OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Scott Hazard

Drop, Stone, Trace. Sculpture/Maple, Paper, Text. 15" X 15" x 8"

Informed by garden design and Zen Buddhism, SCOTT HAZARD's layered, paper sculptures and installations offer both mental and physical space for the viewer to find respite or refuge. He carefully tears crisp, white sheets of paper, then spreads them out, expanding two-dimensional space into three-dimensional space. These staggered papers evoke drifts of snow and rolling hills, punctuated by cultivated paths of rubber-stamped text meandering through empty space. Scott studied Landscape Architecture (1996) at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and earned a MFA (2005) at the University of Florida. His most recent solo show was Memory Gardens (2015) at Adah Rose Gallery (Washington DC), where he is represented. His work is also available from Simon Breitbard Fine Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been featured in a number of magazines and online publications, including The WILD Magazine, Glamcult, BOOOOOOOM, Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose, and Colossal. In 2012, he was awarded an Artist Fellowship in Visual Arts from the North Carolina Arts Council. Scott is  and  Scott lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied Landscape Architecture before earning your MFA. How does this background inform your scuptures?

Scott Hazard:
Most of the pieces I create serve as vessels for gardens or garden-like spaces. They are places intended to be inhabited or explored, and they are intentionally carved out and/or constructed out of a larger environment or context, yet incorporate and reveal aspects of that context. The origin of the English word garden refers to a sense of enclosure; the oldest use of the word indicated the fending off of wilderness to cultivate a more or less safe haven. My work references some European notions of garden design from the 1700s and 1800s where shaping a space was often about composing and framing a view of an idealized landscape from a particular point in space. There are also important links to Chinese and Japanese traditions in garden design in that the experience of moving through the space is critical to the viewer's perceptions of the garden, and the gardens were often thought of as microcosms of the world.


Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky. Sculpture/Photography, 23" X 23" x 8"

OPP: What does the void mean to you? Are the voids in your work more spatial or metaphorical?

SH: I think of the 'void' as the space or context in which every ‘thing’ exists more so than an absence of something. It is a place where experiences can be detached from ideas and assumptions. My thinking about the ‘void’ is rooted largely in Buddhist notions of emptiness. With that, I am focused on creating and articulating intimate spaces which encourage people to delve in and explore.
 
The voids or openings in my sculptures do work metaphorically in a couple of ways. We use language and images most often to bear down on definitions and concisely articulate what we are trying to convey. A void introduced into this landscape of information works to create a spatial and perceptual opening to allow for a moment of respite from specificity and ideally lead towards a more complete and poetic understanding. Gaston Bachelard touches on this idea in his essay Dialectics of Outside and Inside when he wrote, “language through meaning encloses while poetic expression opens it up.” This respite translates to moments of quiet in a seemingly endless amount of stimulus and information. John Cage and his writings and works on silence are integral to my thinking regarding the void also. He considered silences to be “sacred spaces resonant with creation.” Similarly my work seeks to create a brief break in the din of noise we exist in and allow for a more focused mode of being, if only for a moment.

The reductive perceptual experiences I work to create are also metaphors for the notion that the mind functions in part as a reducer (see Henri Bergson as mentioned by Aldous Huxley in his essay The Doors of Perception, and The Organized Mind, a fantastic book about thinking in an environment of information overload by Daniel J. Levitin.) In this mode the mind is blocking out multitudes of information at any given moment in order to focus on what is at hand or apparently most important/needing attention. I am working to facilitate a diffused space, one that is both inviting and enveloping but using the same information one might be seeking a departure from.

Landscape: Threshole. Sculpture/Photography. 6" X 8.75", 12.5" X 16.25" X 3.75" w/ Frame

OPP: In your series Photo Constructs, you turn photographs into sculptures by adding depth. I think about worm holes and portals to other dimensions when looking at works like Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky and Landscape: Threshole. Do you think of them that way? If so, where do they lead?

SH: To some extent, I do want to convey the idea of the spaces in the work as portals to another unknown place. Many of the photo pieces have no terminus within sight to heighten this sensation. There is also the idea that there are many ways a thing can be understood coursing through my work. The spaces or voids in the objects I create are influenced by Zen Buddhist notions of focused attention achieved through meditation and idealized states of mind. By setting up the layers of paper or photographs at intervals in a physical space, I work to create a sensation of simultaneously looking at and through. Each layer in the work is a slightly different iteration of the layers that are immediately adjacent. In this way, each work is composed of many versions of the same thing. A hole is torn in one reality only to reveal another slightly different reality behind the first one. Some pieces, like those you mention above lead to an unknown destination, others are more concerned with creating a space that focuses attention on one portion or aspect of the photo.

