OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kelda Martensen

Alone Together
woodblock, handmade paper, collage, mylar, graphite
28 x 40 inches

KELDA MARTENSEN combines printmaking and collage in poetic explorations of displacement, longing and sorrow. Her rich visual language includes recurring images of domestic architecture, the burdened human figure and the wide-open landscape. Kelda earned her BA in Studio Art from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon in 2002 and her MFA with honors from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in 2009. Her solo exhibitions include Works on Paper (2009) at University of Missouri Craft Gallery (Columbia, Missouri), Something is Shifting (2010) at Pratt Gallery (Seattle), Kelda Martensen (2012) at Door No. 3 (Twisp, Washington) and To read your gestures aloud: new prints and collages by Kelda Martensen (2015) at Johnston Architects (Seattle). Her work is available through the SAM Gallery, limited edition prints are available for sale through Mantle Art and her work is currently on view at Gallery AXIS in Seattle until April 4, 2016. Kelda is a tenured professor of art at North Seattle College in Seattle, Washington, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do the themes of displacement, searching and burden intersect in your work?

Kelda Martensen: I think we all try to make sense of our sorrow somehow, and as artists, this grappling often drives the work. Poetically, I feel very connected to ideas of displacement and carrying a shifting sense of home along the journey. I relate to the intellectual and emotional experience of searching—as a woman, artist, mother and educator. I want my work to have curiosity, restlessness and yearning. I keep returning to the theme of burden. Even though we use it to speak about a heavy, cumbersome, unwanted obstacle, it's a word that is often connected to something good: responsibility, feeling needed, an opportunity, a goal, time with a loved one. I want to get at this ambiguity in my work. I want to communicate the beauty and strangeness of a moment that is at once soaring, yet uncomfortable. . . light and illuminated, yet heavy and unmoving.

Sorrow of her own construction
Digital print, charcoal, wood veneer, collage
48 x 32 inches

OPP: Why is your combination of printmaking and collage the perfect vehicle for your conceptual concerns? 

KM: I work with the collapsing of memories and narratives. Collage is a natural way of organizing these ideas. Before I start to collage, I become engaged in the processes of printmaking. While the structure and time required in printmaking allows me the room to generate ideas, I feed off the free-association and immediate compositional and conceptual feedback that I get from collage. I am interested in where these two ways of working intersect, where printed marks have the spontaneity of collage, and drawn and collaged marks have the intention and permanence of the print.

OPP: There’s a repeated visual motif of overlapping, colored circles. They first show up in 2012 in pieces like I'll be your closest neighbor and The Outskirts of Sleep, where they highlight empty space. Are these circles symbolic or purely formal?

KM: I'm interested in how the meaning of a symbolic image grows with usage. I keep returning to the circle, and I do love it for its formal qualities. I appreciate how it activates the negative space around it and can so easily achieve the illusion of depth and form. I play with circles to intentionally flatten a space or to make a space more atmospheric. Sometimes the circle acts as a void, other times as a form. In my earlier work, such as The Outskirts of Sleep, the repeating circles were really more about the edges, the void within and highlighting the unknown. Most of the symbols I use create movement in some way. The circle, especially when repeated, can represent a larger cosmic notion of movement: the circling around the sun, tidal patterns in connection with the moon, a lifetime.

The Outskirts of Sleep
Monoprint, digital print, collage
40 x 32

OPP: They then became a dominate feature of your public art project West Seattle Signal Box Project (2014), where they are filled with what looks like both the surface of the ocean or a textured landscape.

KM: For the West Seattle Signal Box Project, I wanted to use a recurring motif that would associate five different public art installations with one another. I took the idea of the overlapping circles from my previous works and exaggerated the repetition as a way to fill a large surface area, and to speak to the vibrant rhythms of a city on the edge of wilderness. In West Seattle's case, it is a neighborhood with both urban density and the vast expanse of the Puget Sound waters. The surface of the ocean is from a woodcut I carved inspired by my time living in Alaska. I enjoy how people read this particular image both as land and water.

