OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sam Jaffe

Blue Meanie
2009
Mixed Media
12" X 12" X 20" (approx.)

OtherPeoplesPixels: As an interdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, installation, and painting, with an emphasis on color, form, and materiality, your body of work is varied and mostly abstract. What are some common themes that come up again and again for you?

Sam Jaffe: First of all, I'm probably a hoarder. Luckily, I'm also obsessively organized. I think, as with many artists, my upbringing, early experiences, and passions really do seem to be relevant here. Within my work, I have owned much of the physical material from which I draw inspiration since childhood. I started many of my collections (bits of lace, seashells, kitschy figurines, beads, stickers, miniatures, handmade potholders and blankets, vintage clothing, sea glass, Lisa Frank everything, foreign coins, holograms, colored light bulbs, fake eyelashes, children's books, yarn, plastic flowers to name a few) before I can remember how or why they started. Many of my works begin with a certain personal visual delight in these collections. My art is all about combinations and amalgamations of details; it could be seen as an over-romanticizing of the commonplace.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk a bit more in depth about the materials you use?

Sam Jaffe: Most of the materials that I end up using for the work are from popular culture and are mass-produced. I'm searching out this latent possibility in things that are part of the everyday. I create by taking these items and placing them next to things that have been painstakingly handmade. I hope to question what is craft and what is commodity. I want there to be prickly situations where nature and culture come to some sort of outlandish understanding. That which was thought to be animal, or human, in some way morphs into something horribly artificial. There are also a lot of accumulations of partsa kind of overgrowth or bad, mutated evolution, and I think that may suggest some contemporary cultural parallels that are very problematic.

Materials for me are not just formal elements, nor are they ever neutral. They stand for a vast array of personal and cultural frameworks. They shape our senses of self. Above all, the work is about surrendering to materials and the fetishistic nature of material culture. In many ways, I like to think that this IS the primary content of my recent work. It's all about strange ways of using materials and allowing the form to be a demonstration, extension, and exploitation of the possibilities of the materials.

Untitled (from Sketchbook)

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have chosen to include documentation of your sketchbook on your website. Many sketchbooks compliment finished pieces by showing the working process of an artist with notes and ideas for further development, but yours seems denser and closer to a work in and of itself than others I have seen. What is the role of the sketchbook in your practice?

Sam Jaffe: I rarely sketch, unless there is a concrete logistical task like taking measurements or a mathematical problem raised by a work. Sketching for me is almost pointless, because I start with a vague idea and end up with something completely different nearly every time. I just start working without much of a plan and the pieces evolve. I spend a lot of time looking at what's there, be it a pile of fabric or a nearly completed installation, and then I make my next move... one step at a time. The sketchbooks really function more like portable studios: just something to work on while traveling or at home watching TV.

Painting Sweater
2009
Yarn on Masonite Panel

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many pieces, such as Physical World (2009), Painting Sweater (2009) and Agnes (2011), reference painting visually without being painting. How does the history of painting as a discipline relate to your work in other media?

Sam Jaffe: Well, I'm from Wisconsin. I was exposed to some contemporary art as a kid, and certainly came from a family dedicated to cultivating my artistic interests. But, up until I was well into my BFA, art meant modern, Western painting. Sculpture would have definitely involved a hammer and chisel, or worse, power-tools...scary! I didn't go to Chelsea until I was in my early 20s and I doubt I could have named a single, contemporary, female artist at that time. Looking back, I think this painting baggage thing has been hard for me to shake, so I embrace it. As you point out, even as I have moved away from the medium, painting, painting rhetoric, painters, and painting history have really still remained salient concerns of mine.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are there any contemporary painters that influence your work now? If not painters, what artists do influence how you think about sculpture?

Sam Jaffe: I'm really interested in all kinds of art and also design and fashion. I don't tend to spend too much time categorizing or discriminating based on media. I am particularly drawn to artists that activate and take advantage of spaces in unique ways like Olafur Eliasson, Gordon Matta Clark, and Dan Flavin. I had the opportunity to see Flavin's rooms of light at The Villa Panza in Italy several years ago, and I think that it is one of the main reasons I became excited about installation in the first place. I also tend to look at artists with similar material and aesthetic interests to mine like David Altmejd, Mike Kelly, Folkert De-Jong, Yayoi Kusama, Jim Drain, Nick Cave, and Louise Bourgeois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does humor play in your work?