These portals also reference the bellows of an early camera, or the space within some optical instruments from the 1700s and 1800s, such as the stereoscope. These spaces within cameras and optical instruments, in addition to their role in making an image, focus the user’s attention by blocking off outside influences to the image being viewed. In this sense the photo pieces function as both image and instrument. Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels and similar pieces are never too far from my mind when thinking through this work.

One Square Foot of a Place to Focus/An Excuse for Staring at the Wall. Sculpture (Maple, paper, text). 11.75" X 11.75"


OPP: Tell us about the introduction of text and the shift away from photographic surfaces in Text Constructs.

SH: Both the image and text based work originated around the same time, but I have concentrated more on the text based work for the past few years. The focused use of text can minimize the visual information in each piece and keep the initial visual reading of the work more concise. The text also allows for a metaphorical and literal reading of the spaces or voids that are formed within each work. The words stamped on the layers of paper encourage a non-linear and haptic reading of the space and text by pulling them in layer by layer, word by word. I love working through the ways the text can engage with the space and enhance a sense of movement, and how that sense of movement can in turn influence the reading of the text. I appreciate a lot of Visual and Concrete Poetry, especially early works from Vito Acconci. The masses of text in my work are often written in second person to speak directly to the viewer. Lately, I have also been working towards incorporating text from used books, mainly books about how humans have engaged (whether through exploration, documentation, utilization or exploitation) with the landscape.



Detail of Endless Sea. Sculpture (Ash wood, paper, text). 10" X 18" X 23"

OPP: Obviously repetition—of language and in the process of tearing—is a big part of your process. Is repetition tedious or relaxing for you? Does meditation play a role in your practice?

SH: Absolutely, repetition is an important part of my process for creating the work. It helps provide the level of detail necessary to pull the viewer into the work and the repeated layering of the paper helps the viewer visually track through and into the work. I don't formally meditate, but the production process for the greatest part is meditative. Each word in the text pieces is typically applied manually with rubber stamps, so the repetitive actions help eliminate outside thoughts and bring about a more mindful, focused mode of attention. I typically work in two to four hour periods due to my schedule, so it’s not too hard to maintain the attention required to consistently apply the text and carefully tear the paper. The repeated text becomes a texture that when read helps purge outside ideas and focus on what is at hand when viewing the work. Ultimately, creating an inviting and meditative space is an important aspect of each piece.



Silent Geography, 2014. Sculpture/Installation. 18 x 24 x 30

OPP: In Silent Geography (2014), you shifted scale tremendously. Your page-sized torn papers became a landscape of snow drifts that are waist-high. I interpret the text as spaces that humans trod. Can you talk about the relationship of the scale of the text versus the paper?

SH: This project was a fantastic opportunity to work with the awesome people from Projective City and the former Mixed Greens gallery as part of their ParisScope collaboration. This site-specific installation consumed the entirety of the floor of the gallery to create an immersive psychosomatic garden. Similar to my wall mounted and smaller sculptures, the format of the project mandated that viewers may not physically enter the space, but can only experience the work from just outside the gallery through a peep-hole. It was very exciting to work at this scale and translate forms, paper and text in a way that could literally envelop a person exploring the space.  The size of the text was large enough so that each person moving through the space could easily see and track the text without needing to significantly disrupt their movement, and small enough to beckon a closer look and resemble a lot of the physical printed matter we interact with. As you note the masses of text could resemble evidence of human impacts caused by people passing through or inhabiting the spare landscape—they also allude to water in terms of how it flows to and collects in low spots, eventually seeping in to the landscape or evaporating.

To see more of Scott's work, please visit scotthazard.net.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews 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 Joell Baxter

Magic Carpet, detail
2013
Screenprinted paper, glue
5 x 96 x 96 inches

JOELL BAXTER's practice combines screenprinting, weaving, sculpture and color theory in an exploration of visual perception and physical response. The placement of her multicolored, paper weavings-turned-sculptures on the floor evokes minimalist sculpture and interior design staples like carpets and couches, while the simplicity of the weave structure brings to mind grade school craft projects. Beginning in September, she will be an Artist-in-Residence in The Space Program at Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation. Her solo project Coverer will be on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut until June 27, 2014. Then it travels to Greensboro, North Carolina to be part of the group exhibition Art on Paper 2014 at Weatherspoon Art Museum from September 27-December 21, 2014. Joell lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your trajectory as an artist and your influences.