Print for vinyl public art installation, Easy Street Records
Monotype, woodblock, collage
43.5 x 30.25 inches

OPP: Another recurring—and much more loaded—visual motif is architecture in many forms. What does the house mean in your work?

KM: I think the house is my most autobiographical symbol. My dad is a cabinetmaker, boat builder and sign carver. I grew up with plywood boxes, needle nose pliers and cedar shavings as toys. I spent a lot of time thinking about houses, looking casually at blueprints and walking through construction sites daydreaming. My dad's shop was only steps from our backdoor, and the path between house and shop was traveled so constantly that the two became blurred in my mind.

As a college student, I had my first opportunities to travel outside the United States. I lived and studied in Galway, Ireland and Durban, South Africa. After being in Europe and then Africa, architecture took on a new meaning for me. It became more universal than personal, more about history, class and race. In Durban, I became very interested in contemporary African photographers such as Zwelethu Mthethwa and Malick Sadibé—especially in the use of pattern and architectural façades in portraiture—and began to understand the visual role of architecture in storytelling and narrative. I now reference architectural forms to speak about place, be it an internal, psychic place or an external, physical place. Every time I use a roof, a window or a hardwood floor in my work, I have a feeling that I am recalling my earliest memories. Though my use of architecture is drawn from my personal narrative, I hope that it speaks to the human experience and a larger more global story.

Cape Town Fringe (After Dollar Brand)
Woodblock, graphite, charcoal
28 x 20 inches

OPP: What role does your sketchbook play in your practice?

KM: I keep several sketchbooks at once and don't necessarily work through the pages in order. This allows me to go back in time and to react to earlier ideas from previous phases in my life. I can revisit places I've traveled and feel closer to past experiences and the passing of time through drawings. My most prolific sketchbook practice happens when I'm traveling or when I otherwise find myself alone and without distraction. With teaching full time and raising a two-year-old, I don't really experience those moments as I used to. Returning to earlier sketchbook pages allows me to return to a time of creative concentration when I might not currently be in one. Still, I can fill pages even if I only have a minute, and it is a safe space to try out ideas quickly. My sketchbooks allow me to feel productive and connected to my art practice.

What we talk about when we talk about coyotes
Moleskin journal, wax, monotype, digital print, collage
6.5 x 8.5 inches

OPP: How does the sketchbook relate to the artist book as a form?

KM: I am always grateful and intrigued whenever I have the chance to see an artist's sketchbook. Like artist books, they are a gift to look through. The sketchbook relates to the artist book not only as a visual form for the distribution of ideas, but also as a way of presenting images to the viewer in an intentional order. This is what fascinates me about the artist book. It is so closely related to printmaking, but it is about the order of the narrative and about how one handles or operates the images. The sketchbook, though not necessarily made for an audience, is also about the order of presentation, and the condition of the pages. With artist books and sketchbooks, I am most intrigued by the treatment of the pages and how they relate to one another. I often incorporate actual sketchbook moleskin journal pages into my work in hopes of evoking this very personal act of reflection, wandering, note-taking.

2015 class mural - design by Justin Gibbens

OPP: You created the first course in public art at North Seattle College, Tell us about the collaborative murals you create with students. Mural painting seems vastly different from printmaking, but is there an unexpected connection in either the process or the product?

KM: It's funny you ask this now, as I'm currently working on a mural project that connects more with my studio practice than any mural I've done before. I am creating a large-scale temporary installation for a construction fence around a future light rail station in the North end of Seattle. I work off-site, creating huge plywood shapes that are puzzled together from several sheets of plywood and painted to mimic my woodcuts and monotypes. The curator of the project, Christian French, pushed me to think about this mural in a way that was much more akin to collage and printmaking. Previously, I made traditional murals painted directly onto the wall. I am really enjoying this new way of thinking about it. I can already tell that this mural project is influencing my studio practice and pushing my comfort with scale—not to mention all the scrap wood to make woodcuts from when I'm done!

