OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ricky Armendariz

This Is Not A Sign, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 24" x 24"

RICKY ARMENDARIZ's bright-hued painted surfaces are inscribed with creatures from Native myth, famous figures from the Western painting cannon, tattoo imagery and references to car culture in the Southwest. Carved in clean, beveled lines and thin crosshatching, his imagery doesn't just sit on the surface, but is part of the surface. This physical quality is a metaphor for the entwined relationship between what we call traditional and what we call contemporary. Ricky earned his BFA at University of Texas at San Antonio and his MFA at University of Colorado at Boulder. He has been represented by Ruiz-Healy Art since 2012. You can see his work in their San Antonio gallery through October 31, 2020 in Manos (hands), a two-person show also featuring the work of Andres Ferrandis. At their Manhattan location, Ricky's work is on view through October 17, 2020 in the group show Con(Text). His solo exhibition Smoke Signals and Other Reliable Means of Communication just opened at Flatbed Press (Austin, TX) and runs through October 17, 2020. Ricky lives and works in San Antonio, Texas.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between tradition and innovation in your work.

Ricky Armendariz: I grew up not understanding the difference between high and low art, self-taught and academic art forms. My walls were covered with folk art and traditional paintings. It’s that hybridity that has informed my aesthetic approach to art making. My work is a mix of both traditional and nontraditional techniques. The painting process is very traditional with oil glazes to create the skyscapes or landscapes. After several months of drying time, I use a large power tool to etch imagery into the surface of the painting. I enjoy being slightly irreverent with the painting process.

Juan de Pareja, 2016. oil on carved plywood. 37" x 48"

OPP: How does the process of adding paint and then carving it away in serve your conceptual concerns?

RA: The idea was to reference carved wood signs of the American Southwest. My initial intention was to subvert the Southwestern stereotype; originating in 50-60s American cinema. The carved mark, which is a marring of the surface, serves as a counter balance to the refinement of the painting process. I also believe the carved mark reinforces the significance of the imagery, due to its permanence. The burned drawings have a mark that underscores the graveness of that imagery. 

Cono de Fuego, 2018. oil on birch panel. 48" x 48"

OPP: Various animals show up again and again: coyote, jack rabbit, buffalo, snake, crow. In your work, are these animals characters, allegories, references to myth, or simply non-human beings living in the world? 

RA: American myth is very dogmatic; figures are good or bad. Native traditions have more nuanced characters in their myth. Much of my work is referential of myth and allegories found in classical works of art as well as my own oral tradition. I’m interested in the parallels between my own myths, the myths of other people and in that connectivity of these allegories.

Meet You On The Other Side, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 24" x 24"

OPP: Coyote is a trickster, right? How does he show up in your work? What does he do in your work that he doesn’t do in traditional indigenous myth?

RA: Yes, but it's more complex than that. In myth protagonists often are complex individuals. Characters are both good and bad and everything in-between especially within indigenous myths. I possess aspects of the coyote, I identify with him.  He is someone that has difficulty seeing the good in things. Depending on the story, he is an individual who is dissatisfied with the gifts he has been given. He consistently looks to the greener grass just outside his reach. 

Myth is a living thing. Characters change, stories change and the complexity of the characters evolve. I don’t use many known myths, I prefer to write the myths in-between the myths we are familiar with.  I actually write stories that I use as a guide for the work.

Last Ride of Juan Diego, 2018. oil on birch panel with lights. 24" x 48"

OPP: When did you first introduce light bulbs into your work? Are you creating new constellations based on contemporary culture?

RA: I did that back in graduate school as a way to reboot our traditional constellations. I also believe in fate and chance and how that shapes our lives. I am of Mexican decent, and we tend to live very closely with our superstitions and our belief in things that are hard to quantify.

Blown off Course, Guided by Spirits, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 48" x 48"

OPP: How has your art practice been impacted by the pandemic and the collective socio-political unrest of 2020? 

RA: I know this is a very serious and grave time in our world. I’m getting a lot done in the studio, I am thankful to have a flexible schedule. Sometimes my everyday life has greater complications as so many others would attest to. My work is informed by current cultural and political events. It seems we all are in a state of panic, fatigue and hopelessness. It’s hard to ignore the fires we are all experiencing, and for that to have no affect on the things we are making. I will say that sometimes it’s difficult to speak to this while you’re in it, but much of my work these days is flavored by anxiousness and a desperate desire to hold on to the positive things we have in our lives. 

To see more of Ricky's work, please visit www.rickyarmendariz.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sara Allen Prigodich

Tyvek, 2018. Porcelain, oxides, wood, concrete. 14" x 11" x 9."

SARA ALLEN PRIGODICH (@s_prig) makes "physical representations of our psychological incongruities," utilizing material as emotional metaphor. In recent sculptures, the domestic interior meets the structural bones of a building in works where porcelain mimics folded fabric held up by plywood scaffolding or trapped in blocks of concrete. Sara earned her BFA from the University of Hartford and her MFA from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her work was most recently included in group shows at Edward J. & Helen Jane Morrison Gallery at University of Minnesota Morris (2020), CADE Gallery at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD (2019), Automat Collective (2019) and Spillway Collective (2019) (both Philadelphia). In 2021, she will a solo show at Five Points Gallery (Torrington CT) and two-persons shows at Harford Community College (Hartford, MD) and Millersville University (Millersville, PA). Her work is included in the permanent collections at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and University of Hartford. Sara lives and works in Annapolis, MD.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Porcelain seems to be your ceramic of choice. What is it about this material that makes it a staple in your studio?

Sara Allen Prigodich: I use porcelain clay because of its smooth surface texture, strength when fired, and its malleability when constructing. My favorite stage within my process is the initial clay manipulation. I enjoy pushing the limits of the soft, thin, delicate porcelain slabs to see how far they can go in regard to stretching, inflating, pulling or slumping. 

I want my works to be honest. I embrace all the histories my forms—cracks, tears and holes—take as they are made; these elements that would have once been a sure sign of failure in my process have now come to emphasize the exposed state of the sculpture. It is my intention that my sculptures embody the moments of truth and honesty between people and spaces, without edits and corrections.  

The white color of porcelain is also comparable to a blank canvas; allowing me to apply whatever oxide or glaze color I’d like to the surface. Even the most subtle colors on my work are often the result of building multiple layers of sprayed materials, and at times multiple firings as well. 

Fold, 2015. Porcelain, glaze, wooden structure. Each shelf unit 13" x 48."

OPP: Most of your sculptures include porcelain masquerading as folded fabric. Tell us about your use of this repeated visual motif.

SAP: It has been said that clay is the ultimate imposter, a material that lends itself to any surface, texture or volume, but at the end of the firing, it still becomes hard as stone. Like many ceramists, I find myself depending upon the structural integrity of ceramic, yet also fighting its dense, rock-hard finish. The clear intention and economy of touch is an important part of my handbuilding process. I attempt to conceal the hardness of the material by maintaining a visual softness. 

The softness of the forms closely resembles the body, its domestic environment and thus the human condition. The connection to domestic objects such as fabric and clothing relates the work to home, shelter, and structure. The purpose of using a dense, hardening material rather than fabric lies in its permanence. Ceramic both archives a moment of touch and records deterioration as a symbolic form of loss and change. It has the capability to freeze a moment in time, to hold a gesture and to preserve it. 

The flesh-like surface on a folded and draped form creates a strange and somewhat uncomfortable perspective on the human condition. I see these “skins” as husks or vacated selves. While the deflated quality of the forms appears to be a domestic material of sorts, it also has an emptiness that places it in the past. This emptiness reinforces the documentation of the event or action that has taken place and underscores the ambiguity of what remains left behind.

Gravity, 2020. Porcelain, oxides, concrete, steel. 13" x 9" x 9."

OPP: In your newest work, there are a lot of material references to construction: insulation foam, concrete and drywall, for example. Is this choice driven more by concept or by material? 

SAP: Each material I use serves as a different vocabulary within a visual language, taking each material’s inherent associations into consideration. For example, the stability and strength of concrete versus the fragility and weakness of splintered plywood. To see a fragment of rafters, or the layers within a wall removed from a domestic space, allows us to fill in the rest of the visual image and to recreate our own memory within. I use variations of these non-ceramic materials and found objects as a means to strengthen the presence of form as well as the presence of absence.

Logically Speaking (Front View), 2017. Porcelain, Wood. 16" x 8" x 10.5."

OPP: What role do the ceramic parts play?

SAP: I see the ceramic portions of my sculptures as referent to domestic objects that relate back to the body, while the exterior armatures that surround the ceramic serve as imagined structures or emotional props. A thematic reoccurrence within my work is the abstracted ideas surrounding domestic spaces, or the perceptions of house versus home. The concept of shelter is a global experience that can allow access to the work for all. By creating fragments of domestically referenced spaces, one can project their own past experiences or memories onto the object and complete the space.

Blocks, 2017. Watercolor and Ink. 14" x 20"

OPP: How do the drawings relate to the sculptures?