Joell Baxter: I studied painting as an undergraduate, and I still think about what I do in relation to that tradition. But I have always made work that sits between disciplines and actively engages the viewer in different modes of looking. All of my work strongly references minimalism, in terms of its approach to space and to creating a one-on-one relationship between the viewer and the work. I use very basic processes and forms that are reminiscent of grade school arts and crafts projects like weaving potholders. I want to evoke an immediate sense of familiarity, almost a muscle memory of how the work was made. But after that initial response, I hope that what at first seemed familiar becomes strange and more complex.

My most important art historical influences include: Sol LeWitt’s visually complex works created from seemingly simple ideas; Agnes Martin’s meditative focus; Josef Albers’ articulation of the relative nature of color; and Anni Albers’ writings on the historical importance of textiles as a kind of portable architecture.

Untitled (Rolled)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand cut and woven; glue
5 x 17 x 40 inches

OPP: All the paper that you work with is screenprinted, but most of it is solid-colored paper. Is it significant that you don't purchase existing colored paper for use in your sculptures? 



JB: My decision to print all of my own paper is largely practical. I use a carefully calibrated pallet of 12 hues in 8 different degrees of saturation. It would be hard to find these 96 exact colors in a commercial paper. In more recent works—Magic Carpet and Coverer—I have been printing blends of complimentary colors, so the color isn’t solid anymore. After printing full sheets, the paper is cut down, glued into long strips and woven by hand.

I also really love the process of screenprinting. Printing flats and color-blends in particular is a very meditative act, and I find the repetitive action of flooding the screen and pulling the ink to be extremely conducive to thinking through ideas. I like the fact that, as a technology, screenprinting sits in this strange spot between handmade and mechanical. The screen and squeegee are mediating the application of color to the paper, but it still requires a very physical, human action.

Stack Overflow (detail)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand torn and stacked; tape
1 x 72 x 72 inches

OPP: Is the color distribution in your work more influenced by color theory or intuition? Is this planned in advance of beginning a piece?



JB: I am interested in understanding how light and visual perception work together to create an experience of color. My basic mode of using color is very systematic. As much as anything, it comes from the basic color theory one learns in elementary school: the color wheel, mixing secondary colors from primary colors and mixing compliments.

In planning my work, everything is extremely orderly and can be diagrammed as a set of instructions. I typically use colors in the order of the visible spectrum, so red follows orange follows yellow, and so on. But by weaving these colors together, they start to interact and become harder to name and distinguish. This is due to the inherent nature of weaving, where color relationships are constantly alternating through the pattern of over and under. So there is a kind of glitch introduced into the plans, forcing me to let go of absolute control over the results.

Endless Day, Endless Night (for g.m.b.)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand cut and woven; glue
2 parts, 5 x 46 x 46 inches each

OPP: Could you talk about the woven, pillow-like form you have repeatedly executed in paper and your choice to exhibit it on the floor?



JB: The pillow pieces are human in scale, about the right size to sit in comfortably, and the sunken void in the middle seems to invite the viewer in. Placed directly on the floor, they share real space with the viewer and could almost be functional. But then the opticality of the work and the fragility of the paper take over, and they become more like paintings or drawings that are holding themselves up in space. So you move between a very empathetic and physical response to the work, and a very visual one, without ever settling on one or the other.

Coverer, detail
2014
Screenprinted paper, hand-cut and woven; glue; push pins
8 x 25 x 25 feet

OPP: Tell us about Coverer, your first solo exhibition, which is on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut until June 27, 2014.

JB: The installation at Real Art Ways is the first opportunity I’ve been given to use an entire room, so the work has really taken advantage of that. I began with the premise creating a visual experience of color in space that viewers could enter and explore and that makes use of the architecture. 

I use the same screenprinting and weaving process as the earlier pillows, but this piece is comprised of a modular series of flat, mesh panels laid directly onto the floor and walls in an intersecting pattern. Because of the gridded structure, the work functions as a kind of marking system that measures and diagrams the room. The diagramming is destabilized by an illusion injected into the color pattern of the woven panels; the edges blur and the colors fade as they move across the space. On close inspection, it becomes clear that the color is printed onto the woven paper. But when perceived as a whole, the weaves seem almost prismatic, as if they are catching and dispersing the light or, alternatively, as if the color is emanating from them, like a digital screen. So on the one hand the work clarifies and maps the physical space, but on the other it confuses and destabilizes the viewer’s perception. I am interested in this kind of toggling back and forth between visually grounding yourself and then losing your way again.

