OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Skiles

Am I Born to Die: Hadrian #7 (pink), 2016. Acrylic & Cloth on Paper. 15.75 x 13.75 inches, framed.

NATHAN SKILES' constructions—both sculptural and two-dimensional—are simutaneously silly and dead serious. In acrylic diptyches that reference target practice and the game of darts, he highlights duality. In foam rubber cuckoo clocks and reconstructions made from chopped-up foam rubber cuckoo clocks, he emphasizes synthesis. In collages that mash up familiar textile patterns like camoflage and plaid with the folk art form of the Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, he traffics in the abstract languages embedded in material culture. Nathan earned his BFA (2002) at Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida and his MFA (2006) at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He has had solo exhibitions at Green Contemporary (New York, NY), Hunterdon Art Museum (Clinton, NJ) and the Center for Arts and Culture at University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN). In 2017, his work was included in group shows at Tampa Museum of Art, Centre Gallery at University of South Florida and Highlands Museum of the Arts (Sebring, Florida). He is an is an instructor at the Ringling College of and Design. Nathan lives and works in Sarasota, Florida.

OPP: Can you talk generally about how think about and work with collage? This process also seems to be a metaphor in your work.

NS: There’s a lot to disentangle in this question. Growing up in a German Baptist home in rural Indiana, making was an integral part of my early experience. A connection was born out of a dichotomy of a pride found in self-sufficiency and the embarrassment of standing apart from culture at large, in ill-fitting handmade and secondhand clothes.

As an object, nothing quite exemplifies this like a patchwork quilt made of recycled scraps. These specific quilts, like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, are a strange, imperfect hybrid born from the remnants of whole beings. Previously intact, leftovers now lashed together to find a new life.

Seamless integration is often a noble idea fraught with rough edges and pushback. As artists, I think we need to embrace that collage might not improve upon the original, that corruption and contamination might be collage’s most effective and evocative qualities.

“Siphoning Sinew and Slippage” cuckoo clock, construction fence, dreamcatcher, spider’s web, and Dutch hex sign, 2010. Corrugated plastic and foam rubber. 38" x 21" x 19"

OPP: Up until recently, your dominant material was foam rubber. You used it in various early sculptures, in the Birdhouses, in the Cuckoo Clocks, and in The Clockmaker’s Apprentice (2011). What drew you to this material?

NS: I gravitate towards wry and knowing gestures. The earliest sculptural work started out as rather unconvincing ersatz replicas of overly aggressive props; swords, arrows, traps. As I became more familiar with the materials I began to drop the more problematic and fugitive elements and eventually landed on foam as a ubiquitous, malleable and convincing material. 

Golem #5; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011. Foam rubber. 16 x 12 x 12 inches.

OPP:  The Clockmaker's Apprentice (2011) included 68 Golems, 5 Shoggoths and 25 Frankenstein’s monsters. All of these creations combine cuckoo clocks with building tools—scissors, protractors, levels, painter’s tape and other measuring devices. What’s different about the golems, the shoggoths and the monsters?

NS: As the work became more refined, I began to feel it lose its contrarian edge. Instead of exploring materiality I chose to focus on developing the imagery. I decided to make images of objects aware of their lowly position, made of generic and common stuff and stuck in whatever idiotic gesture I, as a capricious creator, willed them in to.

(As a side note, I realize now that I find the weeping tragedy mask the more honest and acceptable of the twined comedy/tragedy images. The comedy version, stuck forever with its painful, gaping smile is an unnerving reflection on contradiction.) 

I separated the series in to three groups to delineate the structural differences of how the parts came together. First, the golems were created as one-off experiences. Simple, crude faces created as caricatures of facial gestures. Frankenstein’s Monsters were the golems taken one step further; each one is made from the pieces of former golems, cut up and recombined to create a three-dimensional version of a Surrealist’s exquisite corpse drawing. Like the eponymous coagulate in an H.P. Lovecraft story, the shoggoths were the mishmash of several sculptures fused together with little regard for structure or appearance.

Frankenstein's Monster #12; cuckoo clocks and birdhouse with tools, 2011. Foam rubber. 31 x 12 x 11 inches

OPP: How does this series speak to the relationship between the creation and the creator?

NS: I know a number of artists who are terrible stewards of their own work, and at that time I might have been the worst. As a pragmatist storage is always an issue; it didn’t hurt that the objects were lightweight and flexible. As an indifferent parent to the completed objects I have to contend with both the physical mountain of objects I create and the complex nature of mass proliferation. As much as I feel compelled to make, I also think it’s equally important to question the hubris of creating permanent gestures.

Eye of Providence cw, 2013. Acrylic on paper, with bullet holes. 33.5” x 25.5” each, framed diptych.

OPP: Will the Circle Be Unbroken is a series of collages made with acrylic, paper and fabric that refer to Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs. What do the hex signs mean to you and why do you render them as fabric and paint collages?

NS: The Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, a form of folk art and magic, are emblems and motifs painted on barns and homes to promote fertility and prosperity. I think of them as a container for intentionality.

I combined the standard motifs with patterns of pride— tartans, plaids, familial patterns—and protection—fencing and camouflage. As I continued to work on these pieces, it struck me how significant images of power are, not to the weak, but to those who are insecure.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken #22, 2014. Acrylic Collage on Paper and Cloth. 24" x 24", framed.

OPP: Were you thinking more about the possibility of secret symbols or pure abstraction in referencing the hex signs?

NS: Not to be too evasive, but I’m not sure I make much of a difference between pure abstraction and secret symbolism. Both are imbued with a creator’s will and, regardless of how succinct they are, it can be damn difficult to decode them without pre-knowledge.

Am I Born to Die Trammel #1 (violet), 2017. Acrylic & Cloth on Paper. 23 x 20.5 inches, framed.

OPP: Your newest series Am I Born to Die initially brought to mind the divided lunch trays I used to eat from at public schools. Is this an intentional reference?

NS: Not an intended reference, but I think the logic is sound and gets to the secret heart of the work—the maturity of a holistic meal shouted down by an impetuous child demanding to keep the peas out of their mashed potatoes.

OPP: What does this series do with pattern and its pride and protection connotations that the hex signs didn’t? 

NS: I have a strong belief that effective works of art avoid the need to decipher what the artist intends for it to be about and instead tend to wear their tone of voice on their sleeve.

Forcing myself to continue to cultivate the metaphor of the hex sign began to feel insincere, the constraints of the metaphor were overbearing, and in my mind its symbolic power had started to wane. 

It’s my hope that the new works, in their state of tenuous integration, more openly complicate the relationship between individuality and collectivism, pride and prejudice, protection and insecurity. Unmoored from the restraints of the hex signs, the new work can evoke a broader range of contradictions of compartmentalization inherent in rubble masonry, stained glass, malignant cell walls, and even lunch trays.   

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanskiles.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Garry Noland

The One Thing, 2016. polystyrene, corrugate with decollage. 21.250" x 19.250" x 3." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

Since beginning his career in 1978, GARRY NOLAND has explored so many materials: National Geographic magazines, corrugated cardboard, bubble wrap, wood, pvc pipes, marbles, duct tape, foam, just to name a handful. His studio practice is primarily driven by process and material. In sculptures and textile-like surfaces, he emphasizes pattern, surface and texture as the byproduct of actions like cutting, marking, taping and gluing. Garry earned his BA in Art History at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, but he’s always been a maker.  His long exhibition record began in 1980, with notable recent exhibitions at Haw Contemporary (2015), the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (2014), Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (2014) and Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (2013). On April 16, 2017, his solo show Unorganized Territory will open at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Chicago, and, in the Fall of 2017, he will open a two-person show with Leigh Suggs at Artspace in Raleigh, North Carolina and a two-person show at Los Angeles Valley College Art Gallery in Van Nuys, California. Garry lives and works in Los Angeles, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there an underlying thread that connects the materials you choose?

Garry Noland: One of the answers regarding materials relates to the non-human part of nature. We are part of the world around us, yet in a separate, contemplative position. Nature has many materials: gases, minerals, animals, plants and the breakdowns into smaller parts (water vapor, sand, insects and pine needles, for example). Nature's processes—evaporation/condensation, sedimentation, reproduction and seeding—are an incessantly-recycling pattern of life. They inform the "studio practice" that is Nature. Jackson Pollack's statement "I am Nature" gets at the artist's natural role in working with whatever material is at their hand. Nature teaches us to apply our energetic, creative impulse to solve problems that a set of materials poses to us. A new material simply presents new problems or challenges. A familiar material will present new challenges based on skills we've acquired in our subsequent actions. The underlying thread is what can I learn? and how gracefully can I solve the problem?

Close-Up USA, No. 7, 2016. Polystyrene, aluminum paint, sand, concrete mix. 22" x 41" x 8." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

OPP: You don’t seem to be drawn to Nature’s materials, but to human-made things: “found and reclaimed materials from alleys, side streets and urban dumps.”  What draws you to materials generally? Any new finds that you are excited about in your studio right now?