SAP: Drawing and sketching have always been integral parts of my practice. Almost all of my sculptures start with a sketch or two, but I also make small drawings independently from my three-dimensional work.  The imagery and subject matter between them is often similar, but with enough subtle differences to allow for a progression of ideas—almost a conversation—between the two- and three- dimensional pieces. 

I’ve always felt that my drawings allow me to defy gravity and entertain impossibilities in construction that I wouldn’t be able to physically build in my sculptures. Sometimes a drawing may morph into an idea for a sculpture, but often they are more freeing and not tied to the physics of reality.

Prop, 2017. Porcelain with oxides, poplar wood. 9.5" x 9" x 5.5."

OPP: How has your practice been impacted by Covid-19? 

SAP: Conceptually, my work has always carried themes of depicting a “presence of absence” and with Covid-19, I can’t think of a more apropos understanding of our current collective consciousness. As an entire species, we are communally experiencing what it means to be unable to be present with those we love and care about. We may be fortunate enough to have virtual communication, but when the screen turns off that physical absence becomes almost palpable. These thoughts continue to motivate my thinking within my work.

Nest, 2019. Porcelain, oxides, wood, hydrocal, insulation foams. 12" x 8" x 8."

OPP: Any new directions?

SAP: I now have extremely limited access to certain ceramics facilities that I use. While I still work from a home-studio space, I now have more limitations. As an educator, I’m always encouraging my students to push themselves out of their comfort zones within their artwork, so I’ve been looking at these limitations in a positive light; seeing them as new challenges that will present innovative solutions and explorations. Currently I’ve been experimenting with plaster and hyrdocal as alternative media to preserve forms in different compositions. It’s been fun to try different things, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this new direction takes me.  

To seed more of Sara's work, please visit www.sarallen.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Maya Mackrandilal

ANTI/body # 8, 2018. Mixed media on wood panel (found plaster object fragments, fabric flowers, beads, paper, prints, textiles, spray paint, gesso). 50 x 30 x 8 inches.

Transdisciplinary artist MAYA MACKRANDILAL employs collaboration, performance, social media, object-making and writing to imagine "a future after the end of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism." Her sculptures and collages challenge the East/West binary, merging classical Greek references with the Hindu pantheon. Her performance persona is a contemporary incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, who seeks to restore a "culture of abundance, radical justice, and balance" to our world. Maya earned her BA in Studio Art at University of Virginia and her MFA in Sculpture at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2019, she presented a collaborative multi-media performance titled Schizophrene at Threewalls in Chicago, and her work was discussed in depth in Nalini Mohabir's scholarly essay “Kala Pani: Aesthetic Deathscapes and the Flow of Water after Indenture,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas, 5. Maya has a creative essay in the forthcoming “Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora,” (2020) and has just completed an artist residency at Secret Land (Altadena, CA). Her work is on view through November 2020 in the exhibition What is Feminist Art? at the Smithsonian Archives for American Art in Washington, DC.  Maya lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s start with the sculptures and sculptural paintings from ANTI/body. Tell us about how the materials, images and found objects you choose work to collapse binaries in these works.

Maya Mackrandilal: I started this series while working on my essay, The Aesthetics of Empire: Neoclassical Art and White Supremacy. I wanted to create pieces that visually represented the interconnected global histories and futures that white supremacist mythologies attempt to erase. I selected objects, textiles, and images that reference both “Western” and “Eastern” art history, combining them together into hybrid beings that push back against the mythology of a pure, white art history untouched by the Other. In the sculptural works, I painted over and broke apart (white) plaster neoclassical sculptures and inserted flowers, extra limbs, beads, and colorful textiles which reference practices and traditions from the global South, in particular the abundance of South Asian sculptural forms and global folk-art practices. The “binaries” are probably most easily visible in the sculptural paintings that incorporate collage – I take images of classical sculptures and insert South Asian iconography, surrounding them with folk-art embellishments. For instance, in ANTI/body #4, I combine an image taken from a metope on the Parthenon depicting a centaur astride a fallen Lapith and insert a depiction of Kali in the centaur’s upper body. The centaur can be seen as a metaphor for an outsider (barbarian) who upsets the rational order of Greek culture (coded as “white” by European art historians during the 18th century) – here Kali (who in my artistic iconography is a stand-in for an uncolonized Black queer femme body) takes up the role of the barbarian, locating the tensions in our present culture when the “natural order” of white supremacy is upset by the creative resistance of people of color. 

ANTI/body #4, 2017. Mixed media on artboard (found objects, prints, spray paint, Flashe paint, acrylic paint, gesso)

OPP: What year did you write the essay The Aesthetics of Empire: Neoclassical Art and White Supremacy and what prompted it?

MM: I initially wrote The Aesthetics of Empire in 2017 in response to protests that had arisen around the country calling for the removal of white supremacist statues like the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville. As a graduate of the University of Virginia, I was well aware of the Lee statue, as well as the wide array of neoclassical statues and architecture that permeate the university and the surrounding city. I was also aware of the legacy of white supremacy and the ongoing racial terrorism (often framed by those in power as “isolated incidents”) that Black UVA students, faculty, and Charlottesville residents face. I wanted to use the opportunity to extend our gaze from the obviously white supremacist histories of confederate statues to look at the ways the dominant culture uses neoclassicism to inscribe white supremacist thinking on our collective subconscious. In the essay I focused on how white Americans from the Founding Fathers to the Daughters of the Confederacy relied on neoclassicism as a dog-whistle of European cultural superiority over people of color and a justification for violence. 

ANTI/body #9 (Kalifia as Libertas), 2018. Mixed media (found objects, spray paint, Flashe paint, wire, pvc pipe, steel flange, epoxy clay, wood). 26 x 14 x 12 inches

OPP: Confederate monuments are now coming down—both pulled down by protestors and officially removed by local governments—in multiple locations. Can you reflect on your essay now in light of recent events?

MM: Looking back, I wish I had discussed more in-depth the ways that contemporary alt right and neo-nazi groups continue to use classical iconography in this way. Watching the recent toppling and removal of some of these statues (as well as their defense by the police and the deployment of federal paramilitary forces to ostensibly protect them), further supports the immense power these symbols have in our culture. I recently watched a talk with the artist Badly Licked Bear who shared that from an indigenous perspective, objects are subjects and that an act of violence against an icon of the oppressor is a sacred ritual act, an act with material significance. The part of me that is hopeful can look at these events as a spiritual cleansing of our collective, a way for us to reimagine what it means to be a community beyond the domineering gaze of the white male patriarch. What monuments can we build when we are not ensnared by the classical form and the racist/sexist ideologies that it perpetuates? How can these anti-monuments broaden and deepen our cultural memory and contribute to the psychic healing of historically oppressed groups? How could we reimagine architecture to facilitate non-hierarchical societal relationships and mutual aid? To me, the removal of these statues is the initial act in a longer project of building a society that is centered on justice, abundance, and care, and I do believe that truly radical artistic forms can support and inspire this work. 

@globalmatriarch Instagram Feed, 2017. Digital Composite.

OPP: Can you talk about how you use social media and hashtags as an art medium, not just a way to gain visibility? I’m thinking of #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY.

MM: I remember writing #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY in my sketchbook about five years ago. I was thinking about the possibilities of hashtags as ways to collaboratively build a concept. A hashtag can’t be owned or controlled, which makes it a point of great peril and potential (I’m thinking of men’s rights activists taking over feminist hashtags or K-pop fans taking over anti-black hashtags). I was reading about matriarchy as a political and social system, particularly in indigenous cultures, and I wondered, how could we imagine this world — a world built on non-hierarchical consensus, abundance, and respect for the land and all beings—into being within our emerging global culture? Social media seemed like a place to attempt such an intervention. It offers a built-in archive (you can search #newglobalmatriarchy on Instagram and see all the artists and projects connected with it) and a way for the idea to grow and change as people interact with it over time. I also created online accounts for my performance persona, the Goddess Lakshmi (@globalmatriarch on Instagram and TwitterGlobal Matriarch on Facebook) that allows for a virtual performance of some of these ideas through tweets and memes as well as sharing images from events. I had been focusing on the in-person Poetry and Performance Circles in LA, but with our new post-COVID lives, I’m going to be developing these accounts further, including starting a NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY YouTube channel for the Goddess that will feature videos and livestreams from a liminal space called “The Womb Chamber” as well as future collaborative virtual projects.

#NewGlobalMatriarchy, 2016. Performance Still

OPP: Tell us about the ancient goddess Lakshmi and how you make her contemporary in your performances and photographs.

MM: Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and abundance, is an incredibly popular goddess in the Hindu pantheon. In traditional depictions, she stands on a lotus flanked by elephants, gold pouring out of her hands – the idea is that praying to her will bring money and abundance to one’s life. Within Hinduism, the divine force (which permeates all things) is divided into three aspects, the creator, maintainer, and destroyer. Each of the three aspects has a masculine and feminine form. Vishnu and Lakshmi are the masculine and feminine forms of the “maintainer” aspect of the divine, and in times of great need, these two divine beings become incarnated on Earth through avatars (Krishna and Rhada, Rama and Sita, among many others) in order to restore balance. 

