings. Screens are lit from within and emit light. That may have been the beginning of thinking about the paintings facing out toward the viewer. 

Psychic Continuity
2015
Oil on canvas
60" x 52"

OPP: A year ago, you were appointed Dean at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts after having served as the Chair of Graduate Programs at PAFA since fall 2013. How does academic administration affect your painting practice? Any advise for artists with other demanding jobs?

CJ: Teaching and running a program can be wonderfully creative experiences. While I currently have less time to paint, there is so much exciting stuff going on at PAFA that I've been happy to focus some of my creative energies there. Luckily for me, my administrative work extends beyond my office to the classroom and our museum. I'm around art and artists all the time so I get a lot of energy from that. From student work to my favorite paintings in our collection (like those by Horace Pippin!) I'm constantly seeing great stuff. PAFA's historic building, designed by Frank Furness blows me away. It is an incredible space full of amazing ornament. I'm sure it's going to seep into future paintings. I also walk through our cast hall almost daily and see students painting. I don't have as much time to work right now, but when I do get into the studio I have a lot to draw on. Most artists need to have multiple practices to build a sustainable creative life. The key is to find a good balance of different practices that complement each other.

To see more of Clint's work, please visit clintjukkala.com.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kyle Herrington

Directions to Nowhere
Mixed media
2012

KYLE HERRINGTON creates humorously profound sculptures, cut-paper works and text-based paintings. Using the vastness of space as a symbolic background for more quotidian psychological and emotional unknowns, he explores the drama and anxiety of being an average human on planet earth in the Digital Age. Kyle graduated from Ball State University in 2006 with a BFA in Painting. He was the 2012  Artist-In-Residence at the Indiana State Museum. Recent solo exhibitions in Indianapolis include The Worst Person in the World (2014) at General Public Collective, Catcalls (2013) at the Indianapolis Center and Backyard Phenomena (2013) at Harrison Center for the Arts. He is currently developing a new series of work which he hopes to exhibit in Fall 2016. Kyle lives in Indianapolis, where he is the Director of Exhibitions at the Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work in a variety of media: sculpture, painting, cut paper text and installation. Can you give us a brief history of your life as an artist? Have you always been so interdisciplinary?

Kyle Herrington: Growing up as a teenager, I always saw myself as a painter. I was a big TV kid, and it always seemed like every artist on television was depicted as this serious brooding painter. I went to college at Ball State University for a degree in painting, but I was very lucky that my mentor there encouraged me to work very experimentally and across disciplines. I often found myself skirting the line between sculpture and painting but always landed on the side of painting. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I found myself setting up these complicated still-lives for paintings in my studio and something clicked. I realized that instead of painting these vignettes, maybe I should just let the set-ups be sculptures. That was an important and defining realization.

I’m also a very impatient artist. I work between media and on several pieces at the same time; I like being able to switch gears if I am stumped or frustrated by a certain piece. The pieces can inform each other, have a dialogue, and mature at the same time. Sometimes a breakthrough in a sculpture can lead to a run of resolutions in a painting series or vice versa. Plus, the curator in me really likes to see different mediums living in the same space together.

Skanky Behavior
Mixed media on wood
2015

OPP: Have you always worked so extensively with text?

KH: It was around that same time that the text really started creeping into the work. I was struggling to explore ideas through images and symbols without being overt. At a certain point, I just said screw it and found it was easier to write what I was thinking about directly on the canvas. This was a huge step in finding freedom for myself as an artist. Suddenly I didn’t have to mask or disguise or romanticize what I was trying to explore. Instead I just blatantly put it out there, which also made the work a little easier for the viewer. I found this allowed me to get much more playful with the work and have more fun making it.

The End of Leisure
Mixed media
2012

OPP: I read several articles that refer to your anxieties about turning 30 as a major inspiration for your 2013 show Backyard Phenomena at Harrison Center for the Arts in Indianapolis. The End of Leisure (2012) and Party Killer (2013), for example, are sculptural tableaux that capture the aftermath of fallen meteors on scenes of leisure. I remember when impending adulthood was overwhelming. But now, you are three years older. Have you realized yet that the 30s are WAAAAAAY better than the 20s?

KH: Oh definitely! A lot of that work was a response to the reactions happening around me by my peers and colleagues about aging—I was always very ready to leave my twenties behind. A big influence of that body of work was disaster movies and these images of hoards of people running around completely falling apart and going ballistic. I felt this weird sense of calm isolation at the time while simultaneously witnessing people I went to high school with freak out about turning thirty on social media. At times it felt a bit like the movie Airplane!—completely nonsensical. So, I l decided to indulge the idea and experience of  the melodrama, and I ended up finding a bit of my own anxieties somewhere in the mix.

Three years later, I still find the whole idea relevant, especially the social media/hysterics/sensationalism thing. In a really schadenfreude way I secretly love it when Facebook or Twitter blows up into dramatics over any given thing going on in pop culture. It’s such a disgusting and simultaneously enlightening, entertaining shit show about the human condition in the 21st century. It’s less about aging itself now and more about the fact that people don’t really outgrow these insane, unfiltered sensational attitudes. It’s a really magnified focus onto someone’s character and motivations when they’re so unapologetically dramatic. Sometimes it can be over a legitimate political or human-rights stance, but just as often it’s about something trivial like a celebrity or TV commercial. Those are the nuggets of insanity that I’m drawn to: people evangelizing and going into hysterics about a paper towel ad. To me, that’s absolute gold.

Gay Club
Mixed media on canvas
2015

OPP: Works like Gay Club (2015), Send Nudes (2012) and Motivational Poster #1 (2012), seem to be about another anxiety associated with getting older. . . the insecurities of dating or hooking up in the Digital Age. Could you talk about the recurring vastness of space as the backdrop in these text-based paintings?

KH: Space has become an increasingly loaded symbol for me. It stands in for isolation, frustration, confusion, feeling lost. I never really dated when I was younger so once I started doing so in my 30s it became incredibly overwhelming at times. I joined a lot of dating websites and most times it felt like I was just speaking into these vast voids and hoping something stuck. A lot of those pieces are influenced by that. The whole process of online dating became more and more frustrating, but also more comical.

Spiderweb 3
Handcut grocery circular
2012

OPP: I’m particularly taken with your hand-cut spiderwebs from 2012. They are quite distinct from everything else you do, but some of your text-based works—Another Woman (2015) and Pizza (2015)—are also hand-cut. Can you contextualize the webs for us and talk about why you choose to create text out of negative space?

KH: The webs came from this strange compulsion I have for collecting grocery circulars. They’re pretty common litter and junk mail in Indiana and I would imagine in most suburbs. There’s something very Midwestern about them that I love. I had this ongoing collection of them and one day made the connection between this ubiquitous material and weeds or spiderwebs. Cutting them out with an X-acto knife became a very therapeutic and meditative thing for me, and they’re a nice break from the paintings and sculptures.  I also work a lot on paper so the cut-outs organically carried into those pieces with the Maury show titles. I loved the graphic qualities of those TV show titles, and I wanted to recreate that feeling and not just do handwritten text in those.

