OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ramekon O-Arwisters

With the Wind
2011–13
Fabric
52"H x 86"W x 9"D

Crochet Jam invites participants to communally crochet Spirit Tapestries from shredded rags, harkening back to traditional craft practices of reusing and transforming textiles. In these free, public events, artist RAMEKON O'ARWISTERS offers a public space for nourishing a sense of belonging and connection between strangers, as well as the possibility of liberation through creativity. Ramekon earned a Masters of Divinity from Duke University and is currently a curator of exhibitions at the SFO Museum and a guest lecturer at various Bay Area colleges. He was 2002 Artadia Awardee and a 2014 Eureka Fellow. If you live in the Bay Area, you can be part of Crochet Jam this fall at the following venues: Root Division (September 26, 2015) and Light Up Central Market, sponsored by the Luggage Store Gallery (Sept 30 2015). Crochet Jam will also be at the NIAD Art Center in Richmond, California on November 14, 2015. Ramekon lives in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a Masters of Divinity from Duke University. How does this background influence the work you make? Tell us a little about your path as an artist.

Ramekon O’Arwisters: Yes, I was in divinity school in my mid-twenties. Fortunately for me, and I believe for all of those around me, divinity students at that time were taught to be critical of the sources and not to rely on blind faith. We were taught biblical Hebrew and Greek, so we could translate from the original text and not rely on standard translations. We were taught to trust our own translations of the text, and to analyze the scriptures with regard to the historical context in which they were written. We asked questions like Who was the audience? and What was the social and political framework during that time? It was a powerful way to teach young people to be independent and self-reliant. Until this time, no one in my family had even read the bible; we had relied on the local preachers within our community to interpret for us. They authoritatively told us what to think and feel and how to act from the advantage point of the pulpit.

While I was in divinity school, I was also a practicing artist and had local-gallery representation for my abstract works on paper. As an artist, I was liberated to paint and draw whatever I had the courage to envision. And I did. I painted with the homemade grape wine. I dipped rocks and sticks into paint to make marks. Much later, I drew portraits of nude models using charred Brazil nuts.

Early in my professional ministerial training, I realized that my real job—outside of the sacred walls of academia and from the pulpit of the church—was to maintain the status quo and encourage conformity. In that role, I felt I was not meant to be an instrument of liberation but to continue to incarcerate the minds of others into an unsophisticated and dangerous, narrow-mindedness about religion. What frightened me more than the fact that I was not aiding in the liberation of others was the fact that others were hesitant to embrace a different way of understanding the bible. People outside of the university didn't want to think differently about how interpretations of the bible can cause spiritual, political, psychological and economic hardship.

It dawned on me at the age of twenty-five, that if the church was not willing to embrace new ways of viewing scripture, then it would certainly not embrace a queer lifestyle. Overwhelmed by the striking contradictions between the revolutionary and transformative teachings of Christ—love, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness—and the present reality of the church, I decided to finish my degree and move to Tokyo to embrace spirituality through my creativity and paint and draw there. I lived in Tokyo from 1986 until 1991, when I moved to San Francisco.

Crochet Jam, Second Annual Family Art Day at the Shipyard
San Francisco. Presented by ArtSpan
2013

OPP: Tell us about the history of Crochet Jam.

RO: When I was growing up in North Carolina, I helped my paternal grandmother, Celia Jones Taylor (1896–1982) make quilts. Quilt-making with her is one of my fondest childhood memories. I was embraced, important and special. I felt like a little black boy hiding my queer self from my family during the harsh reality of state-sanctioned Jim Crow oppression of black people in the U.S. and before the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement that spread throughout the country. My grandmother let me add any color or pattern I wanted to her quilt. It didn't matter if the strip of fabric that I selected did not fit the color scheme or any particular standard quilt-making pattern, that wasn't important. Togetherness and sharing stories and feelings while calmly quilting was important. There wasn’t any judgment. Our quilting bees were calm, relaxing and peaceful, just the type of atmosphere a confused, little black queer boy needed when the world outside of my grandmother’s house was often negative, hostile and unforgiving.

My social practice project Crochet Jam embodies this tenderness, compassion and warmth. I decided to start a community-art project that enabled groups of people to collectively work on a piece of art in public with strangers. The focus is on relaxation and human connection. I want participants to be in a creative mindset without anyone dictating the creative process, nor worrying about the finished product. Crochet Jam is how I make liberation a form of art.

