OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Montgomery Perry Smith

Oh Mother, 2009. Detail. Chair frame, fake flowers, plastic dome, glass, paint, mirror.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work feels both man-made and organic at the same time. The craft materials and discarded domestic elements remind us that we are dealing with manufactured goods, while the forms those materials take suggest that these sculptures have grown organically. This paradox leads me to wonder about your process. Do you have plan or is the process more instinctual?

Montgomery Perry Smith: Most of my pieces have been planned out and sketched several times before they are finished. I’ll collect many objects that interest me and arrange them in my studio, then sketch and arrange and sketch.  It is a nice way for me to work, because some of my pieces take forever to complete. Along the way I will find new things that interest me, or months later I’ll look at sketches and want to expand on something that I initially wasn’t interested in.

OPP: Your material lists are comprehensive. Do audience members care about the materials and their meanings the way you do? 

MPS: I like rewarding the few who choose to learn more about a piece. My work has many layers, details, and holes that require the viewer to spend more time exploring than they are probably used to. And my materials are another one of those layers. I can’t expect everyone to dedicate the time to really inspect a piece, but the ones who do are usually pleased. Being in the Fiber and Material Studies Department at School of the Art Institute of Chicago made me pay close attention to the objects I chose. I think it is important to know when you use a certain material or object it can bring very specific meanings along with it. I’m personally interested in playing with found domestic objects and materials that would traditionally be used for craft or decorations.

Baby Blue, 2010. Paper, pen, paint, lace, fake flower. 14 inches.

OPP:  What is it about domestic objects and craft materials that is so appealing to you?

MPS: I like how domestic objects hint at a specific way of life or use. When incorporating these objects it gives my pieces a sense of nostalgia. I think of craft materials the same way. They imply the pieces had a purpose other than being decorative. Each piece has this absence of a body or a living being to activate it. 

I personally connect with these objects because they remind me of childhood.  The ceramic dishes and light fixtures bring up memories of my grandmother’s house and the hours of craft projects I would work on while visiting her. I was always fascinated by the dollhouse she had made from scratch, and I wanted to make my own. I remember secretly constructing little rooms out of cigar boxes, and hiding them, because I was convinced that little boys were not allowed to show interest in dollhouses.

Bottom Feeder, 2009. Starfish, lace, paper, pen, paint, fleece, plastic dome, fake flowers, the cone, google eyes. 40 inches.

OPP: The formal language in the work (repetition of concentric circles, cascades, gaping holes, concave and convex domes, fringe, symmetry) is quite engaging, if I think of your sculptures in purely abstract terms. But there is also a sense that your sculptures are representational, but of things I’ve never seen before. Some pieces, such as Bottom Feeder (2009) and Just Like You Should (2008), remind me of Muppets. They are aliens or animals we haven’t discovered yet. Many, like Gasper, (2009), Pit Worship (2010), and Hardcore (2010), evoke Victorian memorial art. Do you think of your sculptures as abstract or as representational? What, if anything, are you memorializing?

MPS: I think of my sculptures as representational. I like creating these objects that are pulling from various sources and playing with them until they become disturbing and familiar at the same time. I’m very interested in the uncanny and the emotions it brings out in people.

I’m memorializing moments, ideas, and people of interest. Some pieces seem more like mounted trophies on a hunter’s wall, while other objects appear to have a specific purpose or ceremonial use. I try not to be too specific with the subject that is being referenced; I’m drawn to the more open and accessible pieces. But there are definitely pieces, like Gasper, that are memorializing something specific (David Carradine).

Pit Worship, 2010. Pleather, felt, faux fur, fake flowers, satin, fleece, leather. 50 inches.

OPP: Many of your titles, like Pearl Necklace (2008), Creamy (2009), and Daisy Chain (2009) evoke sexual themes. How do your sculptures talk about sexuality without any images of bodies? Are the titles jumping off points for creating a piece, or do they come after?

MPS: The titles usually come after the piece is complete. The ideas are there throughout the whole making of the piece, but I tend to wait till the end to name them. I wouldn’t say that I don’t use images of the body. There is a definite orifice throughout my work, and it is often a representation of just that. But I like abstracting it and playing with it and bringing a new visual vocabulary to it.

OPP: I can see what you mean about the orifice, and you are definitely abstracting it in a very compelling way. Are you trying to say something specific about sexuality?

MPS: I’m interested in societies’ views on sexuality. It is a very uniting and polarizing subject, and it is something that everyone shares, in one way or another. I’m fascinated by its ability to cause euphoria and anxiety, life and death, love and hate.

Loads and Tools, 2011. Glass, foam, beeswax, fake flowers, paint

OPP: Loads and Tools (2011) from your recent threewalls show Milking (2011) includes a contextualizing narrative in the promotional materials: “two new sculptures that focus on an otherworldly relic and the tools used to milk it.” Was this the first time you offered an explanation as to the nature of your sculptures as part of the exhibition support materials? Does this represent a new direction for your work in general?