Sam Jaffe: Humor is often characterized by some kind of sudden shift in perspective, a convergence of two conflicting frames of reference. It is something we might use as a coping mechanism when we are experiencing painful, stressful, embarrassing, or awkward emotions. My goal in using humor is to energize the viewer with the playful formality in my work. But when s/he gets up close, I want there to be an insecurity as to what s/he is seeing. Do the exaggeratedly bright colors and overstuffed, spongy forms begin to turn toxic and sinister when one turns away? Carnivals, cartoons, parades, and fairy tales can be confusingly humorous and scary settings. Tough messages can be buried in softness.

Some Pig
2009
Construction Gloves, Chicken Wire, Poly-fill
Variable Dimensions

OtherPeoplesPixels: Some Pig (2009), Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner (2009), and Blue Meanie (2009) are just a few titles that make reference to popular movies, books and music. What is the role of these cultural references in the meaning of your work?

Sam Jaffe: The cultural references serve mainly as complicating agents and informers that push up against a prudish aspect of formalism that seems to interest me. I visualize the concept of "pop culture" as an expansive sea of data that can be grabbed at in the same way one would make up a mix tape. I pose the question, how can we make narratives out of our contemporary, American culture, which is already such an irreverent crossbreed? I am hugely influenced by both popular and avant-garde film, literature, and fashion. So, yes there are references to films like Dirty Dancing, but I also reference films by Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowski, both of whom make work that would be categorized as somewhat experimental or underground. My work is particularly American and Post-Modern in that I sometimes brazenly de-contextualize and take possession of whatever forms seem to create something interesting. I think artists have to be opportunistic yet selective when it comes to cultural input.

Warm And Scuzzy (Detail)
2009
Latex, Great Stuff, Felt, Thread, Polyfill, Glitter, Acrylic, Hair, PVC Piping
3' X 3' X 1.5'

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptures and installations range from clean and uniform, as in Some Pig (2009), to chaotic and filthy, as in Warm and Scuzzy (2009) or the untitled sculptures from 2009, which use insulating foam. Could you talk a little about these qualities in your work?

Sam Jaffe: Rather than using the terms "clean" and "dirty," I would describe the dichotomy in my work as modern/synthetic vs. natural/biological. Modernity represents a utopian epoch of efficient, triumphant, and evangelical conquest over those elements of culture that are not consistent with the logic of a particular, shrewd, and masculine world order: a system set up to control the primal, erotic, and, of course, feminine impulses that stand in the way of "true progress." In some of my work, I hope to complicate and undermine this order by creating works that mimic a modernist style or trope, but then at the same time are visually or sensually rich and tactile or ornamented. Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner, for example, is essentially a monochrome, but it's made from neon pink, knit pieces; knitting being a tradition that communicates with the human body in feminine, emotional and interactive ways. In a piece like Warm and Scuzzy, the form is meant to refer to the body, but it is made from mass produced, industrially available goods like felt, insulation foam and pieces of PVC piping.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Ah! Would you say that underlying your formal explorations of material is a primarily feminist approach to the art history associated with Modernism? Is this connected to why the painting concerns you mentioned before continue to come up, but in other media?

Sam Jaffe: Yes, I think so...if not a feminist approach, at least a feminine one. It comes down to the idea that a modernist vision tends to deny certain valuable qualities inherent in handmade objects like their ability to be intimate with the body or the fact that they carry with them the complex histories of their makers. I think that in our culture these may be feminine modes of experience. Paintings, historically speaking, may have more to do with a different and more traditional type of object-experience since they usually hang on walls and are observed from a distance. So, I suppose the painting references in my work could be seen as a nod to this latter type of object-experience, which I then hope to completely complicate and undermine.