OPP: Wow! I didn’t realize those titles came from Maury! But now that you say that, I see more drama in the text that relates to that social media hysteria you mentioned. What are some other sources for text in your work? Is all the language appropriated?

KH: A lot of the phrases or text I use are things I hear in the real world or on television. I keep a sketchbook full of quotes, phrases and pieces of conversations I overhear and pull from them often when I'm trying to resolve a piece. Sometimes they are directly appropriated, but other times they are mash-ups or edited versions in my own wording for better flow. I find myself really drawn to the ritual of people putting on airs or puffing themselves up. It’s this bizarre sense of extroverted or manufactured confidence that I'm pretty mesmerized by. Reality TV and talks show are a great source for this type of hyper-dramatic self-esteem. Also gay bars. I get a lot of ideas for paintings there. As gay men, I sometimes wonder if we have this ingrained flair for the dramatic. Then you add alcohol and you get the biggest display of theatrics. It’s campy and over-the-top, and I just eat it all up with a spoon. I owe a lot of my paintings to my time in gay bars.

Pizza
Mixed media on hand-cut paper
2015

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

KH: I told somebody years ago that I liked to use humor as a nasty trick to get people engaged in my work. I felt dirty for a long time about making humorous work. I think it’s very common for artists, and especially painters, to feel pressured into holding this kind of academic reverence for what they’re making. When I first got out of school, I was making these large, very academic paintings that I was trying to show around town and I was really bored by most of them. And then I was making these little wacky funny studies in secret and I was way more interested in those. It wasn’t until I stopped looking at humor as a gimmick and as more of a conduit into serious issues that I felt like I could really pull the trigger on changing directions in my work.

Humor serves as an entry point into topics people may not otherwise talk about; it eases people into an otherwise difficult mindset. A lot of my work deals with anxiety, depression and awkwardness, but the veil of humor makes those topics more comfortable and palatable in order to spark dialogue. I saw the Wayne White documentary Beauty is Embarrassing a few years ago, and I wrote down something he said in one of my sketchbooks: “I'm often as frustrated at the world as most people are. But I think frustration is hilarious. One of my missions is to bring humor into fine art. It's sacred.” I just love that.

To see more of Kyle's work, please visit kyleaherrington.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show on view at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art until March 27, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hector Madera

2015

HECTOR MADERA expertly wields colored masking tape and photo backdrop paper, creating a dizzying environment of pattern and aggressively bright colors. His masked portraiture, abject sculpture, neon banners and screen-printed pillows surround the viewer in installations that portray a frantically-fluctuating, unstable rush of emotions. Hector earned his BFA from Escuela de Artes Plásticas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) in 2004 and his MFA from Brooklyn College CUNY in 2011. His solo exhibitions include el pah-­‐pay-­‐lone (2011) at Metro: Plataforma Organizada and Papo Tiza & Co (2012) at Roberto Paradise, both in San Juan, and, most recently, Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between (2015) at Espacio 20/20 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. In 2016, his work will be included in group shows at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Chicago and Brian Morris Gallery in New York and a solo show opening in May at KB Espacio para la cultura in Bogota, Colombia. Hector lives and works in New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern and color has always been a significant part of your practice, but you really amped that up to 11 in your most recent solo show, Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between (2015) at Espacio 20/20 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Why is the intensity of saturated color so important in this body of work? How does it relate to the title?
 
Hector Madera: For Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between, I created a body of work that illustrated my mental state at a particular moment in my career. Through the employment bold and colorful images, I wanted to achieve an environment where feelings of sadness, tension, anxiety, disorder, euphoria and happiness—just to mention a few—were all tangled up, creating a disparate and muddled celebration of the ups and downs of the everyday life.

2015

OPP: I can certainly see that in the framed smiley/frowny faces. Could you talk about the floor-installed works? I’m particularly interested in what looks to be balls of discarded patterned duct tape and the imagery on the pillows.

HM: These crumbled artworks in a way are rooted in two words inflao and desinflao, Spanish slang for inflated-deflated. An old friend uses these terms frequently to describe the feeling of being happy, excited, fulfilled or frustrated, down, empty. I inflate balloons that then are covered with layers of tape and ultimately with thick layers of clear acrylic. I make tiny holes with a pointy object so that the air comes out slowly. As the air releases, the acrylic hardens, preserving the final crumbled shape. When developing these artworks, I think about extracting the good out of bad situations. In many ways, it is an attempt to transform a discarded object or gesture that represents frustration or failure into something beautiful, something grand.

The imagery used for the soft sculptures is a combination of bold graphics and colors mixed with strippers with voluptuous bodies in sensual positions and digital drawings in where I recreate psychedelic-hallucinatory-euphoric effects. These sculptures are closely linked to the strange comfort found in deliriously indulgent moments.

2015

OPP: When did photo backdrop paper and colored tape first enter your practice? Why do these materials continue to be compelling to you after all these years?

HM: I was already working with masking tape as a way to join single papers together to create a bigger support to work with. Then, during my MFA years at Brooklyn College, I decided to replace paint with colored tape. Backdrop paper showed up a bit later when I first saw the material in a thrift shop. I was very interested in its color intensity and matte finish. The paper is sturdy, acid free and fadeless. So, conservation-wise, it made complete sense to incorporate it into my practice. I first used it to create sphere-like, crumpled paper sculptures that represented discarded ideas. Now these paper backdrops have become the support of my large-scale mixed media collages.
 
It is my intention to create compelling works of art in which the presence of paper is part of the strength of the work. They say we are living in a more and more paperless society. I like to think that I am defying the perception that paper is becoming obsolete.

Salvador 2012
Colored tape, carton sealing tape on c-print
48 x 64"

OPP: What role does masking play in your practice in general? Can you also talk specifically about masked portraits like Salvador 2012, untitled 2012 (Rene) and Willem 2012?
 
HM: On a trip to Paris I was wandering around the Marche Aux Puces de Saint Ouen when I saw this book filled with close up portraits of 20th century masters, Picasso, Matisse, Serra etc. I bought it without hesitation for only one euro! A little later I decided to pay a double homage. First I selected the portraits of all the artists whom I had studied at some point. Then I covered the portraits with a mask design inspired by Los Super Medicos, my favorite tag team wrestlers when I was young.

In the masked portraits you mentioned above and in my overall practice the act of masking is equivalent to the act of painting. Through the luchador mask, I explore the themes of hiding, filtering and diffusing in order to have the opportunity to become something else. The wrestler character works as a great analogy for the life of an artist. He is in a constant struggle for survival, he can rally from behind to be victorious or simply end up beaten on the mat.