GN: Right now I am using corrugate, polystyrene, paper, wood and some mild adhesives. I am using simple verbs: Cut, tear, place, adjust, glue. Nearly all of the materials are found, free or very inexpensive. Part of the attraction is that these materials have been through another use. This other use, not to mention the process in which they were originally created imparts spirit to the material. . . it is the farthest thing from inert. The found marks in dock foam or the folds, scraps and abrasions add a layer of experience to cardboard. It is part of my job to augment it by leaving it alone or adding to it. I know that new materials will come along or that I will find new use for something I already thought I knew something about.

Ticket, 2012. Tape, Floor Debris on tape. 103" x 98." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

OPP: In your statement, you say “Sometimes I am the boss of the material but just as often the material, by virtue of a chance arrangement, for example, will tell me what needs to be done.” Could you say more about making in this way? What’s the process feel like for you? Will you tell us a story about a piece in which the material led you more than you led it?

GN: One might infer that I have a collaborative relationship with the material. Material is inseparable from the "artist". It is possible to see potential in every single thing. Metaphorically then, as well, there is potential in every single person. In general this brings me great joy. I am solving problems I could not have foreseen minutes or years before. Simultaneously new work explains often what was going on in an older piece....a kind of studio deja vu. I keep a lot of material in the studio precisely because I know that chance arrangements or views askance will reveal combinations I could not have rationally thought of. An example is the piece tilted Failed Axle. There was a spool of bubble wrap in the studio to use a packing for an outgoing work. Several feet beyond the spool lay a curved piece of orange PVC pipe. Out of the corner of my eye, it looked like that the pipe was coming out of the spool, like an axle. The piece made itself essentially. I am a grateful intermediary.

Pumpjack (Sergeant), 2015. polystyrene, tape, pvc pipe, marbles. 63" x 58" x 7." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

OPP: Your application of marks—as cuts, tape, paint or marbles—to the surface a variety of substrates, functions differently across your body of work. I’m thinking about the difference between works like Pumpjack (Sergeant) (2015), which have complete surface coverage and the wall-hung sculptures from the Handheld series (2014). When is it about hiding the underlying surface and when is it about highlighting it?

GN: Pumpjack (Sergeant) is a good piece but I know that, like every other piece, it is on the way to something else. Part of the impulse behind the complete coverage was to produce a design to supplement the object. . . to cover an object with images of objects. I love pattern and surface design. One of our jobs as artists is to find out "what goes with what.” Relationships between materials may be abrasive, copacetic or somewhere in between. In Pumpjack the tape presents a way for the eye to move around the object as does the application of marbles on the PVC armature. How do the marbles act with the tape pattern? How does the tape pattern work with the slabby foam block? How does the eye move around the whole thing? How does the slab act with the wall and floor. How does the painting/sculpture work with the viewer.

I hope, in the end, we ask how we relate to each other. The Handheld series (which were pieces cut off from the corners of Failed Monuments) used the gold tape (implying luxury) next to the "low-brow" foam and found marks. The exchange between tape and foam, gold and found marks was more direct and I think more honest.

Handheld 03, 2014. Foam, tape. 10" x 10" x 5." Photo credit: E.G. Schempf.

OPP: I think of your taped wall-hung works more as textiles than paintings. They have a textile logic to them, in the sense that the image appears to be part of the structure, as opposed to applied to the surface of another substrate. Thoughts?

GN:
I like and appreciate that reading! The image (if we agree to call "it" that) not only is part of the structure, but is/or represents the structure in full. That is, they are one in the same. The question becomes how can we merge image/object; form/content; female/male; figure/ground, among others, for example. This was written about by Lucy Lippard in OVERLAY and was at least a sub-topic in Cubism.

OPP: What role does balance—compositionally, physically and metaphorically—play in your work?

GN: The best question. Balance is a fluid, contextual situation. Balance is a how as much as it is a what. It's an easy tendency to find balance in a comfort zone. It’s imperative that any artist finds a way out of their comfort zone and into emerging, fighting off laziness and complacency. Balance comes from in-balance. Content comes from form. Form comes from content. Positive space comes from negative space.

To see more of Garry's work, please visit garrynolandart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Throughout March 2017, Stacia is working on an evolving, duration installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago). You can watch Witness change via live feed.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Cara Lynch

Inheritance: In Memory of American Glass, 2016, Ditmas Avenue stop, F subway line, Brooklyn

Inspired by craft objects and folk art, CARA LYNCH is staunchly opposed to aesthetic elitism. She embraces surface embellishment and pattern in sculpture, print and public works. She taps into the devotional power of heavily-encrusted talismans, while celebrating the visual pleasure of rhinestones, feathers, beads and glitter. In 2012, Cara earned her BFA in Studio Art with a Minor Art History at Adelphi University (Garden City, New York). Since then, she has studied Printmaking at Columbia University, Papermaking at the Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York and Advanced Sculpture at Hunter College. Cara recently closed her solo show Love Tokens and Talismans, supported by Queens Arts Council Grant, at Local Project (Long Island City, Queens). In spring 2016, she installed her first permanent, public work for the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority at Ditmas Avenue stop of F subway line in Brooklyn. Cara lives in New York, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your research into the “sailor’s valentines, mourning jewelry, memoryware, kitschy trinkets, and historical amulets or talismans” that informed your recent body of work called Love Tokens and Talismans.

Cara Lynch: I have an interest in those things that are not traditionally included in the fine art world: craft objects and processes and folk art. I am interested in why we make things and the purposes and power of these objects. I see the embrace of these traditional crafts as a political statement when included in a fine art context or conceptualized in this way.
 
While my research for this particular body of work initially began viewing images online, I also spent time at the New York Public Library looking through books of reliquaries and walking through the Met looking at various ceremonial and talismanic objects. I spent time at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, pouring over their incredible collection of books on mourning jewelry and love tokens. Many of the forms I created are directly influenced by these objects, but my main interest is in the traditions and functions of these objects: to memorialize experiences, express devotion or provide protection or good luck.

You're Tacky & I Hate You, 2016. Cast hydrocal, rhinestones, feathers, paint, wood, hardware. 12.5 x 15 x 3 inches

OPP: How do these influence manifest in your sculptures? What are you loving, mourning, remembering or warding off in this work?

CL: I grew up very Catholic, and I am very interested in how objects become symbolic or get their power. For Catholics, the Eucharist, rosaries and other sacred objects are given their power by the beliefs of the faithful. In some other religions, this is not the case; the power becomes inherent in the object itself. As artists, we are granted a certain power through our making of objects. In many ways, making becomes our faith.

The sculptures are very much about my own experience, mourning the passage of time and struggling with the reality that we can’t always attain our desires, whether for physical objects or for abstract experiences, like equality or affirmation or holding on to the present. The pieces combine casts replicating a number of objects I’ve saved from my childhood or collected from trim stores along my walk to work through the garment district in New York. I am memorializing my own experience through these pieces, as well as empowering the “non-elite” in some way.

There is tension expressed in these objects: between high and low, art and craft, class and taste, sentiment and spectacle. By embracing the decorative and the domestic—newer pieces sometimes include casts from copper cake pans—I hope to grant power to myself and to all women. By embracing “low,” craft materials, and elevating them in some way, I am making a political statement for the working class and challenging “high art” and academic aversions to the decorative. By creating beautiful objects, I make my fantasies attainable in some sense.

Fetter Better, 2016. Detail. Cast hydrocal, found ornament, chain, glitter, paint, iridescent pigment, wood, hardware. 10 x 20 x 5 inches

OPP: Your talismans are cast hydrocal, embellished with automotive paint, spray paint, glitter, faux pearls, rhinestones, chains, and tassels. It’s visually hard to separate the solid, cast object from it’s surface embellishment. Can you talk about these two distinct parts of the process: casting a solid substrate versus embellishing it?

CL: I am very interested in embellishment and the decorative. I think this stems from my interest in both thinking about desire and devotional objects. The solid cast objects are kind of funny, because they really are embellishments themselves, made more concrete and solid through a transformation of material. Embellishing the transformed embellishment seemed to be really aggressively decorative or feminine—a little like overkill and kind of funny to me.

Casts are also reminiscent of memories. They are a replication, an attempt to reproduce. The embellishment allows me to put this sentiment in tension with other interests. I am able to temper the feminine quality with a little bit of masculinity, for example, through the application of automotive paint.

Sex and the City, 2014. Archival handmade paper (pulp painting). 20 x 30 inches

OPP: Your pulp paintings appear to be speaking the same language as painting, drawing or print, but these designs are actually part of the substrate, not added to the substrate. Can you briefly explain the process for those not in the know about paper-making techniques?

CL: Paper-making is a really amazing process. Plant based fibers are beaten into a wet pulp, then suspended in water and caught on a screen to form a sheet. Pulp can also be pigmented and “painted” with. Essentially, you are creating an image with a very physical material itself in various colors, rather than with paint, ink or pencil. It has a temperament of its own.

To create the colors and patterns in this series, I pigmented the actual pulp in separate batches. The various hues of pulp were stenciled and layered onto wet sheets of freshly pulled paper, building up in some areas more than others. After working on a wet piece for some time, It would be pressed, combining layers of material into one flat sheet. In this way, the patterns are part of the actual paper, not applied to the surface.