When I was young, I participated in a religious ceremony where I was one of two girls selected to “stand in” for the goddess and participants made offerings to us as we sat quietly, like living statues. One of the rules was that the girls selected had to be prepubescent, meaning we had not yet had our periods. This is a product of a sexist patriarchal belief in many Hindu traditions that periods are “unclean.” When I was an adult, I started to think: perhaps a deeper reason is that if you worship a grown woman as a goddess, a woman who might have opinions, she might take the opportunity to share some of her thoughts, she might not be as docile as a child, she might start to demand power. Perhaps in times before patriarchy, it was a grown woman, a wise woman, who was worshipped as a goddess in these rituals. Looking around the world, I decided that the need was very dire for the Goddess to come to Earth to restore balance in the face of environmental destruction, thousands of years of patriarchal violence, structural racism, class oppression, and violence against queer people.

Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, 2015. Pigment print on bamboo paper with Flashe paint and collage. 66 x 44 inches. With performances by Jacob Young and RLB

OPP: Where did Lakshmi first manifest in our world?

MM: Because she is the goddess of abundance, and her divine form would be both a reflection and a critique of the dominant culture, Lakshmi initially incarnated as a Kardashian-inspired woman making it rain as she stood atop a white man wearing a confederate flag speedo, with another white man dressed as a capitalist pig beside her on a leash. Her iconography has been updated from conventional depictions, but she maintains some of the traditional mudras (hand gestures). The performances are an extension of this initial photographic incarnation, where the Goddess entered the world – some of her excursions include: visiting the 2017 Women’s March in LA, reading poetry through a megaphone on Hollywood Boulevard, and organizing Poetry and Performance Circles at Los Angeles Valley College. Everywhere she goes, she spreads the doctrine of radical abundance and the liberation of Black, queer women, the abolition of prisons and borders, the destruction of capitalism, decolonization, and the celebration of all genders and sexualities.

OPP: You often collaborate on performance, video and social media work. How do your solo work and your collaborations inform one another? Do you prefer one way of working over the other?

MM: At its heart, my work is about imagining and materializing a better world, a world in which all women and queer people are free. This work can be deeply personal, and it is from this place that my solo work arises. But I also know that one person cannot materialize a different future, only a collective can do that. For me, collaboration is about building a network of artists who are invested in this future. This “network” isn’t about professional development (though we certainly support one another in that way), but about building coalitions between women and queer people of color, even if those coalitions are only temporary. Some of the collaborations are for a single event, where I disclose a liberated space and invite others to join me in activating that space. Other collaborations, like my work with Stephanie Graham and Scarlett Kim, are more long-term. These are creative friendships in which we explore common ideas and themes over the course of years. I enjoy this collaborative work because it allows us to very explicitly push back against the idea that an artist is an isolated genius cut off from the world. As my friend and writing collaborator Eunsong Kim recently said: the mythology of the lone creative artist and capitalism go hand in hand because it perpetuates the narrative that we don’t need structural support, communities, and education in order to be creative. Collaboration pushes back against this capitalist mythology that we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, it fully incorporates the ways that art is made in community. Even when I am alone in a studio or in my living room making art, I am supported by my family, my friends, my teachers, my ancestors, and the global community of creative people, whether they identify as artists or not. 

Lunar Mandala, 2020. Welded steel ring coated in shellac and red pigment, cast bronze calabash, palm frond fragment, textiles, fabric flowers, dried plant material, foam, beads, textile embellishments, ceramic objects, acrylic paint, spray paint, Flashe paint, glue. 3 x 105 x 105 inches.

OPP: You recently completed a residency at Secret Land in Los Angeles. Was the residency affected by Covid19? 

MM: COVID-19 had a pretty big impact on this residency. I was fortunate that the studio space was single-occupancy, so I was able to social-distance and spend time working there safely. The largest negative impact was that accessing supplies became quite limited. I could not stop by the hardware store to pick something up or visit my favorite stores in the Fabric District in downtown LA. I also couldn’t invite anyone over for a studio visit. On the other hand, I had the benefit of having nothing else to do other than work remotely for my day job and then go to the studio in my free time. This made it even more like a “real” residency, where you are able to get away from your life and seclude yourself somewhere to pour everything you have into your work. Also, because of financial limitations, I have not had a studio space in ten years – I’ve been making work in my living room, my partner says it is like living with Basquiat when I’m deep into a project, so even with the negative effects of COVID, this was an incredibly transformative time for my practice. I was able to reconnect with materials I had stored in corners of my apartment since my undergraduate years and work more intuitively since I didn’t have to meticulously plan out a project ahead of time. 

Demerara Mandora, 2020. Steel (rusted and sealed with acrylic spray), jute rice sack, carved and painted calabash (gourd), chicken wire, wood, foam, spray paint, acrylic paint, Flashe paint, textiles, beads, flowers, steel screws, glue. 54 x 39 x 9 inches.

OPP: What did you make while you were there?

MM: The piece I am most excited about that came out of the residency was Demerara Mandorla. It is an assemblage work that contains references to my family history, Demerara is the name of the region in Guyana where my mother is from. The rice farm where my mother was born and raised is referenced through the rusted steel, chicken wire, decorated calabash, jute rice sack, and the teal color of the wood fragments that form the rays emanating out. The mandorla shape is a form that I used to work with quite often when I first started making art as a symbol of divine feminine power, but it is also a symbol of the union of opposites, which points to a kind of liminality or transitory state. The textiles and embellishments represent for me my multi-racial heritage and the complex histories this identity encompasses as well as the aggressive abundance of the ANTI/body series. The piece feels like a circling back, a culmination, but also a form that builds and expands, something that energizes me to keep creating. 

To see more of Maya's work, please mayamackrandilal.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Manley

Ordinary Rendition: WTRBRD, 2018. Ash, danish cord, fabric. 6' long x 30" wide x 24" tall

ADAM JOHN MANLEY makes tall, teetering structures that threaten to fall, landmarks that travel from one location to another, and beautiful torture devices that would look good in any living room. Whether located in domestic space or the landscape, his sculptures make the viewer conscious of their expectations of the site they occupy. Adam earned his BA in International Relations at State University of New York at New Paltz and his MFA in Furniture and Woodworking at San Diego State University. His solo exhibitions include Itinerant Landmarks (2014) at UW Wisconsin, Staying Put (2014) at Space Gallery in Portland, ME and Ordinary Rendition (2018) at Indianapolis Art Center. In 2020, he won First Place at the annual Materials: Hard and Soft exhibition at Patterson-Appleton Arts Center in Denton, TX. In 2021, Adam will be a Windgate ITE Fellow at The Center for Art In Wood in Philadelphia, PA. He lives and works in San Diego, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you identify more strongly as a sculptor or a furniture maker? Does the distinction matter to you?

Adam John Manley: I personally struggle with these identities, but lean more towards sculpture and object making in my practice. As an educator, I teach furniture design, fabrication, including both traditional techniques and contemporary technologies to undergraduate students. To graduate students, I teach more conceptual practices through the lens of furniture and craft. My work tends toward large scale sculptural and mixed media practices based in wood and craft techniques. 

Itinerant Landmark: Waterfront, 2016.

OPP: It seems that you often subvert utility in some way, usually by highlighting the transience and instability of functional structures that we expect to stay in the same place. Can you talk about the relationship between utility and instability in your work?

AM: Utility and functionality are points of departure. To me, furniture and related familiar functional objects come with built-in associations that I mine and subvert in order to de-contextualize and re-contextualize. Those built-in meanings that come with, say, a chair, a sawhorse or a dining set can become confounding and allow for a re-evaluation of one’s sense of place and associations, by decontextualization. In other words, when an object closely associated with one location—and a set of memories and histories—is uprooted, melded with another object and placed in a new setting, suddenly we can imagine both that object and that place in a new light. We can place ourselves within it. We can begin to rewire our associations. I appreciate a certain precariousness coming through in these objects. We are transient, we are fleeting, we are simply passing through. I want my work to feel like it has been there forever, but also like it is out of place: to make the viewer squint and wonder how this thing fits into its surroundings, and what it means that it is there. 

Staying Put, 2014.

OPP: Adrift (2009), Rocking Chamber (Turns Everything Upside Down) (2010) and Staying Put (2014) are just a few works that people could sit in, but none of your documentation shows people using these “functional” objects. Do you want viewers to interact with them?

AM: My work operates on a number of levels, sometimes from far away in a landscape, up close in person, and at times in photographic form. I believe that the lack of humans in all of those variants allows every person to place themselves within that environment in their mind’s eye. I want the work to imply use and interaction and force each person to make their own fundamental decision as to how one would engage. Another part of this strategy, is that the work is often intended to highlight a certain melancholy mood and hint at an engagement between the person and a vast, unyielding, and at times uninhabited surrounding. The emptiness of the objects hints at a sense of the post-apocalyptic. The amalgamation of multiple familiar objects, the dislocation of those objects and the emptiness of the scenes creates an absurdist condition that makes for a moment of contemplation. 

