Support the Love Renagade's New Project!

 ELIZABETH AXTMAN is an interdisciplinary artist, whose alter-ego, The Love Renegade, creates powerful works about bridging the divide between people and their egos. When a person has acted, (as Liz says) "a hot-mess," the Love Renegade steps in with a work that confronts this head on -- treating these sometimes hateful people with surprising grace and kindness.

In her socially engaged practice, The Love Renagade has written love letters to Ann Coulter & Bill O'Reilly, has re-edited video footage of Sarah Palin to create an apology to people she had hurt, and has poignantly altered a photo of O.J. Simpson's mugshot to say "I'm so sorry." She has participated in exhibitions all over the world including: The Renaissance Society (Chicago), The Studio Museum (NYC), The Contemporary Art Museum (Houston), Kunsthalle Gwangju (Republic of Korea),The Kitchen (NYC), & te tuhi Center for the Arts (New Zealand).

The Love Renagade's newest project, currently being funded via Kickstarter, is entitled "The Love Renagade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell." The documentary-form work confronts former Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell, who in 2009 refused to marry an interracial couple in Louisiana, siting that he was concerned about "the children." Axtman's ambitious new work documents the loving relationships between interracial couples, and shows their happy thriving children -- who at intervals tell the camera: "I love you Keith." The Love Renagade's work is a moving testament to the power of love over hate, compassion over ego, and understanding over fear.

Please check out The Love Renagade's Kickstarter page for this wonderful project, support it if you can, and pass it on!

You can see more of Elizabeth Axtman/The Love Renegade's work, on her website.

 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Graham McNamara


IMG_6293, detail
2009
Oil on mdf unit
18" x 18" x 3.5"

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you evoke the role of the scientist by using words like "clinical" and "dissect" to describe how you deconstruct "romantic, idyllic European painting." Could you say more about this "clinical" approach? 

Graham McNamara: I’m quite an analytical person, and I like systems and structures. I’ve always perceived the world in this manner, and so it was a clear step for me to view art in that way, too. Art history fascinates me. By dissecting it, I create an interesting dialogue with truth and idealism both then and now.

OPP: In your series Units, small sections of classical paintings are blown up, painted in monochrome and intersected with paint drips. The paint drips actually come before the reproductions, which get painted in around the drips. Why is this important to the piece? How does it change the final look of the painting?

GM: Within my work I enjoy many subtleties and quiet gestures. The cited paintings are often grand, strong declarations. I counter this with understated actions that have equally powerful declarations, albeit with opposing intentions. The order of the application, subtle as it is, is a key element in my work. It creates a paradox whereby my work, which is undermining an illusionary motif, becomes in itself illusionary.

Page 136
2008
Oil, pencil, primer on mdf unit
24" x 48" x 4"

OPP: Appropriation of art historical paintings is a staple in your process. How important is it for viewers to know what the original source paintings are?

GM: In a way it does not matter if the viewer is able to decipher the original piece. It is either known or not known, and this conveys two different experiences that can be had with my work. I find them both interesting. I don’t really want to make an elitist art only accessible to those who know art history, which is difficult when art is referential.

If the work is recognized then the piece takes on quite an academic reading: all the history, stories, and interpretations of the original work feeds into my piece and creates a dialogue about art, art history and the creative drive. It is often quite comical, as I will crop out or ignore a fundamental element of the original work and paint instead the background or less important things, rendering its original concept absent.

The other, less informed reading of the work is more abstracted and intangible. Enough of the painting is left to convey a glimpse of a moment. It’s familiar in some way, but in one that cannot be placed. It becomes a sort of vague, shared memory, warmed by the soft, hazy, smoothed-out brushwork.

OPP: How do you choose what paintings to appropriate?

GM: A lot of research goes into selecting which paintings to use. I go through a period of a few months of reading and looking at works, which results in a selection of artists and a selection of their works that interests me. I then group these into loose categories to pull from. I reflect over what a piece does, why it speaks to me, and how I can manipulate it. I always seem to know which to use next.

The Creator, The Destructor IV
2009
Oil, pencil, primer, Epson print on partical board
12 x 12 x 0.5 inches

OPP: You mention Walter Benjamin's famous essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in your statement. When did you first read it? How has it influenced how you think about painting or art in general?

GM: I read his text while studying at university, so I was quite young and new to making art. It had a profound effect on me and how I saw the world, especially through the context of the Internet. Generally speaking, I see more art in reference form, whether on my computer, my smart phone, or in a newspaper or magazine, than in reality. My experiences of art become less valuable or unique as a result. Maybe that’s why I feel I can take such liberties with these important works; there is no preciousness to them. They can be dissected. I comment on this with my work, but I also fight against it through elements which cannot be replicated in these modes, such as the subtly and structure.

Blue Boy
2009
Epson print on paper, framed
15 x 19 inches (frame)

OPP: I know what you mean about how we look at art these days, considering the fact that I’ve never seen your work in person. But I disagree that our experiences of art are less valuable when they are mediated. They are just different than they were before. And in some ways, they are better. For example, I love how I can can a real sense of the breadth of an artist’s work by looking at his/her website. I can’t get that when I see a single piece in a group show. Sometimes, I find individual pieces dull, but when I see them in the context of the artist’s total output, I become really engaged with the work. Admittedly, my bias is that I prefer to understand things in their context. That’s where I find the most pleasure in looking at art. But I’d love to hear more about how your experience looking at art differs from mine.

GM: True. Maybe it is just different. For example, my website is a powerful tool to show a much wider audience my work and also show work that has not yet been exhibited in reality. But I think what is interesting is when these mediums shift from being referential to a primary source of absorption on art. The art then becomes the digital or printed reference, and the physical work itself is somewhat secondary in almost a Plato’s cave effect. The concept is paramount, which I love. But when we loose the physical engagement with the presence of a work, we lose the aura as Benjamin says, and that is so important to the understanding. No matter how many books I read and images I saw of Rothko’s paintings, they held nothing compared to when I first visited a collection in person at Tate Modern, London. Before that, I was informed, but I didn’t truly understand.

OPP: Tell me a little about your process. How much is thinking/planning and how much is actually painting?

GM: I usually have my work fully planned out before beginning the actual piece, although there is room for altering from course throughout the process. Most of my creativity is directed before I begin the work through writings and sketches, and the actual creating is more a series of skilled tasks to lead to completion. This helps me think clearly, and the process of making becomes a quiet meditative time. I have to work in a logical manner, almost machine-like in some stages. For instance, when I paint the cited image using the projector, I try only to paint the image projected, not what I see. Too much of my mind is chaotic, and the world is a myriad of complications. My art process grounds me and gives me a structure to realize my ideas.

With my Units and IMG_  series I firstly construct a selection of perfect boxes, then sand and seal them. At this point, I do not have a set use for them. While I make these, and for a while after, I research my subject matter and write. I usually have the piece fully planned out before beginning to paint. I use a projector and sketches to make decisions. I try to understand what the piece will become and if it will be successful. During this process, I’ll decide which boxes will be paired with which paintings, and I select a single paint color based on the imagery and the shape of the boxes. Next, the boxes get primed, sanded where necessary, and taped off to leave only the surface to paint on. Then I paint the whole area and brush it smooth, before I apply solvents to create drips with as little regard as possible for what will be painted on the box. This dries for a few months before I painstakingly paint an image around the drips, brushing the strokes smooth as I go.
Untitled, branch with rock #3
2011
Resin, drift wood, & rock
8 x 18 x 2 inches

OPP: What are you working on right now in your studio? Any new directions?