The viewer can actually walk into the work, stepping into the voids between the woven panels. In doing so, your view is reframed with every step. While I felt that it was conceptually important to be able to enter the piece, I was surprised by how active the work feels from a distance. The work is almost cubist in the way it constructs space. Just the act of moving your eyes around makes you aware of the way the images in your mind are constantly shifting and recombining. There is a bench in the room, and when you sit still, this constant shifting takes on a filmic quality. The piece seems to keep moving, and the light seems to flicker. So a viewer can move between active and passive modes of looking or watching the piece.

The last aspect of the work that felt important and new for me was its mutability and portability. The piece conforms absolutely to the architecture, while simultaneously affecting the experience of the space. But if the site changes, the piece can adapt and the conform to its new site in a modular way, and it can repeat this process indefinitely. I will be reinstalling Coverer in the fall at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The floors there are a different color and material, and there is natural light. It will be part of a group show, so the way that the work interacts with the space will be completely different and I am looking forward to seeing how that changes the piece.

To view more of Joell's work, please visit joellbaxter.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 her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage 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. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Lyon

Dendroclimatological Meditation (detail)
2012
Kraft, tissue, and drawing paper, pine branches, india ink, colored pencil
84"x 24"x 36"

Drawing, whittling and shredding paper are all forms of mark-making in BENJAMIN LYON's time-intensive art practice. He seamlessly unites both natural and manufactured materials in mysterious altars and monuments, revealing reverence and curiosity about time, chance and the nuanced experience of change that only occurs through ritualistic, haptic repetition. Benjamin earned a BA in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice with a minor in Fine Arts from San Francisco State University. He continued his artistic development at City College of San Francisco, and is in the process of applying to graduate school. Benjamin lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the presence of repetition in your practice and in the resulting work? I see it in the india ink drawings, the paper-shredding and the whittled pine branches, which are all forms of mark-making or marking time.

Benjamin Lyon: Repetition drives my practice because it brings me into the moment of making. Usually it gets me started and keeps me going. The work often begins without a plan. I think it grows out of a faith in the power of chance; I let go of control and rely more on the experience of making to guide me instead of its outcome.

My work is an intimate conversation with time. Time is fascinating to me because it's both abstract concept and a real experience. It's hard to define in an concrete way. There are so many different interpretations of it depending on what, who and when you are.

All of my work is handmade, and often I choose the repetitive act because it helps me become comfortable with anxiety and boredom. It's therapeutic for me. I dedicate a lot of my studio time to making marks, whittling sticks, shredding or braiding paper. Ultimately, the marks and objects function as witnesses that tell a story of change, and that story is written in nuance.

Wishing Well
2013
Kraft paper, newspaper, india ink, acrylic, watercolor, plywood, oak
55"x 25"x 16"

OPP: You repeatedly use brown kraft paper, wax paper, newspaper, construction paper in your works. What draws you these particular types of paper? Could you talk about using a two-dimensional material as a sculptural material?

BL: I've chosen these items because they're accessible, inexpensive and often taken for granted. The challenge for me is to take an object or material that is not precious and to inject meaning into it and express something important. And since my work often appears whimsical or other-worldly, I anchor it in reality with the familiar papers we find in our houses or on the newsstands.

Paper is a magical material. When I was a kid, art was always two-dimensional. My dad was an architect/engineer, and all of his work was prepared with different types of paper. I trained as a draftsperson with him for a handful of years and learned his quirky and efficient methods of constructing working drawings. These sheets contained layers upon layers of ink drawings on tracing paper. They were glued, taped, whited-out, xeroxed. They contained pasted notes and hand-drawn details that were repeatedly removed and replaced with the old torn edges of other sheets of paper. Each stage of the process remained subtly visible on the original, but would disappear once the paper was xeroxed on a copier set to a low sensitivity. The sheets were neatly organized but wilted by the end of the process. They had a lot of character. If you looked closely, you could see that they documented all of the changes over time.

Paper was such a large part of my development as an artist, that it seemed only natural to use this traditionally two-dimensional material, historically used for documentation, to create three-dimensional sculptures that document change over time.