MPS: Milking was the first time I had used text along with my work, I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. I wanted to add another level to the narrative, but in the end it seems too specific for me. I think it is more of a test than a new direction, my next show I’m letting the pieces speak for themselves.

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

MPS: I'm continuing to work on a new series of pieces that should show up on my website within the next couple months. I will also have my work in Flowers, the upcoming issue of Monsters and Dust. They recently won the Propeller Fund Grant to create a print edition in addition to their web release.

To view more of Montgomery Perry Smith’s work, visit montgomeryperrysmith.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andrea Myers

Orange Horizon (Detail)
2008
Machine sewn fabric collage
20 x 120 inches

OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as a painter who works in sculpture and your BFA was in printmaking, so I imagine a time when you worked primarily in 2D. Was this ever true?

Andrea Myers: Yes. I began my pursuits as an artist, taking classes in mainly painting and printmaking and finishing my BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I found myself more engaged in the processes I was learning in my printmaking classes than with the actual resulting prints I was making. I was never really good about being precious or careful with prints I made, inevitably getting stray marks or “happy accidents” all over my paper. At some point, I started cutting my prints up, maybe out of frustration and maybe out of rebellion against two-dimensional expectations. I think that’s when I started activating a part of me that was interested in the materials and processes of printmaking and painting, such as paper, fabric, paint and color, and taking those elements and making them more malleable and tactile.

OPP: What prompted the change in your practice that led to "exploring the space between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, hybridizing painting, printmaking and sculpture," as you say in your statement?

AM: The transition in my work from exclusively two-dimensional to predominantly three-dimensional happened very slowly and incrementally. In stages, I found myself stepping off of the flatness of the wall and growing my work out into dimensional space. I began layering materials that I felt comfortable with, mainly paper. I experimented using the materials in multiple, rather than using paper solely as a means to make repetitions of imagery. The paper and then fabric became the subject matter, like painting in dimensional space, creating sculptural objects that relate to the color and forms found in painting.

Plateau
2007
Layered fabric, foam, glue, thread
65 x 50 x 20 inches

OPP: Could you talk more about how your overall process relates to painting?

AM: I really struggled with my first painting class. I was horrible at oil painting, probably too impatient, which is funny to say, because you could look at my current work and assume I am a very patient person to sit and layer small shapes of fabric and glue them together one by one.

In graduate school, I was in the Fiber and Material Studies department at SAIC, and our studios were mixed with the Painting and Drawing department. I found myself in a love hate relationship with painting, enamored by the possibilities of color and form but questioning the traditional format of painting. I began making what I now consider “exercises.” I would make a quick, gestural fabric collage and then make a seemingly exact replica out of painted wood. The pairs would be positioned together, testing the perception of the viewer. The Duplicate Series, as I called them, was a major epiphany in my work. In hindsight, I feel like I was breaking down my practice to the base level of what I was interested in, almost like finding my work’s DNA structure, so that I could then build it back up.

When I talk about my work now, I like to consider myself a “maker.” Each project or form I create leads me to my next work. It might involve sewing, drawing, printing on fabric, or cutting forms out of wood. I try to keep my practice fluid and take elements and processes from mediums that seem appropriate to my concepts for the pieces.

Pretty much every piece I make starts as a black and white contour line drawing in my sketchbook. Over time, the idea grows into a dimensional form, occupying physical space. But what is interesting to me is that the piece inevitably returns to its flat origins when I photograph the piece (usually for documentation for my website). In a way, every piece, no matter how dimensional it becomes, will spend most of its existence, its representation in the world, as a flat two-dimensional image. So perhaps every sculpture I make could really be seen as an idea for a painting of sorts.

Isthmus (Detail)
2006
Layered fabric, glue, acrylic, wood
20 x 32 x 144 inches

OPP: Your work relies heavily on accumulation, which speaks both to the organic and the manufactured. Your titles often evoke naturally occurring processes and formations (i.e. melting, thawing, drifting, fissures, webs, avalanches, plateaus), while your color palette and chosen materials (felt, commercially-produced fabric, paper) conversely evoke the manufactured. Can you talk about this apparent disjuncture?

AM: I have always been interested in presenting contrasts or tensions in my work. The starting point would be exploring the space between two- and three-dimensionality or what constitutes a two-dimensional piece versus a threedimensional piece. My approach to sculpture is to take flat materials and stack, layering and amassing the material so that it loses its initial flatness and starts to become a whole made up of many layered increments.

Inevitably, the central focus in my work tends to be abstractions of nature or perceived nature, and I am interested in how historically human kind has tried to harness and control nature only for nature to become more uncontrollable. My pieces function as a mediated version of nature. I attempt to illustrate the behavior of nature through bold, saturated color in contrast to how we generally perceive nature. I juxtapose natural forms with typically unnatural, intensified colors such as florescent orange or Technicolor striations. I look to color’s intensity as a means to visually illustrate the uncontrollability of nature while also working against the typical white wall format of a gallery space, creating forms that disrupt the linear, clean and neutral setting of the traditional exhibition space. Consistently in my work, there is also a contrast between the presence of my hand and the use of a tool. I go back and forth between cutting layers of fabric individually by hand, implementing a sewing machine to create line work, and using a jig-saw or band saw to cut forms from wood. Even with manufactured materials and machines, the individual artist uses each machine so differently. I see all of my materials like tubes of paint, in line with Duchamp’s notion that tubes of paint are ready-made and so every painting in the world is a readymade object; every artist in the postmodern world is dealing with “readymades,” but each artist’s hand and idea is what makes original works of art.