Ordinary Rendition: PLLRY, 2018. Ash, plywood, paint. 45" tall x 36" wide.

OPP: Ordinary Rendition (2018) began, as you say, “from a thought: torture devices are furniture too.” This is a really compelling and challenging idea. First, how do you define furniture?

AM: Ordinary Rendition is a still-evolving body of work that was a departure for me. Furniture includes a whole realm of structural objects, designed to interact with, support and supplement our bodies and some of the other objects that we live with and around. How is a torture device different from this? Some furniture has incredibly specific uses: a chair is made to provide a surface upon which we sit. on the other hand, a table is pretty vague. It is a flat surface; things—basically anything—go on it. Sometimes we sit at it as well, depending upon the type of table, location in a house, etc. Also, furniture has histories, both universal and personal, and not all of those histories are good, or even neutral. 

The idea to translate these objects into furniture forms was also based on the fact that we are living in a moment oversaturated with violence. Graphic violence and the destruction of the other are becoming (have become) incredibly visible, part of the landscape of our world. We can watch in nearly real time as horrific acts are committed by police, children, governments, criminals, terrorists, etc. To place these items into the home was an attempt to take that to the next (maybe logical) step. That we in fact live with this in our home. Throughout history, we have been willing to destroy the other to get what we want. This is an attempt to force an association with everyday comfort and implicate us ALL in histories and current climates of violence. This is one fundamental part of this work. It is self implication. It is a comment on complicity and how we become comfortable with things that we should not. 

1.5 Million Homes (Power Comes in Waves), 2011. Diving board, wood, mechanical parts. 4' x 12' x 3'

OPP: Tell us about your choice to create torture devices that are beautiful, sleek, even sexy.

AM: Finally, to present it as “beautiful, sleek, even sexy” is intended to further this push/pull between attraction, desire, and even lust, and repulsion. The work is presented as hip, in the way that so many design objects instill a desire for a certain lifestyle. Our search for status through objects, will often allow us to overlook where they come from, either literally (the iPhone) or historically. 

Transient Windmill (Nevada desert), 2008. Poplar, redwood, hardware.

OPP: It’s been more four months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How has your studio practice been affected?

AM: I have been lucky enough to maintain access to my personal studio, where I am mostly teaching, meeting with administrators about the coming semester, and conducting business as the board president of the Furniture Society. It has been really difficult to find the mental space to be incredibly creative, but those things will come. Since you sent this questionnaire, we have also come to a moment in which racist policies in this country are coming to the forefront and so, my mind is even further removed from my own work, which seems trivial when considering a world in which Black people have to worry about being murdered for existing. Add to that the stress and fear that the pandemic brings, and a general sense that I, as a white, straight, 30-something, male artist, have it incredibly good right now and always, makes for hard time to work. And rightfully so. It’s a time for searching our souls and figuring out how we change this world, all while battling an invisible virus…. anyway. That stuff is all making it a hard time to make with any kind of conviction or urgency. 

To see more of Adam's work, please visit www.adamjohnmanley.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Diyan Achjadi

Dip, 2018. Ink and gouache on paper. 48" x 60"

DIYAN ACHJADI uses painting, drawing and printmaking to investigate the visual languages and meanings of ornament and pattern. Informed specifically by the "(mis)representations, (mis)translations, and imaginings of Indonesia," her works often include the hybrid animals of Javanese myth, references to historical textiles and dizzying mash-ups of pattern and popular imagery. Diyan has exhibited widely across Canada and beyond. Recent projects include a  year-long commission for the City of Vancouver Public Art Program called Coming Soon! and NonSerie (In Commute), part of How far do you travel?, a year-long exhibition on the exterior of public buses commissioned by the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) in partnership with Translink BC. A publication documenting Coming Soon! is available for purchase through the Contemporary Art Gallery. You can see Diyan’s work in the exhibition The Tin Man Was A Dreamer at the Vancouver Art Gallery through November 1, 2020. Diyan lives and works in Vancouver, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do you say to people who dismiss pattern and decoration as superficial?

Diyan Achjadi: We need to constantly unpack the ways that we arrive at these types of judgements and recognize the implicit and explicit biases at play. Racism, sexism, and white supremacy inform, produce, and reproduce problematic notions of good and bad taste, as well as notions of "real" or "superficial" work. The dismissal of pattern and decoration is a form of reifying modernist European paradigms. We know that patterns can be deeply infused with symbolism and meaning. We also know the ornament and decoration as material history hold many clues as to the ways that images and information circulate and are reproduced. For instance, there's an ornamental cloud form that I often draw, based on a batik pattern found in Cirebon, a city on the north coast of Java, where some of my father's family are from. This pattern, called megamendung, is emblematic of this city and seen everywhere—on uniforms, as architectural detail, as wrapping paper, for instance. This cloud has similarities to cloud forms one might see on Chinese textiles or painted ceramics, which one could see as an artifact from centuries of international trade, exchange, and in the batik pattern is a synthesis of multiple cultural influences.

Unfashioned Creature, Half Undone, 2015. Ink, gouache, and acrylic on paper. 62" x 96"

OPP: Tell us about Creature Drawings (2015-2016) and Venationes (2014-2015). How do you employ mythic creatures to talk about both dissonance and harmony when the decorative languages of two cultures collide?

DA: These two groups of works have slight differences. In Creature Drawings, I wanted to explore spaces of hybridity, where there's not a fixed understanding of place, time or logic and to imagine a space where different forms of visual language that are often seen as not belonging together co-exist and build off of each other. The creatures become a way of articulating a personality or narrative within this space. For instance, the title of Unfashioned Creature, Half Undone is a line from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which was a way for me to allude to questions of hubris. Back and Forth has a two-headed monster (acknowledging that the idea of the monster is also culturally loaded) going in opposite directions simultaneously, resulting in stasis. In these works the creatures are explicitly fictional.

Venationes (after __ , after ___), 2014. Lithography. 49.5 cm x 38 cm

OPP: And what is different in Venationes?

DA: I was responding to a 16th Century book that was meant to be factual but included images of dragons and unicorns within the volume as if they really existed. I was doing some research on how Europeans imaged animals from Asia in printed matter, which led me to a book about hunting games.

The creatures in this series of prints are more about trying to understand the ways that we value certain parts of non-human animals as valuable or precious—such as tusks—and the violence in that gesture.

Java Toile, 2015. Toner Print on Tyvek. 9 sheets, each 144" x 40." Photo credit: Paul Litherland

OPP: What does Toile de Jouy mean to you?

AD: The patterns associated with Toile de Jouy, with its intricate lines and drawings, were made possible through advancements in printing technologies. So, from a printmaker's perspective, they've always held a place of interest for me. As a form of decoration, I have also been fascinated by the types of scenarios that are often portrayed in these patterns, such as European pastoral tableaus and fantastical Chinoiserie landscapes. The form is also tied to imperialism and colonialism, from the aspects of production to the images portrayed and the spaces that these patterns would populate.

Java Toile (detail), 2015. Toner Print on Tyvek. 9 sheets, each 144" x 40." Photo credit: Paul Litherland

OPP: Tell us about the new content that you have injected into this old pattern in False Creek Toile (2016) and Java Toile (2015).

AD: For Java Toile, I began the project by thinking of the extinction of non-human animals that used to populate the island of Java, where I am from. I wanted to make links between that extinction and land exploitation, commerce, capital, and tourism. The drawings respond to  archival images, postcards, news images, ceramic figurines, and photographs that I've taken on my trips back home. For False Creek Toile, I was thinking of lost landscapes in parts of Vancouver that were once water, but have in the past century been filled and are now asphalt and concrete.  

Railway + Jackson site, August 2018. Photo credit: Harry Armstrong

OPP: Your recent project Coming Soon! (2018-2019), commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program,is visually distinct from previous work. Is this a new direction or an outlier? Or did the project grow naturally out of previous works?

AD: I’m not sure if it's a new direction or an outlier! While it looks different visually than many other works that I've exhibited, it was made concurrently with drawings such as Sinking or Dip. Some of the core aspects of the project—questions of value, labour, time, craft—are a consistent thread throughout my practice. I have also always had an interest in art that circulates beyond traditional white-cube gallery spaces, whether in domestic contexts, ephemeral posters, or animations made for public spheres. The project also grew out of a desire to spend more time in the print studio. I teach printmaking and am very immersed in its techniques, contexts, and history, but so much of my recent work has been in drawing. I wanted to make a concerted investment into these techniques and make printmaking visible in my practice in a way that I don't think I have before. 

The history of printmaking as a mode of distribution is intimately intertwined with the technologies of image and text reproduction. I was curious to make a public project that was anachronistic, where its modes of production used processes that were once considered quick and impersonal, but now are seen as rarified and craft-centric. I also wanted to invite passers-by to pause at what they were seeing. The works were all posted or pasted on temporary construction fences that usually have notices, advertisements, and the occasional graffiti. My hope is that passers-by will notice the prints and start to pay attention to what was happening behind these fences. In many ways I approach my drawings in a similar way, where I hope to invite a slowing down in the process of looking.