Pennants for the Working Class, 2016. Screenprint on felt flags, brass grommets, craft materials. Variable, each measuring 10 x 16 inches

OPP: In Pennants for the Working Class (2016), you’ve transplanted the “patterns derived from American household glass objects, including depression glass, carnival glass, and early American pressed glass,” from utilitarian, three-dimensional objects onto the flat surface of the flag, which has a more symbolic function. Can you talk about the functions of pattern in general and how you use it in your work?

CL: Pattern can draw attention to an object, create a tensions between surface and object, or refer to something beyond itself. In my work, pattern often symbolizes something beyond my initial interest in surface and decoration. In many works, I am referring to histories behind the patterns. In this case specifically, I see the patterns from these glass objects as symbols of the American dream. These patterns were found on glass objects that were highly affordable, widely available and also really beautiful. This is in contrast to their predecessor, cut crystal, which was only available to the wealthy. For this piece in general, I was really thinking of the pennant flag as a symbol of prestige and pride, borrowed from the vernacular of yacht clubs and ivy-league universities.

Pretty Bomb, 2016. Lithograph. 22 x 15 inches

OPP: Earlier, you mentioned “academic aversions to the decorative.” Why do you think this aversion exists? Have you noticed a sea change in the last 5 years?

CL: I think this academic aversion to decoration and beauty is tied to a classist and sexist system. Higher education in the arts was sought partially to professionalize art making. The way artists did this was to become very "serious" about their work, substantiating it with theory and criticism. View points other than the dominant, historically-male—rooted in theory, science, knowledge—were left out of the picture. As Duchamp said, "artistic delectation is the danger to be avoided." This kind of thinking was perpetuated through the discourse, banishing beauty (and consequently, a slew of other things) from the presiding conversation. To some extent, beauty itself is a social construct, defined by social class, taste, gender, and a number of other factors. But this is all really interesting! I feel like we should be embracing it, instead of shutting it out. 

I have noticed a change in the last few years. The Pattern and Decoration Movement artists really began this years ago. I think a number of artists are really embracing and playing with decoration and beauty today. I immediately think of people like Polly Apfelbaum, Jim Hodges, Grayson Perry, and younger artists like Jen Stark and Evie Falci. The embrace of contemporary art by the mainstream I think, in part, has encouraged this. 

However, I think some very highbrow academic circles continue to resist decoration and beauty. This may be because they have the most invested in the dominant discourse. . . Beauty isn't serious enough for them.

To see more of Cara's work, please visit www.caralynchart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nash Bellows

Untitled, 2015. Acrylic, spray paint, collage on canvas

NASH BELLOWS' paintings, digital drawings and collages are saturated with color, texture and pattern. Within the frame of the page, canvas or screen, she expertly flattens numerous layers into one dimension without sacrificing visual complexity. Nash earned her BFA in 2012 from Sonoma State University and recently completed her MFA at San Francisco State University. She was a recipient of the Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award and the Martin Wong Painting Scholarship. Her work has been included in exhibitions throughout California, including shows at SOMArts (San Francisco), Arc Gallery & Studios (San Francisco), Berkeley Art Center, Sanchez Art Center (Pacifica), Huntington Beach Art Center and Martin Wong Gallery at San Francisco State University, where she now teaches drawing. Nash lives in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What came first for you as an artist: collage, painting or digital drawing? How did one lead to another?

Nash Bellows: I actually started off as a printmaker, but usually used collage to create my imagery prior to etching it. I was always translating collages into drawings, so transitioning between mediums has always felt natural. I like to have a loose plan in place.

Untitled, 2015. Digital

OPP: When did digital drawing enter your practice?

NB: This is kind of embarrassing actually. About two years ago, my cat broke his hip. I couldn't leave him alone unless he was in a cage, and I felt really badly about that, so I spent about two months on the couch with him and an iPad.

I had always made goofy sketches on my iPad but at that point I had to find another way to make work, so I developed a system for making the digital drawings. When only certain sections of the drawings were successful, I cropped and merged pieces together with one of those photo collage apps until I came up with a composition that I was happy with. Afterwards I would draw on top of it again.

Untitled, 2015. Digital

OPP: You’ve said, “My process-based paintings are formed by set parameters and various instructions I have created for myself.” What parameters do you set? What kinds of instructions? Does this also apply to digital drawing?

NB: The parameters are usually theme or process-oriented. For instance, some of my collages are created with found imagery of fabric being draped over an object. The digital drawings have a different approach. They're a combination of two drawings combined together nine different times.

OPP: Would you say your process is more systematic than intuitive? Does surprise or discovery play any role in this process?

NB: I try to make my process as balanced as I possibly can. I like an element of control, but I also love happy accidents. Sometimes parts just don't work the way I want them to and the paint takes over from there.  Sometimes inspiration pops up and I ignore most of my systems. It really depends on my mood and the best choices aesthetically. But I am a planner and prefer to start each piece with at least a loose sketch!

Shirley Kaneda, 2015. Spray paint and acrylic on canvas

OPP: Could you talk generally about your relationship to color in life and how you use it in your work. How does having a digital palette, as opposed to one you have to mix, affect the work?

NB: I've always been crazy for color in all aspects of my life; there's always a veritable rainbow that extends from my closet to the decor in my apartment to my art.

Using a digital palette is easier for me than mixing paint actually! You can adjust colors faster and with more ease. Since I'm drawn to colors from 1990s cartoons, I think that the illumination from the computers' color palette is actually closer to the color I'm thinking of than those I can mix with paint.

OPP: I’m curious about the final form for the digital drawings. When I encounter them online, they are exactly as you made them. I don’t worry that I’m missing something in terms of texture, as I do viewing photographs of paintings online. But scale is flexible for every viewer based on the screens we have. You can’t control that as one can control the scale of a painting. Are they intended to only be viewed online? Do they ever take tangible form?

NB: I've had my digital drawings printed, but they are missing the glowing screen, which I think is essential to interacting with them. . .  Ideally, I'd like to show the digital drawings digitally on large flat screen televisions someday.

Girl Power, 2014. Digital. 2014

OPP: Collage is a fundamentally different process than painting, in that collage reorganizes existing forms and images that are tangible and visually available. Painting may also be a rearrangement of existing forms, but those forms are mediated through the conceptual space of the mind. Thoughts?

NB: When I make a painting, it usually comes from a collage or collage of my drawings. So in essence, I'm always using and re-using existing imagery and forms. Even in paintings where I've experimented tabula rasa, I am re-using imagery that I've been saturated with all my life: design elements, fabric patterns, etc. etc. Intuition comes from experience, and my more intuitive paintings are just collages of my visual experience.

Untitled, 2014. Acrylic, spray paint, thread on canvas. 30" x 48"

OPP: I want to distinguish the physical process of collage from the concept of collage. I was thinking about the experience (and then resulting work) of having a table full of cut-out pieces of paper, touching them, riffling through them, turning them in your hands, placing them down and moving them around in a very physical way. There’s immediacy in the process that doesn’t exist in painting. Digital collage, on the other hand, has the immediacy and the additional benefit of copying and pasting, but it does not have the same physical experience.

NB: Yes, it really isn't physically the same as collage! I love the physical aspect of cutting, pasting and re-arranging; it really forces you to make choices that you wouldn't ordinarily make and use imagery that you wouldn't typically use. My strongest work comes from collage, even though I love working in a variety of media. Viewers respond most strongly to my collages because they are familiar with the imagery but can't quite place it. They are forced to look in a different way, just as collage forces the artist look at imagery in another way. It puts viewers in the same place.

Seastripe, 2015. Digital Repeat Pattern

OPP: As you mentioned, your collages of draped and folded textiles are the origin/inspiration for some of the abstract shapes in your paintings. Are textile processes an influence for you? What about your digital repeat patterns. . . are these intended to become textile patterns?

NB: I've always loved textiles, especially quilts because they are essentially collages. My great-grandmother was an excellent sewer and taught my mother her talents, so I grew up with lots of vintage fabric and quilts around the house.  

The repeat patterns aren't fully resolved yet, but I couldn't resist posting them because I love them so much! In the future I'd like to make blanket forts printed with my patterns. People always tell me that my personality is very similar to my work in that it is very playful, but most of my work is not something you're supposed to touch or be too close to. I want to start pushing playfulness in my work and stretch the boundaries beyond the canvas. Making blanket forts with my patterns would disrupt the seriousness of the "white cube.” It would be sort of a three-dimensional incarnation of my draped fabric collages and paintings, but more interactive and relatable.