Everlasting
2010
Fabric, polystyrene, plaster, latex paint
50 x 55 x 30 inches

OPP: I personally find your work unbelievably beautiful. There's something profound to me about forms that immediately reveal their processes and labor, as if the beauty lies as much in the process as in the resulting form. Does this resonate with your interests as an artist? Does beauty play a role in your work?

AM: I love that you mention beauty. Doesn’t it seem like we aren’t allowed to discuss such a thing in contemporary art sometimes? I feel like often times, we can lose sight of the fact that at the core of art making, there is an individual making the work, a person who has feelings and imperfections and is human. My work is a reflection of my personal observations and, for better or worse, is an extension of myself. I have always loved to be in nature and experience the fundamental forms and behaviors of nature that I find fascinating and compelling. The processes I utilize in constructing work emulate events found in nature: slow erosions or accruals that shape and shift land over time, sometimes rapidly, sometimes subtly. I find beauty in the cyclical behavior of nature, in the growth and in the decay and in all of the moments in between.

Spill Thaw
2011
Ink on fabric, glue, foam
15 x 17 x 19 inches

OPP: What's an average day in your studio like?

AM: Ahhh, I wish I could have a whole “studio day,” but usually my practice comes in fits and starts, typically a couple hours at a time or less. Now that I have an almost two-year old daughter, her naptime and bedtime dictate when I can concentrate on my work. I have maintained a home studio ever since I was the artist-in-residence at Central Michigan University in 2007, where I was given a house in the woods with a studio to live and work in during the school year. I sometimes miss having a studio outside of my house, but ultimately it is so convenient and nice to be able to go look at something I am working on, even if it is just for a moment. It seems like I try to do a lot of mental pre-planning and drawing in my sketchbooks, so that when I do have the time to work, I am focused and decisive. Some days, I will just sit down and try things, making little collages or work on developing new processes. It also depends on deadlines, if I have a commission deadline or a show deadline. I am more likely to be very strategic when I go to my studio. When I am working in my studio, it feels very much like a meditative process. The repetition of accumulating layers or stitches from the sewing machine over and over allows my mind to rest or wander, and I get absorbed into the present moment of making.

To view more of Andrea Myers’ work visit andreamyersartist.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Parker Smith

Pussy Fart, detail
2011
Printed canvas, 14k necklace
20" by 30"

OtherPeoplesPixels: Interdisciplinarity is a staple in your work, from photography to painting to sculpture to installation to collage. Many of your wall-hung works, such as Crush, Dead Clay, and Pussy Fart, are hybrids: part photograph/part sculpture. Could you talk a bit about working in so many different media?

Adam Parker Smith: I like the idea of mutual dependency between materials and idea. In my recent work concept seems to always dictate the materials used; however concept is normally reliant on the materials. I like to think of these “hybrid” works as combinations of inert materials that, when combined, have a catalytic reaction. This forms concept that is far removed or contrary to the original materials that make up the work. I spend time mining for ingredients that will lend themselves to this type of conceptual transformation and that blend or polarize ideas.

OPP: Has your practice always been this way or did you ever have an emphasis in one specific medium?

APS: I have my MFA in painting and originally confined myself to painting on canvas with oil or acrylic, but moved quickly away from this my first year of grad school.

OPP: What kinds of subject matter did you paint back then? Anything that is a clear precursor to the work you make now?

APS: Actually, my paintings morphed directly into my sculptures. In grad school I was working figuratively, setting up scenarios that were essentially snapshots from the everyday, transformed and glorified. What began to happen was that I was having a hard time finding models to do the things I wanted to paint. I decided to make my own figures and paint from these, at which point I had full control and no restrictions. The figures were constructed from nylon and cotton filling and were sewn together in a rudimentary way. At a certain point I looked around the studio and realized that the sewn figures were much more interesting than the paintings that were being created from them, and so I abandoned painting and focused on developing my sculptures. So initially my sculptures were informed by my paintings. It took me a while to return to painting. In the last couple years I have started painting again, and now my paintings are informed by my sculptures.

Bad Dog
2011
printed canvas, porcupine quills
30" by 30"

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

APS: Humor in my work is closely related to a more academic definition of comedy with origins in the theater of Ancient Greece: dramatic performances pit two societies against each other in an amusing conflict. I see this agon of comedy as a struggle between the powerless youth and societal conventions. The youth is left with few options other than to take dramatic, unconventional action.