GM: I have just come out of about 6 months of not making anything. I spent the time evaluating my work and considering its direction. I think it is important to take these moments of reflection when creating art in order to maintain the integrity of your creativity, rather than the integrity of a specific style or technique.

Earlier this year I had a residency at The Carriage House in Long Island. This took my practice in an exciting new direction with sculptural works that I’m very pleased with. Photos of these pieces should be uploaded onto my website any day soon(!). Using crude metal brackets and wood supports, I reconstructed a series of trees that had been cut down and moved into my space. I also constructed trees from found fallen branches to create man-made disjointed forms. These works were almost a poetic act of reconstructing trees to a former state using materials and techniques that clearly expose this interaction. My other works were made using resin, at varying degrees of clarity, to turn old lumber and driftwood back into the blocks of wood they once were. These works stoically strive to reclaim their former identity and sense of purpose, but instead they are a futile attempt to correct the forces of nature and of man in a ghostly, exposed manner.

To view more of Graham McNamara’s work, please visit grahammcnamara.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Shawnee Barton

Misfortune Cookies, detail
2010
Hand Embroidery on cotton

SHAWNEE BARTON is a Texas-born interdisciplinary artist who uses satire and storytelling to explore “sociological concerns such as dislocation, relationship and group dynamics, class issues, and the ways in which we make connections and communicate with each other.” She works in drawing, sculpture, performance, photography, video, embroidery, and new media. In 2006 she received her MFA in Printmedia from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and finished second in the World Series of Poker No Limit Hold'em Ladies event. Barton currently lives in San Diego, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You are an interdisciplinary artist in the extreme. But the strategy that is common throughout all your work is storytelling. Individual pieces, such as To Celebrate My Favorite Day, use text to tell a story, while video installations like Kachina involve oral storytelling. You also have  an ongoing project called The Roaming Blog, in which you write posts on various topics as a guest blogger on other people's blogs. First off, do you see yourself as a storyteller? How is storytelling in these various forms the same? How is it different? 

Shawnee Barton: I am firmly committed to an art-making model in which the concept behind a piece precedes and dictates the medium.  It was, for example, a natural fit for my satirically titled Occupation: Housewife series to be mostly hand embroidered pieces, since needlecraft is a stereotypically female, housewife-y hobby.

In terms of content, I am definitely a storyteller. I don’t approach storytelling differently based on the medium I am working in though. No matter what form it takes, a story is successful when it is profoundly relatable, when it makes you think something you’ve never thought before, or when it transports you. The things I love about This American Life pieces are the same kinds of things that resonate with me when I read a Zadie Smith novel or see a William Kentridge animation. 
Occupation: Housewife
Hand Embroidery on cotton, folder
2010
17" x 11"

OPP: Of all the media you work in, do you enjoy any parts of your practice more than others?

SB: I don’t feel the ghosts of art professors past looking over my shoulder when I write. I especially value that freedom to purge and play since I have a tendency to over-think even the smallest of decisions when I’m making visual work.

I also enjoy when a project requires me to mindlessly do something over and over, like filling in a solid area of color in embroidery or making tedious audio edits in Protools. Repetition in art making takes me to a quiet, zenful place that I don’t feel elsewhere in my life.

I’m curious, and I love learning new artistic disciplines, but the least favorite part of my practice is the technical “jack of all trades/master of none” aspect of it. A lot of art programs still hire people that are technical experts--master lithographers, bronze casters, and the like. People like me with strengths in idea cultivation, storytelling and problem solving tend to be less appealing to hiring committees. I’ve always wanted to teach college art, and sometimes it feels like I am sabotaging a dream by making art the best way I know how.
Ice Cream on Light Box 3
2009
Color photograph
Edition of 10, 30" x 40"

OPP: A recent piece, I Kindly Reject Your Rejection, led to an experience with internet censorship. Can you describe the piece and what happened?

SB: The web-based piece is a response letter to a rejection letter I received from a film program I never applied to. It originally ran on the well-known art blog, fecalface, but after Ann Berchtold, the director of the art fair I wrote about in my letter, complained about the negative attention, fecalface removed the piece from their website without first asking me to respond to Berchtold’s claims.

Being censored was not fun or funny, but since this particular piece was about rejection, it did seem appropriately ironic that the art fair people unwittingly reiterated the concept behind the piece one more time.

Everything in my letter is defendable, and I was shocked and disappointed at how casually fecalface, an art- and artist-focused online publication that I’ve admired for years, would censor me. It was also depressing that the director of a contemporary art fair would be so quick to make such a passionate effort to get a work of art censored—these are the type of people that should know better.

Being censored made me think about some larger issues, like whether online publications have a responsibility to defend the writers and artists they publish in the same way print publications do. This kind of support may be another important thing (along with quality investigative reporting, fair salaries, and benefits for content creators) that we're losing as news, information dissemination, images, and writing increasingly go viral.

On the flip side, this experience taught me that the internet makes absolute censoring, as in keeping someone from ever accessing certain information, much more difficult (at least in our country), since there is an endless number of places to repost content online. In my case, the fabulous Kathryn Born kindly republished my web-based piece in The Chicago Art Magazine where it received more hits than all the other stories on their site combined during the week it ran. It also inspired them to create a regular column of artist horror stories.
On Egocasting
2008
Installation View

OPP: Your work is unapologetically personal, and you make no bones about the therapeutic aspects of making art. This is an impressive and admirable admission in my opinion, because this is a contentious idea. I've often witnessed compelling work being dismissed outright with the phrases: "it's too personal; it's just art therapy." Why do you think this prejudice exists?

SB: I can empathize with the haters.  Introspective art can be angsty, heavy-handed and obliviously cliché. And since this type of art is the instinctual place a lot of young artists go for material before they find deeper wells to draw from, there’s a lot of bad art of this nature.

Sometimes, I compare this type of art to the “rom-com” genre of film—for every one honest, relatable, and smart When Harry Met Sally, there are 100 cliché, time-sucking Failure to Launches.

I think finding and making good introspective art is so difficult, because there are many places to go wrong. First, we all like to think we are more special and unique than we actually are. That’s why I love David Sedaris, Raymond Carver, and David Shrigley. There’s no inflated sense of grandeur with them. They all have an incredible ability to find magic or humor in the banal moments of life.

Editorially, it’s difficult to objectively make art in which your life is the material. You have to be completely vulnerable in the beginning in order to flush out raw material. Then, once you’ve got something to work with, you have to turn the emotional part of your brain off in order to neutrally make edits and design decisions that will strengthen and serve a larger, more important concept, which always includes murdering your darlings.

In many ways, I feel like this type of art chose me more than I chose it. What I make is honest, and I think even if people don’t like the genre, they can at least connect with or respect that intention.
How to Make a Baby the IVF Way: I'm Glad it's not Swimsuit Season
Photo from Slideshow
2011

OPP: Let's talk specifically about your recent piece How to Make a Baby the IVF Way. First published on Slate.com in November 2011, this photo essay with text documents the grueling emotional and physical experience of trying to have a baby despite infertility. How is disseminating work this way different from showing work in a gallery?

SB: The internet can be a more appealing artistic venue than a traditional gallery for many reasons. First, it’s obviously less insular. There are fewer people to pander to, more viewers see your work (at the level I’m at anyway), and there’s no one trying to take a 50% cut (even if it’s 50% of $0, which is the case most of the time).

I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to have gallery success. That would be amazing. It’s just that that road never really felt like a viable option for me, since I’m not very good at selling myself. I also always knew that I wanted to feel free to make weird stuff that doesn’t hang nicely on a wall. Maybe this excuse is a cop-out, but it’s kept me focused on finding creative venues to disseminate my work rather than feeling helpless and depressed after sending out hundreds of packets that just wind up in a pile that no one looks at.