To view more of Sam Jaffe’s work visit samjaffe.org.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andy Rosen

Dear, Old Master 
2009
Installation

OtherPeoplesPixels: On your website, you mention the “friendly and peaceful view of rural life as portrayed by the crafts and folk art of New England.” Could you expand on this for viewers of your work who are unfamiliar with the New England folk art tradition? Are there certain visual tropes from this tradition that you are responding to in your own work?

Andy Rosen: I’ve been focusing mostly on local art traditions like chainsaw carving, whittling, wooden toys, yard art, etc. But, really I’m looking at everything art-related that is (or was) created by folks in this area. Many of the works tend to have a roughness and imprecision (non-manufactured look) that conjures for me an attitude of the wilderness.
 
I’m particularly fascinated by a portrayal of nature where the wildlife is shown as majestic, portraying animals that never eat (each other) and are never affected by our presence. And when we do exist together, it’s as though they’re happy to see us. In short, a land at peace, untouched and pristine.

I find the lack of conflict and struggle intriguing, especially, in light of increasing pressure by us on their habitats and food sources. While such scenes surely do exist still, I can rarely see such things without wondering what’s really going on here?

I think it may be easy to dismiss such works as escapist, idealistic or merely decorative, but for me they have a kind of revelatory power. These works are more mirrors than lenses. Reflected on the faces and gestures of the animals in these works, are our desires, beliefs and fantasies about this area.

In this context, what I make becomes my way to better understand the extent to which these fantasies shape and influence my conception of nature, my biases and beliefs. For instance, why do I focus my attention on particular elements within a landscape or why do I choose certain animals and pretty much ignore others?

OPP: Woodcarving is your most prevalent media. How did you learn it?

AR: I’m more or less self-taught. My training at school was as a painter and glassblower. So for needed techniques and tricks I study what I need to learn and ask furniture maker friends for tips or just bungle my way through.

I’m quite taken by the evocative power wood holds as a material representative of the wilderness.  I love the smell and the feel of it, as well as the surfaces I can achieve with it. Also, nearly all the wood I carve comes from the dump. I like the idea that I’m reconstituting a material that comes directly from my local landscape.

Loaded
2010

Wood and Epoxy
Detail of an installation

OPP: In many of your pieces, evidence of the man-made world is built upon a single animal’s back. In pieces such as I Can Only Take You So Far, Barnacle and the installation Loaded (2010), the animals’ faces express weariness and excruciating pain. In other work, such as Trick (2010) and Chip (2010), the animals seem at peace, almost joyful. Can you talk about this difference?

AR: My interest in understanding what is happening to the environment changed. I began to question why I was depicting animals as pawns or helpless creatures in our game. This kind of thinking seemed umm... rather self-centered. Though we are certainly in an era where our actions are affecting every habitat on Earth, I’ve become increasingly interested in a more ambiguous portrayal of animals affected by human activity.

It also corresponds roughly with the birth of my son. It’s pretty hard to not see one’s offspring as an investment in the future. So many questions and concerns I had regarding the big ol’ problems of US and the environment were now being asked in the context of bringing a child into this world. How should I respond to what is undeniably a major issue that my son and his generation will face?  My artwork seemed like the best place to start this dialogue. But, should my language be dire? Why? Was there a way to talk about this worry without directly stating it?

I also became increasingly surrounded by his toys. These toys invariably depicted an animal smiling or joyfully doing something laboriousmoving dirt, carrying people, etc. What are they all so happy about? Don’t they know what’s happening to them? I like how a smile can express joy and a grimace at the same time.

Pinocchio
Wood and Epoxy

OPP: Each of your sculptures and installations implies a narrative and many read like allegories. Some make references to known fairy tales including Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty, while others evoke well-known fables in their use of specific animals like the hare and the fox. Do you generally have a specific narrative in mind before beginning a piece? Is there a prevailing allegory that runs through all of your work?