At the Moment They Collided, 2013. Ink, gouache, and silkscreen collage on paper. 22" x 30"

OPP: How are you coping with life during a global pandemic? How is your studio practice being affected?

AD: I’m very lucky in that I have stable employment and have continued to have work throughout this. I'm also very lucky to be in Vancouver at this time, where we are now finding ourselves in a slow, cautious, and measured reopening. I have been thinking through what it means to make things in the studio, and what and who I am making things for. To make pictures is always a strange activity, and now it seems even stranger than ever. With the isolation and changing social structures necessitated by the pandemic, I find myself wanting to work on things that give me a sense of connection, dialogue, and community. 

I've been working on a four-person drawing project that started just before everything shut down, with three friends and colleagues from graduate school—Ilga LeimanisMelissa Manfull, and Doreen Wittenbols—where we have been mailing drawings to each other, and responding to the previous person's mark making and imagery before sending it on to the next person. It's been really lovely to get these large drawings in the mail and be in dialogue with these three other artists through this process. I'm realizing more and more how much I value working collaboratively, and the challenges and joy in the process of figuring things out together. I've been making a few very short comics in response to assignments from another friend, which have stretched me to think through narrative and storytelling more deliberately. I'm also beginning a new animation that will use some small, intimate watercolour drawings made in the past few months as its starting point.

To see more of Diyan's work, please visit www.diyanachjadi.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Henderson

Walnut Street, 2016. Gouache on paper. 15" x 30"

MARY HENDERSON's photorealistic oil paintings of crowded gatherings have taken on new meaning in the Covid-19 era, but she has been painting protests, political rallies, music festivals, outdoor concerts, conventions and sporting events since 2014. She strips the backgrounds away, emphasizing the physical gestures and facial expressions of the people. Viewed together, these works are an opportunity to contemplate the events that bring strangers together. Mary earned her BA in Fine Arts from Amherst College in Amherst, MA and her MFA in Painting from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. In 2018, she was a finalist for The Bennett Prize and has been awarded several grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In 2019, her work was included in group shows at Foley Gallery (New York, NY), Thinkspace (Los Angeles, CA), Muskegon Museum of Art (Muskegon, MI) and Tiger Strikes Asteroid (Philadelphia, PA). Her work is represented by Lyons Wier Gallery (New York, NY), where she has an upcoming solo show in 2020. Mary lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How does the hyperrealism of your paintings support the content of the images? 

Mary Henderson: It’s my *hope* that it supports the content, but figuring out what degree of detail to include is always a trial and error process. Because I am interested in the specifics of gesture and body language, I feel like I have to be fairly precise about anatomy. At the same time, I don’t want the content of the work to be drowned out by the technique. So there’s a balance. Painting always involves abstraction and distillation, but I lean towards more detail as a way to draw the viewer in and invite more active participation in interpreting what’s going on.

Fervent, 2017. Oil on panel. 20" x 40"

OPP: Have you always painted this way?

MH: Some of my earlier paintings were actually a lot more intense in their level of hyperrealism — grains of sand, strands of hair, etc. Eventually that became less interesting for me to execute. I look at a lot of different kinds of work, but when it comes to the process of making a painting, there seems to be a sweet spot for the level of detail that I find engaging. Too much is… too much, but I love getting sucked into patterns and textures. I’ve tried to paint more abstractly and more gesturally in the past, but it hasn’t worked for me. That could always change, though.

Cups, 2017. Oil on panel. 30" x 60"

OPP: Are all your images sourced from social media? Do you set out looking for particular types of images? What kinds of images repeatedly draw you in?

MH: Right now, about half of my paintings are based on my own photographs, but I also draw from social media and image searches. It’s important to me not to paint spaces or groups that don’t feel familiar to me in some way, so I try to choose images based in part on that idea. I look for images that remind me of people that I know or experiences that I’ve had. I also try to make selections for a diversity of tones. Some of the images I work with feel very positive and joyful, while others are really off-putting. I try to balance those positive and negative associations. Finally, I try to avoid anything that is too current or too raw. I don’t want to exploit or sensationalize or “rip from the headlines.” Obviously the images that I’m using have connections to this moment, but they aren’t taken from this moment.

Winter Coats, 2017. Oil on panel. 12" x 24"

OPP: Crowds of people are the unifying factor in recent paintings of protest rallies, music festivals, parties—did I miss anything? Are all these paintings part of the same body of work?

MH: The images are taken from all sorts of events: the types you mentioned, as well as games, conventions, neighborhood events (I’m sure I’m also missing something). They’re all part of the same loose body of work, although the paintings have definitely shifted a bit since I began working with these images in 2014. This is the longest I’ve stuck with a series in the course of my career, so I guess it makes sense that the work would evolve. 

Climbers, 2016. Gouache on paper. 15" x 30"

OPP: Can you talk about your choice to pull the backgrounds out?

MH: I started removing the backgrounds because I wanted to focus on what people were doing versus who they were. I think the decontextualization slows down the reading of the image a little. I’m also interested in how we make judgements about activities and behaviors. We are so primed as humans to make quick decisions about people, and to assign in- and out-group status to people we encounter, based on very subtle cues. I’m trying to interrupt and interrogate that process a little. For the same reason, I take out most identifying details. Not to make a point (“don’t be so quick to judge!”), but more out of curiosity: how do people communicate shared identities in the absence of clear markers?

Listening, 2017. Oil on panel. 20" x 40"

OPP: Do you think of your paintings as critical, celebratory, neither or both?

MH: Definitely both! I am, by temperament, not much of a joiner. Becoming part of a large group is something I usually only do out of necessity, either practical or moral/political. So even the paintings that are mostly about joyful solidarity probably have some sense of discomfort running through them. At the same time, I want my paintings to feel humane, even when I have a negative reaction to my subjects.

OPP: It’s been almost three months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How has your studio practice been affected?

MH: I was doing a residency at Hambidge in Georgia when the pandemic hit. It’s so quiet and remote there, so I was a little removed from everything as it unfolded. I found out that my kids’ school was cancelled while I was there. Normally, I work from a studio outside my house, but I had to bring everything home and try to set up a makeshift studio where I could work while also homeschooling my first-grader. (I have a teenager, as well, but he’s fairly self-sufficient.) It’s been kind of a mess, but I’m still making work—just really slowly. 

Microphone, 2016. Oil on panel. 20" x 40"

OPP: Protests are happening everywhere, and they look different with most protesters wearing masks. Are you working on any new paintings in the context of protests to defund the police? What do you hope these paintings communicate to viewers?

MH: The pandemic and the current protests feel too fresh for me to approach directly! Obviously, current events have completely recontextualized my paintings. If I’m making paintings of crowds while my neighborhood is literally being tear-gassed, it’s going to affect the work in some way, and I’m certainly not trying to be apolitical as an artist. But I am trying to channel my immediate responses into political action, rather than into my work. I can’t control the context in which my paintings are viewed, and it’s been weird to find the ground shifting under me like that. But that’s fine and inevitable (even if I sometimes feel like I want to tell people that I started this series over half a decade ago!). I am sure there are artists who are making great paintings of people in masks right now, or making very profound work that directly addresses the current protests, but I don’t think I’m the right person for that job. When I think about images of protestors being beaten and tear-gassed, it feels hubristic for me to try and take something like that on. Those images stand on their own. 

To see more of Mary's work, please visit www.maryhenderson.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Loren Erdrich

The Gatherer, 2019. Watercolor and acrylic on ceramic. 4.5" x 3" x 3.75"

Water, with its soft, flexible and incisive power, is a primary material in the work of LOREN ERDRICH. She surrenders to the fluidity of raw pigments and watercolor on silk, canvas and paper in figurative works that seek to blur the boundaries between inside and outside, self and other, pleasure and pain. Loren earned her BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA at Burren College of Art, National University of Ireland. In 2020, her work has been included in Mirror Eye at Ortega y Gasset Projects and Spill Over at The Delaware Contemporary. Loren has been an artist-in-residence at Jentel Foundation (Wyoming), Santa Fe Art Institute (New Mexico), Art Farm (Nebraska) and Sculpture Space (New York). Loren lives and works in New York, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you wrote that water is “the ultimate disobeyer of boundaries.” Please tell our readers why water is such a dominant force in your practice.

Loren Erdrich: I have an innate attraction water—it’s figured large in my dream life since I was a child. I've always understood and respected its immense power. As a medium, I think the draw has to do with its resistance to control. When a medium is harder to control, I am forced to remain looser, which in turn allows space for the magic of unintentional movements to occur.  Its resistance of perfection, tightness and mastery is invaluable to me. I love how it can be both hard and powerful, and soft and giving, and that it is comfortable in that duality. 

Me And You At The End Of The World, 2019. Water and raw pigment on muslin. 20" x 24."