The opportunity to design and teach the Mural Art course at North Seattle College has been invigorating for my teaching and studio practice. Each spring, I work with 10-20 students who enroll in the course and together we take on the transferring and painting of a design created by a professional artist. From an instructor's perspective, I feel a heightened sense of collaboration with my students in this course. It's really fun to watch the students take pride and agency in the transformation of the wall and to have the work of students applauded by the campus community. It's always a highlight of my year.

To see more of Kelda's work, please visit keldamartensen.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Golnar Adili

A Thousand Pages of Chest in a Thousand Pages of Mirror
Four sheets of paper with transfer
8 x 10 inches

GOLNAR ADILI's sculptural works add a tactile third dimension to autobiographical images and text. Drawing on her multiple displacements and coming of age in post-1979 Tehran, she uses repetitive methods—cutting, splitting, folding, sewing—to explore universal experiences of longing and separation. Golnar earned her BFA in painting from University of Virginia (1998) and her Masters in Architecture from University of Michigan College of Architecture + Urban Planning (2004). She has been an artist-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony (2006 and 2013), Smackmellon (2012) and Fine Arts Work Center (2010 and 2011) and is a 2013-2014 Pollock-Krasner Foundation grantee. Her two-person show, Displacements: The Craft Practices of Golnar Adili and Samira Yamin, opened in January 2014 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.CONTEXT: Language as Medium and Message in Contemporary Art, also featuring the work of Aileen Bassis and Erik den Breejen, opens October 15, 2014 at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, where Golnar lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about deconstructing and reconstructing as a way to process emotions?

Golnar Adili: Yes! The two-dimensional images I work with are powerful to me, but they aren’t tactile enough. I massage them, cutting them up and putting them back together in different ways. When I make small pieces from an image and then take time to reconstruct it, in a way I'm processing it. The act of repetitive cutting is soothing and begins to infuse the image with possibility. My need to cut comes from my own fragmented past maybe. . . But I put it back together at the end, so nothing is lost or added. And the new image contains some abstract emotion or movement.

Airplane Window-Droop
30 x 40 inches

OPP: Could you talk generally about cutting as an aesthetic and conceptual strategy in your work? Is precision an issue?

GA: Cutting is a line, and I use it to draw three-dimensionally. I use stacking or draping to express the cuts. Precision is definitely an issue since the scale of the work and material requires it. I am very comfortable with the #11 exacto knife, which I used for model-making in architecture school. It is like my pencil. I have five of them at any given time.

In my early photo-based work, I used cutting as a way to mix photographs with two different ideas in mind. Inside-Outside (2006) investigates the contrast between the watchful exterior and the free interior spaces of Tehran. This led to time studies where I cut and mixed photos taken one after another to negate linear time. Many of these pieces became "stretched out" and abstract and seem to convey how memory works visually.

The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination
Two photographs hand-cut and interlaced
20x30 inches

OPP: The digital and the analog meet in photo-based pieces like The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination (2011). I read those horizontal cuts of two images together as a splicing of two moments in time that mimics what happens when you pause a DVD or VHS tape right at a scene change in a movie. Thoughts?

GA: I transfer the digital photo onto a paper surface, sometimes repeating that process depending on the piece, and cut the photo itself. There is no other digital process involved. The strips are cut and mixed all by hand, and there is no initial assessing what it will look like with the computer. All the cut photo pieces blur the line between handcrafted and digital processes and forms. This is not a conscious decision, but I tend to go for very clean and systematic processes which are highly repetitive and animate unlikely materials in a soft way. In The King Seat of My Eye is the Resting Place for Your Imagination I wanted to introduce softness and therefore developed a technique where the two photos are cut and interlaced with the thread. I welcome how this highly crafted piece is read digitally. I think at the end it is the juxtaposition of the soft and the hard which achieves this digital look.

A Thousand Pages of Chest in a Thousand Pages of Mirror
Laytex, transfer copy, thread, medical tape
7 x 10 x 1/8 inches

OPP: What is the source for the image of a woman’s chest that you use repeatedly in your cut-paper and latex transfer works? Does it relate to Pillow Chest (2012), which is a very different visual rendering of a chest?