OPP: It was the most read piece on the site the week it was up and there are 313 comments, ranging from thankful to abusive. What's it like to have this kind of sudden visibility and to read these comments?

SB: The comments about my Slate IVF piece were pretty fascinating. Nothing about choosing to do IVF feels controversial to me. In making the piece, I was interested in documenting the process of IVF, not debating or defending its validity. I frankly thought our society was past that, but, clearly, the volume of responses to my piece suggests otherwise. Realizing that your sense of reality may be distorted is always disconcerting.

The negative comments also reminded me of something I learned in Psych 101: people are more willing to be cruel to a stranger than to someone they know. I see their vitriol as a good reminder that we all need to step away from the computer and television every once in awhile in order to make actual connections with people in the non-virtual world.

Pink Slip
2009
Color C- Print
30" x 40"

OPP: Are you working on anything in the studio right now? What's next for you?

SB: I’m currently collecting stories from people who have moved back in with their parents because of the bad economy. The project’s website is movedbackinwithmom.com and stories or photos can be submitted to Imovedback@gmail.com

I also currently have a piece in an exhibition at The Athenaeum in La Jolla, and I will be in a group exhibition in June at Susan Street Fine Art Gallery in Solana Beach, CA. I am also always on the look out for blogs that would welcome me into their little nook of cyberspace. I can be reached at shawneebarton@gmail.com

To view more work by Shawnee Barton, please visit shawneebarton.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carl Baratta

Entombment/ Entombment
2011
Egg tempera, watercolor, and gouache on board
24"x 36"

CARL BARATTA paints lush and complex landscapes populated by robots, aliens, animals and humans who appear to be from some other culture or time period. His dense, colorful paintings depict moments of transition, often referencing his art historical predecessors in both composition and color palette. He equally draws from “popular and unpopular culture.”  He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005 where he currently teaches. Baratta lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When looking at your paintings, I imagine you have a complete narrative in mind when painting. Is this the case?

Carl Baratta: Well actually I don’t have a specific idea of a narrative. What I tend to do is read a lot of mythology, fables, sci-fi, and mystery books and then pick the parts where there is a tipping point in the narrative. Everything I end up doing leads back to transformation and moments of struggle. There’s a lot of overlap in everything I read so when I see a certain situation crop up I start to imagine what it would look like. The moment I pick is really important and I try to start every painting differently to see what happens. Sometimes I plan out major parts and other times I start with weird blobs and work out from them.

OPP: Tell us about how you make choices about your color palette?

CB: I approach a visual piece the same way as I do written stories. For the overall narrative tone, I’ve recently moved away from a Mughal Miniature approach to color and have started using a more subdued earthy pallet, more of a late Fauve use of color. One reason I decided to do this is I have been introducing a lot of animals into the landscapes and the high key color makes them look too cartoony. The other reason was I was making super violent imagery that the viewer didn’t see right away because the jewel-intense color struck the viewer first. I think having the color be more subtle lets the imagery be seen first and then the network of color. I’ve made well over 50 paintings that operate on the color first principle and felt I should move on. What I love most about the miniatures is the emphasis on an ever present situation as opposed to a more mutable subject matter. That’s why the only transient shadows I ever paint are really there to set a mood, never to imply that there’s a sun that moves over the land.
Driver, Take Me To The River 3
2010
Watercolor, gouache & ink on paper
18"x25.5"

OPP: I’ve heard you talk about the Mughal Miniatures before, but I’m not familiar with them. For those of us who are less educated, could you describe them and what draws you to them?

CB: Mughal is a style of painting from the 16th to 19th century in South Asia. The painters from that time period are known for their blushing colors and their use of pattern as a vehicle to move the viewer's eye throughout the composition. My favorite works are during Akbar's dynasty. He was alive during a period where there was a lot of trading of goods and ideas between cultures and understood the power of synthesizing all these ideas to come up with some very interesting paintings and ultimately introducing his people to a broader understanding of the world they lived in.

A couple years ago I saw a collection of illuminated pages from a book in his collection at the Met. The sky was atmospheric picking up ideas from the West,  and everything below the sky line was laid out with strong color rhythms and patterning that the Moghuls picked up from previous painting styles. It struck me that when I look back over painting and pick my favorite spatial conventions to create a dynamic space, I'm synthesizing from many cultures too. I feel that this is still relevant in our culture now, and to me it feels incredibly contemporary. The best thing about looking in the past is the experience of seeing something you wholeheartedly believe in from a long long time ago in a different country. It's the closest I will ever get to having a time traveler's conversation. It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it feels really important.

OPP: In pieces like MFBB 2 (TFEFA!) (2009), Failed Out of Autumn (2007), and Showdown in Flames (2005), we see beheadings, bodies ripped in half and hand to hand combat. Could you talk about the recurring violence in your work?

CB: I need to come clean and say that I put the violent shit into my paintings because I think it’s awesome and it makes my friends laugh. Sometimes the gore is pretty over the top. A lot of the gore either comes from film stills from giant monster movies from the 70’s or from paintings and tapestries from just about anywhere from any time period. I collect images of beheading/ dismembering images and have a pretty large collection.

You wouldn’t believe how many paintings there are that have chopped off heads in them. For instance MFBB 2 (TFEFA!) stands for ‘Mother Fucking Blood Bath 2 (yeah, there was a number 1) and then ‘Thanks for everything Fra Angelico!’. The painting is based off of Fra Angelico’s The Beheading of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damien. I’ve been to Paris several times, and I always spin by that painting in the Louvre and stay with it for an hour or two. The composition is so tight it blows my mind. For my piece I wanted an even more anonymous set of figures while keeping the composition tight. To do that, I had to move some things around and essentially break Fra Angelico’s composition. It’s stupid to take a painting you love, shit all over the composition and not rebuild it. It’s a respect thing for me. Anyway, it was going to be a ‘fast’ painting. Took me over four months to figure out and it’s still not anywhere as amazing as Fra Angelico’s. In the end I realized the composition was what moved me to try my own. Since then I’ve tried to tackle every piece as fiercely as that one.
MFBB 2 (TFEFA!)
2009
Egg tempera on board
24"x24"

OPP: Often chopped limbs from trees resemble chopped off limbs from humans and monsters in your paintings. The landscapes and figures seem to have equal weight in your work. How do you view the connections between the environments you paint and the figures that populate them?

CB: You know, before I even made the connection between body parts and tree limbs, I realized I’d been photographing weird body-like trees for years! I paint them because I want the figures to reflect the world around them and have the landscape react to the figure’s emotional state depicted. In other words, the world around each figure is an extension of what is happening internally to the figure and vice versa creating the open ended narrative. Sometimes having trees and fauna echo the shape of animals and people is the quickest, clearest way to get their emotional relationship across to an audience.

OPP: What kind of drawings did you make as a child?

CB: Scribbly, weird ghost shit and robots. Basically the same stuff I draw now but without an art history background. I drew like that until I went to undergrad and then trained under New York abstract painters. The work I make now is me backing out of a tradition where paint is paint and moving into figurative painting. I can no longer just draw from one type of work or another, so these days I continuously try to meld the two approaches together.

River! Sky! Mountain, Mountain!
2005
Watercolor, gouache and ink on paper
32"x36"

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece or series by another artist?

CB: Well I mentioned Fra Angelico’s The Beheading of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damien, but I’d also think Saint Anthony the Abbot in the Wilderness by Master of the Osservanza is totally amazing. A contemporary I really enjoy is Johnny Ryan’s on going comic series Prison Pit. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite, but Bob Thompson’s Blue Madonna makes me feel like I am lazy and need to work harder. I’m looking at a lot of Bob Thompson again, and it’s blowing my mind.