Bust of Emanuel Augustus (Collaboration with Jose Lerma)
Photographic backdrop paper
Variable
2013

OPP: You've collaborated with Jose Lerma on various monumental busts made from photo backdrop paper. How did the collaboration come about? How did it influence your solo work?

HM: The collaboration with José started in a very casual way. We are very good friends and when I moved to New York he was one of the first people I called. Since then, we were always hanging out, and he became my mentor. I guess he liked the sculptures that I was making with backdrop paper, and one night we started talking about making bigger things with the material and technique. We decided to collaborate for a works-on-paper show in Chicago. That’s when we collaborated on the Bust of John Law. This triggered all the collaborations we have done.
 
José's unique vision, mentorship and friendship has been very important in my formation as an artist. We share common interests, which influenced my practice and made our collaboration an effortless one.

Beau ca. 1610
Holographic tape, colored cardboard and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"
2013

OPP: Could you talk about your combination of cartoony vampire teeth and Elizabethan-era ruffled collars in pieces like Papo ca. 1586, Mike ca. 1628 and el primo ca. 1689 (all 2013)?

HM: These characters are based in real people whom I've met over the years and who, for one reason or the other, don't live life as everybody else. They are unique people with unique stories. I have used them in many different artworks before. In this particular series, I wanted to pay homage to these everyday characters by creating faceless portraits with ruff necks. I am interested in the effect the ruff neck creates of holding the head up high in a very proud and lordly-style pose. The teeth are inspired in my fascination for vampires and eternal life. In these works, I’m creating busts or portraits of everyday people, "unimportant people," the ones with "minor histories.”

OPP: As you answer these questions, the theme of the underdog is emerging and now I see it both in your image and material choices. Do you relate to the archetype of the Underdog?

HM: Totally. I relate to the underdog. In sports, I always end up rooting for the team, boxer or player that is labeled as the unlikely winner. My upbringing has a lot to do with this, and I believe that limitations force you to be creative. You're forced to try things you would otherwise never have attempted. . . not only in art, but in life itself.

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Stacia will create a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show opening at The Ukrainian Museum of Modern Art on February 5, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Shawn Huckins

The Jolly Flatboatmen In Port: I Be Making Moves Forgetting That I Already Have Moves
Acrylic on canvas
40 x 52 in (102 x 133 cm)
2015

Painter SHAWN HUCKINS superimposes Facebook status updates and tweets on top of meticulous recreations of 19th and 20th century paintings. The appropriated text, rendered in large, blocky letters, stretches across the entire surface of each painting, acting as a screen through which we view the images of bygone eras. The juxtaposition of past and present offers us the opportunity to contemplate both what has changed and what is still the same. Shawn earned his BA from Keene State College in New Hampshire and has received grants from Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism (2010), from Artists’ Fellowship Inc. (2011 and 2012) and from The Haven Foundation (2013). He's had solo exhibitions at Foster/White Gallery (2012) in Seattle, L2Kontemporary (2012) in Los Angeles, Art & Soul Gallery (2014) in Boulder and Goodwin Fine Art (2015) in Denver. Shawn is represented by Goodwin Fine Art in Denver, Foster White Gallery in Seattle and Modernism Inc Gallery in San Francisco, where he will have a solo exhibition in Spring 2016. Shawn lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your practice rests heavily on the strategy of juxtaposition. It's the thread that connects Paint Chips to American Revolution and The American __tier. Does the juxtaposition in these different bodies of work function differently or have a different aim?

Shawn Huckins: The underlying theme to all my current, past and student work has been American culture.  At first, I was studying American architecture with store fronts, gas stations, and the like. Later, in Paint Chips, I was studying the mundane aspects of American culture by superimposing everyday life and objects on common paint cards people use to choose their bathroom colors: a Wal-Mart employee collecting carts, or automobiles laying in flood waters, for example. In my current series, The American __tier, I examine American language and its progression by contrasting two ways of life—one centuries past and the current social media driven society we live in today.

390D - Flood Cars
Acrylic on canvas mounted on MDF
49 x 40 in (124 x 102 cm)
2009

OPP: In American Revolution and The American __tier, you superimpose "21st century lexicons – Facebook status updates, tweets, texting acronyms"on carefully-rendered recreations of 18th and 19th century paintings and photographs. We literally read the image through the text. But we can also read the text through the image. Will you pick a favorite piece and talk about how the juxtaposition affects the meaning of both the text and the image?

SH: When I marry text to an image in the beginning phases of my paintings, I try to choose text that will work well with the image, and I use this process on the majority of my paintings. Sometimes, however, the text and image will have no direct correlation with one another.  For example, when I use simple phrases such as OMG or LMAO.

One of my favorite paintings is from American Revolution. The painting, titled Because He Has Swag And Knows How To Wear His Pants: Daniel Verplanck,  shows a seated, young boy in clothing that indicates he is from an upper class family. The text—CUZ HE HAS SWAG N KNOWS HOW TO WEAR HIS PANCE—came from a comment left on a photo of Justin Bieber wearing pants with the waist coming down to almost his knees. The juxtaposition of this young boy, who is formally dressed and really does know how to wear his pants, provides a provocative contrast to Bieber’s style of wearing pants. Not only do I contrast the way language has evolved over the centuries, but also how fashion has evolved and how the definition of what’s considered 'in,' like it or not, has changed.

Fur Traders Descending The Missouri: Oh My God What The Hell! You Never Did That, Like That’s Like Fucking Crazy! If I Did That I’d Be Like Wow
Acrylic on canvas
33 x 40 in (84 x 102 cm)
2013

OPP: What's your process for and/or experience of collecting social media jargon? Is there a method? Do the sources matter to you? I'm curious if you follow specific people or just meander through random twitter feeds. Do you ever write the text?

SH: This is, bar none, my least favorite process. It involves sitting at a computer for a length of time looking for the right text to use. And it’s a lot more difficult than one would think seeing the thousands of texts/tweets sent every second. I have found an easier method, though, in my years of painting this particular series. In my everyday routine, I will come across a particular word or short phrase that I find interesting—for example, “everything is hilarious”—and make a note of it. When I’m ready to research texts,  I will search for that phrase for people using those keywords on Twitter and Facebook. This is far easier than trolling around various people’s twitter accounts to find that right phrase. Twitter is a great source for text because there is a limited amount of space a person can use, so it can be a potential gold mine. I never write my own phrases as I think it would sound too contrived. I will tweak and bend text to be more fitting to an image, but I will retain the meat of the text to keep it authentic to the original person’s intentions.

Dorothy Quincy: Don't You Realize That I Only Text You When I'm Drunk
Acrylic on canvas
44 x 34 in (112 x 86 cm)
2012

OPP: Do viewers who have never known a world without social media or the internet respond differently/understand the paintings in American Revolution and The American __tier differently than older viewers?