To see more of Nash's work, please visit nashbellows.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Edra Soto

Graft, 2013 - ongoing
Architectural intervention at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space
Wood or adhesive

Influenced by her upbringing in Puerto Rico, EDRA SOTO explores the cultural, symbolic and historical meanings of vernacular patterns and objects. Her projects often have multiple iterations and require audience-participation to be truly activated; participants read the newspapers at the rejas-adorned "bus stops" in GRAFT, play dominoes in Dominodomino (2015) or consume pineapple upside-down cake in The Wedding Cake Project (2009-ongoing). By merging research with autobiography and audience-participation, she reveals the intersection of the individual with the collective. Edra earned her MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000. She's also an alum of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Beta-Local in Puerto Rico, and most recently the Robert Rauschenberg Residency. Her numerous 2016 exhibitions include There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine at Efrain Lopez Gallery (Chicago), Relocating Techniques at Corner (Chicago) and the Elmhurst Art Museum Biennial: Chicago Statement (Elmhurst, Illinois). In August 2016, her work will be included in Poor and Needy: The Great Poor Farm Experiment IIX, curated by Lise Haller Baggesen and Yvette Brackmanin. Along with her husband Dan Sullivan, Edra runs The Franklin, an outdoor project space in Chicago. Her GRAFT project will be featured at the Western Avenue stop on the train line to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern and ornamentation are major players in your practice. How do you think about them, how do you use them and what would you like to add to the conversation around them?

Edra Soto: I think about patterns as markers of specific cultures. Nowadays, I cannot look at a pattern without wondering about its place of origin, and if appropriated, how it has been appropriated. Perhaps these are the most frustrating times, were there are no boundaries for what it’s being consumed. Going to retail establishments and seeing patterns used indiscriminately is somewhat disconcerting. Like any other mark or gestural representation, patterns have owners and places of origin.

My architectural intervention GRAFT presents representations of rejas (fence in Spanish) patterns that come from Puerto Rican domestic architecture. I create architectural interventions rather than turning them into sculptural objects in order to preserve the integrity of those patters. This way, I avoid turning them into some kind of merchandise with a commercial destination or retail value. In my pretend gesture, I symbolically transplant a portion of the Puerto Rican visual landscape into American territory, as if I was playing the role of the settler. Puerto Rican middle class cement houses and rejas pattern designers were presumed to be the creation of slaves brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. An essay titled Comparative + Studies based on hypothesis, The African influence in the built-up Environment of Puerto Rico, author Jorge Ortiz Colom, attributes authorship of the fractal patterns to African slaves from the the republic of Ghana that were brought to Puerto Rico for free labor. The patterns are associated with the Adinkras visual symbols created by the Ashanty region in West Africa.

The rampant inner racism in the Caribbean makes me think that it is possible that there’s no populous knowledge of the origins the rejas because of racial discrimination. Spanish architecture is something that people can talk about and that is studied in high school; the rejas on the other hand are not a part of that roster of things we get to learn in high school. You have to be an artist or a scholar, go into research to learn about the African influence in domestic architecture. To me, this is a true motivator that gives value to these important piece of domestic architecture that defines Puerto Rican’s visual landscape.

Graft, 2013 - ongoing 
Architectural intervention at Terrain exhibitions
Wood or adhesive

OPP: Does recontextualizing the rejas from Puerto Rico in mainland U.S. cities ever run the risk of misrepresenting? Do you ever fear the contemporary cultural default to see the patterns as a surface instead of a language?

ES: Yes, it does run that risk. It is up to me to inform through my work the best way I can. I believe in these patterns because they provide an easy entrance to deeper issues of race and class. The hybridization that the patterns have already gone through makes them more relevant in relation to popular visual language (or visual access). They are already inserted in the commercial market. It is up to me to inform viewers about their origin through critical thinking and conceptual analysis. To this point, the extension of GRAFT invites writers from various disciplines (architecture, history, sociology, politics, poetry) to explore the rejas through their respective fields. Other extensions of GRAFT are in the works. This project becomes more and more fascinating to me as time goes by. It takes me time to learn about the projects I undertake. Through lots of reflection, research and conversations I have found motivation and inspiration to continue the course of GRAFT.

Say Everything
Installation view
2014

OPP: Can you talk about your use of fans in the Tropicalamerican installations and Say Everything? Besides their practical function of moving air in the space to activate the hanging flags, what other symbolic, conceptual or formal functions do they serve?

ES: Say Everything responds to a personal experience in an outdoor setting. I was fortunate to attend the Robert Rauschenberg residency earlier that year and develop most of the work of Say Everything there. I tried to recreate my outdoor experience in the domestic gallery space. I took in consideration the interior architecture and decorative elements of the domestic space and assign roles to the various objects / elements that I included in my installation. A series of flags titled Tropicalamerican, embody the natural environment. In the middle of the room, in portrait position, they try to resemble trees; a series of chairs upholstered with beach towels resembles four legged animals; the fans represented the wind and animated the space with movement. It was a colorful and playful reverse role play: artificial versus natural environment.

from Tropicalamerican III

OPP: The clay spirals from Figures (2013-ongoing) have been exhibited on shelves with fluorescent light, on a circular slab of concrete, underneath a staircase, and on what looks to be a domestic tchotchke shelf. Can you talk about the flexibility of installation in this project?

ES: Perhaps opposite in its intention, I think of Figures as my response to the commercial market. What triggered my interest in Figures was the idea of making an object that comes out of a single coil. The coil is the most basic shape in building a ceramic form. The coil is the starter of something that possibly will be functional. I was teaching high school art at that time, and teaching a skill always opened up an opportunity to create something. This was one of those opportunities. I had never worked with air dry clay before. It’s a technological miracle: truly easy to work with, very clean and possible indestructible. My focus was to create an object that resembles a shell. Shells are protectors of organisms. Closer to home, they are popularly seen as Caribbean souvenirs. Displays are interesting because they can alter the connotation of the object, changing it from mass-produced to an artifact, from an archival object to one of spiritual connotations. I think about display forms as the providers of the environment we want to create for the work we make.

Figures
2013 - ongoing
Air dry clay

OPP: You recently co-curated—with Josue PellotPresent Standard for the Chicago Cultural Center. The show featured 25 contemporary, US-based Latinx artists. It was fantastic and received a lot of press. And The Franklin is now a staple Chicago venue. Tell us about your first experiences as a curator.

ES: When I was a student in Puerto Rico, I was obsessed with the idea of bringing different disciplines together into my work. I was studying at a conservative college where painting and sculpture were the validated forms of art. Performance and installation were too advanced at that time. After my first year at SAIC in Chicago, I developed the confidence to explore various disciplines in a single project. The I Love Chicago Project was my first multidisciplinary installation project. I invited friends who were musicians and  performance and sound artists to perform in my SAIC studio. I was also very curious about what other artists were making. While walking around SAIC artists’ studios, I started putting together ideas and associating their respective projects, to the point of feeling convinced that they will speak to a greater audience if they were together in one single space. This led me to my first curatorial project titled Glam Salon at the Student Union Gallery (SUG), a somewhat neglected space in a very desirable spot on campus, right in between the School and the Museum of the Art Institute. The SUG was not popular at the time (not sure why), and I saw that as an opportunity to remind other students of what is available to them. Michael X Ryan was the professor at that time in charge of this space, and I will always be grateful for his support and excitement for my project. He was very serious and intimidating to me, but very supportive to students.

The Franklin consolidates many attempts, many sculptural and performance projects that intended to bring different disciplines and audiences to a singular space or situation. The Franklin also allows me to give visibility and space to the communities of artists that need it, and it's an opportunity for me to showcase work by artists or curators that I have met throughout the years. One great thing about The Franklin is that it is at my home, a place I truly love. It makes things easier.

It's Been A Very Good Year, 2016
Installation
Painted fragments on paper

OPP: What’s challenging about balancing the roles of curator and artist? What’s beneficial?

ES: The greatest challenge of curating while maintaining your career is time. Managing how much time things take in the making, the networking, the organizing departments. . . it is difficult to balance. As long as it feels that it comes from a real place to me, I will pursue it. Being organized doesn’t come naturally to me. At some point I realized that I will be my own administrator and that in order to make things work I need to be organized. Providing artists opportunities for exposure allows me to balance my career, which at many times feels so self-centered.

To see more of Edra's work, please visit edrasoto.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 Kristen Schiele

38"x 44"
Acrylic, silkscreen, oil on canvas
2014

KRISTEN SCHIELE is inspired by "stage sets, cinema, folklore, allegory, kitsch, and storytelling." Her paintings and sculptures combine color and pattern with appropriated silkscreened images from films and magazines. The result is frenetic and tumultuous surface intensity that belies the complexity of the interwoven stories of youth culture. Kristen earned her BFA from Indiana University in Bloomington and her MFA from American University in Washington, D.C. and went on to study at Hochschule Der Kunste in Berlin. Her work is a currently on view in Summer Mixer, a group show at Joshua Liner Gallery (New York City). Upcoming group exhibitions include Your Bad Self at Arts and Leisure Gallery (New York) and An Odyssey at Torrence Art Museum in California, both opening in September. OOOT MMMMM, a silkscreen book collaboration with Abe Smith published by Kayrock Screenprinting, will be available at the Printed Matter Book Fair at PS1 MOMA in New York City (September 17-19, 2015). Kristen lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern features prominently in your work, but so does the figure. . . how do the two relate to one another?

Kristen Schiele: I paint to tell stories, usually inspired by books, film and memories. The figure is either in the work or is the viewer seeing the work. In the same way a graphic novelist designs the page to tell a story, I use pattern as a framing element. Giotto would break up stories with intricate panels and borders in order to make the stories ornate and to lead the viewer. I'm obsessed with researching patterns in any books I can find. Carl Jung talked about ancient, primal, universal language, and since every culture has created pattern and design, there is something of this universal, primal language in pattern and symmetry.