OPP: Is youth in this metaphor the figure of the artist in general? Or is this more a representation of your personal experience? Is the “unconventional action” all art or is it specifically the kinds of unexpected juxtapositions you make it your work?

APS: I like to think that artists, musicians, actors, activists, and writers are a voice for their generation. So when I speak of the youth, I am speaking of a group that includes not only myself and artists in general but also a larger group of individuals who face similar struggles but who may not have a conventional venue to voice their views. With this in mind, "unconventional action" can range from irreverence toward medium specificity in a painting to violent revolution.

Disco Ball
2009
Plexiglas, paper, matte board
24" by 12"

OPP: Many of your pieces depend on convincing illusions. Burn Out (2010) and Burn Out (2011) list a smoke machine as one of the materials, leading me to believe that the Lamborghini isn’t even turned on. Disco Ball (2009) turns out to be impressively handmade with small squares of colored matte board instead of mirrors. Is illusion the point or a means to convey something else?

APS: Luckily vision often dominates the other senses, which makes visual illusion a great tool to exploit the audience's assumptions about the physical world. For me these illusions are not the point, but a way for me to skirt the normal restriction of the physical world in an attempt to convey an idea or concept that otherwise may not be possible. These illusions are not meant to be permanently deceptive, only to suspend conventional notions of time and space long enough for viewers to be intellectually transported before they have the chance to peer behind the curtain. I like to think about illusion as something that is not true or false but as an alternative experience that supplements meaning.

Fall Into The Void
2011
Photo collage on paper
126" by 126"

OPP: In Super Fight (2010), Superman, the paragon of wholesome American masculinity, fights only himself. He is frozen in constant battle, becoming both the perpetrator and victim of violent conflict. In Fall into the Void (2011), male heads are placed on female bodies and vice versa. No one looks at all comfortable. It appears that this gender-bending is not a welcome change, but a destabilizing force that leaves all the figures struggling to find any ground to stand on. Is talking about a contemporary experiences of gender your intention with these new collage pieces?

APS: While the complex social spectrum through which sexuality is now viewed is something that I am interested in, I would like to attribute the destabilizing force in both of these works to the mounting uncertainty of our times. Both works deal with ideas of negation and arbitrariness, which can of course be applied to ideas of gender or the absence thereof. But I would like conversation to extend beyond ideas of sexual identity and gender identification to more universal concerns of disorder, entropy and cultural disarray. Fall into the Void runs visually parallel to Rodin’s Gates of Hell, which depicts the falling of the damned into an eternity of brimstone and fire. It also evokes contemporary images of well-documented, man-made catastrophes. Super Fight lends itself to notions of the utter futility of man’s endless courtship with war and conflict and our societies celebration of sensationalized violence.

Installation at Times Museum, Guangzhou, China
Preggers, Fox in Box, Crush, and Cage
2011

OPP: Could you talk a bit about the issue of how individual pieces relate to your body of work as a whole?

APS: Because of my background in painting, I often think about these issues in a more formal sense. One of my teachers once stressed that a work (she was speaking about painting) must operate from three distances and be interesting from each perspective. These distances were from twenty feet away, from six feet away and from inches away. So from across the room a work must have something that draws you near, that compels you to look longer. Its overall composition must be stimulating in some fashion. As you draw closer to the work, details become clear. The work grows and begins to operate on another level; concept and form begin to merge. Directly in front of the painting you should become engaged with the nuances of the work that are only apparent from that perspective. These, too, add depth and understanding to the work so that, through a combination of different perspectives, a very rich appreciation can be drawn from the work. I like to think about my entire body of work in this way: from across the room (my work all together), from a few feet away (my work paired with another work or in a specific location), and from a few inches away (my work standing as an individual piece). For me each one of these hypothetical perspectives is important. If one is lacking, then the overall experience that the viewer has with my work is less rich.

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

APS: Sewing together thousands of colored friendship bracelets from Guatemala. I am working on a series of tapestries. Some of the tapestries are image based while others have text formed from different organizations of colors from the bracelets. One of these texts reads, “will you marry me?”


To view more of Adam Parker Smith’s work visit adamparkersmith.com.

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 The Visualist

OtherPeoplesPixels is pleased to sponsor The Visualist, a Chicago visual arts calendar. OPP recently sat down with two of its three founders, Steve Ruiz and Chad Kouri, to chat about the project's inspiration, mission, and recent & upcoming highlights.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your project, The Visualist: Chicago Visual Arts Calendar, follows On The Make, a calendar project developed by Karly Wildenhaus. Tell me about the history of both projects and how The Visualist came to be.

Steve Ruiz: Some quick history: Karly started On The Make with Brad Troemel back in 2009. Originally, the site was a more journalistic blog platform, but they pulled that down and reinvented it as a stripped down curated events calendar. 