The project originally began in 2011 with small sewing events with friends that I called Stitch. I was awarded a second Individual Artist Commission Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grant Program in 2011 for Sugar In Our Blood, an exhibition in 2013 that was an autobiographical approach to explore society's sexual stereotyping of the LGBTIQA and the African-American communities. The community joined me weekly at my home to cut and hand sew rag rugs. Stitch transformed into Crochet Jam with my artist residency at the de Young. The museum's leadership supported my community-based project but did not want to include using needles to sew the fabric. I agreed, but I needed to figure out a way to attach the fabric without needle and thread. A breakthrough occurred when a friend mentioned to me that I was making rag rugs—you can also crochet rag rugs! Crochet Jam was born.

Crochet Jam
African American Art and Culture Complex, San Francisco
2013

OPP: How has the project evolved over the years?

RO: For almost five years, I have presented Crochet Jam events at galleries, museums, San Francisco International Airport, a community shelter, schools, and a hospice and in cities around the country—San Francisco, Oakland, Chico, New York City, Miami Beach, and Greensboro, North Carolina. Including Stitch and Crochet Jam, I believe that I have facilitated nearly a hundred events. What has changed is that I am not as concerned any more about only hosting Crochet Jams at museums and art centers. I plan to take Crochet Jam to communities within the industrial-prison system, including youth within our government's juvenile-detention centers, foster-care facilities, domestic-violence shelters, homeless shelters, hospitals, and hospice-care centers. But I believe that I am the one most positively impacted by Crochet Jam. We all want to be liberated and not judged. I am liberated by the gift of Crochet Jam and I'm pleased to share it with others.

Crochet Jam, Radical Craft Night,
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz, California
2014

OPP: While crocheting can be wonderfully relaxing, teaching crochet to beginners is exhausting! Do you experience social practice fatigue?

RO: Well. Let me think. I only know one type of stitch in crochet: single-stitch crochet. So I can't really say that I am a crochet artist or really a crochet teacher. I am a social-practice artist. What I do is provide an opportunity for participants to experience liberation, creativity and social interaction using the folk-art tradition of crocheting rag rugs—organic, free-form, rag-rug tapestries. Crochet Jam is very symbolic in that I provide an opportunity for acceptance and non-judgment through public, community-based events with strangers using a folk-art tradition in a non-traditional manner for a non-traditional purpose.

Crochet Jam is liberating because no one is dictating the creative process, nor judging the finished product. Once I show participants—even five-year-olds!—how to single-stitch crochet and how to attach strips of fabric, then they can add any pattern or color they want to the tapestries. They are free to be as creative as one can be using a large wooden rag-rug crochet hook and strips of fabric. I keep telling the participants, add any pattern or color you want. But they still feel the need to consult with me, seeking my approval or feedback, and I gently repeat: Please add any color you want. Some even ask, Does this look good? Is it right? My reply is, How does it feel?

I give up my perceived authority and ask the participants to trust their creativity, their vision, and trust the material to reveal what it will. We are hardwired to please others and to be judged by what we create and produce. I am very happy that Crochet Jam has come to me; it is a gift that I freely share with others. I am extremely fulfilled and grateful that I am the conduit for Crochet Jam. I can only be liberated by liberating others. For me, that is the supreme power of art—to liberate.

The Trinity
2011-13
Fabric, ceramic, glass, metal
100"H x 95"W x 36"D

OPP: Two of your solo exhibitions—Sugar In Our Blood: The Spirit of Black and Queer Identity (2013) at the African American Art & Culture Complex and Communing With the Unseen: African Spiritual in Contemporary Art (2012) at the de Young Museum, both in San Francisco—address the intersection of identity and spirituality. How do you define spirituality?

RO: For me spirituality has nothing to do with religion. Given my training, religion was about following rules, respecting authority, dogma, ritual and the mistreatment others who believed differently. Religion is antithetical to the spiritual well being of the population. Spirituality, on the other hand, is about the degree to which one is conscious, grounded, open and connected to the universal forces that create all things.

It has taken some time for me to embrace who I am spiritually, racially, sexually, politically and artistically. Family, friends, communities, societies and governments force conformity. We learn to deny who we are for the pleasure of others, ultimately for the pleasure of the state. What I feel I have had to deny the most over and above my sexuality is my spirituality. I am spirit. This statement offends the powerful because they cannot control it. Within the mega structure of the church system, the masses are controlled through dogma, ritual and conformity. Spirituality in all of its many glorious forms is a powerful thorn in the body politic.

Where We Are
2013
Fabric, photos, wood, paper
48"H x 84" W x 12"D

OPP:  How does your solo work and your social practice work address spirituality in different ways?