Halston disco
27"x 36"
2015

OPP: Tell us about a particular go-to pattern and what you’ve learned about it in your research.

KS: I love geometric patterns: German, Swiss, Finnish, Swedish, Russian 1920s-1950s era. In the 1950s, the Marimekko and later 1970s California pattern designers did something amazing from the 1920s French design work of simplified, large scale patterns. But no pattern is a go-to pattern. I'd say love of the diagonal brings me to the Chevron pattern, as in the painting Melanie Malone. It mirrors the space.

OPP: Can you talk about layers in your work, both literally and figuratively?

KS: I have always loved to allow simultaneous readings in my work, and I probably think of too many things at once. Rather than make a reduced, perfect image, I layer work so the viewer is in several places at once. I often work from unruly, meticulously cut piles of collage material from hundreds of vintage magazines, books or movie screen shots. I start from the collages, drawing in the work, painting in acrylic paint, or sometimes adding layers of silkscreen. Silkscreened images can sit on the surface, but a viewer can see through them and cannot miss their shape and meaning—like in the newspaper or  Lichtenstein and Warhol pieces. I often go one more layer of color or use oil at the end, as it is dense and sits on the surface.

Disco Sucks
34"x 36"
Acrylic on board
2015

OPP: The layers of pattern give me a little bit of a voyeuristic feeling, like I’m looking through blinds or curtains to see what’s happening behind them. In some more recent pieces, like Halston Disco and Disco Sucks, that feeling is especially strong. There’s the visual attraction of the pattern and color, and then there’s the frustration of having my view obstructed and having to push past it to see the story. Thoughts?

KS: I do like the idea of a journey or voyeurism. I like there to be a journey in layers rather than the amazing, Japanese elegance of pictorial design and flattening of space. I think more in terms of a video game going front to back. Halston Disco is from the 70s/ Studio 54 era, and Disco Sucks is an image from a vintage Easy Rider magazine of a 70s biker, with his slogan T-shirt and adorable could-be-a-guy-in-Williamsburg, Brooklyn look. I pretty much smashed disco cuteness on cool people. I'm making myself laugh, essentially, and spending tons of hours on individual-taped off squares of color. In a similar piece Tiga, the aggressive, silkscreened image of a tiger is the negative space in what is really, a painted quilt of pattern. I like to play with what I think is masculine authority and give sweetness or craft the authority.

Futurismo
38"x 44"
Acrylic on canvas
2013

OPP: In what ways have you been influenced by stage sets, cinema and the theater?

KS: My first experiences of being deeply moved by art were watching the stop animation movies by Czech masters of the 1930s, like Berthold Bartosch’s L'Idee or Dada films, which also influenced Chilean director Jodorowsky. These artists create poetic space for a story, with pieces of bedrooms or houses, dense color and abstractions. This informs how I create space in my work. For me, the bedroom should include the dark sky and moon if you are, say, thinking of the lead character reading her husband's diary in Ingmar Bergman's film Hour of the Wolf. In the painting Futurismo, for example, there is a figure in the foreground, eating and reading an Italian Futurism manifesto. She is in her bedroom, but the moon and the suburban house are there as well.

OPP: Are the characters you are influenced by archetypes? How often do viewers “get” your cinematic references and does it matter if they don’t?

KS: Archetypes can be found in everyone, and I think about them a lot. No one needs to get a cinema reference, but I usually include the reference in the title or on the backs of the work. If I choose an image from a movie, it is the greater story or meaning that draws me in, so referencing the specific movie is just to pass on the appreciation of what an artist was seeing. I see something in it myself, then pass it on to you.

Spirit Girls
Lu Magnus Gallery
2014

OPP: You've made sculpture and installation work before, but it seems that you broke out of the rectangle, as it specifically relates to painting, in your most recent solo show Spirit Girls at Lu Magnus Gallery. Is this a new direction for you or was it specific to this body of work? What led you there?

KS: This was the first time I installed patterned, colored strips of wood. There were paintings on cut wood panels and some works on canvas. The installation and panels were not a new approach but more like combining groups of sculptural work I've made on layers of painted wood and taking it linear. The show was specific to the Spirit Girls theme. I was literally allowing myself to be super happy and free. I installed the wood patterned strips free-form all the way up and around a two story wall, and I allowed the panels to be in shapes and parts. I had not done that before because I was holding to the tradition of the rectangle-painting space. In the studio now I am pushing more literally into theatrical space. I am printing patterns on fabrics and draping them into a space. The space is a stage I'm setting up for live drawing in a group of artists, and I will see how far I push the next installation.

Berlin Girl
38"x 45"
Silkscreen, acrylic on canvas
2015

OPP: You exhibit all over the world. Tell us a story about a great experience exhibiting outside of the U.S.

KS: I love showing in Berlin. An opening there means underground bar late nights, a mural painting at 2 am, an art and clothes trade, long talks (trying not to be suffocated by cigarette smoke) and finding new books. The city inspired me to make a studio cooperative in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in order to keep my Brooklyn community as tight. I have old friends in Berlin. We grew up in our 20s together, and they are inspiring with fashion, music, film and painting. Berlin is less expensive, and the government has protections for rent stabilization. I wish we would do the same here in New York. I plan on staying in amazing Brooklyn and going back to spending my summers making work in Berlin. It's ideal!

To see more of Kristen's work, please visit kschiele.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 Anne Lemanski

Oracle
2014
Copper rod, ink on paper, leather, epoxy.
11 1/2 x 26 x 16 inches

ANNE LEMANSKI's sculptures—stretched "skins" sewn onto welded, copper-rod skeletons—alternatively evoke such practices as taxidermy, trophy hunting and skinning for fashion. Her menagerie of animals includes snakes whose skin appears to be made of butterfly wings, a fox "tattooed" in constellations, a coyote with Mexican Serape "fur" and a slew of birds decked out in various vintage papers. The skins entice visually; some beg to be touched. This honesty about sense pleasure hints at the complicated, problematic nature of the human habit of treating animals as objects. Anne has exhibited widely, including group shows at the Kohler Center for the Arts (2012), The Portland Museum of Art (2011) and the North Carolina Museum of Art (2013), where her work is included in the permanent collection. She has had solo exhibitions at the Imperial Centre for the Arts (2010) in Rocky Mount, Blue Spiral 1 (2011) in Asheville and the Penland Gallery at Penland School of Crafts (2014).  In the winter of 2015, she will be the Windgate Artist-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her work is included in the forthcoming book The Contemporary Art of Nature: Mammals and will be featured in the Danish magazine Textiel Plus in December, 2014. Anne lives in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where she is building a studio constructed from recycled shipping containers.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does materiality play in your practice?

Anne Lemanski: Working the way I do allows me to take any material I want and turn it into a sculptural piece. I am a long time lover and collector of vintage paper ephemera. I love the look of old graphics and colors. For a number of my early pieces, I utilized original, vintage paper as the skin. In more recent work, I find myself using more contemporary materials like plastic and fabrics because they speak to the content of the pieces. The little songbirds are the exception; they are vehicles for pure eye-candy, vintage paper. I become obsessed with materials. Whether I just happen to come across material and stash it for future use or if I’m looking for a something specific, I love the hunt of tracking it down. The best example of the cross section of materials I use is my piece titled A Century of Hair, 1900-1990. I used silk, acetate, rawhide, vintage linoleum, etc. Solving the challenges that present themselves when I’m manipulating an unusual material is where all the fun is.

A Century of Hair, 1900-1990
Mixed media on wood stands
Variable dimensions

OPP: Tell us about some of your stashed material that you haven’t found a use for yet.

AL: I seem to have a lot of vintage coloring books and children’s activity books— like “dot to dot"— good bit of paper-doll clothes, stamp collections, these little trading cards that used to come in packs of cigarettes and tea, tons of old maps, and drawers full of vintage photographs. The paper targets I used on a recent piece Camoufleur  had been sitting in my flat file for at least 15 years. I’m glad I didn’t use those on anything else, they were meant for that barn owl.

OPP: Any regular hunting grounds for your materials?

AL: I went to Paris last year and came back with a nice haul of paper goodies. I wish I could go there every year just to buy vintage paper. I found a few stores, and vendors at flea markets that were overwhelming. . . and expensive! And of course they only took cash, so that put a real damper on my spending spree! Ebay has become my favorite hunting ground. It is truly amazing what you can find there. I do still enjoy random junk shops, estate sales and auctions, but because I live in a rural area, those shops and sales are limited. I also like to get a good deal on stuff, it makes it that much better! I’m always looking. Friends keep an eye out for me, too.

Off Duty
2006
Copper rod, embroidery on pantyhose, thread
Life size

OPP: Your process has two distinct parts: building of the copper rod skeletons and creating the skins. Are these processes more alike than we think? Do you always already know what the skin is going to be when you begin to build the skeleton?