Befriending 5,000 Splinters
2012
Fallen pine branches, kraft paper, india ink, colored pencil
3"x 18"x 18"

OPP: Paper is just wood in a manufactured form, and the presence of shredded paper makes me think of the absence of wood shavings that must have been produced when the fallen pine branches were whittled down. Was it the process or the material that drew you to wood-carving and whittling?

BL: I'm glad that the pieces produced such imagery for you. Through the visible marks of the tools, I'm trying to evoke the presence of work and its energy. In those pieces you're seeing manufactured forms as well as my own marks. Present are the many stages of transforming a specific material by machine or by hand. All of this is possible only with work. Tom Sachs is an artist that I admire. In an interview with Gaia Repossi, he says: “I'm trying to communicate transparency. I'm looking to show the scars of labor and the evidence of construction.” I relate to his sentiment. There is something truly satisfying about the act of creating. From cooking tasty food to building a sturdy book shelf, if a thing is made well and the process is satisfying, it makes all the difference for the maker and user.

I can’t say that it is either the process or material that draws me to these practices because it’s almost always both. I use a material in a way that illuminates the actual work done over time, but I also often choose acts that the viewer won't ever see in the final product. For example, I frequently go on walking adventures through the city and its parks in search of a material to gather. Or, in the new drawings that I'm developing, I've made a gazillion little, repetitive and beloved marks that I call “ink scratches.” I'm not using pens with ink cartridges but instead dipping a pen with metal nib into an ink well after every few marks. It's a little bit ridiculous. . . but enjoyable. It slows everything down for me.

For each piece, I chose materials that represent both nature and culture. I mix the two symbolic artifacts to address a perceived dichotomy. Time-intensive work allows the two symbols become more similar than they are different.

To Love and To Work
2013
Basswood, gathered fallen pine branches and redwood bark, acrylic paint
18"x 12"x 16"

OPP: Many of your pieces, including Fortune Teller (2012), Befriending 5,000 Splinters (2012), and Dendroclimatological Meditation (2012), evoke altars for me. Others, like Tangle Ish (2013) and Wishing Well (2013), are like monuments, sites of human longing or reverence. Does this reading echo your intentions? If so, what are these sculptural altars and monuments for?

BL: Observing the work through someone else's eyes can be really valuable for seeing new things! After considering what you've said about the 2012 pieces appearing as altars and those from 2013 resembling monuments, I think that the two different years mark different stages in a process of conjuring the energies of both natural and cultural elements. The altars from 2012 were made with the intention of awakening the ideas. I wanted viewers to feel as though they had stumbled upon a ceremony in an unknown world. I created my own rituals that could induce magic, bringing me closer to understanding nature, culture and time. The imagined ceremony itself was distant from the site that remained. It felt distant for me, too, because it was new.

Perhaps the altars did work as I intended, awakening the energies to produce the monuments in 2013. Reverence is a great word that I also use to describe those pieces. I have a deep respect for the world around me with all of its experiences and interactions. The respect that I try to maintain adds mystery to everyday situations. Life is rich with possibility when you allow the unknown to exist instead of desiring full control.

Tangle Ish
2013
Newspaper, walnut section, Ikea wood slats, Manzanita branches, string
46"x 20"x 20"

OPP: How does your experience as a teenaged graffiti artist in San Francisco relate to your current work in sculpture and drawing? What did you learn in that time that affects the work you currently make?

BL: Graffiti was a rush of excitement. It was a tight community that admired and hated each other at the same time. We shared secrets, tricks of the trade and lived and worked by a code that's hard for everyone to understand. But the code is heavy and present. It's an interesting subculture that I still have a lot of respect for. I think that writing graffiti did not so much transfer into a visual style for me, rather it developed my interest in the process of creating.

I started writing graffiti when I was in middle school. I still have old drawings of my first pieces on paper dating back to '91. The pieces are so funny with their letters filled in with brick patterns and their star-dotted letter "i"s! We'd go out walking in the streets searching for new spots to plan our pieces before heading to the wall, or we'd explore the streets while bombing, which is what we called tagging. But what's most memorable to me is the practice I put into perfecting my moniker. I must have filled hundreds—I mean hundreds!—of spiral notebooks with my name. I'd write my tag over and over and over, slightly varying the styles or the spelling in search of that perfect combination. This is where I developed my fascination with repetition, the nuance of change over time and the never-ending exploration of my surroundings.

To see more of Benjamin's work, please visit benjaminlyonart.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 her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage 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 exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.