OPP: What's your favorite piece of your own work?

CB: As for my own work, I usually just look at it in terms of what I should fix. So I don’t have a favorite. I just have ones that are more painful to look at than others. I know I’m being vague, but the paintings that are more or less painful to me change places every month or so. So, in short, I don’t know.

Say Goodbye To The Mountains 2
2006
Water color, gouache & ink on paper
20"x26"

OPP: You've been showing like crazy these days. Where can people see your work in person right now?

CB: I had a solo show open at Lloyd Dobler last Friday, March 2nd. It’s got a 5 x 10’ diptych in egg tempera and also features selected paintings from 2011 and 2012. The following night I had a group show I’ve curated about personal hell, transformation and struggle, opening at Side Car Gallery in Indiana. It’s entitled They Wore Faces of Red Clay, which is a line from a Mayan poem about death and the afterlife. Since this year is the year the Mayans predicted the world will shit the bed, you should come and see it before you melt into a puddle of blood and tears! The show features six artists, Isak Applin and Shay Degrandis from Chicago, Dan Schank and JJ Pakola-Mayoka from New York, and Iva Gueorguieva and Justin Michell from LA. The work they gave me for the show looks great and truly strange. In a good way.

In June I’m in a group show at Southfirst in Brooklyn, curated by Jesse Bransford entitled That Sinking Sense of Wonder. And in the fall I’m in a group show at the DePaul Museum, a workshop with Isak Applin and Oli Watt at Columbia College, and I’m doing an installation at the Roger Brown House here in Chicago. All three things are curated by Thea Nichols and Dahlia Tulett-Gross. It’s going to be hot! Come see everything!
To view more of Carl Baratta’s work, please visit carlbaratta.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hope Hilton

The Recognitions: Slave Sights
the main house, Tulip Grove
Tulip Grove, Tennessee
C-print, 30 x 40 inches
2010

HOPE HILTON weaves together stories and journeys in her multimedia events and installations, revealing the spaces where the collective and the personal overlap in relation to history and geography. Hilton curates, collaborates, designs, publishes, writes, and walks. She received her MFA from Hunter College in 2008 and is a co-founder of the artist collective Dos Pestañeos (Atlanta/NYC). Hope Hilton lives and works in Winterville, Georgia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you tell us a little about your development as an artist?

Hope Hilton: I’ve always worn many hats as an artist. That’s one reason I call myself an artist – I can do anything. I write, publish, curate, teach, walk, design, and collaborate, among many other things. In art school I spent a lot of time in printmaking and photography and was seduced by the democratic nature of making multiples. I think it was a natural transition to create experiences, social architecture, websites, and projects that were trying to be open in what they would become. I’ve always believed that art is something we can all enjoy, and the experience should not only be limited to important and expensive works of art. I definitely try and share work that is accessible in a sense, within and outside of institutions.

OPP: What do think of the term relational aesthetics? Do you consider yourself part of this movement or responding to it?

HH: I like the collectivity and connectivity that is implied by relational aesthetics. It is a movement that fulfills a certain postmodern disconnect that many of us feel culture-wise. I do, in fact, want to create experiences to be shared and experiences that bring people together. Because of this, it’s not possible to say I’m not a part of it. I feel, though, that I’m more influenced by it and less a subscriber to it, because I believe my work is driven less by experimenting with people and more by collecting stories and shared experiences that are specific to a place, a history, or, more specifically, the local.

The Recognitions (detail of porch)
2008

OPP: Your ongoing project The Recognitions is an example of this. It explores your personal connection to your family's history of slave owning and takes many forms: photographs, a journey, a series of drawings, an installation and, most recently, the reproduction of a famous quilt. Could you talk a bit about the impetus for this project and how it has evolved?

HH: During graduate school in NYC I received a compilation of my family history from my grandmother for Christmas. In it were pages and pages of wills, letters, and legal documents. What struck me most was that my family had owned slaves. Not all white families in the South owned slaves, and I never had any reason to believe we had, having grown up in a lower-middle-class family. What came as a shock to me soon became my life’s work. I was drawn to a particular story about the birth of my great-great grandmother and a slave named Henry who walked 60 miles, from Alabama to Tennessee, to announce her birth.

The stories about my family have led to other stories, including an interest in the plants that slaves in my county used as medicine. It seems like a natural evolution.
Queensy's Light Root
2011

OPP: Art historically, appropriation as a strategy has served to critique consumer culture as well as the notion of originality. In the DIY world of the internet (via memes and remix video and tumbler blogs), appropriation serves to reveal the complicated ways we make meaning out of cultural material. But your piece The Recognitions: Mrs. Harriet Powers, Bible Quilt appropriates in a very different way. It is a re-creation in paper of a quilt made by a freed slave. Could you describe your intent with this appropriation?

HH: Wow, I haven’t even thought about this project as appropriation. Thanks for making me even think about that. It’s so new, really, that I’m still learning about what I did. To me, it’s more of a reenactment or a re-creation. I was enchanted with her story and her life, and in a way she haunted me. She crept into my dreams and became ever-present in my life. I had to do something about it. I wanted to participate in her labor, to make something that was about her work and stories and her intuition. To be honest, another part of the impetus of re-making the quilt that I kept reading and hearing about was a desire to see it to scale.

OPP: I definitely see your re-creation as a way to honor the original source, rather than to critique it. Can you tell us a little more about the status of the piece?

Working on The Recognitions: Harriet Powers Bible Quilt

HH: It's just finished and is on exhibit for the first time at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art until April 1st! I worked on it for two months after the idea came to me in response to an invitation to create a new piece of work for the exhibition Southern, curated by Judith McWillie. More often than not, my work is project-based and created for particular exhibitions or projects, so I felt really honored to be included and trusted.

OPP: You’ve also done quite a few events with children as part of this project, right? Could you tell us about some of them?

HH: I teach art to kids every week here in Athens and am particularly in love with their point of view. I've had many silent walks with children present and have made projects (Walk with me) that are accessible to kids, but programming events for kids is new to my practice. I've taught lots of art classes throughout the world to kids, so the experience is not new to me, but curating an event for kids based on my own work has been really delightful and intimidating. Currently I've created events with an art educator named Sage Rogers, and together we made a project for the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art. This week, in fact, I read a story about Harriet Powers (the original quilt-maker), and together we looked at her quilt to see what was there. We then did a tour of the exhibition, talking about each of the works. Lastly, we created our own quilt squares from paper and Mrs. Powers' imagery. It was profound and wonderful.

Walk with me : Georgia (installation)
2008

OPP: Your piece Walk with Me has been performed many times in different locations. You've led participants on silent walks in Georgia, San Francisco, and Boston. How do participants respond to the silence? Are their experiences on the walk documented? How do you determine if a walk is successful?

HH: Not everyone loves silence like I do, so I’ve definitely taken walks with participants that had to really put in a huge effort (thanks, Dad) and participants who put forth no effort. The walks are not documented as it’s very important to me that attention is paid. It’s impossible to determine or have a scale of success. Every walk I make is a success just because it happens. Ha!

OPP: What's an average day in your studio like? What part of your practice do you enjoy the most?

HH: I consider my practice post-studio, though I do have a wonderful studio to work in once a project is born. My front porch is the best place to have ideas. When I’m in my studio without a particular project, I spend a lot of time staring out the window and thinking or just watching the horses in the field across the holler. I'm more inspired by communing with what's around me, with my dreams, and with the idea of slowing down. If "slow art" were a term like "slow food,” that would be me. While I embrace technology I'm always wanting to slow down, to appreciate and learn from history, and to spend time with nature. I call myself a New-transcendentalist, which may sound old-fashioned but seems to be happening more and more, at least in the South. A return to our roots, our land, our independence, and our happiness. I'm always seeking the beautiful, and believe that hard work is just as important as a walk in the fields. That dedication to the invisible is just as important as the here and now. In this regard my studio is everywhere.