Chicago already had plenty of arts calendars in 2009—and still does—but the unique nature of the city's visual art scene meant it was more of a collection of smaller scenes, not all geographically related, which made it difficult to identify what was going on, where, and who would be interested in what. Additionally, many alternative spaces stayed away from advertising altogether, or passed info last minute on Facebook or twitter. On The Make's editors solved this by just focusing on those events that they were actually interested in attending, and this created a very valuable resource for a smaller insider audience of contemporary artists, curators, students, and professionals. While that sounds exclusive, most of the events they listed wouldn't have been covered anywhere else, and having a personally organized calendar was often most useful in conjunction with broader calendars.

Like many others, I used the hell out of On the Make and felt it was a crucial center for a community as spread out as Chicago's. I'm more of an artist / critic than a developer, but When Karly announced she'd be shutting the project down at the end of the summer, she and I met up and discussed the site and where she imagined it going. It wasn't until a few months later that I was able to get together with Chad [Kouri] and Jenny [Kendler] to put a successor project in motion. Karly passed us all of the data from On the Make and I spent August writing a new website around it according to Chad's killer designs.

I'd say The Visualist is our effort to provide the city of Chicago with a centralized calendar for visual art events. A lot more goes on than what I might add or approve, so I often encourage readers to check  ArtSlant, Chicago Art Map, Chicago Reader, NewCity, Bad at Sports, or other visual arts calendars or event lists. The value of The Visualist is its curation; every event I put on the site is something I'd personally recommend.

OPP: Fantastic, walk me through the website!

Chad Kouri: The whole idea for this site was to do one thing: showcase the best of the best events in the city and archive them in one place. No interviews, no blog posts, no commenting or any other content to muck it all up. There are a lot of calendars sites here in Chicago that are very well done in the city but they are all a small part of a bigger website and typically not super user friendly. Our goal was to have one site you can go if you were looking to go out that night / weekend and get in and out with the info you wanted without any of the info you don't need. Our Facebook Like Buttons are a good way for people to easily share an event with friends.

SR: I actually use Facebook heavily when gauging the events that are submitted. On its own, Facebook is a noisy calendar—but since new spaces open up all the time in Chicago, I'll check an unknown space's event listing there to see who's running it and who is attending. Occasionally I'll miss a name change or one-off event and only know what it is from the fact that half of my artist friends are planning on stopping by.

OPP: The Visualist is a project by three artists, yourselves (Chad Kouri and Steve Ruiz) and OtherPeoplesPixels co-founder Jenny Kendler. Can you talk about each of your art practices and other involvements in Chicago’s art(s) worlds?

CK: I co-run a collaborative art and design incubator called The Post Family with six other dudes. What other cool stuff am I involved in. . . hmmm. . . I art directed Proximity Magazine for a number of years here in the city and I have done numerous curatorial projects both online and in physical spaces: Co-prosperity Sphere, The Chicago Cultural Center and Chicago Urban Arts Society to name a few of the physical spaces. As for online stuff I started Margin Detail (a now defunct doodle blog), I write book reviews focusing on artist sketchbooks on book-by-its-cover.com and have done some guest writing on studiochicago.org. I've also shown my personal work at a handful of Chicago spaces including Ebersmoore, MVSEVM (rip), Johalla Proects, A+D Gallery and a handful of others. 

Steve Ruiz
Big Loop
Gouache, Graphite, and Ink on Paper, 8" x 9.5"
2011

SR: I'm a practicing artist and writer who writes about art, currently working on my MFA at the University of Chicago, and recently described myself as an artist interested in what other artists do—the work they make, what they do with it, and the actions artist's take within their professional and social circles. Most people who know me probably know me by my writing, which I began as editor of Chicago Art Review and later on ArtSlant, Jettison Quarterly, NewCity, and for a little group I started on Facebook called #chiart to facilitate inter-art-generational conversation. My personal site is at steveruizart.com, but googling me is probably better. 

In general, no matter what I'm working on, I try to operate in the community with a kind of active criticality. For example, I could write a paper about the importance of centralized calendars for dispersed communities, but that sounds a lot less interesting than just building a calendar and helping demonstrate that importance. Or I could complain about people my age not knowing what the Uncomfortable Spaces were, but I'd rather link them to spaces.org or invite them to #chiart. Chicago's art community is strongly defined by this kind of "go do something" criticism so I'm happy to be working within that tradition.

OPP: You are both incredibly informed about art events happening in Chicago. Do you make a point to attend much of what you post on The Visualist? What has impressed you recently?

CK: At this point Steve is doing most of the posting for the site. And he gives me some good ideas of what to attend! Most of the things I would add he is already on top of. But yes, I do try to go to as many arts events as I can each week. I average about 2-3 most weeks I think. Maybe a little less lately since I have been traveling for work. But going to art shows and lectures and such is free knowledge! Why avoid it?

SR: I'm from the western suburbs but didn't go to college in Chicago, so when I came back I think I over-compensated for that by going to as many shows as I could and writing like eighty reviews (or something equally reflective of how little else I was doing). That has dropped off a bit since starting grad school but I hope to continue to see plenty. Recent highlights have been Timothy Bergstrom / Volker Saul at Dan Devening Projects + Editions and Hennessy Youngman's presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

OPP: What is next for you both and for The Visualist?