RO: In my solo work, I define what's important. I accept and take my clues from my creative vision. At one of my recent group exhibitions, the curator informed me that a friend's five-year-old daughter said that "putting a rag rug on the wall is silly." Brilliant. What makes it silly? Well, rag rugs belong on the floor, not in a place of reverence like on the wall. This concept of keeping things and, by extension, people in their places is the backbone of conformity. I accept my creativity, my vision, as a spiritual act. Similarly, my social practice allows others to be themselves, to connect with others and to be liberated in a non-judgmental environment. It takes a great deal of courage to be liberated. For me, it starts with accepting and embracing spirituality through creativity.

To learn more about Ramekon and Crochet Jam, please visit crochetjam.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Yikui Gu

Tip Toeing in My Jordans
Oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 26 inches
2015

YIKUI GU wants his work to be "horrifying and hilarious." His colorful, chaotic paintings, drawings and collages have the feeling of an overwhelming parade that started out fun. But now everyone's a little too drunk, desperate and on the verge of violence. Desire and longing are intensely present, and so is the anxiety the follows wanting. All this becomes a hilariously horrifying critique of capitalism, commodification and the inherent violence that accompanies the striving to always be on top. Yikui earned his BFA from Long Island University in 2005 and his MFA from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, MFA in 2008. He has exhibited internationally, including shows at G.A.S. Station (2015, 2010, 2009) in Berlin, Ground Floor Gallery (2015) in Brooklyn, the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (2013), the Siena Art Institute (2011) in Siena, Italy and the Delaware Art Museum (2012) in Wilmington, Delaware. During the summer of 2015, he was an Artist-in-Residence at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His recent solo show Chance Encounters just closed at Hungerford Gallery at the College of Southern Maryland, where Yikui is an Associate Professor. Yikui lives in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I won't ask you to be a poet, but I will ask you to expand on your artist statement. To you, what's horrifying and what's hilarious? Why is it important to combine these qualities?

Yikui Gu: I see horror and humor everywhere in life. It’s in almost everything we do, although we may disagree on which is which. I think those two qualities are often linked together, so it’s not that I find it important to combine them, rather I see them as already combined, pre­packaged in a way. The famous Buddhist expression “life is suffering” nicely sums up the horror, while all the petty things we do in spite of that are what is hilarious. We all age. Knowledge of our mortality can be horrifying, and when someone buys a sports car or a pair of breasts to combat that, it’s hilarious. We are all born into a world where we’re conditioned to be good worker bees, to take our place faithfully in the assembly line, and look forward to  the promise of a wonderful retirement. That’s horrifying and hilarious. Look at the art market, that place is full of horror and hilarity.

Brothers in Arms #2
Charcoal & acrylic collaged on bristol board
11 x 14 inches
2015

OPP: Tell us about your series Lovers Melt. I get the impression that the faces are sourced from found images and then you dress them up in military garb, camouflage and, in one case matching hijabs. I mostly get that impression from God Hates Fags, which appears to have been painted and collaged on top of an image of some anti­-gay protest. In some cases, the people seem to be coming and, in others, they appear to be screaming in anger, even rage.

YG: Lovers Melt is a recent series that I began this summer. I was at a residency at the School of Visual Arts in New York for the month of June, and that’s where all those pieces were produced. I’d been wanting to combine drawing, painting and collage, and the residency was a perfect opportunity. For the series, I wanted to use images of facial expressions from staunchly patriarchal groups, be it the military, religious fanatics or cultural conservatives. The idea was to take these charged expressions of anger and misconstrue them into something sexual, something homoerotic. So the face of a screaming soldier can become the face of someone enjoying orgasm. Interestingly enough, I didn’t need to change the expressions at all, once they were positioned too close to one another, they re­contextualized themselves. It was the perfect way to mock these institutions.

Also, an aside about God Hates Fags. I think that piece perfectly sums up my thoughts to your first question. It’s both horrifying and hilarious that there are people out there who believe the omnipotent creator of the universe would experience a petty human emotion such as hate. And that’s coming from an atheist.

The Debaucherous
Oil, acrylic, and marker on canvas
42 x 42 inches
2014

OPP: There are a lot of partial bodies that fade into the background and disembodied pairs of legs, especially in Sneakerheads. Could you talk about this treatment of the figure?

YG: I was academically trained, and my work used to reflect that more. I used to paint lots of portraits, and I was happy to show the world that I was a well trained monkey. Today its very hard for me to make a portrait or a figure in a “traditional” sense, so the disembodied quality is a reflection of that. It’s also how we all experience the world and the other people in it. On a crowded subway I may only catch a fleeting glimpse of an arm or leg, the same can be said of most of our daily experiences whether we’re shopping, dining, fucking, or at an opening. Who says a figure must be complete? And what is complete anyways?