Georgia Tattoo
2007
tattoo

OPP: It sounds like where you live is truly integral to the work you make.

HH: When I moved to NYC for graduate school, I had no intention of returning to Georgia, where I was born and raised. After a move to San Francisco to teach, I really felt that I was too far away from my investigations and inspirations. Inspired in part by Lucy Lippard's The Lure of the Local and by my work pulling me back, I returned to land of my roots. This quote often reminds me why:

"Travel is the only context in which some people ever look around. If we spent half the energy looking at our own neighborhoods, we’d probably learn twice as much." - Lucy R. Lippard (On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art, and Place)

To view more of Hope Hilton’s work, please visit hopehilton.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Salter

too much
installation image
Rice Gallery
2008

OtherPeoplesPixels: You are well-known for your styrobots, robots built entirely out of found styrofoam packing materials, especially those used to ship electronics. How did you first begin to use styrofoam in your practice?

Michael Salter: It’s always been robots made from reclaimed polystyrene packing pieces. I simply saw the pieces as mechanical looking and started sticking them together. I have made quite a few of them, so every now and then I make something else like a race car or a motorcycle. But whatever I make it uses the found forms of the packing pieces. I just made a 20ft long robot shark named A N D Y (Autonomous Nautical Deepwater stYrobot).

OPP: Do you have a favorite robot from pop culture?

MS: A few, yes. The robot/mecha-suit from the film District 9, the robot from My Iron Giant, every era of Battlestar Gallactica’s Cylons, R2D2 & C3PO, Marvin in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Johnny 5, B9 from Lost in Space. The thing is my fascination with the robot results from an overall love of popular culture. The robot is an icon from contemporary visual culture. I grew up being told we’d all have robots in our homes. I like the Eastern ideas around robots more than the Western ideas. The robot is my friend, companion, protector as opposed to the militant killing machine. There is a film by Takashi Miike called The Great Yokai War, and in the film there is an army of monsters all made from things we discard. As you might imagine I really like this idea. Giant robot monsters made of trash.


OPP: I was hoping you would mention the Cylons! They are the most complicated to me, because ultimately they are just humans, with the capacity to be both friend or foe. I’m not so familiar with the eastern robots. Where do you think this difference comes from? What do our western robots say about  our culture?

MS: I am not sure I can separate robots by culture after all. I do know I’ve responded to the sweeter, gentler robots portrayed in media. I think Star Wars introduced me to my first 2 of these characters within robots. I guess I’ve always liked the misunderstood Frankenstein element too: when the robot is really a protecting friend but still gets beat on by some military bad guys. My point was that generally speaking western culture portrays scary, mean robots, and often japanese culture might represent the robot as the giant friend. What does that say about our cultures? I think its pretty obvious and I leave everyone to their own opinions about that.

giant styrobot
polystyrene packing materials
22 feet tall

OPP: Specific installations are titled, but it seems like specific pieces are not. Are the styrobots interchangeable?

MS: All my works are in fact titled and discrete in nature, yet integrally part of a larger installation. The end result is often a show that looks like a group show.  These disparate, tenuous connections between the work are important to the installation as a whole. Each and every styrobot is built site specifically and hence each installation is considered and deliberate in every way for every venue.

OPP: I've read that you sometimes have to destroy the large robots just to get them out of the gallery? What's that feel like?  

MS: Yes, often the giant styrobots are destroyed when a show is over. My intention is that they are to be experienced, or not, and then they are gone. Is this hard? Ask a street artist if they like getting their work washed off or painted over. I appreciate the Buddhist concept that the more things we are attached to the farther we are away from ourselves. So letting work go is okay with me. I think its liberating not to be too attached your work. 

OPP: Your exhibitions are well-crafted in my opinion. There is a compelling tension between the flatness of the icons and the dimension of the styrobots and sculptures. The icons reference consumer culture and seem to set the context for the bots… like this is the world where they live. The bots themselves reveal a lot of emotion in their postures. They are sad and vulnerable. I see them as stand-ins for human beings. Can you talk a little about how these two media work together to communicate your message?  

MS: I take great care in fabricating extremely tightly finished work. I intentionally mimic manufactured consumer products. My work has consciously employed a wide range of media. It keeps me from getting bored. I have several long running bodies of work. Most often, the collection of graphic icons I have drawn and the styrobots are exhibited. But my work includes kinetic sculpture, animation, drawing, and video. It depends entirely on the venue, institution or sight when deciding on an installation. At Rice University Gallery the icons made a perfect environment for the Giant Styrobot to exist collapsed in the corner. You are right about the icons referencing consumer culture. I am obsessed with what we see and what it makes us think. The media saturated world we live in wants my attention and my money, really, really, bad. What’s funny about the styrobots is that I don’t see their heavy psychological or emotional content until much later. I think their metaphoric content as humans is inescapable. I do find a trip to the mall tiring, and often sad.

OPP: Thanks for bringing up all the media you work in. Could you talk a bit about your graphic landscapes and your collaboration with Chris Coleman?

MS: Chris and I have been friends and collaborators for several years. We actually open a show at the Galleries of Contemporary Art at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs this evening. Aligned in motivations, concepts about politics, society and culture we make work together that looks at everyday banal behaviors, places and actions. I draw most of the digital landscape drawing and send it to Chris, and then we begin an elaborate ping ponging of ideas about narratives and motions within that drawing. Chris is particularly adept at understanding animated narrative language and the poetics of graphics in motion. We mutually develop the scene and its actions. Then the final solution is an animation that is delivered in a variety of ways like custom laser-cut acrylic framed flat screens and careful, considered projections in a different sizes.
UTA
from the installation, Visual Logistics,
University of Texas, Arlington, winter 2006.
curator Benito Huerta

OPP: Is there a difference between your graphic design impulse and your sculpture impulse, in terms of the experience of making, not in terms of the final output? Do you enjoy one more than the other?

MS: Nope, no difference. I am somewhat obsessive about creative output, and I live to be constantly generating work. I suppose I’m just afraid that if I stop I know how hard it is to start up again. I respond to any and every impulse I have all the time. My main goal is to simply stay amused, because if it ain’t fun for me, god knows it ain’t gonna be fun for anybody else.
To view more work of Michael Salter’s work, please visit michaelasalter.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lindsay Page

Untitled, from the series Spawn
2007
Colour photograph
24 x 32

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your Spawn series spans three years from 2007-10 and depicts both a pregnancy and the subsequent infant and toddler in striking domestic settings and landscapes. I assume the subjects of each photograph to be you and your own child—how much of this work is performative and how much of this work incorporates restaged moments of your own motherhood?

Lindsay Page: Spawn was an examination of the contradictions I felt transitioning into motherhood. There was simultaneous exhilaration and intense anxiety, gain interlaced with an overwhelming sense of loss. It was a messy time that seemed continuously at odds with the societal narrative of birth and motherhood as exclusively celebratory. In addition to being beautiful and transformative, to me there was something somewhat monstrous about pregnancy, where the body acts with a will of it’s own creating this unknown presence. When my daughter was born I felt overwhelmed by a sense of disappearance, that my self identity (and my identity as an artist) was being eclipsed by this generic label of “Mother." So I started to create these images as sort of a defense against invisibility. There is this inescapable proximity that accompanies early motherhood so it seemed essential that she be included in many of the images, though doing so felt somewhat exploitative. This is probably the series I am most conflicted about making. Motherhood is a difficult terrain to navigate in art, as there are so many clichés and stereotypes that one can fall into while making, or that viewers can’t escape when looking. It is difficult for me to know how the images read, but for me both the making of and the resulting images are problematic, awkward and discomfiting, which seems appropriate to the discussion. 