CK: I'm hoping to start a publication of my own in the coming year. In the short term working on a collaborative mural with Ina Weise, Rod Hunting, Nick Butcher, Nadine Nakanishi and Ryan Duggan... preparing to leave for Portland next week with Margot Harrington to speak at Portland State University and working on a show with Stephen Eichhorn and Cody Hudson at Purdue called Studio Vour that opens early 2012. Otherwise just lovin' life, catching some local jazz heads jammin' from time to time and trying not to rush around so much. 

SR: I'm working with a few projects here at school, reading, making, and trying to avoid getting hit by cars. Philip Von Zweck's copy-machine project that I hosted at last year's MDW Fair is going to Performa in a few weeks so I'll have a drawing there for that, and a text piece in the next SCRIPTjr.nl. As always, a few other projects too up in the air to call. Trying to use Google+ more.

There are a lot of small improvements still on The Visualist's todo list, so once I get through those I'll be looking to improve the site's core functionality, streamline the event submission process, and perhaps include some of the post-event content that I demoed on Opencrit.com—user photos, critical collection, and carefully implemented commenting. However, like Chad mentioned above, we maintain a tight focus on what's up and what's good in Chicago's art.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aaron Johnson

Tea Party Nightmare
2011
Acrylic on polyester knit mesh
42 x 54 inches

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your paintings are primarily acrylic on material such as knit mesh and construction debris netting. How did you arrive at the painting surfaces you employ in your work?

Aaron Johnson: It’s been a long slow journey. I didn’t get a BFA in college, I got a degree in Molecular Cellular Biology. Meanwhile, painting was a hobby. I got more and more seduced by painting and eventually—to make a long story short—ended up in New York to really be an artist but had no clue what that really meant.

When I moved to New York in 1998, the Jackson Pollock retrospective was up at MoMA, and it blew my mind, I had never heard of the guy nor did I ever fathom the existence of mega-scale drip paintings. My favorite artist prior to seeing the Pollock show was Salvador Dali (my main exposure being a poster I purchased at a head shop in Tucson and then hung it over my bed all through college), so the show was a really shattering experience for me.

I went home to my Lower East Side apartment and started making squirty drip paintings, acrylic squirts on canvas, with dreadful results, but lots of fun. Because I was painting in an apartment and I needed to keep the floor clean, I had plastic on the floor and got intrigued by the "spill-over" squirts of paint that were accumulating on the plastic. Eventually I began peeling the drips off the plastic and collaging them onto canvas. Soon, I was squirting and pouring paint directly onto the plastic and making collage pieces out of the paint solids.

Since 2002-ish, my interest in peeled acrylic solids has continued to evolve into the process that is my practice today.  Eventually I did get an MFA from Hunter College in New York, but I was self-taught first, which was crucial to me inventing my own nonconventional process. Lately my paintings are reverse-painted acrylic polymer peels on polyester nets— the nets came into the process in 2005 when I just realized through experimentation that synthetic nets are a great pseudo-canvas for holding together the acrylic peels.

Studio Shot
2007

 OPP: The “studio” images included on your website give me a clue into your process but I am still curious about the specific steps that go into the making of your often incredibly large paintings. Can you describe your process?

AJ: The works are painted completely in reverse (like reverse glass painting) on clear plastic sheeting. The figures and small details first, the back grounds and loose forms last.  At several points in the process the plastic is laid flat and I pour on puddles of squirty paint and clear coats of acrylic polymer. These layers accumulate as I build the picture in reverse, and the layers physically add up to a solid acrylic sheet that is finally peeled off the plastic, and in the end mounted on a polyester mesh.

Freedom from Want
2011
Acrylic on polyester knit mesh
84 x 66 inches

OPP: What comes first—an idea for a specific person/icon to address conceptually or or an aesthetic idea about texture, pattern and composition, or do they occur to you simultaneously in a recent painting like Freedom From Want?

AJ: They always start with a figurative and/or narrative idea, sometimes from a sketch, sometimes in relationship to contemporary politics, and sometimes from an art-historical precedent. Freedom From Want is my version of the famous Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting of the same title. My interest was in articulating how the 1940s American Dream vision of the Rockwell would translate in our contemporary context of our current great American Nightmare. Like a lot of my work, this piece exposes the subverted horror of America. Grandma and Grandpa serving the turkey in my painting have been appropriated directly from the Rockwell, they have turned only slightly monstrous. As the view descends down the composition to the front of the table, we see the characters turn more and more grotesque and fiendish. Among those dining at the table we see a burning earth head, and a horribly wounded veteran.  The turkey itself may be a roasted American Eagle. The fixings on the table include severed heads, mashed guts, fuck-burgers, spurting oil rigs, a dead Indian head, mutant sea creatures, etc.—it’s a very loaded painting.

OPP: You seem to have moved away from incorporating collaged material in your paintings as you did in your earlier works. Your paintings from 2009-present accomplish the level of detail the collaged elements previously provided in highly-detailed painted passages. Can you speak about your shift away from collaged materials?