SH: Both young and old viewers appreciate the message I am representing with my paintings.  And yes, for different reasons. Older viewers understand the "old" ways of communication—letter, phone, in person—and see a stark difference in the way people communicate today. Younger viewers, who have always been immersed in social media, may appreciate the contrast of the old and new and may idolize a simpler way of life before the hoards of technology. I honestly thought that older viewers wouldn’t appreciate my work, but at one exhibition in 2012, an older man in his mid 70s acquired a painting on opening night.  

OPP: What do you think about the concept of Progress? Are we evolving, devolving or staying exactly the same?

SH: In regards to becoming smarter, more efficient and healthier with advancing technology, I would say we are most certainly evolving at a rapid pace. Advancing technologies are wonderful and have had positive effects for the human population. But I also think with the abundance of technology, aspects such as human interaction and language could possibly be devolving. The human experience in regards to one-on-one interaction with another human being or even nature, is slowly becoming more and more distant. It’s safe to say that we have an emotional bond with our phones, but sometimes that bond puts strain on actual human relationships.

Sunrise On The Matterhorn: Laughing Out Loud Duh.
Acrylic on canvas
40 x 32 in (102 x 81 cm)
2014
OPP: Humans are often extolling or bemoaning the fact that things have either gotten better or worse. But I think humans are ultimately kinda the same, just with new conditions. When the printing press was invented, it caused the same kind of cultural, social and political upheaval that the internet has in our lifetime. Admittedly, the scope of change may be more extreme with the internet, but I think humans are basically the same. Some of us are open minded; some of us are not. Do you see any continuity between the culture represented in the paintings of the 19th and 20th century and the culture represented by the texts in the 21st century?

SH:
I would agree that humans have been pretty much the same over the coarse of history. I wonder what people said when the light bulb came to market. Ha! Change can be uncomfortable for people. Some adapt to it, embracing it full force, and others want life to remain the same as it was in the "good old days." One main difference between the 19/20th and 21st centuries is the amount of images captured. The portraits painted in earlier centuries were mostly for the privileged upper class who could commission them.

Once the camera was invented, ordinary people could have a time stamp of their families at a more affordable price and moments were typically reserved for special events. Today, almost everyone has a smart phone with a camera, so anything and everything is photographed. Whether it be someone’s dinner for the night, a big night out or the cat. . . the abundance of images has grown exponentially. With that abundance, it’s harder to be in the moment and enjoy it. We're so busy capturing it with a camera that we miss the intimacy of the moment.

To see more of Shawn's work, please visit shawnhuckins.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, runs through December 19, 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aisha Tandiwe Bell

#decrown (in Bone)
2015

Interdisciplinary artist AISHA TANDIWE BELL explores the shifting fragmentation of our multiple identities. In performance, ceramics, video, painting and spoken word, she embodies the role of the Trickster, laying metaphoric traps in order to reveal the ones we don't know we are stuck in. Aisha earned her BFA in Painting (1998) and her MS in Art and Design Education (1999) from Pratt. She was a 2006 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA in Ceramics from Hunter College in 2008. Aisha has exhibited extensively throughout New York, as well as internationally in Guadaloupe, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.  Her work is currently on view until January 17, 2016 in Dis place at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. She was chosen by curator and art historian Sarah E. Lewis to be included in Rush20: 1995-2015, a limited edition print portfolio marking the 20th Anniversary of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. The portfolio is on view at Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn) through Dec 20, 2015 and also traveled to Scope Miami in early December. In 2016, her work will be included in one for Mama one for eye at Gallery One (Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi and in one two three fifths at Space One Eleven in Birmingham, Alabama. Aisha lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You write and perform spoken word poetry and combine this text-based work with images of your sculptures and drawings. Which came first in your history as an artist: text or image? Does one or the other dominate the way you think?

Aisha Tandiwe Bell: There has always been a codependent relationship between text, narrative and the visual manifestation of my subconscious. Often, the visuals come first and l have to find the language to ground the form. Sometimes the language comes first or alone. During undergrad at Pratt, I was invited to join the spoken word group "Second 2 Last.” Throughout the group's 10 year run, I experimented with attaching narrative to my art. I'm not sure if either form dominates the way I think. I am more familiar and experienced with words, but I am better at telling multiple stories simultaneously with my visual language. For that reason, my most recent work uses narratives that do not explain the image. Instead, they run parallel and tangential, asking the viewer to fill in the spaces with their own interpretations.

Tangents and Segues
2015
Documentations of performance at Mocada October 2015
Photo credit: Dyani Douze

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring metaphor of the trap? It shows up in sculptural works like Trap Couplet (2012) and Trap Unadorned (2012), as well as drawings like Dream Catcher 2 (2012) and in performances like Tangents and Segues (2015).

ATB: I made my first traps in 2006. I found that the figure distracted many viewers from the conceptual focus of my work. I went through a distilling process, isolating the core concept that underlined all of my work—everything I'd made since 1998. . . I came up with the word trap. My figures are trapped in the walls. They are trapped  in the boxes/bodies of race, sex, class. . . In these series of non-figurative traps, I explored the formal possibilities: golden holes and ditches, nets in trees, heavy clay boxes that fell from the ceiling. I've settled, for now, on these tricked out traps. These people-sized cardboard boxes take on personas. They are seductive bait. They simultaneously reference stereotype, consumerism, hyphenated identities, shelter, class, displacement, homelessness and childhood. I also refer to them as dream catchers, the title brings to mind indigenous American spiritual objects, I want the viewer to think about what that is in the context of these cardboard cloth works that represent traps that catch and hold your dreams, hopes, and potential.

headshells
2009
clay and tempura

OPP: Identity is such a complex concept and experience. It includes both how we see ourselves and others see us. It can offer a sense of belonging and be the source of othering, depending on point of view. It can be a heavy burden and other times a source of pride. How do your headshells, in all their various iterations, speak to this issue?

ATB: It would require several dissertations to effectively answer this question, which is why I feel like visual language allows us to metaphorically fold time and space and cover huge and heavy subjects simultaneously. That being said, these heads/shells/masks/hats/faces deal specifically with my ideas as related to code switching, hyphenated identities, multiple consciousness and shapeshifting. They are armor, burdens, crowns, building blocks, balancing acts. They are tools some of us use to navigate varied spaces, negotiate uneven relationships and possibly get ahead (bootstrapping). I juggle many identities. I am African American Caribbean woman, middle/working class, interdisciplinary artist, mother, wife, educator and more. In our overstimulated present, shifting identities are also fragmented/incomplete, no one specialized in a single channel identity. Often, once buried under multiple identities, assumptions and stereotypes, the individual becomes invisible or at most, a two dimensional outline.

chameleon (detail)
2009

OPP: Your recent work from 2015 is a series of figurative wall works that combine ceramics and drawing. Could you talk about how the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional meet in this series and what it means for the figure to be breaking out of the wall?