Old lady
2010
Color Photograph
30 inches x 40 inches

OPP: Tell me about your recent photograph Old lady.

LP: My mother is sick and I guess in response to that I have started to project images of mortality and aging onto myself and those around me. As I get older I see glimpses of myself as an elderly woman, see how my physical self will shift in the years ahead.  I think anyone with kids is acutely aware of their physical vulnerability, as soon as they are born you start to worry about them dying. I began to think about my kids gradually growing old and the impossibility of my witnessing them in the last stages of life. 

LP: I am also interested in the complexities of play, how children’s games can seem simultaneously innocuous and sophisticated depending on the viewer’s perspective.  

OPP: Adult human forms wrapped in white fabric appear in your photographic series Basement Performances. Your recent photograph, Octopus features another human form entirely encased in white. In this image, the form is that of a child and the white fabric appears to be a hooded sweatshirt worn backward, a pair of tights worn on the legs, and two more pair of tights tucked into the sweatshirt and held by the hands to give the playful yet eerie appearance of the figure having eight appendages. Tell me about the connection between the two photographs. What served as your inspiration for Octopus?

LP: There is not much of a connection conceptually between the two images. Basement Performances were much more about the ways in which we reinvent ourselves in our private spaces, often as a more empowered figure than we actually are. I was also interested in picturing longing and in engaging a discussion about substitution. Octopus is more ambiguous and somewhat exploratory. Again I am thinking about the complexities and contradictions embedded in childrens’ play and the ways in which an image can unnerve a viewer without it being clear exactly why. Photographs of children pose questions about power relationships (photographer/subject, adult/child), as well as exploitation and I am interested in building on the tension that this creates both for maker and viewer.

Octopus
2011

Color Photograph
30 inches x 40 inches

OPP: In your three channel video installation, I'm building you an army anonymous hands create twelve paper soldiers who, as completed, salute to the camera and join each other in a large grid. Who is the “you” in the title for whom the army is built? Can you speak about the conceptual concerns for this video installation?

LP: There is a specific “you” the piece refers to, but it is never revealed. The piece is about power and powerlessness and the interplay between aggression and passivity.  It stems from a desire to transform the individual into a group, to multiply the self in order to enact change that the individual alone cannot. The impossibility and futility of this act of sharing the self becomes more and more evident as the group accumulates and begins to dissemble and fall apart. It is the repeated gesture of the attempt at this, despite the impossibility of it, that most interests me. There is this repetition of and insistence upon an action that can never extend beyond itself. The effort far outweighs the result, and the piece sort of sits as this doomed heroic gesture.

OPP: A life-sized form resembling the paper soldiers in I'm building you an army appears in your photographic series Basement Performances. Tell me about the Basement series and the significance of both the paper soldier and human forms cut from paper more generally, in your body of work as a whole.

LP: I have always been interested in the ways in which objects can be activated through art. Puppetry and animation transform objects into something beyond their materials and there is then this potential for a viewer to be affected in an unexpected way.  No matter which media I am working in, I need to include this kind of tactile building element. I am interested in apparatuses / constructions that are obvious and flawed as a way to insert my presence into the work and connect myself as a maker with the audience.

Untitled, from the series Basement Performances
2005
Color photograph
30 inches x 40 inches

OPP: What are you working on now? What is next for you?

LP: I am currently working on a large installation piece called, Erasing Machine. The piece, employs kinetic sculpture to facilitate the erasure of knitted photographic portraits. The public is asked to submit photographic images of individuals they desire erased from their memory. They are not asked to identify themselves or disclose their reasons for the desired erasure. These photographic images, once converted into “photo blankets” are slowly and publicly erased throughout the duration of an exhibition. I hope with this piece to engage discussion about the relationship between photography and memory and raise questions about ownership of images, representation as well as power and violence. 

To view more of Lindsay Pageʼs work visit lindsaypage.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eric Huebsch

Mt. Elephant
2008
Mixed Media
24 x 20 x 12 in.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In drawings like Watch What You Say Cause… (2006), The Abject of Man's Gaze (2009), and I Know What You Said (2005), you use an interesting diagonal composition which creates a sense of one thing leading to the next, but the juxtapositions and the scale discrepancies are sometimes nonsensical. The same composition can also be seen in some of your sculptures, such as Beastmaster (2006) and Mount Elephant (2008). What's it like to draw and build in this way? Do you start at one end and not know what will be at the other end?

Eric Huebsch: I really think in 3-D, I made the drawings first thinking they could become sculptures. As for ideas, I kinda have a vision and I see some details, but generally it never turns out how I first envisioned it. Also with those pieces, I like the puzzling challenge of putting it together and figuring out the composition. So the diagonal layout helps convey a certain depth in graphic quality of the pieces. A lot of those earlier works have a particular flatness to them and that style of drawing is somewhat akin to the drawings of a stoned teenage boy.
I Know What You Said
2005
Colored pencil and enamel marker on paper
44 x 30 in.

OPP: Your most recent work, Spit the Winkle, is a group of 40 collages which combine imagery from contemporary porn with older sources, possibly from the 40s and 50s, including weightlifting magazines, children's books and cartoons. Could you talk about the juxtaposition of sexuality and nostalgia?

EH: I was given this vintage scrapbook and decided to use it to create a story. I have lots of different types of source material that I have used for other 2-D pieces and thought I could create a entertaining story using the scraps of my source material. Most of the images have some sexual connotation, and I was thinking that people have been bonking forever and will continue to do so. It’s timeless really. Everything can be sexualized, even the most innocent thing.

OPP: Is that because sex is naturally embedded in everything all the time? Or because anything can be transformed into anything else? Is your intent to say something about the power of appropriation or about the power of sex?

EH: I believe that sex/reproduction is at our core. As primal as that sounds, I really think it is true. Generally speaking, people are pretty shy and conservative about sex, even though people in the entertainment industry (i.e. music, television, movies) and in advertising all use sexuality as the key component in some of their messages. Obviously, not everyone is reproducing, but everyone is still enjoying the act of sex.
 

Untitled
2010
Mixed media collage
14 x 11.5 inches

OPP: Can you talk specifically about the imagery of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear from the 1946 Disney musical Song of the South, which is notoriously considered racist and has never been available on DVD or home video in its entirety due to this controversy. How does this history of your source material contribute to what you are trying to say with the collages?

EH: It’s interesting, because it is somewhat generational. Some get it, some don’t. So it adds another layer for the folks that can make that reference. And if you don’t have that reference, you see it purely as imagery but with the question of where that found imagery came from. For the most part, I feel that I have decontextualized the imagery and appropriated it to create something new.  The imagery still teeters on the edge of what is and isn’t acceptable.

OPP:  Theoretically, can everything, even the most loaded material, be decontextualized?

EH: That’s a tricky one. I‘d like to think so. There are so many variables that can play into it: location, audience, etc. Nothing is absolute.

Keep Attacking the Body
(Anonymous #1)
2011
Ink, pencil, collaged elements
30 x 22 inches

OPP: In sculptures like Human Growth (2007) and The Oogie Boogie (2007), you seem to have an intense fondness for materials that appear to drip and ooze, evoking body fluids like semen and vomit, as well as tar and even melted flesh. Is that some kind of expanding foam insulation? How did you start working with this material?