AR: It’s hard not to get caught up in the fantasy/idea I create. I even pat my sculptures on their heads, as if they’re real. On some level, I really feel for them. This kind of deceptive empathy is how I generate narrative. It definitely shapes what happens to the sculptures and the decisions I make regarding their plight. It seems weird then to treat this “being” as a symbol or stand-in for a larger theme. They probably still are allegorical but I think I’m most compelled by the irrepressible urge to treat my works like real animals. I know it’s a fantasy, but it’s also something that is for me impossible to ignore. In this way, play becomes both subject and tool.

As for the use of fables and fairytales, I can’t help but notice their influence, especially those that take place in rural settings. The notion of a fairy tale as a way to process something more abstractly or indirectly within the environment resonates with me.

I’ll borrow from these ideas, usually only in part. I’ll use them as a framework to build from. However, I don’t initially have a narrative that I set out to illustrate. I often have only a vague sense or image in mind for each piece, a kind of gut level pull (read, biases and beliefs). To make the rabbit (Duster) for instance, there was some sort of narrative bouncing around my brain, a picture or sense of this rabbit in a really specific location. It’s often as though I can’t really see it until I make it. There were a handful of iterations before I eventually decided upon making him into a motorcycle.  Sometimes a piece will languish in a pile in my studio, half-completed for really long time. And I also usually make several pieces at once. What I’ve found is that the story unfolds as a kind of interaction between the objects I’m making and have lying around. I ask myself, what if this thing and this other thing were put together?  Throughout the course of making it, the idea becomes clearer, almost as if I’m fleshing out the scene in a landscape painting.

Duster
2011
Wood and paint
60 x 75 x 48 inches

OPP: In the most recent pieces, animals are engaged in unnatural states of transportation. The fox in Psst (2010) has become cunning beyond what is natural. He must think like a human. He appears to be avoiding some danger on the ground. I imagine toxic sludge or some kind of acid, something that is the result of industry. The hare in Duster (2010) has become part machine. Its characteristic speed is no longer enough. It needs wheels in order to escape some unspecific danger. I can’t decide if these pieces have a positive or negative outlook about the animals’ chances for survival. I can’t decide if they have evolved or if they are doomed. What do you think about the presence of optimism and/or pessimism in your work?

AR: A couple years ago I asked some friends who are prominent in the fields of botany and biology, whether they we’re optimistic about the state of the environment. Essentially I was wondering if there was a lot of irrational fear going on or if our fears were warranted. They were both certain, given their research and the research of their peers, that we are in a period of massive species collapse of both flora and fauna (and likely us, as well).

Knowing that we are witnessing huge changes every day, what’s there to be optimistic about? I’m not sure.

However, I’ve started to address depictions of majestic or happy animals, head on. It’s an attempt to see if I can really feel it or find it, despite the facts.

To view more of Andy Rosenʼs work visit andy-rosen.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carolyn Salas

Rug Project
2009
Cut and glued carpet foam padding
10ft x 8ft

OtherPeoplesPixels: You discuss addressing hierarchical powers of societal success in your artist statement. Your pieces The Awarded (2010), Trophy (2009), and Rug Project (2009), do so directly and with a subtle humor. Please tell me more about your ideas surrounding societal success as it relates to these pieces.

Carolyn Salas: With pieces like The Awarded I look to question the systems for which we recognize success; awards for the unknown seek to glorify the mundane while directly addressing the absurd. Similarly, Trophy (a collaboration with Adam Parker Smith) directly addresses the unattainable. As status and material obsession become an ever growing and ingrained part of today’s society we mock the ridiculousness of it, “showing off”, in this case has reached a laughable point. Rug Project, reassesses the value of common objects and questions conventional concepts of beauty, flipping the role of carpet from floor covering to fine art, playing with ideas of construction and the historical role of the rug as design, display of wealth, and warmth.  All three of the works ultimately explore themes of disillusionment and power while the material choice shows evidence of the erosion of time, breaking down and demystifying the power that they once held.  

Stack of Quilts
2011
ceramic, found objects
8.5 x 24 x 20” / 21.6 x 61 x 50.8cm

OPP: How does humor factor in your body of work as a whole?  