AL: The two processes go hand in hand. The building of the copper rod framework dictates how the finished piece will look. I gather images of the animal or object I want to make and visually break it down into line and pattern. Once the skeleton is complete, I then make patterns from the form that will be transferred directly to my final material. I do not always know what material the skin will be, but it certainly helps. Knowing the character of the final skin will dictate how I build the skeleton. Every material responds differently to the contours of the framework; paper differs greatly from plastic, leather or wood veneer. The work I enjoy most is deciding what the skin will be and putting it together. That’s when things really start to take shape, and there is always a surprise in the way the material transforms once it is sewn onto the skeleton.

Monkey Goes to Bollywood
2008
Copper rod, Bollywood lobby cards, artificial sinew
19 x 18.5 x 24 inches

OPP: Monkey Goes to Bollywood (2008) stands out as drastically different from the other animals. Tell us about the choice to use images of human beings on the monkey.

AL: Monkey Goes to Bollywood is the result of an article I read about a man in New Delhi, India, who was sitting on his terrace when four monkeys appeared. The man brandished a stick to fend off the monkeys, lost his balance and fell off the terrace to his death. The monkey represents the Hindu god Hanuman, and Hindu tradition calls for feeding the monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The feeding of and encroachment on the monkey’s wild habitat, has created an overwhelming and aggressive population of monkeys in New Delhi. This is a case that perfectly illustrates the domino effect that occurs when humans exploit animals to satisfy their needs. The exploitation of an animal species usually results in a decrease of population for that species. . . but the opposite is happening in Delhi.

The skin on the monkey is made up of Bollywood—the Hindi film industry in India—lobby cards that I purchased on Ebay from someone in New Delhi (I remember they came rolled up in a white piece of fabric, that was hand sewn shut on each end with red thread). Lobby cards are promotional materials for films, that are displayed in movie theater lobbies. I have seen about a dozen Bollywood films. They are crazy and colorful! I don’t always have a clear-cut reason for using what I do for the skin. I go with my instinct, which is smarter than my actual being. The imagery I used for the monkey just seemed like the perfect fit.

Responsible Spiller
2010
Copper rod, vinyl, artificial sinew.
16 x 23 x 12 inches

OPP: What do you most hope viewers will feel when looking at your menagerie of creatures? Are you disappointed if viewers simply marvel at your technique and humor and don’t walk away thinking about the impact of humans on these species?

AL: I love it when people get the humor! They often don’t. I’m not making work to beat people over the heads with my ideas and opinions, which are certainly present. But I try to keep the work subtle and layered. Along with the content, I still believe in making a beautifully crafted, sculptural object. I’m drawn to formal aesthetics of line, color and pattern. It is usually my construction technique that initially draws people in. Then they take a longer look. It has taken me years to hone my construction skills, so I’m glad when someone appreciates it. Everyone brings their own emotions and politics to a piece, and a connection can happen at many different levels.

Queen Alexandra’s Flight
2014
Digital prints adhered to wood backing, aluminum discs.
150 square feet (as installed in the Penland Gallery)

OPP: Tell us about your recent installation Queen Alexandra’s Flight at Penland Gallery? What made you shift from discreet sculptures to this narrative interaction of creatures?

AL: Queen Alexandra’s Flightdepicts a battlefield, which is the stage for the age-old story of survival. Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world, and it is endangered. I created an army of butterflies and moths to aid her in flight from the attack of insect-eating birds. All of the imagery is digitally scanned and printed, and adhered to a wood backing. Everything was cut out by hand. There are 600 individual pieces in this installation. I have a desire to work on a large scale, and my usual building technique of copper rod skeleton and hand stitched skin prevents me from doing that because of the time-consuming labor. I can’t work fast enough to keep up with the pace of my ideas. So when I’m presented with an opportunity to do something large scale, it gives me the chance to work with different materials and techniques. This particular installation came at a time when I needed a mental break from the usual. Queen Alexandra’s Flight gave me new insight into my work; it will definitely lead to other pieces similar in nature.

To see more of Anne's work, please visit annelemanski.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. 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 recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Zawatski

99-4
2012
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

MARK ZAWATSKI asks us to consider the authenticity of manipulated images in his painstakingly-composed mandalas and fields of color and pattern. Each digitally-constructed photograph takes hundreds of hours to create and involves repetitive, but unique gestures of the hand, subverting our expectations of the boundary between the digital and the handmade. Mark holds a MFA in Sculpture from Yale University and BA in Art from The University of California, Los Angeles. He teaches photography at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse and Ithaca College. His work has been exhibited at the Wright Art Gallery (Los Angeles, California), Fullerton College (Fullerton, California), The Gallery at the Ann Felton Multicultural Center (Syracuse) and the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Connecticut). Originally from Los Angeles, Mark lives and works in Syracuse, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You received your MFA from Yale in Sculpture (1999). How and when did you shift to digital photography as your primary medium? What was your sculptural work like?


Mark Zawatski: Video, installation, performance and photography were part of my sculpture experience. I also made Fluxus-like collections and cases out of plexi glass that contained manufactured objects along with unique systems of hundreds of handmade objects constructed of wax, wire, paint and foam.

In 2008, I started making photograms of manufactured objects as a way of looking at simple image-making. Man Ray’s photograms always appealed to me for their simplicity, abstraction and beauty. There’s a sense of playfulness, performance and the passage of time captured in those pictures. This led to an interest in the process of making pictures.

Smith
2011
Digital photograph
36" x 36"

OPP: Are your composites made of photographs you actually took or are the thousands of images that go into each piece scavenged from other sources? How important is it that viewers recognize the objects?

MZ: I photographed the objects individually. Sometimes they are remnants of products I consumed or manufactured, transitory objects I acquired. I wanted to document the physical ephemera of everyday life: objects we've all seen and used many times before but probably overlooked. For example, the objects in Gothic are remnants of products I consumed over a three-year period. I limited the collection to white items made of plastic: lids from juice and milk bottles, contact lens solution caps, dish soap caps, eye drop caps and laundry soap caps.

2012
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: How is the process of creating the fields in Local Places (2013), which are made from "hundreds of manipulations of a single disposable drinking straw" different from the process of creating the Circles and Stars (2011-2012), which include a variety of objects?

MZ: Lines is the first series made from a single photograph of a drinking straw. The image was duplicated and placed into individual columns. I continued to make more and more parallel lines, altering their color as I went. Prior to this, my photographs contained “straight” digital images with no manipulation. Ultimately, these are photographic drawings with a nod to photo history and an emphasis on process through the repetitive duplication and hand placement of each drinking straw. The lines look machine perfect, but there are subtle variations among them.

In Lines, I was interested in how appearance and meaning often don’t match up or can be misleading and confusing. They are meant to be optical illusions, fields of confusion that pull your eye in different directions. I wanted to disrupt the expectations we bring to experiencing photographs, which traditionally rely on single point perspective and lead viewers to see or believe something specific. The Lines have a conversation with Bridget Riley paintings, but the illusion is made of simple yet realistic photographs.

The images in Local Places series are made by fusing two separate line fields to create a single picture that vibrates and moves reflecting how we attempt to reconcile both appearance and meaning simultaneously. I also wanted to make a connection between what we think of as local and impersonal mass-produced culture.

Circles and Stars were even more time consuming than creating the labor intensive Lines. Each image took between one and three months to create, and in some ways could be seen as performance pieces. The largest piece is made from over 1,000 images and required many repetitive yet unique movements. It was a significant challenge for me to stay focused on the work for so long. While I was making the work, I thought about the performance and conceptual aspects of work by artists like Agnes Martin and Richard Serra. But I was also thinking about Jeff Wall and questions of truth in photography. I wanted to examine the possibility of a manipulated digital photograph being a form of authenticity.

Top of The Falls
2013
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: Have you ever have any issues with carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis?

MZ: Haha. . . no, not yet. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve damaged my eyesight from staring at my computer screen for so long.

OPP: The compositions in Circles and Stars (2012-2013), Dots, and some pieces from Gothic (2011) reference mandalas. What brought you to that form?



MZ: A search for form led me to the circle. Maybe that’s a sculptural concern applied to photography, but a circle is a simple organizing structure. The Dots are meant to be simple pictures. Each one is composed of photographs of tiny, plastic discs. As photographs, the discs become reduced to pixels of color and are barely recognizable as actual objects. It’s the moment when a photograph becomes an abstraction.

While it wasn't my intention to reference a mandala with the circular pieces, I like how mandalas promote a meditative space both for the creator and the viewer. These pictures for me were about process. I wanted to create a photograph that would cause the viewer to do a double-take, to invite them to consider the handmade processes that go into making a digital photograph. 



Untitled
2012
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: All art manipulates the viewer, right? And all art media have authenticity. Why do you think people view digital photography as inauthentic? Do you think the average person still expects a photograph to be "true?"

MZ: Maybe it’s the simplicity of the technology that invites distrust. In just seconds and with minimal skill, a picture can be manipulated, its focus altered and its meaning changed.