EH: Well, in art school I initially worked in glass. I was drawn to the wet, syrupy, plastic-like feel and look of the material. In graduate school, I became a bit disillusioned with the material of glass because of its size and cost limitations. I started using materials like foam, epoxy, and fiber glass to try and achieve that illusion. Also, there is a bit of alchemy that happens when you work with two-part expandable foam. There is a finite amount of time when you can work with this stuff, and it really has a mind of its own. I find that there is a lot of beauty in those chaotic moments. The work just happens and you are just part of the catalyst. 

As a metaphor, I like playing with the excess of this stuff coming out of any and all orifices. There are times when we are so sick that we have to surrender to the intense moments. There is no grace when the body decides it needs to purge; those moments are involuntary.

Human Growth
2007
Mixed Media
47 x 22 x 17 in.

OPP: Your artist statement is on the sarcastic side. Is this your actual voice? What role does sarcasm play in your work in general?

EH: Yes. BIG.

OPP: Tell me a little about the Miscellaneous Muses section of your website. Are these found images and sculptures? In what ways do they inspire your work?

EH: So, the Miscellaneous Muses are my life.  I’ll find them, sometimes they’ll find me. They (the images) all have a story and they all make me smile in one way or another. I’ve been trying to collect life’s truths and life’s little inspirations, and these nuggets have kept me motivated and interested through the years. The search is everlasting and enduring. I put them on the website to share a little window into my world/brain with visitors.
To view more of Eric Huebsch’s work visit cockandoodle.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mara Baker

All that is not very much
2011
Blue painters tape and 6 years of studio residue.
Installation at Happy Collaborationist's, Chicago IL

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work unites the concerns of formal abstraction in painting and sculpture with the conceptual concerns of fiber and material studies. Is one ever more important than the other? Can they be separated?

Mara Baker: I think, within individual works, one or the other may have a stronger voice, but both concerns are always present. When I am creating work I try not separate out the two. In fact I have found the work suffers when one voice takes over. The material or process is usually the conceptual engine in most of my work, but if the material’s voice is too strong than the work becomes didactic or narrative in a way I don’t like. I do like the idea of an abstract history embedded in any given material. When starting a project, I try not to think too hard. It is enough to use a material simply because I visually respond to it. For instance in a recent piece the whole jumping off point was the fact that I loved the found texture in an old landscape print next to the texture of grey packaging foam; that was enough. After I make some initial intuitive decisions the hard work happens. Most pieces in my studio see at least four or five different actual lives. I have to make and then unmake most of my pieces in order to build up sufficient relationship with a material or idea. There is no denying that my studio practice is process driven, but I strive for the work to operate on many levels that engage both formal and material concerns.

Untitled (Detail)
2011
Found print, photographs, acrylic and packaging foam

OPP: Your recent body of work Blue Glue and Other Explorations, which uses painter's tape and the residue from your studio, shows the way discarded remnants from the creative process feeds into the creation of new work. This really illustrates what you say in your statement: "Underpinning all of the work is a desire to explore the performative and conceptual role of deterioration and residue." Can you speak more broadly about this theme, either in this project or in your practice as a whole?

MB: I am interested in the history and relationship I can generate with any given material. I like to fondly, and somewhat facetiously, call my studio a factory for the generation of history. I tend to generate vast amounts of material leftovers that have been edited out of whatever I am working on at the time but that I am unable to throw away. Over the past six years I saved and cataloged, by color, size, and texture, all of these back end leftovers in plastic paint liners. Similar to a junkyard that is full of objects displaced from their former uses, the Blue Glue project used the junkyard of my studio practice as its primary material. As a rule I tend to stack and pile materials I like next to each other as the first step in making work. In a very democratic way I was determined to do this with all of the remnants I had saved. The installation played with how these fragments, embedded with all of my studio failures, could function together as one coherent thought. Blue tape served as a vehicle for both drawing as well as binding. I like that blue tape has a natural relationship to architecture. We use it to temporarily protect and block off spaces we intend to change. Perhaps one of my most literal pieces, the work was a reflection on failure and the process of making.

Internal Weather (construction cord orange)
2010
Found soap factory residues, Plexiglas, construction cords, poly-tubing, straws, vinyl, acrylic, rust, charcoal, and graphite.
Durational Installation at Soap Factory [link to: http://www.soapfactory.org/ ], Minneapolis MN

OPP: You use the term "durational installation" for several pieces. Can you define that more clearly for us? You've installed your "durational installation" Internal Weather at least four times, and each time it's a little different in form and color. Can you explain the piece in more detail?

MB: I used the term “durational” to define installations that changed and eventually broke down over a set duration of time. Specifically, the Internal Weather Project pieces were all comprised of hundreds to thousands of drinking straws (depending on the site) that were joined together with surgical tape. I created line drawings in space with the connected straws that were then hooked up to high-powered water pumps. Over time, the straws would develop kinks and cause pressure that would eventually break down the straws and the system. Leaks, breaks, popping sounds, and mini-geysers were all integral parts of the work. In making the installations, I was constantly striving to make the systems more ambitious while at the same time always balancing the fact that I was using flimsy plastic straws. The liquids I chose to run through the systems varied from acrylic paint to road salt. I was also interested in the residue that was created when the system failed. The work was constantly changing both internally and externally. The final form of each installation was determined by a response to the space, time constraints and genuine curiosity. The series ended when I could no longer take the stress of putting together mini-apocalyptic art scenarios. I came close to ruining a couple of gallery spaces. What I loved and still love about the work is that it was a very real and raw response to the strengths and limitations of materials over a duration of time.  Each installation played with the edge of failure and strove to put the proverbial “last straw” on the camels back.

Untitled,
Wood, Various Construction Materials, Tarping, Vinyl, Acrylic Found Residues and Tape.
Site-Specific Installation for Cara and Cabezas Contemporary

OPP: How did you begin your ongoing collaboration with Rafael E. Vera? What do you like more about collaborating? What do you like more about working alone in your studio?

MB: Rafael and I met working as adjuncts teaching at the College of Dupage. We both work in installation and drawing, and Rafael approached me about creating a body of work together. What was appealing about the collaboration was that we share a love of formal language and a similar approach to space both in drawing and installation; however our individual aesthetics are very different. His work is clean and minimal and mine tends towards the maximal. We were interested in playing our different approaches off of each other. The beginning collaborations were simple exchanges of drawings (Trading Paper series).  I would start a drawing, he would finish it, and vice versa. We did this for a year. It became increasingly apparent that the drawings were blueprints for installations, and we have since worked on three different site-specific installations together. What I love about working in a sustained collaboration is that we have developed a visual language that is neither his nor mine. During the installation of our last piece in Kansas City the curator of the gallery commented on how our conversations were nonsensical to the outside observer. We have developed a way of interacting, talking and making that is uniquely ours. In our collaborative work, I make different decisions than I would make in my own work , which is very freeing. Working alone in my studio is just different. I could never give up my own practice, but collaboration has enhanced my understanding of my own process.

OPP: What's going on in your studio right now?

MB: I recently finished creating three site-specific tactile paintings for a group show entitled Two Histories of the World. The project was inspired by William H. Cooper, an old manufacturing plant turned resale business that is in a state of great disrepair due to the hailstorms that occurred last spring. The curator, Karsten Lund, asked 4 artists (Sarah Black, Laura Davis, Mike Schuh and myself) to create works inspired by the site and the materials present within the site. The work will be dismantled and re-envisioned in a new show at the Hyde Park Art Center in 2012. Otherwise, I am looking forward to some time to make small drawings that are not for any particular purpose but thought and growth.