ATB: I started as a painter. Painting the figure too large for and trapped within the two-dimensional space of the canvas, boxed in. I focused on the gaze, imagining the subject as aware of the viewer and looking back, conscious of the relationship between the entertainer and the entertained. These paintings were for me a metaphor for the state of Black people in America and questioned the degree to which we shape American culture, verses the degree of material power we hold in said culture. The first step is to be conscious of these realities. So the heads push through the two-dimensional space and invade the space of the view. I liken the two-dimensional to stagnation. The relief is the moment of realization, a pushing through liminal or peripheral space. Realization becomes the catalyst for change, and then the faces come off of the wall and move into the fourth dimension as performance. In 2004 I started to paint the two-dimensional figure directly to the wall. Referencing graffiti, Ndebele house painting  and indigenous forms of two-dimensional art-making. I liked the idea of defacing the white wall, the history of European painting as well as well as leaving my mark in a manner that makes it less of a direct commodity.

Chimera
2015
Photo credit: Selina Roman

OPP: Your 2013 project Susu is definitely not an art commodity. Tell us about the site, process and resulting sculptural form in this project.

ATB: Susu was a commissioned by The Laundromat Project, which invites artists to make art at local laundromats as a way to engage the surrounding community and an audience that may not make it to traditional art spaces. In ancient Akan, SUSU means little little (bit by bit). It is a form of micro economics. I proposed a project that involved collecting clothes in front of my local laundromat. As people left clothing I asked them to also leave words— one word, a paragraph or poem, I gave no limitations. The collected clothing was bleached and dyed one of the primary colors. The work was line dried outside the laundromat and the dripping dyes were caught on heavy watercolor paper. The clothing and the clothing line became a giant skirt that I wore in a performance in which I recited the words that had be contributed by the community. Prints made on the watered color paper covered in the drips from the drying clothes were given away to the audience. These same clothes then became two large cocoon-like sculptures. One that lived in a local community garden for eight months and another that permanently resides in the laundromat. The leftover clothing was donated to a shelter. I would like to do more community-based projects as well as explore the possibilities of transforming  soft, old clothes into hard, fragile sculpture.

Susu
Video documentation of interdisciplinary installation
2013

OPP: SuSu metaphorically compliments your ideas about multiple identities. The project is a process performance and a spoken-word performance. It’s social practice. It’s the dyed drip drawings. It’s public sculpture. It’s the generous and sustainable gesture of donating the leftovers. If any one person only witnessed one aspect of the project, they would not have an accurate understanding of the whole, and yet their experience of the part is valuable. It reminds me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. They fought because they had each touched a different part of the elephant, and so they couldn’t agree on the nature of the elephant. That brings me back to all the identities we have. It seems to me that problems only emerge when we get attached to a single identity, both in viewing ourselves and in viewing others. Could Susu be a model for how to have a holistic relationship with our identities and the identities of others?

ATB: This is a good question; I have to really think on it. The simple answer is just yes. Because there is no waste in Susu, it is sort of like the golden rule, like the most idealized utopian construct. In many ways it is an ideal that charts the layering of identity metaphorically with simple yet connected actions. But on the other hand, identity is not fixed in the same way an elephant or an ideal is. Just when we think we see the entire elephant, it's shape shifts. I think that we have to accept and understand the moments as individual statements. Each element stands on its own, in its own space, with its own allegory and with its own potential to shift and become, altering the mechanisms and overall shape of the whole. Identity is as mutable as language and, as Lacan says, language is shaped like the subconscious. Susu becomes a stepping stone, a way to begin to see how complex and multidimensional identity is, but it does not take into consideration or perform the fluidity of each element.

To see more of Aisha's work, please visit superhueman.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Roxana Halls

Beauty Queen
2014
Oil on Linen
90cm x 90cm

ROXANA HALLS' mostly female subjects negotiate the at-best-awkward, at-worst-strangling internalized cultural constructions/constrictions of femininity. In her representational oil paintings, they balance precariously on the edges of chairs and nervously/ecstatically laugh while consuming salad. Some sit statically with unconsumed popcorn, berries or sushi in their open mouths, while others pose demurely behind luscious heads of hair which threaten to envelop them. Roxana has been the recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award (2001), the Villiers David Prize (2004) and the Founder's Purchase Prize (The Discerning Eye) (2010). Her numerous solo exhibitions include Appetite (2014) and Unknown Women (2015) at Hayhill Gallery in London. She is currently working towards her next solo show in 2016, and will be exhibiting in upcoming group shows and at art fairs. Roxana lives in London.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Beauty Queen (2014) and Laughing While Eating Salad (2013), which is directly connected to an internet meme, both take representations of femininity and make them slightly grotesque. I see these paintings as challenging cultural constructions of the Feminine, as perpetuated by mass media. Thoughts?

Roxana Halls: Well, firstly, you are right in your analysis and in connecting these images. They do indeed have a direct relationship although clearly the nature of it may not initially seem explicit. In essence you could see these pieces as representing the polar reaches of a preoccupation with the depiction of women's internalized rules of conduct and a conflicted, ever-fluctuating response to external expectations. They could be read as different stages in a life's cyclical return to phases of stasis and engagement, that while some of my figures suggest an escalating desire for abandonment, others are palpably constrained.

In my ongoing body of work Appetite, I'm posing questions about the ways in which women are appraised, influenced and policed within contemporary culture and how this 'self- surveillance' circumscribes the repertoire of legitimate actions available to women. The paintings themselves offer a riposte to any such self consciousness. The subjects instead indulge in 'catastrophic' behaviour; they are inappropriate and immune to self-censure. In many of these paintings the consumption of food seems to be the focus, but eating is so much more than a biological process. It is fraught with tension and expectation. In Beauty Queen, I wanted to extend the metaphor into the realm of female ambition, also seen to be indecorous in its pursuit of attention and fulfillment. The piece Oranges was directly inspired by Carolee Schneemann's 1968 performance at the ICA London, when the artist threw oranges at the audience while simultaneously delivering a lecture about Cezanne. She kept dressing and undressing, naked under her overalls.

Laughing While Eating Salad was directly inspired by the trend I tuned into in advertising & the media of women laughing alone while eating salad. I found these images captivating: this stereotypically feminine and inoffensive foodstuff being enjoyed with such over-articulated ecstasy! It's interesting that you see these images as slightly grotesque, I personally don't think of them in that way exactly, more unbounded and at risk of hysteria, but I'm aware of how uncommon it is that such expressions are depicted and this fascinates me and continues to inspire me.

Nest II
2015
Oil on Linen
65cm x 60cm

OPP: Nest I and Nest II are related. They also call into question external expectations about the Feminine by covering the faces of what look to be supermodels—their postures evoke fashion photography—with their own hair.