AJ: When I began painting in reverse, it was incredibly difficult to achieve any clear detail, so collage was a convenient and easy way to insert details, mostly National Geographic animal parts, fast food greasy globs, and porno sexy bits. Now I can paint all that stuff in ways that I find more interesting than what I was doing with collage, so as my painting skills improved, collage slipped out of the process.

OPP: In your daily life outside of the studio do you see the people you encounter as the grotesque figures you paint? I imagine you at the grocery store or on the subway looking around and seeing the world through the lens you’ve created for your paintings.

AJ: Haha, not quite. Recently though, I had a dream where I had a meeting with a curator at the gallery, and the curator, upon shaking my hand, turned into the demon critter I was painting in the studio that day—a little undead guy with an emaciated body and long spindly tentacle-like arms. He jumped on me, suddenly I’m naked, and we’re rolling around on the floor as he is clawing me to shreds, gallery-goers standing around watching like it’s performance art. Then the demon violently digs his claws into my butt-cheek and rips my butt-cheek off as a I awoke with my heart-pounding. Thankfully my butt-cheek still intact.

It Ain't Me Babe
2011
Acrylic on polyester knit mesh
52 x 72 inches

OPP: That is an amazing dream, I'm glad to hear your butt-cheek survived it! So, if you don't necessarily see the world through the lens you’ve created for your work, what is inspiration for your grotesque figures?

AJ: Way back when I was a biology student, I used to draw grotesque little creatures in the outlines of my bio lecture notes, which were influenced by the anatomical and biological forms we were studying. I also was crazy about Garbage Pail Kids and Madballs and other comic-grotesque toys as a kid. Fast forward to that Jackson Pollock moment at the MoMA I mentioned before, when I started being a “serious” painter in New York with my squirty abstractions... I had convinced myself that those juvenile/adolescent monster drawings I used to do were not “serious." I had a few years of making gooey weird “serious” abstract squirty works, and at a certain point, which coincides with watching 9-11 happen from my Brooklyn roof, I started painting monsters into the works, with a new urgency to speak to political issues happening in our contemporary world. The grotesque nature of my monsters comes from the Madballs and the biology, and from current affairs nightmares, but also very largely from the painting process itself. The reverse painting technique doesn’t allow for much accuracy nor for editing, so the figures end up looking sort of naturally deformed and hideous, which is part of the fun. It’s like the process and the figures grew up together and neither could be what they are without the weird symbiotics involved.

OPP: What are you working on now?

AJ: I’m taking a break from painting. My current solo show Freedom From Want is up at Stux Gallery in New York through October 22nd and I’m working on drawings through the course of the show, in order to generate new ideas and to chillout a bit and not obsess over new paintings just yet. I’m really excited about some tattoos I’m designing for people.

To view more of Aaron Johnson’s work, visit aaronjohnsonart.com

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennifer Ling Datchuk

Powder Puff Parents
2009

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work is engaged not only with the Domestic, but specifically with the Feminine (as evidenced in the presence of embroidery hoops, powder puffs and floral decals), but this is the Feminine of a different era. Your objects remind me of things I saw in my grandmother's house growing up, but never in my own house. Are these visual references personal or intended to evoke a sense of cultural nostalgia?

Jennifer Ling Datchuk:
Nostalgia plays a huge role in my conceptual choices of objects to render in porcelain clay. I explore the emotive power of domestic objects that have the potential to fix, organize, and soothe our lives. These objects also have a sense of time and ritual attached to them.  For example, powder puffs were used to apply powdered make up, and you would sit in front of a mirror, dip the puff, tap off the excess, apply to face, and repeat till you reach your desired coverage.  It is a very gentle and slow process and I’d like to think that these moments provide some time for contemplation. I am also romanticizing an era in which consideration was instilled in every day actions, an era very different from our current fast paced, technologically driven, disposable culture.

First Frost, detail
2008

OPP:
And the decals you decorate the surfaces of your porcelain pieces: are these found imagery from an earlier era?

JLD:
The surface of my porcelain pieces represents memories of a shared history through the layering of hand drawn, found, and personal imagery. The ceramic decals I purchase in bulk lots from eBay auctions are vintage floral patterns ranging from roses to daisies. When layering decals, I pay careful attention to the color and shape of the flowers. I cut apart decals and arrange them to give the appearance of spreading growth. The surface appears to be lush and decorative but reveals itself to be heavily layered and bruised upon closer inspection. In the process of layering and multiple firings, the life of the work changes, creating a rich history, exposing qualities that are hidden and revealed through the layers, capturing the outside reaction to inside anguish.

OPP:
The word that most comes to mind when looking at your work is delicacy. I see it in your choice of porcelain, fabric, and wax paper as materials, as well as the line quality in the surface embellishments. How does the concept of delicacy relate to your interest in "revealing the beauty and dysfunction of domestic settings?"