GA: I am very much inspired by Persian poetry, and the chest is one of the reoccurring images in many of the poems. We also have expressions which use the concept of the soul in a vague way which could have different meanings such as the heart or the chest. Sometimes in poetry, the human chest is likened to a chest of drawers. And sometimes in our expression for missing someone or something we say that our heart/chest is tight. . . My own chest feels heavy most of the times—I know it sounds dramatic—and since I work with my own autobiography, I started to investigate my own chest formally.

One particular poem, A Thousand Pages of Chest in a Thousand Pages of Mirror by Yadollah Royaee, a contemporary  Iranian poet living in Paris, inspired this series with a line of poetry that I translated into the title. This particular short poem is about mortality. I started with the two works of stacked, cut chest transfers: one has the curve cut in the middle and the other is the grid-like bowl shape.

Pillow Chest (2012) is actually made of twigs I gathered at Fine Arts Work Center when I was a fellow there. The twigs were the shape of the letter "ی" in the Persian alphabet equivalent to the letter "y" in English. I have a series of work in which I investigated my mother's letters to my father, and in those letters the letter "ی" was of particular interest to me as it was written in an expressive way. In the end, I didn't do very much with the twigs, but I did use some to make the ribcage stuck on a pillow-like backing.

Pink Letter
Paper, book binding tape, 3M medical tape
18 x 24 - 18 x 1.5 inches

OPP: You have written on your website that your work explores the “separation, uprooting and longing you experienced growing up in post 1979-Tehran.” Separation, uprooting and longing are certainly universal experiences, but because you now exhibit mostly in the United States, I’m wondering if you ever feel like something is lost on American viewers?

GA: I mostly feel that way with the text-based works. Something is lost with non Persian-speaking audiences, but I hope not the entire piece. I count on the process and the material to convey the emotions. In The Pink Letter, I recreated a letter from my mother to my father in the beginning years of what would be 15 years of separation due to political turmoil. At the time, there was no way to know how long they would be apart. It is full of heartbreaking longings. When I inherited my father's belongings after his death twelve years ago, I came across his carefully archived letters. I used a simple repetitive formula to recreate the letter in folds. One can still read the letter, but with difficulty. You have to walk around it and bend over it. If you can't read Persian, you can still decipher the image of a letter.  The repetitive folds produce a moiré effect, sharpening and diffusing focus. The skin-like quality of medical tape and Japanese paper give the feeling of aging, time, fragility and memory.

Digital print on Japanese paper, embroidered thread, batting
30 x 20 x 1 inches

OPP: You've recently introduced some new techniques into your repertoire. Tell us about quilting japanese printed paper.

GA: Last year, I was traveling for about nine months. I attended two residencies in Europe: La Napoul Art Foundation in France and The Bellagio Residency Program, The Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy. I was also preparing for Displacements: The Craft Practices of Golnar Adili and Samira Yamin at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. It was a bit nerve-wracking, and I decided that I should be making light-weight, transportable works.

I love sewing and working with fabric and paper. The Japanese paper provided an amazing hybrid. I could print on it and then sew it due to its high fiber content and strength. I really like the idea of something being both strong and fragile at the same time. Once again, I used the chest image. This time I sewed over it a familiar floral pattern found on glass that was used a lot when I was growing up in Tehran. This pattern is very nostalgic for me. Just like patterned glass, the embroidery on top of the chest blurs and abstracts what is behind it. It’s like tattooing the memory of home on my chest. The piece is titled Deltangi which literally translates to "tightness of the heart."

To see more of Golnar's work, please visit golnaradili.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Stacia is one of six artists participating in a conga line-style, evolving group exhibition at The President’s Gallery at Harold Washington College. The Condition of the Frog Is Uncertain, curated by Jason Pallas, is on view through November 7, and there will be a closing reception on Thursday, November 6 from 5:30 - 7:30pm.