OPP: Can you talk about the balance of control and surrender when working with watercolor? This also seems to be content on your work.

LE: At some point in my practice I began to realize that the qualities I valued in a medium mirrored what I sought as content. People would ask me what my work was about and to answer I would launch into an explanation of the way raw pigments and dye behave when mixed just with water. I fell in love with how unstable it all seemed, how I would have to corral the water, pigment and dye and coax them into recognizable forms. And that even after hours of coaxing I always had to submit to the natural drying process that occurred and shaped the final product. I felt as though I continually straddled control and mayhem, that at any minute it could teeter one way or the other. This mirrored my content. I have always sought out that moment in a transition or a transformation, when instead of being one thing, or the other, you are both. And that space of both is often gorgeously wild and powerful. It's not a comfortable space. It's messy. It's a merging point. Instead of the either/or, it's the and. It's a space that has the power to topple a world of pre-fixed categories and societal rules.

Go Away, 2018. Raw pigment and acrylic on canvas. 12" x 16"

OPP: The facial expressions on your figures are ambiguous: they may be in the throws of orgasm or they may be in intense physical pain. What’s the relationship between sexuality and suffering in your work?

LE: There was a while when I searched for that ambiguous expression; I wanted to see in others what it looked like to teeter between control and mayhem. I found this expression most readily in images of orgasm and pain, but it also appears when you laugh so hard you cry, or even when you sleep. I was looking for moments of release, when for once you are not in control of yourself, because control is impossible. As for a relationship between sexuality and suffering, as a woman in my 20s and early 30s, sexual imagery was the best way to translate my internal experience onto a page. It encompassed all the pleasure, shame, and pain I felt growing up. To me the images were about power, conflict, a search for freedom and a space to let go. The work was always about an internal landscape, an emotional language that I hoped someone else would understand. At some point sexuality became less of a primary focus in my imagery. To be sure it is still present, but now the work appears less driven by one's relationship to another, and more about one's relationship to a larger environment. 

I Give Birth To Myself, 2018. Ceramics and string. 2.5" x 2.75" x 3.25"

OPP: Talk to us about your tiny ceramic sculptures. What do these sculptures do that the 2D works don’t?

LE: I think of the tiny sculptures as 3D paintings.  I do them when the 2D work seems momentarily impossible.  I often repeat imagery that already exists in a painting or drawing. The sculptures hold space differently. With them it is less about looking at something as a spectator, and more about living in its world. In this way I think they open up another doorway into my work. Their small size may make them more easily approachable, perhaps more accessible. I know for me, as the maker, the combination of material and size allows me to take them less seriously, which I view as a positive thing.  

Me, Myself, Pretending Not To See, 2019. water, raw pigment, dye, ink and watercolor on canvas. 48" x 36"

OPP: It’s been almost two months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

LE: I’m in NYC. A few days before the order to shelter in place came out I began carrying art supplies with me when I went home. I chose colored pencils, watercolor crayons, some ink and drawing paper—things that were mobile and light. Drawing isn't usually a regular part of my practice, but I began drawing. There was so much panic, so much unknown everywhere, that I was actually able to access a sense of freedom when I began to work. I didn't ask myself what it meant or how these drawings fit into the rest of my work; instead I focused on the pleasure of the material. Of course I've inevitably ended up working with my usual themes, though I've mostly returned to an internal emotional landscape. I live in Manhattan, and my studio is in Brooklyn so I can ride my bike to my studio. I'm incredibly grateful for this. For days that have been poor weather or that I have felt particularly affected by the world's situation, I have carved out a small area at home to work in. I've been calling the drawings Isolation Drawings. Of course I didn't think I'd be drawing for this long. As the months go on, and I continue to work with this medium I've begun to understand that this experience will have a permanent effect on my practice.  

To see more of Loren's work, please visit www.okloren.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). Under Illinois' Shelter-in-Place order, Stacia has returned to remix video as a relevant and accessible medium and will exhibit an updated version of Solace Supercut in the window of Riverside Arts Center FlexSpace. Towards Luminescence: Radiant Frisson | Solace Supercut: a two-part exhibition featuring work by Chicago artists Mayumi Lake and Stacia Yeapanis runs from  May 18 – June 26, 2020.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews dani lopez

(for the bisexual dykes who lost all their lesbian friends after they fucked a guy), still from the tv show The Bisexual, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

DANI LOPEZ uses textile processes to "reimagine her closeted queer youth into an out loud one." Informed by autobiography and pop culture, her weavings, soft sculptures and sequined banners balance narrative and abstraction in an exploration of queer and femme identity. dani earned her BFA in Drawing and Painting at the University of Oregon in Eugene and her MFA  in Textiles at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. In January 2020, dani’s solo show dykes on the dancefloor was on view at Root Division in San Francisco. Her work was recently included in Typos + Spills + Broken Glass at Amos Eno Gallery (Brooklyn) and the 33rd Annual Materials: Hard + Soft International Contemporary Craft Exhibition (Denton, TX), and her work will be included in a show titled Notes on Erasure at CTRL+SHFT (Oakland) in August (hopefully). dani lives and works in Oakland, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between abstraction and narrative in your work.

dani lopez: The oscillation between abstraction and narrative has been present in my practice for over 10 years. When I feel like I rely on narrative too heavily, I shift to abstraction to make things more oblique and harder to read. And when the abstract work is being read in ways that aren’t specific enough for me, I move back to the narrative work. In the past, I worried that I’d have to choose one side over the other in hopes of a coherent practice. It’s only until recently that I have become more comfortable with this back and forth. When I look at my entire body of work, I see that the abstract and narrative work need each other for balance, and they inform each other as the work grows. The constants that connect the two are the role of my hand, the way that color factors in and materiality.

tell me that love isn’t true, 2019. Handwoven cotton yarn and novelty hand cut fabrics. 36" x 108."

OPP: What materials are you most attracted to? 

dl: My materials are purchased at Joann’s Fabrics, Michaels and local fabric outlet stores. In the past, this was a financial necessity for me. As time went on, I realized that my high school drop-out/working-class background, the necessity for these “cheap” materials, and the dialogue I was having with queer art history and culture were a stable ground for me to work upon. Looking back to the 90s DIY culture—I was a teenager in the mid/late 90s—and to the queer aesthetics that I was so attracted to, the material choices became easier and easier for me to make. It was also an act of refusal to more sophisticated, clean, minimal materials/aesthetic choices that I can’t separate from the cishet male painter canon (I was a painter in undergrad).

The work evokes a campy, sad aesthetic in the way that we often find ourselves calling a friend after a break-up/rejection and as we’re crying, we—or at least me—make jokes at our own expense for levity. That space between heartbreak and humor, in attempts to alleviate the pain, if even for a moment, is where a lot of my narrative springs from. 

Fuck…, 2018. Machine sewn and hand embroidered cotton. 22" x 17."

OPP: What does the recurring form of the bow mean to you?

dl: Initially, I was attracted to its connotations of decoration, frivolousness and hyper-femininity. As that body of work grew, my interest in narrative and the posture that these objects were holding became more and more developed. Each bow came to embody a personality, a feeling, or an archetype. With the work maybe the feeling just comes and it goes, I realized the bows could symbolize something I was going through at the time (coming together and coming undone, over and over). These static objects were also activated by the act of tying them up and pulling apart, hinting at time.

baby femme, 2017. Handwoven fabric; cotton dyed with commercial dye, acrylic yarn, wire, and sequin fabric. 34" x 29."

OPP: dykes on the dancefloor is a series of hand-embellished, silk banners. Each one is dedicated to dykes that share a common experience (for example, ACT-UP dykes who cared for their gay brothers while they were dying of AIDS and trans dykes who were able to feel free and fall in love). Are the TV shows and movies referenced in the titles the impetus for the work? 

dl: This body of work began with me watching the French movie, BPM. There’s a beautiful dance sequence throughout the movie and it made me think about the moments on the dance floor when someone is partially illuminated. For the first work, ACT-UP dykes who cared for their gay brothers while they were dying of AIDS, I chose a still from BPM that features a lesbian on the dance floor. I had these stills printed on fabric (imitation silk and now velvet) and began embroidering sequins over the illuminated areas. I think of them as reinterpretations and interventions of queer culture and history. They also contribute and participate in the culture and history as well. The titles refer to what is happening at that moment, but they are my titles (with the reference to the still after the title).

(for the dykes who only came out to themselves and in their fantasies), still from Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

OPP: Sequins can serve the contradictory purposes of hiding and highlighting the surface of fabric. This seems conceptually important in this series.

dl: This is another example of my balancing act of representation and abstraction. In some of the stills, you can see a figure, but I make sure to obscure it. Other times I purposely choose stills that are confusing or look like flashes of light, but there is always a figure in each work. To me, seeing queer womxn on the dancefloor losing themselves in the moment, dancing with their girlfriend, or trying to make their ex jealous are really beautiful and intimate moments that I wanted to capture. I’m also protective of these moments, I want queer womxn to be visible and for them to feel seen, but I don’t want these to be easily consumed images. The viewer needs to do a little work with these works, just in the way that I needed to really work to find these images to work with. Finding images of queer womxn on the dancefloor was challenging and that frustration is definitely a part of this body of work.