The Game is Rigged
Oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 34 inches
2015

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring motifs of semi­automatic weapons and bombs? Is your work a response to violence in general, or specifically the violence of war?

YG: The imagery of weapons, bombs, soldiers, and warplanes are a response to the general violence in the world, a reflection of the world’s power dynamics, the horror part of human experience. While these images speak most directly to the violence of war, they’re also meant to suggest the ever present threat of violence in daily life. That threat permeates everything, it exists in the sexual, economic, political and social realms. It’s the source of most of the world’s power, and by extension, its problems. Additionally, most of my depictions of weapons and such are generally done in an unrealistic, almost cartoony way. This is to neuter that threat of violence, and my attempt at injecting a bit of levity into the situation, the humor if you will. Even when weapons are painted realistically, such as the bomb in I Bomb Atomically, it’s a realistic depiction of a cartoon bomb, a bomb that couldn’t ever exist (I hope).

Don't be a Dick
In-progress painting

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

YG: Since returning from my residency at the School of Visual Arts, I’ve been combining drawing and collage into my paintings, which has been very exciting. While I'd always thought about doing that, the limited time in NYC gave me the perfect opportunity to try it. I’m curious to see where it goes. I’m still interested in using political, cultural and domestic imagery to explore the horrible and hilarious things that human beings do. Specifically, I'm working on an in-progress painting called Don't be a Dick. A charcoal portrait of Dick Cheney will be pasted onto the spot where the current painted version is taped. The legs with the Jordan Bred 4s are done with ink and colored pencils and also will be pasted on.

Conceptually, I'm thinking about ideas I've always thought about, especially in the series Sneakerheads. The commodification of sneakers, with blue chip brands and highly sought after releases, mirrors the art market perfectly. There are re-sellers, counterfeits and buying frenzies. This is contrasted with the pile of garbage—collaged from magazines—the legs are sticking out of. Over-packaging, waste and planned obsolescence have been on my mind. Even the readily available images I used from Ikea catalogs—a different type of detritus—further drive home the point that we produce too much crap, shitty art included. Dick Cheney is there because he's an asshole, and I'd like to mount his head and hang it in my house. He's the perfect symbol of White Privilege and pure greed, which are connected to the commodification and waste I mentioned earlier. Because of that, it won't matter if he's not recognized in the future.

To see more of Yikui's work, please visit yikuigu.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lee Lee Chan

Cluster (detail view)
2009
Styrofoam, aqua-resin, aluminum, found brick, metal rod, paper collages, acrylic paint and pastel
50 x 15 x 11 inches

The physics of space, reflection and materiality play into LEE LEE CHAN's intuitive, compositional decisions, resulting in poetic juxtapositions of found materials, both natural and manufactured. Her background in painting informs her abstract sculptures, and her experiments with objects inform new paintings, creating an endless feedback loop between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. Lee Lee earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009. She has exhibited at extensively in Brooklyn: Tompkins Projects (2013), Brooklyn Fireproof (2012 and 2013) and Horse Trader Gallery (2009). Other exhibitions include Overseasoned Part Deux (2014) at Artemis Project Space in York, United Kingdom, Faraway Neighbor at Flux Factory in Long Island City, New York and Geography of Imagination (2009) at Adam House in New York City. Her work will be included in the Sluice Fair in London from October 16th -18th, 2015, and works on paper are available online through The Dorado Project. After over a decade living in the United States, Lee Lee has set up her studio in Hong Kong where she was born.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Both your BFA and MFA are in painting, but your sculptural work is so spot-on. What led you to introduce the three-dimensional into your practice?

Lee Lee Chan: My transition to sculpture was not a deliberated decision; it evolved organically. When I arrived at graduate school, I was making paintings by piecing together magazine imagery with painted surfaces. However, I found this limiting and did not know how to move forward. Then I saw a picture of Frank Stella’s paper maquette for Wheelbarrow in the studio, 1986, and it left a strong impression on me. I also discovered Judy Pfaff’s installations, in which she weaved painting and architecture into dynamic spaces. This intersection of pictorial and physical experience and the idea of “collage in space” really opened up possibilities for me.

I began making tabletop-sized, paper models from magazine collages, painted paper and photographs, arranging them as a stage for my photograph work. When I began to incorporate more tangible materials such as Styrofoam, aluminum and everyday objects, these models started to have a sculptural presence and took on their own life. This hands-on process of making the sculpture had started to dominate my practice.

Having a painting background is both a bliss and curse. I instinctively think of my sculptures as objects floating in space, just like images. However, as they grew more complex and larger, I became more aware of their relationship with the physical matter as well as the space between the viewer and the objects.