RH: In the Nest paintings I wanted take a more mysterious, disconcerting approach. They hint at detachment and disengagement while simultaneously seeking to entice with the evident seductiveness of their bodies, clothing and hair. These women in contrast to those in the Appetite seem lost in a troubling borderline state. Possibly they are undergoing an evolution, or perhaps are smothered by self censorship? It won't surprise you to hear I'm very interested in the writing of Julia Kristeva and her discussion of abjection.

Equally the exploration I undertook in making such imagery calls to mind sources such as Baudelaire’s poem La Chevelure (c1857), and the Nick Cave song Black Hair. In both cases, there is something about the investment and singular focus upon one part of the female body which transmutes into something strange and peculiar. The more you get intensely involved with one part of the body, the more it starts to move into the abject and it becomes a substance which is both of itself and yet separate from itself.

Oranges
2013
Oil on Linen
75cm x 75cm

OPP: I've noticed a lot of precariousness in your work. A Little Light Reading (2012) and A Startler for the Careful Housekeeper (2011) are a few examples. These works and others from Shadow Play and Suspended Women read as allegorical to me. What's being balanced, on the verge of falling, in these series?


RH: These earlier pictures have very similar concerns to the other later pictures we've discussed. This apparent precariousness is a primary underlying theme in most of my work. I see it in the image of a teetering pile of crockery in danger of toppling, a laugh which seems to be just to one side of the boundary of hysteria or even the discomfiting ambivalence of a female performer. In Shadow Play, I wanted to reference the then-prevalent taste for vintage objets and the way this seemed to hint at a desire to posses the symbols of a certain kind of idealized polite culture and, as I saw it, the secure and 'lady-like' life they seemed to represent. I wanted to subvert such domesticated aspirations, and in some of the paintings I felt the barely glimpsed female protagonists were themselves seeking to sabotage the props of their lives.

Girl Table
2014
Oil on Linen
105cm x 105cm


OPP: Your studio is in the saloon bar of a defunct 1930s London theatre, now a Bingo Hall. Aside from the influence of this physical space, what captivates you about Cabaret?

RH: Yes, I am extravagantly fortunate in having such a wonderful space to work in, and it clearly has exerted a powerful influence over my work. But in the best traditions of serendipity it has always felt oddly inevitable that I would make theatrical paintings. As a child I only wanted to be an actor, and until my very first, life-changing attempt at oil painting I had very little interest in any other direction.

In 2004 I was the recipient of the Villiers David Prize, an award intended to provide funds to enable an artist to travel and undertake research in order to embark on a creative project. My early fascination with theatre was clearly a component in my choice of subject, and at that time I was beginning to notice an emergent cabaret and burlesque scene in London, which exploded by the time I'd finished and exhibited the paintings. Also I've long been fascinated by the whole Weimar milieu, as much as a more home-grown Music Hall & Variety tradition. Mainly I saw within the theme an opportunity to explore the possibilities of artistry and autonomy and reflect on notions of gender, sexuality, identity and spectatorship. And of course it also unleashed a desire to engage in a project of ambitious and spectacular proportions! I've never entirely felt that the series was finished, and am still harbouring a smouldering wish to revisit the theme.

The Girlie Hurdy Gurdy
2009
Oil on Linen
72 x 72 in

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between the paintings in Tingle-Tangle, made between 2005 and 2009, and CURTAIN FALL - The Tingle Tangle Photographs, created in collaboration with photographer Matthew Tugwell in 2009? None of the photographs are direct re-stagings of the paintings, but they seem to have the same models. What led to the creation of the photographs?

RH: The creation of the Tingle-Tangle paintings was a complex and involved process which required a lot of commitment from my models. Many of them were actors and performers and genuinely brought something of their professional understanding to the characters I asked them to inhabit. I constructed sets in order to depict each separate performance. I made, sourced and found costumes and props. My practice of essentially building my own cabaret show out of cardboard and charity shop discoveries linked with the improvisational spirit of third rate variety! While I'm wary of ever explicitly revealing how a picture has been made because of the way this can affect the reading of a piece, I wanted to somehow offer a glimpse into the process of transforming these mundane elements into the spectacle you see in the paintings. I wanted to show the 'performers' themselves and give a glimpse of the glorious theatre in which I have my studio which partially inspired them. Once I was offered a show at the National Theatre, the possibilities of the exhibition space itself gave me the scope to explore this in collaboration with Matthew Tugwell.

Babette the Baloonette
2009
Photograph
Roxana Halls/Matthew Tugwell

OPP: In 2013, you completed a bespoke commissioned project, The Alice Staircase, an eight-interlinking-canvas interpretation of Lewis Carroll's famous work and, according to your website, you are currently creating a new major commissioned artwork, a seven-interlinking-canvas interpretation of The Wizard Of Oz. How do you balance commissions with your own projects? Have you ever turned a commission down? Do the commissions ever end up influencing your own work?
 
RH: Balancing commissioned work with my own projects is unsurprisingly a little tricky at times, as an interesting job may of course be offered just as you're fully engaged with your own momentum. But I've always seen the right commissioned work as not only financially rewarding but also a real opportunity for development. I say the right commissioned work because, yes, I have turned down work along the way when I felt the project wasn't best suited to my abilities or I've been too busy with preexisting commitments. The Alice and Wizard projects have given me really quite extraordinary opportunities to develop narrative structure and complexity, and to produce work based upon preexisting source material has been immensely challenging, freeing and rewarding. The development of these projects has undoubtedly had a powerful affect on my work which is affecting the direction I'm taking in my practice subsequently, even though my underlying themes remain a constant.

As I've described with the making of the Tingle-Tangle paintings, I've employed a somewhat extensive and complicated process of creation. When I came to conceive of the Alice Staircase, I knew right away that I couldn't build Wonderland in my studio! So while I again made my own costumes and asked friends to 'perform' the characters—I used this familiar approach partly to circumvent the inevitable difficulty in attempting to sidestep the dominance of John Tenniel's wonderful illustrations—I also decided to use photography, a source material I had rarely used up until this point. I've been using the same method in my ongoing Wizard of Oz series.
 
I've long held the view that the image I make and that which I hope to explore and convey within this image should be the guiding principle of my work and that the image should be brought into existence by whatever means necessary. Partly through the making of Alice and Wizard I feel I'm beginning to sense what further possibilities might be unfolding.