CS: I don’t consciously make the effort for the works to be humorous instead I think they reflect my personality. I am very rooted in the harsh realities of life but love to fantasize; I question my own insecurities, dissect my own inner struggles and rely on humor when I can. My material choice is driven by concept, I choose materials scaffolded with meaning which can be pleasantly interrupted or interpreted many ways, pushing the boundaries of material and concept to a place often times uncomfortable. I like how the awkwardness of a piece or the manipulation of a material very familiar to you can be jarring at the same time. For instance in the piece Stacked, I was thinking about the idea of mummifying a keepsake, questioning what happens as the object is repeated and how the meaning changes through that repetition. I’m interested in how the object loses its initial sentimental quality and becomes essentially a “kitsch” object. The objects both personal and found, placed on top of the ceramic cast quilts than provide another layer; a surrealist effect yet still tactile.

OPP: What did a day in the studio look like for you as you were creating Constructions and Tangible Losses (2010)? Do you “sketch” by drawing or does your process perhaps emphasize writing or pursuing the materials you ultimately incorporate?

CS: Initially I start by doing a lot of sketching, usually in response to a reading, thought strain or continuation of a prior body of work. During the making of this particular piece I was spending a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Greek and Roman Art wing. I was drawn to the marble figures, their missing limbs or what was left of a crumbled piece of architecture, for me their dismemberment was incredibly poetic, I like the idea of questioning what isn’t there. In attempts to recontextualize this in the work Constructions and Tangible Losses each pedestal piece displays a loss; the dowsing rod in need of land, the netted chain without a catch, the pedestal without an object, the leg and horseshow crab without its body, by simplifying the objects  the tension created lies within the absence they each represent. Their displacement and dismemberment act in dialogue with each other as if characters in a play.

Earring on a Mountain
2010
cement, abalone shell
80" x 64" x 2.5"

OPP: What comes first in your artmaking process in a piece like Earring on a Mountain (2010)—a conceptual or formal concern, an interest in a material, or do both occur to you simultaneously?

CS: It can vary radically from piece to piece, with the series of cement works, Earring on a Mountain, Untitled and New Order though I was inspired first by a reading. Mount Analogue, a book written by Rene Daumal, was floating around the studio; I picked it up and was immediately attracted to the voyeurism he speaks of, charting unknown territories. Inspired to create a sculpture that reflected this idea I started thinking about language and symbols. The two came together for me in the form of cement architectural structures. I was interested in using a material that could both be permanent while also seeming airy and light. I started playing with ways I could manipulate the forms and  the scale in relationship to the body while also addressing the connection between the wall and the floor.

OPP: You had a busy summer. What were you working on?

CS: This past summer I spent time at Franconia Sculpture Park, MN, on a Jerome Foundation grant. While in residence I created a 50 foot long handmade chain link fence. With this work I was investigating ideas surrounding territories, boundaries, borders and class issues. I am interested in the “in-between” stages; the tension that lies both within the physical space and the psychological space. For me the absurdity of hand making a fence and its displacement of location is an important factor. The fencing posts and chain are platted in a gold colored metal, in attempts to objectify and beautify the mundane, whilst the object itself fails to gain the authority it desires. For me the piece leaves a certain dissonance and residue that’s uneasy and off mark, I am hoping the viewer’s interaction with the work will question the same ideas. The piece titled Chain Link will be on view at the park through the summer of 2012.

OPP: What is next for you?

CS: I just moved into a new studio at the Abrons Art Center in the Lower East Side (NYC). I will be an AIRspace Artist-in-Residence for the next eleven months. I am excited about the other resident artists I am with and the facilities  I am hoping to get a chance to use the ceramic kilns. I am also preparing for a show at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum in February 2012.  There, I will be working onsite at the museum, using the piece Changing Sides as a platform for a much larger installation.  

To view more of Carolyn Salas’ work, visit carolynsalas.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andrew Scott Ross

My century Zoo (Detail)
2011
Mud, Paper, Wood
18 x 10 x 12 feet

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have partitioned your practice into two ongoing series, Rocks and Rocks and Rocks which is is a mix of drawings and ephemeral sculptures and Bones and Bones and Bones which is a mix of short narrative videos, wildlife photography, and sculptural objects. Which themes that you address in your work are distinct to each series? How do the two series differ from one another aside from the media distinction you make and what do they have in common that may speak to overarching themes in your practice?
 