The photography community still reinforces the notion that there is a truthful photography and a manipulated, false photography through competitions than ban manipulated works. I’ve heard the occasional story of a disqualified, winning photograph that is revealed to have a tiny bit of color adjustment. This is mirrored in the beliefs of most people who also make the same distinction between fake photography and real photography. But when you press people to define that boundary, when essentially all images are digital today, people are uncertain as to the criteria for digital truth. We are only a decade into consumer digital photography, and as in early photo history, people aren’t sure what they’re getting. Most people have no idea what a digital image is or how it’s created. But they can tell you that film is a piece of plastic with silver stuck to it, and that confers truth.

OPP: Does the prevalence of smartphone cameras and Instagram filters affect these perceptions at all?

MZ: Instant, online images only add to the anxiety. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are constantly having this conversation in our heads about the real or altered nature of pictures we consume. This skepticism has become an automatic response to digital images. Not that this is new. Since it’s inception, digital photography—like early color photography—has been disdained by the photographic community. So, there’s already a built-in bias. It’s only now that the technology has become integrated into our daily lives through smartphones and online content that we are confronted with the increasing frequency of these questions. Digital pictures are confusing to decipher and interpret. It’s this uncertainty that I’m investigating.

To see more of Mark's work, please visit markzawatski.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 Melissa Manfull

Rising & Falling
2013
Ink, gouache, graphite on panel
40" x 60"

MELISSA MANFULL draws together the domains of nature, culture and the spirit in her densely patterned abstractions in ink, gouache and graphite. Her compellingly ambiguous spaces combine otherworldly architecture, geologic formations, the geometry of sacred spaces like cathedrals and mosques and the manipulative order of game design and graphic design. Melissa received her MFA in 2002 from Concordia University in Montreal. She has mounted three solo exhibitions at Taylor de Cordoba in Culver City, California: Tesseracts (2009), Pattern Constraints (2010) and Schemata (2013). Melissa’s work can currently be seen in two group shows: Thin Space at Fuller Seminary (Pasadena, California) through May 5, 2014 and Temporal Residue at Keystone Gallery (Los Angeles) from April 19-30, 2014. Melissa lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Sometimes your drawings reference architecture, sometimes landscapes. Other times, they look like the insides of temples and sometimes the insides of pinball machines. How are all these seemingly disparate types of space connected?

Melissa Manfull: I am interested in controlled space, specifically how architecture or human intervention dominates the chaos of natural environments and phenomena. Architecture mitigates our experiences of space and the horizon. It is an intermediary structure that connects sky and land. I use drawing to experiment with space and structure without the constraints of gravity and perceived reality.

Each individual body of work focuses on a specific theme and is informed by an aesthetic, theoretical or topical interest. These have ranged from an interest in the aesthetics of science fiction or mystic architecture from the Southwest to the aesthetics of game design. Over the years, the drawings have shifted from observing architecture from an exterior viewpoint towards an interest in flipping between interior and exterior positions. Schemata’s focus was on the enclosed space of a game, which is a relationship between the interior mind of the player and the interior space of the game. Formally, I play with the depth or ambiguity of the space depicted in the drawing.

Untitled A Frame
2012
Ink on paper
18" x 24"

OPP: Is the meditative act of drawing only the process that drives your work or is it also the content?

MM: Both are very important to me as an artist, and the process is directly related to the content of my work. I develop my drawings in a very controlled, consistent order. From beginning to end, the process is almost mechanical; drawing is the one place where I can control, predict and order the whole experience. First, I research my chosen topic and collect visuals related to the content. Then I plan out the drawing, execute it in pen and ink in the color. The drawing and inking stages are very meditative.

I listen to audio books related to the theme of the drawing. I like to imagine the books are somehow woven into the drawing or affect the choices I make in the process. While working on the drawings from my 2009 show Tessaracts—both the title of a science fiction novel and a geometric form—I listened to books that dealt with time shifts and time travel. I have an underlying interest in dimensional portals, 11 dimensions of string theory and the aesthetics of science fiction. While working on Plato's Cave, Arch, Stylobate and Portico, I listened to Margret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, among others.

Study for Ludic Space
2013
Ink on paper mounted panel
14" x 11"

OPP: I've witnessed the attitude many times—and I 100% disagree—that pattern, ornament and decoration are insignificant and superficial. Even beauty is sometimes dismissed as not meaningful enough. Have you ever had the experience of your work being dismissed with the descriptor "decorative?"

MM: My work has actually been described as difficult to look at in person. The decorative elements of the work are so dense and obsessively drawn that there’s more a sense of horror than pleasure. This is also changing in my current work. Recently I’ve been using a heightened color palette with fluorescents to create a more challenging visual experience. The drawings are still dense and decorative, but now they have an electric glow which makes it difficult for the viewers’ eyes to focus. The decorative is also a form of order. I am interested in logical, mathematical patterns, such as tessellations, as well as optical and geometric patterns that mesmerize or hypnotize. So, the decorative is a large part of the content.

I do agree that decoration and pattern are sometimes an easy way of not having content and that using it so predominantly puts my work in a position of being viewed as commercial or illustrative. I am okay with this because I feel confident that my work transcends this category and uses pattern in a meaningful way, creating a synergy between the disparate worlds of fine art, the decorative and the graphic.

Colony
2010
Ink on paper
16" x 18"

OPP: The press release for your 2010 solo show Pattern Constraints states: "Due to the obsessive nature of her process, Manfull has often viewed the meditative act of drawing as a way to approach her fear of vast, open ended space (the unknown). By creating her minute sculptural drawings, she gives this abyss a meaning and in essence, gains control." How does this “control” show up in a new way in your most recent exhibition Schemata (2013) at Taylor De Cordoba Gallery (Culver City, California)?

MM: For many years, my drawing style involved imposing a structure on an empty space or on less controlled forms (for example, poured ink forms, which were symbolic of chaos). But now, I am more interested in exploring forms of visual control in society and the relationship between power, manipulation and pleasure. It is still related to the chaos/control relationship, but it is more specifically about corporate, graphic design as a visual language that is used to manipulate.

In Schemata, I was interested in how games hypnotize and entrance the viewer with color and form. The theory behind game design relates to the intentions of architects of spiritual spaces—Gaudi is an example. Both have a visual logic with designated points that manipulate the player into making certain decisions. Squares, circles and triangles move game players’ eyes around the space, leading them on designated paths to preconceived outcomes. There are points of choice, possible actions and payoffs, as well as elements of addiction like relapse. I used these ideas to create compositions or abstracted versions of the original games. Symmetry, patterning and the golden ratio were all a part of designing these works and relate back to geometry found in spiritual spaces.

Point of Choice: No Possible Action
2013
Ink, gouache, graphite on panel
40" x 60"

OPP: Could you say more about the overlap of the aesthetics of game design and of sacred spaces?

MM: Geometry has always been a recurring theme in my work. My initial interest in architecture became abstracted into patterning and design, which are forms of order, logic and control. I began to research the relationships between geometry and sacred spaces like cathedrals and mosques, which were designed to inspire awe and explore the human relationship to the infinite. As an atheist, I want to understand how and why geometry and logical forms inspire such a reaction. The geometry found in the rose windows and spires of cathedrals, in the tile design of mosques and in mandalas is referred to as sacred geometry. Basic geometric forms are imbued with meaning specific to each religion or spiritual belief system. There are certain shapes that lend themselves to this—the circle (infinite perfection), the square (balanced symmetry) and the triangle (male/female duality in Hinduism). I use these forms with an acknowledgment that they have very significant historical references.

To see more of Melissa's work, please visit melissamanfull.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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Minckley Chlaghmo

2012
Found textiles, acrylic paint, gouache, PVA
52" x 34"

Drawing on personal experiences of alienation, assimilation and identity construction, artist and educator ERIN MINCKLEY CHLAGHMO explores the shifting line between experiences of belonging and not belonging in her textile-based work. Her large-scale sculptures are amalgamations of found and printed fabrics, combining patterns which carry seemingly disparate cultural, racial and religious associations. Her use of textiles highlights the similarity between animal (scales and plumage) and human (armor and clothing) means of camouflage and protection. Erin received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012. Recent exhibitions include the first Interfaith Biennial at Dominican University (River Forest, Illinois), Fiber Options: Material Explorations at the Maryland Federation of Art (Annapolis, Maryland and Chroma at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, Michigan). Flags Mistaken for Stars, Erin's collaborative project with artist Eric Wall, is on view on the roof of Lillstreet Art Center throughout October 2013, and there is a closing reception for the group show Fiber Optics on October 11, 2013 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Erin spends half the year in Chicago and the other half in Morocco, where she and her husband run an educational tourism company.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk generally about the interaction between the decorative and the protective in nature and in culture?

Erin M. Chlaghmo: I began to research camouflage a few years ago. I was interested in armor structures found in nature, such as fish scales, feathers, etc. There was this interesting moment where I realized that manmade armors are replicating those found on animals, and patterns that hide military vehicles, aircraft and soldiers are mimicking the landscape of a given region. Decoration is actually a survival technique. Without it, the form would be revealed as it moves or in contrast to the scenery. So, this is an integral part of how I build a motif or pattern structure. The individual unit or figure is disguised by the background or final form through the use of repetition and accumulation. The correlation to culture is that an individual can attempt to stand out or blend in depending on who they surround themselves with. Notions of belonging and un-belonging are themes that drive the work I make.