To see more of Roxana's work, please visit roxanahalls.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeroen Witvliet

Wayfarer - Hounds
Oil on canvas
190 x 260 cm
2015

The moody, nearly monotone world of JEROEN WITVLIET's paintings appears to be one on the brink of destruction or already just past it. It seems like tremendous clouds of dust from a recent disaster have settled over the surface of everything. Regardless, Jeroen seeks to reveal the presence of the "Poetic" amidst the aggressive stadium crowds, the beached and overturned boats and the endless piles of broken boards and branches. Jeroen earned his BFA from Willem De Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, Netherlands and his MFA from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He has had solo exhibitions at Slide Room Gallery (Victoria, BC), Zerp Gallery (Rotterdam) and Elissa Cristall Gallery (Vancouver). His current solo show, Wayfarer, at Kelona Art Gallery in British Columbia will close on October 18, 2015, so there's still time to see it. Born in the Netherlands, Jeroen now lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The definition of wayfarer is "a person who travels on foot." In the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, many words with vastly different connotations are cited as synonyms: drifter, gadabout, gypsy, knockabout, maunderer, rambler, roamer, rover, stroller, vagabond, wanderer, nomad. Who is the wayfarer in your current show at Kelowna Art Gallery in British Columbia, Canada? Do any of these connotations apply?

Jeroen Witvliet: The Wayfarer is, to me, an abstraction, a situation one might find oneself in, a place where we wonder, where decisions need to be made or  a place in which we feel utterly lost. Lost by accident or by choice. A wayfarer is also a person who travels between communities without being part of either one, a person who brings tidings from one place to another. A messenger without roots. The wayfarer in this show is everyone and no one at the same time.

Part I
Oil on canvas
180x200 cm
2014

OPP: I see both narratives and symbols of violence, aggression and the aftermath of destruction. It's in the dead bodies of Part I and Part II (2014), the recurring beached and overturned boats, the drones and the fighting figures of Feral, as well as the chaotic landscapes of Wayfarer. Are you an optimist or a pessimist about the contemporary world we live in?

JW: The work comes into being while being surrounded by media and news images, reading newspapers and listening to radio. Violence and aggression finds a way into the work, but I am not making any direct references to specific events. I can't say that I am neutral, but I try not to have an overtly pessimistic world view get in the way of creating images. I need them to carry a sense of the Poetic. Something you can't put your finger on, a sense of wonder and beauty even though that might not be the first association made by the viewer. If the work escapes definition they become like the the world I find myself in, nothing is either this or that.

Man in front of Crowd
Oil on Canvas
30 x 24 cm
2014

OPP: Could you talk about when you choose not to exhibit your paintings on the wall? I'm thinking about the moveable display structures in Wayfarer and the unprimed, unstretched canvases of Feral. What makes one painting right for the wall and another beg to become more sculptural?

JW: The choice to take paintings of the wall and exhibit them as movable displays took some time. I have experimented with mounting work on different structures or as loose canvas hanging off the wall for some years and have, for now settled on showing work that is placed on custom-built wooden structures. This way I can vary the space in between the works and give the space in which the work is displayed a new feel. I can move works closer, opposite of each other or angle them and so create charged, in-between spaces. It is important to me to show that the work is two-dimensional and contains some sort of lie. The suggestion that we look into a space, a painted space, is being addressed by showing the backside and the structure that is used to stretch the canvas.

The works in Feral, on the other hand, are based on banners that are carried in protests. Instead of text, I use images that relate to protests on the banners. They are carried around by whoever wants to during exhibitions, constantly changing the way the work looks. When the works get dirty or damaged a sense of the passing of time is present. This adds to the work. The idea of time also plays a role in the structures with mounted work on them. While observing the work the viewer is asked to move around more, discovering relationships between the various works, linking or creating different narratives. Awareness of space and the passing of time become more present.

Feral
Acrylic on unprimed canvas on found wooden support bars
Variable installation
2014

OPP: You are predominantly a painter, but have also studied film at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. Some paintings—Stadium, empty field (2013) and Lights (2013), for example—are based on stills from videos you made, but you don't include the videos themselves on your site. Is video and film just a tool for painting in your practice? How has thinking about the moving image affected your work in painting?

JW: Video and film can give us a a different sense and sensation of the passing of time. To me they can investigate and address issues surrounding spatial experience, narrative, angles of viewing and memory. How images in film are sequential has influenced my way of thinking about repetition, rhythm and how to deal with the possibility of narrative in the paintings. Editing in video has taught me how to edit my work when hanging a show. The work is made with the presentation in mind, the relationship between the works are of great importance to the overall experience of the work.

My video/film work stands by itself even though there are very distinct similarities. The video work has become very simplified over time, a single point of view recording the passage of a vessel or stadium lights turning on. These recordings do influence the way I paint. I might ask what changes take place over time when observing something for 30 minutes or more. Does our sensation of time apply to painting where we assume the image is static. To me there is no static image in painting: you look, turn around, come back to the same painting and a shift has taken place. Your memory and consequently the associations are triggering the possibility for different perspectives.

Day to Night to Day, Hands II
2014

OPP: I see a connection between the grasping hands and packed stadiums. While the hands are about the relationships between a few people and the stadiums are about the crowd, both have implicit elements of connection, disconnection and desperation. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between these repeated motifs.

JW: The paintings of hands and the stadium pieces are both investigating the ongoing relationship of an individual to a group and the shifting mentality of society to idea, belief systems and radical thought. How does the mentality of a group relate to the feelings and emotions of the individual? How does one become part of a group and act accordingly or how does one become outcast/separated from a group?  With the hands, I am looking for intimacy of one person to another, realizing that in a group a different intimacy might exist. The fragile bond between individuals extends itself to the bonds between the group and the individual and between groups that define themselves as being different from the other group. The hands might hold something close to desire, longing, desperation or eroticism. They are human. This humanity can be easily lost in the group. I’m interested in questioning how we maintain our sense of self when confronted with chaos and change or the radical outburst of groups—whether small or stadium-sized. Are we spectators or participants or is that line too blurred to even distinguish?

To see more of Jeroen's work, please visit jeroenwitvliet.com.


Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lee Lee Chan

Cluster (detail view)
2009
Styrofoam, aqua-resin, aluminum, found brick, metal rod, paper collages, acrylic paint and pastel
50 x 15 x 11 inches

The physics of space, reflection and materiality play into LEE LEE CHAN's intuitive, compositional decisions, resulting in poetic juxtapositions of found materials, both natural and manufactured. Her background in painting informs her abstract sculptures, and her experiments with objects inform new paintings, creating an endless feedback loop between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. Lee Lee earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009. She has exhibited at extensively in Brooklyn: Tompkins Projects (2013), Brooklyn Fireproof (2012 and 2013) and Horse Trader Gallery (2009). Other exhibitions include Overseasoned Part Deux (2014) at Artemis Project Space in York, United Kingdom, Faraway Neighbor at Flux Factory in Long Island City, New York and Geography of Imagination (2009) at Adam House in New York City. Her work will be included in the Sluice Fair in London from October 16th -18th, 2015, and works on paper are available online through The Dorado Project. After over a decade living in the United States, Lee Lee has set up her studio in Hong Kong where she was born.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Both your BFA and MFA are in painting, but your sculptural work is so spot-on. What led you to introduce the three-dimensional into your practice?