Andrew Scott Ross: The defining work for the Rocks and Rocks and Rocks series is Paper Caves and Habits is the primary piece for the Bones and Bones and Bones series. These two series originated with these works. The video Habits which depicts a bunch of scattered living earthworms slowly forming a perfect circle came from my interest in the incredible habits of blind animals and how they can be an interesting metaphor for the power of nature. While Paper Caves, the group of works where I make early human dioramas out of office paper, is about how human imagination was utilized in the formations of early cultures.

Somehow, everything I have made since these two works are built on these two pieces in a somewhat chronological fashion. For instance in Rocks and Rocks and Rocks I started with the Stone Age, then did some pieces about the Neolithic Era and just finished My Century Zoo which touched on themes of Archaic Greek culture. It has been a slow process and I am looking forward to make it to the French Revolution sometime in the next decade!
Stones and Rocks and Stones and Bones (Detail)
2009
Office Paper
Detail of installation at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)

OPP: Can you speak about your titling process for the pieces included in each series?

ASR: My titling process is really different for the two series. The titles for Rocks and Rocks and Rocks are deliberately vague, picked at random, or generic. I feel there is already plenty of information packed in these piecesso I make the titles more atmospheric. In contrast the titles for Bones and Bones and Bones are more descriptive, as I want to steer the viewers attention to certain aspect of an animals behaviour or physical traits.

OPP: Your solo exhibition My Century Zoo, now on view at John Michael Kohler Arts Center, lists mud, paper, and wood as the materials used. You’ve used mud in your work before, but using it in My Century Zoo seems to lend to a slightly different look from your past installation work. How does My Century Zoo differ for your previous installations?

ASR: Yes, I keep coming back to mud! At first I just dipped things into it to give a uniform primordial aesthetic. Now, in my newest series, My Century Zoo mud is used as a glue for the paper, drawing material, and for its sculptural qualities. It has become both a central material and metaphor in my work. We walk on mud, make cities out of it, and can get buried in it. What I find the most interesting, is that as an art material, mud comes across as immensely fragile.

OPP: You often cut and crumble paper into small and incredibly delicate silhouettes of human and animal figures as well as into trees and other landscape elements. What's the hardest and easiest part of the process of making your sculptural paper work?

ASR: People often ask me why I do not use a laser cutter. They look as the process and all they see is tedious labor. Not only would using a laser effect the work aesthetically and conceptually, but it would take away a lot of pleasure. I really enjoy most of the detailed cutting and modeling processactually I find it incredibly relaxing. In contrast, the hardest and most frustrating part of the process is having to start over again when messing up on a complex figure—and the easiest part would be the deinstallation. It is amazing how six months of work can be put in a box in 2 hours.
Stones and Rocks and Stones and Bones
2009
office paper
Installation at Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)

OPP: Do you listen to anything while you work on the delicate elements or does your process require silence?

ASR: I am always listing to music when working on my paper cutting, often film scores—they help me focus for long periods of time.  

OPP: What does a day in the studio look like for you? Do you “sketch” by drawing or does your process include other initial steps?

ASR: Lately my studio is overwhelmingly messy! It usually involves laying down tarps, filling cement mixing troughs with stained mud, putting on a Tyvek suit, and throwing mud at large sheets of paper. There are cleaner days, where I cut and manipulate the dried mud caked paper, or apply charcoal. I have not been sketching with my new work, I have been working directly on the final surface. 

OPP: What is next for you?

ASR: I have been working on some stand alone sculpture pieces made from mud and paper, and experimenting on video work with artist Vanessa Mayoraz.

In the next few months I will be moving to a larger studio space in Tennessee. The space is an old Eastman Co. research site and warehouse recently donated to East Tennessee State University (where I will be teaching this Fall). I am very excited about making some large scale pieces there.
To view more of Andrew Scott Ross’ work visit andrewscottross.com