JLD:
Domestic objects like teacups, handkerchiefs, and wax paper can be emotionally charged, since they have a familiar place in our homes. By distorting the objects through the manipulation of form, scale, and presentation, I am able to express potential failure in these objects and create a delicate narrative of situations. The subtle distances between forms, flowing edges, and layered surfaces allow me to heighten the elements of conflict within these relationships.What initially appears to be dainty, delicate, and fragile slowly reveals itself to be resilient but in a complicated place. Teacups are mended with “stitches” but still functional. Wax paper is punched with holes and almost destroyed but reveals familial images. Handkerchiefs are coated with porcelain that forms a hard, slightly impenetrable shell. Fired porcelain is amazingly strong, but, because it exhibits qualities of purity and preciousness, it is assumed to be dainty and weak. I use delicacy to highlight oppositions like fragility and destruction, beauty and anxiety, tenderness and harm. I am interested in how these once familiar objects have unequal but inescapable relationships.
Tie
2008

OPP: You've referred to the hanging and knotted handkerchiefs, which are dipped in porcelain, as metaphors for sadness. Could you tell me more about how this metaphor functions in such pieces as Tie (2008), Catch (2008) and Choke (2010)?  Are there other recurring metaphors in your work?

JLD: I use handkerchiefs as metaphors for sadness, because I see them being used to catch tears, soak up sadness, and provide some relief from grief. I coat the fabric handkerchiefs in porcelain slip to freeze a particular moment of this despair. Manipulation through tying, knotting, or hanging the coated pieces allows me to express anxiety and the weight of endless sadness. I am drawn to Tolstoy’s quote, “ Happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and I see my handkerchief pieces relating to this.

Another recurring metaphor in my work is the use of chicken feet. In Chinese culture, chicken feet are an edible delicacy and are served often as a family style dish. Growing up in a half Caucasian, half Chinese household, I was often simultaneously repulsed and appreciative of this dish. I was intimidated by the gnarliness of the toes and nails and didn’t fully understand how this was a delectable dish. I use chicken feet as a metaphor for my cultural differences and displacement.

OPP:
I've noticed the pieces in your Etsy shop are distinctly different from the work in the portfolio section of your OPP site. The whimsical objects with kissing animals are identified as wedding cake toppers and can be customized. Your other sculptures repeatedly bring up the less happy parts of and even the dissolution of marriage. Is this an intentional difference? How does your Etsy shop relate to the rest of your work?

JLD: My work deals with some very tough familial issues and is sometimes drawn from personal experiences. I am extremely open about my choice of remaining distant from my divorced parents (they have also chosen not to contact me for many years) and have lived a seemingly well-adjusted life without them. Occasionally that past seeps back into present day and I need a break from it! So, to take my mind off things, I started unconsciously pinching little bowls out of porcelain clay and slip casting small little animals. These little bowls were just fun to make and gave me a much needed break from the complicated side of my work. Etsy was a way for me to share my love for sweet, simple and whimsical things and allow everyone the opportunity to own one of my pieces.


  Poodle and Chihuahua: Vintage-inspired Cake Topper

I started making wedding cake toppers after I became engaged to my very loving and supportive partner, Ryan Takaba, who is also a ceramic artist.  It is a very happy time for us but initially I was overwhelmed by the formal, traditional, and familial obligations surrounding marriage and the ceremony. I started reading every book and magazine I could find and talking to all my married friends to help me with answers to my questions. I am essentially family-less and entering into my future husband’s very large family was something I didn’t know how to accept right away. His family is very kind, generous, and understanding, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer family. We’ve talked about everything and anything and are finding ways to make our nontraditional wedding day comfortable for everyone.

In my research I kept finding wedding cake toppers where the bride, in a big white dress, sits beautifully atop a multi-tiered cake only to find the groom climbing down the side, trying to slip slyly away. In many ways I found no humor in this and thought it was offensive to the idea of what marriage should be. I wanted our cake topper to portray our ideas of marriage and togetherness and used sweet, little animals to represent nurturing and unconditional love. 
Making cake toppers was never an intentional departure from my other work, but I can see the connections. Everything I make, from little bunny bowls for storage and wedding cake toppers to my conceptual work, all ties into the range of themes associated with the domestic and home.

OPP: You will be traveling to China for 5 weeks for a residency at the Pottery Workshop. Congratulations. What do you plan to work on while there?

JLD: Grants from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio and Artpace are allowing me to travel to Jingdezhen, China to participate in a residency at the Pottery Workshop. Jingdezhen is the birthplace of porcelain clay over 2,000 years ago and it continued to be mined here. This residency will allow me to explore my interest in the cultural significance of porcelain and surface decoration in factory-produced Chinese ceramics. In porcelain factories, men traditionally do the making and women are segregated to the finishing and decorating roles. I want to use Jingdezhen porcelain, working within these cultural traditions, to design and manufacture objects that create identity and beautify, like hairpieces and wigs, mirrors and makeup.

To view more of Jennifer Ling Datchuck’s work, visit jenniferlingdatchuk.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