Lee Lee Chan: My transition to sculpture was not a deliberated decision; it evolved organically. When I arrived at graduate school, I was making paintings by piecing together magazine imagery with painted surfaces. However, I found this limiting and did not know how to move forward. Then I saw a picture of Frank Stella’s paper maquette for Wheelbarrow in the studio, 1986, and it left a strong impression on me. I also discovered Judy Pfaff’s installations, in which she weaved painting and architecture into dynamic spaces. This intersection of pictorial and physical experience and the idea of “collage in space” really opened up possibilities for me.

I began making tabletop-sized, paper models from magazine collages, painted paper and photographs, arranging them as a stage for my photograph work. When I began to incorporate more tangible materials such as Styrofoam, aluminum and everyday objects, these models started to have a sculptural presence and took on their own life. This hands-on process of making the sculpture had started to dominate my practice.

Having a painting background is both a bliss and curse. I instinctively think of my sculptures as objects floating in space, just like images. However, as they grew more complex and larger, I became more aware of their relationship with the physical matter as well as the space between the viewer and the objects.

Cadence
2014
Acrylic and oil paint on canvas
11 x 14 inches

OPP: Has working in sculpture changed the way you think about painting?

LLC: I usually work in discrete phases within a medium. For a few months, I only make sculptures, then the next few months I make paintings and works on paper. Moving back and forth between these media has made me more aware of the limitations and strengths of each medium. It also helps me embrace the materiality of each medium instead of forcing them to do the things that they cannot do. Coming back to painting allows me to take a step back, and I tend to discover things that I did not notice before. Reoccurring motifs always make their way through: underlying geometry, biomorphic forms, motion, light, atmospheric space. Between the parallel universes of painting and sculpture, all things were interconnected. For instance, the sense of object weight in my painting has been directly influenced by my sculpture.  And the way I use an intricate system of overlapping to create spaces in my sculpture has affected the way I construct pictorial space to look through and hold imagery in my painting. Generally, I want to generate an intimate perceptual experience that encourages the rawness of seeing.

Bower
2014
Plaster, pigment, found lamp shade, branches, garden netting, recycled Styrofoam packaging and plastic bottle, threads, metal rod, plexi mirror and cotton rag
36 x 25 x 13 inches.

OPP: Your sculptures are often strange and wonderful juxtapositions of natural materials and recycled packaging, as in Keeper (2015) and Bower (2014). How do you decide what materials to work with? What's your collection process like?

LLC: My collection of objects has always been a reflection of my surroundings. I grew up in Hong Kong and, since I was 17, have lived in Utah, Chicago, New York City and York in the UK. Both Keeper and Bower were created during the time I lived in York. The dramatic change of environment, moving from New York City to medieval York, where I lived very close to nature, expanded my visual vocabulary. I started collecting tree bark and branches on my walks and experimented with incorporating these natural elements with ordinary objects like garden netting that I purchased from a local pound shop (the equivalent to a dollar store in the U.S.). I found the lamp shade in Bower next to a dumpster in my neighborhood.

I tend to collect objects that are mass-produced and easily accessible in everyday life: household items, commercial and industrial materials from the local hardware store, abandoned objects that to me have a pathetic quality. You could say that I collect anything that catches my eye, but then again, I consciously look for objects that do not carry any narrative or nostalgic quality. Any associated meaning gets in the way of my transforming them. The fact that these objects are so mundane and apparently without value prompts my desire to subvert this hierarchy by altering the way they are arranged and treated. Ultimately, I am interested in provoking uncertainty with these objects: how does something become valuable?

Most consistently, I use Aqua-Resin coated polystyrene packaging and plaster to build the structure for my totem-like sculptures. They look substantial but are in fact extremely lightweight, thus subverting the expectation of weight. These materials act both as surface and structure that house multiple micro spaces within the sculpture. They also reveal a trace of my process by highlighting the primacy of the handmade. Aqua-Resin and plaster create a limestone-like surface that reminds me of a construction site or ancient ruins. I guess this specific material sensibility came from my memory of growing up and working with pottery tomb figures in my parents’ Chinese antiques shop in Hong Kong. I imagine myself as an archaeologist of the present.

Untitled
2015
Found polystyrene packaging, artificial plant, aqua-resin, plaster, wood, epoxy putty and pigment
85” H x 7”W x 5”D

OPP: What’s your process like? Do you sketch beforehand or make intuitive moves as you go?

LLC: I see both my paintings and sculptures as a physical embodiment of the inside in a different form. They are a self-exploration of the subconscious.

Generally, my works do not start with sketches; rather they generate meaning through the process of making. I am completely open to the process and let my works develop intuitively. It’s a kind of a call-and-response approach, which involves ongoing subtracting and adding until an image or form slowly emerges. The decision-making is at the same time deliberate and improvisational. Ultimately, it is all about potential: I want to make known the unknown and make works that surprise me.

When painting, I usually start with a list of colors or a certain mood that I want to evoke. But, of course, everything tends to change once I actually put the paint down. Likewise, with sculpture I begin with materials or objects that trigger my imagination. I spend a lot of time looking at and playing with the relationships between them. Painting is a more direct, internalized process. With sculpture, I am dealing with the physics of actual space, gravity, weight and volume. I often rely on problem-solving experiments to better understand the properties, potential and technical issues of different materials. What are the elastic possibilities of my materials? How far can I feasibly push them? Which properties do I want to embrace? I work towards sculpture that generates its own internal logic, structure and energy, and thus functions more like an entity rather than merely an object.

Bottle Neck (detail view)
2009
Styrofoam, aqua-resin, pumices, plaster, plexi mirrors, Lego, aluminum, recycled bottles, PVC, collages, cinder blocks, photograph collages, acrylic paint and pastel
48 x 60 x 36 inches

OPP:  What role does reflection play in your work?

LLC: I want to explore this interplay of space in my sculpture and one way of doing so is through the use of reflections. It facilitates a material shift from the exterior surface to the interior structure, blurs the boundary between inside and outside; between the actual and painted surface. My intention is not to use reflection in a highly technical way to deceive the eyes. I’m not attempting to hide its mechanisms; instead, I am interested in the junction of a pictorial way of looking and materiality of things in space.

Embedded in my sculptures are micro spaces, constructed either by Plexiglas mirror or aluminum. These materials reflect and absorb the surrounding light, generating a different sense of light for the micro space. This creates both an architecture and a landscape. I always think of the densely layered space in urban environments. In Hong Kong, for example, hidden areas exist everywhere in order to maximize space. I have always been intrigued by the way people expand their everyday, constrained surroundings in an organic and illusionistic way.

I want to offer viewers a rewarding discovery by creating work that demands more than a glimpse. I create space that you can either dive into or step back from in order to complete the whole picture. My sculptures generate new meanings depending on the angle from which viewers approach them. The aim is always the same: to evoke the fleeting moments that we encounter in daily life.

To see more of Lee Lee's work, please visit leeleechan.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.