(for the trans dykes who never felt safe enough to come out), still from tv show Euphoria, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

OPP: It’s been more than a month since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected? 

dl: This answer varies from day to day. My studio practice has been dramatically affected, partially because I’m no longer going to my studio—it’s in San Francisco and I’m in Oakland. I’ve also lost access to a loom I work on in a different space. But my headspace has also been affected as well. Some days it feels so good to work on embroidery or to work on writing for future performance work. Other days everything feels pointless and I just call friends, watch tv, eat cookies, or zone out.

I’m employed (for now) and that feels like enough on any given day. The one constant is that I’m still reading, which is the foundation of everything for me. I’m working out more, doing yoga more, and meditating twice a day to manage the anxiety and depression. These are the things that feel doable and also really good because so many things don’t feel good right now. I daydream about having a huge house party at my place (I’ve got a great roof for it) with all my friends and hugging each and every one of them, once all of this is over.

To see more of Dani's work, please visit www.danilopez.us.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeffrey Meris

Now You See Me; Now You Don't (Installation View), 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel. 

In sculpture and performance, JEFFREY MERIS investigates "the impacts of naturalization, (dis)placement and racial interpellation." He subverts the expected materiality of monuments by utilizing shopping carts, plastic crates, cinderblocks and plastic gallon jugs to draw attention to everyday, overlooked experiences. His recent kinetic sculptures explore the simultaneous invisibility/hyper-visibility of People of Color in American society. Jeffrey earned his A.A in Arts from the College of the Bahamas, his BFA in Sculpture from Temple University and his MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University. He is a two-time Harry C. Moore Lyford Cay Foundation Scholar (2012 and 2017) and a Guttenberg Arts Artist-in-Residence (2016). In 2019, he attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and is currently a studio Fellow at NXTHVN in New Haven, Connecticut. Jeffrey's work was recently included in overmydeadbody (2020), curated by Laurie Lazar and Tavares Strachan, at Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, and his first solo project in New York will open in June 2020. In Fall 2020, his work will be included in an exhibition addressing climate change in the Caribbean at 4th Space, Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a NXtHVN 2020 cohort exhibition. Jeffrey lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your artistic trajectory? Have you always made art? What made you start?

Jeffrey Meris: I spent most of my formative years in the Junkanoo Shack (Studio) in my country of origin the Bahamas, where I met my mentor and Guardian Angel, Jackson Logan Burnside. Junkanoo is the premier cultural festival that involves costuming, music, folklore and dance. When I was not sitting in the front of my television drawing sketches of Sailor MoonPokemon, or Gundam Wing as a child, I was building my future with the Gaza Boyz. Jackson was the very first “artist” I knew. Formally he was an architect, and he encouraged me to study Architecture. Instead I decided to pursue Art. Through my studies, I received a residency at Popopstudios and this was the definitive moment where I knew that art would take me to my purpose in life. I’ve since attended art schools in the Bahamas and the U.S.

Now The Day is Over, 2018. Shopping cart, square hollow stock metal, nuts and bolts.

OPP: Many works have a monumental quality, but are made with distinctly un-monumental materials. Do you think of your works as monuments? If so, to what? Or to whom?

JM: Monuments in the public discourse have this odd side effect of othering, and it is specifically this otherness that I am interested in. The word monument signals a certain historic trajectory rooted in imperialist grandeur and exquisite materials such as bronze or marble,  What happens when these materials are subverted? I often consider the ways I can use everyday objects to refract a different sense of  monumentality. Shopping carts, plastics, bottles, vinyl, crates are all more significant in everyday life than an esoteric statue lost in the Ramble of Central Park. I am also interested in what scale shift and visual reorientation does to the relationship between the viewer and the known function of an object. 

Mouth to Mouth, 2019. Steel, chaise lounge, conduits, recycled bottles, resin, fiber glass, tubes. Photo credit: Roni Aviv

OPP: Tell us specifically about Mouth to Mouth (2019) and Now the Day is Over (2018), which both evoke grandeur through height.

JM: When I made Now The Day is Over (2018), I was interested in the subjectivity of a shopping cart; it acts as both a site of play, a vessel and a civilizing apparatus, the thing that facilitates an end to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Carving out the side panels of the shopping carts and leaving a skeleton revealed the precarious state in which production, consumption and exploitation leaves a fragile global community. 

Mouth to Mouth (2019) also uses elevation as a strategy. If an everyday object enters the sublime, are the working class people most commonly associated with that object raised up as well? This sculpture responds to the tragic capsizing of a Florida-bound ship in the Bahamas in February 2019. Thirty-five Haitian immigrants died. Elevated fifteen feet in space by an architectural steel structure above the mass of siphonic objects is a chaise lounge, indexical of the parallel economies of tourism and immigration. I was 27 when I made Mouth to Mouth; my mother was 27 when I was born. 

Light, Medium, Dark, 2017. Found crate, transparent furniture plastic, HVAC sheet metal: angle iron 40" with 1/4" holes, peanut shells blessed by mother's labor. 54" × 22" × 16."

OPP: Light, Medium Dark (2017) is a see-through monolith filled with peanut shells resting on a plastic crate.

JM: This work is a monument to my mother and her labor. Sesly would spend hours unshelling peanuts to eventually make dollar sized bags of roasted peanuts. Her hands are chapped, blistered and charred to this day from that labor, yet it is that work that provided sustenance for our family. I felt the epicness of the emptied shells because a poetic sculptural making was happening as she poured her devotion into the survival of her offspring. Her technique of roasting salted peanuts in sand to a light, a medium, or a dark roast was much similar to the way that colorism, xenophobia and sexism intersect to form the most toxic of all discriminations against Black Immigrant women. Misogynoir declares a valuation of a woman's value  based on the complexion of her skin making dangerous correlations of education, class and sexuality. Despite everything, her story is one of triumph. 

Neither For U.S., Nor By U.S., 2017. Asphalt, passport, Christian bible, clothes on wood with cinderblocks.

OPP: Let’s talk more specifically about the recurring materials you’ve mentioned: shopping carts, milk crates, plastic milk jugs, cinder blocks, metal. Why these objects, over and over again?

JM: Those are the tools that I understand the most visually. These materials act as portals for understanding larger architectural systems. The plastic gallon bottle is about the body. It signals respiratory function or malfunction. I’ve come to know the breath as being one of the most transcendent processes that nature offers. Two years ago, while I was in grad school I took a swimming class—it’s crazy to believe how unaquatic I was despite growing up in the Caribbean. Pool is to lungs as gallon jugs are to fluid. This relationship has stuck with me ever since. Not to mention that these gallon jugs are repurposed in Caribbean countries as vessels for transporting potable water. 

The concrete blocks refer to architecture and to the visual landscape in the Bahamas where a house made of concrete blocks meant upward mobility and security. Like many others, my home was constructed of T 1-11 plywood siding covered in a thin layer of concrete. Hurricanes could blow these wood paneled homes away in the blink of an eye, year after year. Like many recurring materials in my work, the concrete block has a double meaning. It symbolizes the life I am building and struggling with and the life my family and many others strive for. It simultaneously carries the legacy of Black youth culture and growing up economically challenged.

Shopping carts are probably my favorite object ever invented! They remind me of the TV robots that mesmerized me as a kid. Also, I worked in Grocery Stores, packing bags and pushing shopping carts for tipping customers. Shopping carts speak to a necessity, to those that have, need and want. The very cart that keeps the nuclear family fed can also keep the homeless sheltered. I also think of carts as elegant post-modernist objects in and of themselves, and I attempt to extend that beauty through augmentation and elevation. 

I grew to love steel in my practice because it is rigid yet flexible. Steel functions as steel yet it does only what you ask of it. Case in point: the sleek angled curves for the structure of Now The Day is Over (2018). 

The Block is Hot, 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel, cinderblock, aircraft cable, U-link, pulleys, ratchet strap. 96" x 66" x 32"

OPP: Your most recent work Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2020) has an industrial horror movie feel, while being totally un-gory. The severed body parts—cast from your own body—in this make-shift laboratory scene evoke violence, but the lack of blood makes that violence less visceral, more symbolic. What kind of violence do you want viewers to contemplate?

JM: Now You See Me; Now You Don’t roots itself both in my own experience being Black in America and Ralph Ellison’s epic novel Invisible Man. Two years ago, I received a ticket for jumping an MTA  turnstile in New York City. I fumbled to swipe my card correctly until eventually the machine read ‘insufficient funds.’ I jumped. Two police officers arrested me and recorded my weight as 250 pounds and my height as 6'5," neither of which is true. If you could see me, you’d understand the hyperbole. I’m 6’2” and 175 pounds. 