Manifest Destiny
2012
Fabric, felt, Moroccan textile, canvas, Heat 'n' Bond, hot glue, thread
12' x 14' x 3'

OPP: Why are textiles the perfect vehicle to explore belonging and barriers to belonging?

EMC: Fabric has a historical relationship to the body through garments, adornment, rights of passage and nomadic dwellings. Fabrics shape our lives. We feel at once welcome and familiar with certain cloths. We make associations to our personal experiences when we see materials like acrylic felt or wool or any material. Much of the work I make aims to start a conversation. An enormous textile like Phobia creates a relationship to the viewer's body and the architectural space, alluding to the infinite. It is bigger than me and you, and it is out of control. It is both scary and seductive.

OPP: You use both found textiles and print your own fabrics for use in your sculptures. Do you tend to print in response to what you find? Or do you seek out the textiles you need in order to execute your vision?

EMC: Pattern has the ability to signify culture. A textile's motif is a signifier of origin or utility: like a cross, an American flag or a Southwestern diamond shape. People have an immediate reaction to imagery on fabric and make assumptions about the content when it is recognizable. This is a complicated language to speak because I'm working with a plethora of borrowed and imagined patterns. It's sometimes very difficult to speak about personal experience through images that are collectively already familiar. I'm trying to mine imagery that is not familiar so that a viewer has to make a choice about their own relationship to the meaning of the work. I'm trying to ask the question: Can images belong to a certain culture? Can I borrow and alter them? What does it mean if I do this?

Many years ago, I went to JoAnn's Fabric looking for recognizable patterns. I found so many prints that shocked me: Confederate flags, cowboys and Indians, Kwanza, Virgin Mary, etc. I was disappointed that the only imagery of people was so cliché and politically incorrect. I wondered, "What in the world would you make out of this fabric? Why do people buy this? Do they buy this?" I couldn't imagine a pair of curtains or a quilt or a child's dress made from these prints! I couldn't see any imagery that I related to, even though it was familiar. I had hoped to make cloth that told a story about my life. I bought them all and decided to make an artwork that expressed my frustration. I wanted to comment on the images by painting and inserting imagery into the pre-existing patterns. I painted the Mormon temple into one fabric with an idyllic scene of churches because I felt right at home in a sea of steeples. I painted a small silhouetted teepee into the distant background of a pattern with silhouettes of cowboys on horses to represent the lack of historical accuracy when depicting the Wild West. I more or less left my paintbrush behind when I finished that body of work. I began to manipulate the fabric itself instead of adding pictures on top.

American History Caught with Its Pants Down
2010
Found textiles, acrylic paint, PVA, thread, zipper, ribbon
40" x 32"

OPP: In particular, you use a lot of Moroccan textiles. Could you tell us about your personal relationship to Morocco? Did your interest in Morocco stem from your work or did the work grow out of personal experience there?

EMC: I lead a sort of double life. My husband is a Moroccan immigrant, whose family members all still live in Morocco. We travel back and forth to visit them, and we also run a summer tourism company there. I am a cultural translator of sorts. When I'm in Morocco, my family there calls me Hayat. I don't even go by my own name. My habits are extremely different, and I speak Arabic fluently. So, I have assimilated, I guess, into this other society, but only for part of the year. This truly has deepened my art practice because it is the research I need to enrich the work I make. Living somewhere where I am between belonging and being foreign, understanding and rejecting cultural norms, being understood and feeling helpless. . . these experiences repeat themselves in other facets of my life—and likely most people have felt this way at some juncture. Adapting and assimilating takes us back to the beginning of this conversation, where I talked about camouflage. I can't change my race, but everything else can change. I feel like a chameleon, aiming to adapt to every new experience in life as if I was meant to be there. As if I belong.

The textiles brought home from Morocco are an incontrovertible match to ideas already present in my work. Repetition, infinity, accumulation and ascending shapes are present in zillij, Moroccan tile patterns, and other architectural designs. The fabric there is rich with color and texture and is inexpensive. So, I line plain fabrics with it to give them added detail.

Adhan (Call to Prayer)
2013
13' x 40'
Digitally printed polyester, thread

OPP: Assimilation is often used as a bad word here in the United States where our nation was built by immigrants and where we value personal identity so strongly. There are negative associations when immigrants feel compelled or are forced to assimilate to a dominant culture, and there’s a sense that we all lose something if they lose their culture. Besides we are all immigrants, too. . . except for the indigenous Native Americans. But choosing to be a chameleon is different; there’s less fear that something important will be lost forever. Thinking about adaptability through a biological lens makes it seems less urgent that we hold so tightly to our identities. Is identity itself just a protective armor, a temporary condition? Would it be as easy to assimilate if you moved to Morocco forever and never came back to the United States?

EMC: Identity is so much more malleable than one thinks. There are grandmas who used to be punk rockers. There are Muslims who used to be Mormons. The assumption that once you change significant identifier that you can't go back is not true. You may never practice the old religion, just like grandma is no longer going to see the Ramones in concert. But, she still retains that part of her (even if in secret). Identity is like collage. You keep adding and adding; layers are covered up and perhaps "lost forever." But they're still there underneath.

Also, people don't chose their family of origin or their race, but everything else can be changed. I grew up in a semi-Catholic, middle-class American family in Utah, and I converted to Islam and speak Arabic. Does the changed identity imply that I am less authentic? I propose that I am my best self, the person I was meant to be, when speaking in Arabic and fasting during Ramadan. I am a very flexible and adaptable person at my core. I like to accommodate others and see from their point of view. I am empathetic. I can blend in and communicate better in a foreign environment if I "do as the Romans do." That applies to every situation in life, not just living abroad. There's a fine line here between impostor and chameleon. I'm not pretending I'm Moroccan. I am fully aware of my whiteness and my origin, and so is everyone else. But, I am just trying to survive. The real me is inside. She is constantly donning different "armor,” not readying for battle, but adapting to my environment.

Many people live their life refusing to adapt. They never enter situations or environments that make them uncomfortable. They never associate with people that are not like them. This is the scary dilemma because, the longer you live your life afraid to adapt or refusing to relate to another who is physically or culturally unlike you, the more likely you are to build fear or hatred for the other. The "other" becomes a mystified person, assumptions are made, stereotypes are cast and barriers are built between you, but this border line is not real or tangible. This is the purpose of my life's work, both as an artist and as an educator. How do we break down these borders?

I also want to respond to the point you made about the word assimilation having a negative connotation. In the late 1800s, the first "Indian" boarding schools in America forced Native students to shave their heads, change their names, speak English and practice Catholicism. There is a heavy feeling when considering that assimilation could be forced upon a set of people towards a second group's aims. And although terribly atrocities were suffered by these children, they surely retained their identities. Their children are the ones who suffered loss of "authentic culture" and tradition. By the 1970s, 60,000 students attended these schools. The societies were considered "civilized," and the government abandoned the effort to educate Native Americans separately. Generations later, there is a huge push to educate youth about the Native languages and art forms. Now, many are uninterested and would rather play video games or get lunch with their friends at McDonald's. So. . . I'll need to ponder for a while about assimilation's reverse effects along a timeline of a few generations. I doubt that my children's children will regret not growing up the way I did. I'm hoping they appreciate living a life straddling two extremely different cultures.

Samurai
2012
Hand dyed and screen printed fabric, foil, discharge print, Heat 'n' Bond, thread, hot glue, felt
24" x 48" x 6"

OPP: You mentioned scales, which are are evoked in abstract pieces like Phobia (2013) and Exterior Perceptions (2013). They are used as armor in pieces like Choose the Right (CTR) (2012). They are decorative in your painted scale studies and mesmerizing in your latex wall painting Infinite Repetition (2012). Could you talk about this recurring visual motif in your work?

EMC: From small to large, overlapping and infinite, the scale or shingle pattern first appeared in a painting I made of a peacock. It was a labored process to create that artwork, and ultimately it didn't work to have spent so much time on the details of each feather. The thing I found that I liked the most about the bird was the layer pattern in her feather structure. This has been present in almost every work I've made since. The felt layers overlap (which hides the origin of each loop from sight) and get larger towards the bottom, and my paintings start at a central flower shape or tear drop and emanate outwards. The suits of armor all have this structure, too. Scales have for some reason kept my interest and flawlessly connect many bodies of work that are disparate in medium. Ultimately, it is a form that is abstract enough to be many things and nothing at once.

It is also a perfect way to illustrate the unit—the individual or unique original—repeated into an implied infinity. It becomes less about the singular and more about the plural or the gestalt. The human mind has the tendency to see the forest and not the tree. Another reference to camouflage and assimilation, the theories of gestalt name our brain's need to group things together by likeness, proximity, continuity and common fate and perhaps the human desire to belong. I guess, it's another metaphor for society. One worshipper is lost amongst a church full or worshippers; one prayer is lost amongst a lifetime of prayers. The scale is a physical representation of homogeneity and diversity amongst the whole.

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinchlaghmo.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition 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 work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.