To view more of Mara Baker’s work, visit marabaker.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Casey Vogt

Chow Time
2010
House paint, collage, envirotex/panel

OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as a "dot painter." Could you explain the history and context of Dot Painting?

Casey Vogt: I can offer you my personal history and context of dot painting. It is actually quite simple and rather banal, but here it is anyhoo. I came to art later in life than most, 25, and the first major exhibition I saw was of Australian Aboriginal Tingari “dot paintings.” I was totally blown away. I had always thought of paintings as portraits, landscapes. The use of color and repetition of the same form was mesmerizing. I was hooked then and continue to be today, because to me it is far more compelling to make a line out of dots rather than to simply draw a line. When a painting is comprised of dots there is a sense of obsessiveness that permeates the piece. It is my way of mark-making. Yet, at the same time, my hand is removed from the work. I enjoy the contradiction, as I myself am a living contradiction.

OPP: Could you say more about the obsessiveness you mention?

CV: I think that I'm obsessed with making my paintings as over-the-top as I can, yet maintaining an overall balance throughout the piece. In a way, I want to complicate them so much that they appear simple; then the viewer realizes that the work is made up of 80,000 dots.

OPP: The motif of the mandala, often with anti-depressants like Wellbutrin at the center, is omnipresent in your work. To quote Wikipedia: "In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space and as an aid to meditation and trance induction." When looking at the focused, repetitive mark-making you use, I think of both of the compulsion and anxiety that can beg to be medicated and about prayer practices like the rosary and meditative tools like the mantra and the mandala. Are prescription drug use and spirituality being equated with one another?

Rapture
2010
House paint, collage, envirotex/panel

CV: Let me begin this answer by saying that I am not religious, nor have I ever been prescribed any medication other than for various injuries, Percocets mainly. One of the great things that artists do is choose something they want to explore: an idea, a technique, etc. They contemplate it, figure out how they’d like it to look, and create it. While most of them have a strong opinion about how they want their art interpreted, it hardly ever happens that way. So when you ask if I’m trying to equate prescription meds and spirituality, I understand why you’re asking. The simple answer is yes… partly.

While those major topics are always on my mind, there are also really menial, logistical reasons for a lot of elements too. The mandala, for example, has a ton of inherent meanings and associations that I utilize in my conceptual framework, meditation being chief among them. But, truth be told, it is also a wonderful way to get the viewer to look at various places on my painting, because our natural inclination is to look at the center of concentric circles to see what’s in the middle. It is in the middle of these mandalas, or explosions, that I place color copies of prescription pills. In a way, I’m asking the viewer to contemplate a meteoric growth in prescription medication use, specifically, but not limited to, anti-depressants. It is in this vein that Western religions can be brought into the fold as well. In the time before Big Pharma, most people who were having “problems” often sought the assistance and guidance of God, and found solace in that “embrace.” However, it seems more and more that a similar “hug” is being dispensed in a candy-colored dose. I know that anti-depressants help millions of people achieve an equilibrium in their everyday lives, but I also feel that they are being doled out in copious amounts to people who probably would be just fine without them.

OPP: I think the comparison of Big Pharma with organized religion is interesting because both have the capacity for negative and positive effects on their users/followers. The same could be said about the obsessive repetition in your paintings. It could be seen as excessive, overwhelming, almost nauseating. But in truth, I find it simply beautiful... and calming. How do viewers generally respond to your work?

CV: It's funny because most people do find them calming. I think the cowboys help that a lot, they serve as anchors and access points that allow the viewer a respite from the ever-present dots.

Banal Ideas Can Be Rescued By Beautiful Execution
2010
House paint, collage/panel

OPP: Thanks for bringing up the cowboys. In your series Meaning and Nothingness, appropriated images of cowboys people abstract, decorative, overwhelming landscapes of color. What is your source material?

CV: I find images of cowboys everywhere! It’s truly amazing where you can find something when it’s the only thing you’re looking for. I have a bunch of old western movie books, I search the internet for old movie stills, I also used the cover of an ArtForum that had Martin Kippenberger on a horse. This is an image-glutted society, so it’s pretty easy to find source material. I love how the cowboy is perceived in this country. I mean, America’s football team is the Dallas Cowboys! In many ways the cowboy and the mandala are two of the most loaded icons/symbols I can think of, at least in their respective cultures. I think that is one of the reasons some find my work compelling. Not only are there these clashes of form, color, and dots everywhere, but there is also competing cultural iconography. To me, the cowboy represents the rugged loner or gang that lives the land and solves problems, whatever they may be. He is butch beyond butch; he is the real American Man. I read that after Marlboro cigarettes introduced the Marlboro Man sales went up like 2000%! There’s something about the mystique, the adventure that makes men want to be one and women to be with one. Being from Colorado, and having known real cowboys when I was young, it’s really funny to see how romanticized their life is when in actuality it is one of the most physically and mentally challenging occupations there is. Sorry, that was a longer tangent than I planned on. I use the cowboy to serve as a surrogate for the time before Big Pharma, when self-medication meant slugging from the whiskey bottle.

OPP: The combination of a complex american cultural symbol like the Cowboy with contemporary use of prescription drugs and spirituality, makes me think about how our collective perceptions of history shift over time. We don't see the Cowboy the same as we did in the past. Nor does religion play the same role in our collective lives. How do you think our collective view of prescription drug use will change?

CV: I already think attitudes are shifting. When teenagers take their lives and it gets linked to the anti-depressant they were taking, people take notice. The problem is that everything is so incestuously linked together. First graders are on Ritalin to keep them calm, yet they only get 20 minutes of recess. Teenagers are on Lipitor, yet school cafeterias serve processed shit food for them to eat. It’s all cause and effect. Sadly, Big Pharma controls Washington D.C., and they’re not going anywhere. Everyone should read, “Comfortably Numb” by Charles Barber. It sheds a light on how intertwined everything is, from Big Pharma to doctor to patient. I do still have hope that this culture will return to a more conservative/cautious approach when it comes to prescription medication.

Semi-Intelligent Design #7
2007
House paint, collage/panel

OPP: How did you end up painting with house paint?

CV: I started using house paint out of convenience. I have been a house painter off and on for 18 years, and it just made sense as a poor undergrad art student to try it. I tried “painting” with it and realized that wasn’t going to work, because it dries too fast and blending with it was nearly impossible for me. However, it works optimally when dotting, precisely because it does dry so fast. We have a store here in lovely Akron, Ohio that sells other peoples mis-tints, and the palette that exists is nearly endless. My wife and I will go there and return home with 15 different shades of blue, 20 browns, etc. And as I said earlier it’s cheap--$1 a quart, $5 a gallon. My process is so low-tech, it’s funny. I use the non-bristle ends of paint brushes, wooden skewers, marker ends, the “bulb” of a turkey baster, and so on. I dip the implement into a can of paint and repeat, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of times. I do utilize a lot of collage elements as well, beyond the images of cowboys. I’m a sucker for wallpaper and scrapbooking patterned paper.

OPP: What are you working on in your studio right now? Are you excited about any new ideas, directions, or upcoming  exhibitions?

CV: I typically have four or five painting going on at the same time. My gallery in NYC, Tria Gallery, has been very good at moving my work, so I need multiples going in various stages of completion. I would love to start working bigger. My work is usually 24” x 24,” but it takes a long time. Maybe a couple of years from now that can happen. I’m also kinda jazzed about a new piece: I literally drilled hundreds of holes through the support and am dotting in the negative spaces. There are the physical dots on the surface, the “void” dots, and then the cast shadow dots on the wall. And of course, cowboys sitting on a fence staring and taking it all in.

To view more of Casey Vogt’s work, please visit caseyvogt.com