I was acquitted after the judge ruled that I was in "the right" for my actions. Records showed that I had indeed paid yet there was a malfunction in the turnstile. In the waiting-room, almost all defendants were Black-or-Brown, unlike my alma matter where the opposite was true. In the words of Zora Neale Hurston “I felt most colored when I was thrown against a sharp white background.” There I stood, hyper-visible in this  judicial arena, yet invisible in the systems of education. Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2019) tightropes this fine line, using the body as a vessel for the violence of racial interpellation. Through actions of self destruction these works seek to break the bondage of white society's gaze and free themselves from the burden of racist body bias and conventions. Seven sculptures are presented in this body of work. Six of the seven sculptures kinetically destroy themselves over perforated sheet metal. On My Knees (2019) is the only non-kinetic work in this series; it evokes both kneeling gesture and milk crates as monuments. 

On My Knees, 2020. Plaster body cast, steel, milk crates.

OPP: It’s been more than 3 weeks since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

JM: I’ve been super lucky to be a part of NXTHVN, co-founded by Titus KapharJonathan Brand, Board Chairman Jason Price, and led by Executive Director Nico Wheadon.. NXTHVN actually took an unprecedented approach and has offered us additional financial and institutional support in the wake of Covid. Thank you! Shout out to the entire family of studio and curatorial fellows, apprentices—especially my apprentice Aime Mulungula—staff, board members and supporters

I wake up everyday, and I am so blessed to have a studio next door from my apartment, a 30 second commute. The days get a bit monotonous but I am extremely grateful for that. I am going to hold space for all of those disproportionately affected by this Pandemic, those that can’t afford the luxury of social distancing, those that are ill and have passed. I recognize my privilege, and send my thoughts to those coping with the uncertainty. 

I purchased my very first welder back in January, and the freshness of hot welded steel is almost like taking a shot of espresso. I feel invigorated! This also gave me the time to go back to one of my earlier passions of cooking (keep in touch with my Instagram stories @jeffreymeris to see what’s on the menu), and I also made Self-Care-Saturday a thing where I make brunch, listen to my body and inner self and take care of my plants.  

To see more of Jeffrey's work, please visit www.jeffreymeris.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emily Kaelin

Forest Offering (3), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 24."

EMILY KAELIN's paintings are deeply psychological. Her female subjects of weep black blood from their many eyes; they foam and spew noxious fluids from their indistinct mouths. These women are suffering but also learning and transforming. Images of disease and decay coexist with verdant growth, expressing the inherent contradictions of internal experience. Emily earned her BFA at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (Denver, Colorado) and her MFA at Burren College of Art (Ballyvaughan, Ireland). She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Hypatia-in-the-Woods (2019) in Shelton, WA and the Nes Artist Residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland. In 2019, she opened her solo show I am a Monster and curated Viscera: Experimental Performance of the Grotesque at Mockbee Gallery (Cincinnati, Ohio). Follow Emily @vvitchinheat to see new and in-progress works. She lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve said all your works are self-portraiture. In what way?

Emily Kaelin: I’ve made intentional self-portraits since I was young. In art school I made it a habit to do these regularly alongside whatever other work I was doing. Self-portraits were particularly challenging—for me anyway—because it was impossible to look at my physical self objectively enough to render it in a way that felt accurate. Early on I abandoned the idea that my self-portraits had to be realistic. It became more important to accurately render my internal perception(s) of myself, and in doing so my style and imagery became more abstracted, expressionistic and surreal. 

The work that I’ve made in the past six or seven years didn’t begin as self-portraiture explicitly. The more that I made, the more I realized that it was always about me. Specifically, it was about trying to envision multiple versions of myself, on a psychic level, especially my shadow selves. These works are self-portraits in that their existence and my process of making them is a deliberate method of working towards a better understanding of myself.

I am Sublime Suffering, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 48."

OPP: Who are the Rotting Queens? What are they queens of?

EK: I like dichotomies; beauty and decay, sacred and profane, the sublime and the abject. I’ve used these in my work, both in form and in content, long before I even knew what I was doing. I like the emotional alchemy—the simultaneous attraction and revulsion— that happens when these dualities are combined. The Rotting Queen figures are one of many extensions of this conceptually. I guess you could say they are all queens of abject matter or phenomena: sickness, blight, death, blood, wounds, mutilation, etc. Yet some of the sub-titles and much of the imagery are suggestive of more life-affirming natural forces—the moon, flowers, moss, venus—and there are elements of beauty and ornamentation. Some figures are more brutal looking than others, and there elements that suggest rot and beauty simultaneously: bloody pustules that could be rubies, glitter that is also blood. 

The Rotting Queens are facets of my shadow selves. Making this work may be an attempt to reconcile the darker and uglier sides of myself with my ideal self, but without my knee-jerk self-hatred and perfectionism. Rather I make those facets sacred and their disturbing nature precious, resplendent even.   

Rotting Queen (the empress), 2015. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas. 30" x 40."

OPP: Can you talk more broadly about Barbara Creed’s notion of the “Monstrous-Feminine” in your work?

EK: The Monstrous Feminine is yet another theme that existed in my work long before I was really aware of it, and the reasons for its ubiquity are both personal and political. Much of my personal attraction to beauty and revulsion comes from my own personal experiences of duality in life: pain, suffering, ecstasy, love, emptiness and abundance. These feelings are universally felt, eve if individually varied in experience. 

Pain is an inevitable and necessary part of living, but I meditate often on the unnecessary pain we inflict on ourselves and others when we happily or ignorantly collude in systems of oppression that cause suffering in the interest of preserving some ideal or some some specific privileged group. 

I think the female experience is an example of this, and there is specific suffering that comes with that experience. Patriarchy is an oppressive system that has been ubiquitous world-over for millennia, even though it is ENTIRELY a made-up construct. Patriarchy creates a duality in the condition of women: we are sacred, worshipped goddesses or vile, fearsome witches. Beauty is painful and female suffering or degradation is eroticized. Artist Wangechi Mutu says that “anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.” I like the female monster because she is subversive; she revels in what makes her despised because it is what makes her strong. Her strength is demonized precisely because it threatens those who would try to subdue her. 

On the one hand, my work is about my own reconciliation and reclamation of my inner ugliness and pain. On the other hand, it is a reclamation of what is culturally despised and ugly in women. This is recast as power, beauty and liberation.

Works from I don't want your love unless you know I am repulsive, and love me even as you know it. 2014. Watercolor on paper. 22" x 30."

OPP: Let’s talk about the mouths. They foam and weep like open wounds; they vomit noxious-looking fluids, and drip black blood. These images certainly evoke illness and disease, but I also read these as an expression of both silencing and vitriol. Like, if you hold anger in long enough, it erupts and spews in all directions. How do you think of the mouths?

EK: The mouths evoke a kind of leaking of internal darkness that can’t be helped or in some cases a complete eruption of that darkness. I use images of physical pain, illness and injury to suggest emotional or psychic pain and illness made manifest. My own experience with mental illness has happened most substantially on an internal level. It is difficult to confront pain that feels trapped inside of you and can’t be seen by others or felt tangibly. Perhaps the mouths are trying to hold in all the pain, but it leaks out anyway, an experience I certainly relate to :)

Nature Spirit (2), 2019. Watercolor on paper. 22" x 30."

OPP: Your most recent paintings from 2019-2020 have a new quality: hope. Where earlier works had both bleached and dark voids for backgrounds, these have thriving, growing plant life. What lead to the introduction of verdancy, which can be a metaphor for abundance?

EK: As I’ve continued to push my content further, I’ve further contemplated the dichotomies I work with and how I can expand and develop their complexity and nuance. Beauty becomes further enfleshed through fecundity, abundance and lushness. In my newest work, the counterpoint of decay and abjection is becoming more visceral. I’ve begun studies of carcasses and flayed flesh, exploring how to paint these elements in their own lush, rich way. I did an artist residency last fall in the forests of the Olympic peninsula of Washington, where I studied rendering the forest’s verdancy, lushness, darkness, and strangeness. I happened to find a gutted, skinned deer carcass on one of my walks, sans head and hooves, was the perfect foil for the more verdant foliage I’ve been working with lately. It was that image that inspired me to take my imagery to a more visceral place.

Forest Offering (1), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 24."

OPP: We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Is Covid-19 changing your work right now?

EK: It is certainly affording me abundant time to devote to my own art practice! But as I am working on more “visceral” imagery at present, I am reminded again of inevitable cycles of pain and joy, emptiness and abundance, and all the ways that we amplify our pain unnecessarily as humans. I see that same drama playing out in our present pandemic scenario. There’s this mentality that we have to suffer to deserve anything in life, that we have to suffer for the sin of living, of existing. Maybe humans are masochists. I worry that I am a masochist. But I also believe in transcendence of pain. I believe in facing, embracing and transforming pain. It’s the only way to truly grow, and it is inherent in the cycles of life and death and rebirth. It’s why I make art. I feel powerless in the face of the suffering that exists in our world; so much of it is human made. But I can find power in what I can control, what I do with my own pain, how I transform it.

To see more of Emily's work, please visit www.emily-kaelin.com

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.