Cadence
2014
Acrylic and oil paint on canvas
11 x 14 inches

OPP: Has working in sculpture changed the way you think about painting?

LLC: I usually work in discrete phases within a medium. For a few months, I only make sculptures, then the next few months I make paintings and works on paper. Moving back and forth between these media has made me more aware of the limitations and strengths of each medium. It also helps me embrace the materiality of each medium instead of forcing them to do the things that they cannot do. Coming back to painting allows me to take a step back, and I tend to discover things that I did not notice before. Reoccurring motifs always make their way through: underlying geometry, biomorphic forms, motion, light, atmospheric space. Between the parallel universes of painting and sculpture, all things were interconnected. For instance, the sense of object weight in my painting has been directly influenced by my sculpture.  And the way I use an intricate system of overlapping to create spaces in my sculpture has affected the way I construct pictorial space to look through and hold imagery in my painting. Generally, I want to generate an intimate perceptual experience that encourages the rawness of seeing.

Bower
2014
Plaster, pigment, found lamp shade, branches, garden netting, recycled Styrofoam packaging and plastic bottle, threads, metal rod, plexi mirror and cotton rag
36 x 25 x 13 inches.

OPP: Your sculptures are often strange and wonderful juxtapositions of natural materials and recycled packaging, as in Keeper (2015) and Bower (2014). How do you decide what materials to work with? What's your collection process like?

LLC: My collection of objects has always been a reflection of my surroundings. I grew up in Hong Kong and, since I was 17, have lived in Utah, Chicago, New York City and York in the UK. Both Keeper and Bower were created during the time I lived in York. The dramatic change of environment, moving from New York City to medieval York, where I lived very close to nature, expanded my visual vocabulary. I started collecting tree bark and branches on my walks and experimented with incorporating these natural elements with ordinary objects like garden netting that I purchased from a local pound shop (the equivalent to a dollar store in the U.S.). I found the lamp shade in Bower next to a dumpster in my neighborhood.

I tend to collect objects that are mass-produced and easily accessible in everyday life: household items, commercial and industrial materials from the local hardware store, abandoned objects that to me have a pathetic quality. You could say that I collect anything that catches my eye, but then again, I consciously look for objects that do not carry any narrative or nostalgic quality. Any associated meaning gets in the way of my transforming them. The fact that these objects are so mundane and apparently without value prompts my desire to subvert this hierarchy by altering the way they are arranged and treated. Ultimately, I am interested in provoking uncertainty with these objects: how does something become valuable?

Most consistently, I use Aqua-Resin coated polystyrene packaging and plaster to build the structure for my totem-like sculptures. They look substantial but are in fact extremely lightweight, thus subverting the expectation of weight. These materials act both as surface and structure that house multiple micro spaces within the sculpture. They also reveal a trace of my process by highlighting the primacy of the handmade. Aqua-Resin and plaster create a limestone-like surface that reminds me of a construction site or ancient ruins. I guess this specific material sensibility came from my memory of growing up and working with pottery tomb figures in my parents’ Chinese antiques shop in Hong Kong. I imagine myself as an archaeologist of the present.

Untitled
2015
Found polystyrene packaging, artificial plant, aqua-resin, plaster, wood, epoxy putty and pigment
85” H x 7”W x 5”D

OPP: What’s your process like? Do you sketch beforehand or make intuitive moves as you go?

LLC: I see both my paintings and sculptures as a physical embodiment of the inside in a different form. They are a self-exploration of the subconscious.

Generally, my works do not start with sketches; rather they generate meaning through the process of making. I am completely open to the process and let my works develop intuitively. It’s a kind of a call-and-response approach, which involves ongoing subtracting and adding until an image or form slowly emerges. The decision-making is at the same time deliberate and improvisational. Ultimately, it is all about potential: I want to make known the unknown and make works that surprise me.

When painting, I usually start with a list of colors or a certain mood that I want to evoke. But, of course, everything tends to change once I actually put the paint down. Likewise, with sculpture I begin with materials or objects that trigger my imagination. I spend a lot of time looking at and playing with the relationships between them. Painting is a more direct, internalized process. With sculpture, I am dealing with the physics of actual space, gravity, weight and volume. I often rely on problem-solving experiments to better understand the properties, potential and technical issues of different materials. What are the elastic possibilities of my materials? How far can I feasibly push them? Which properties do I want to embrace? I work towards sculpture that generates its own internal logic, structure and energy, and thus functions more like an entity rather than merely an object.

Bottle Neck (detail view)
2009
Styrofoam, aqua-resin, pumices, plaster, plexi mirrors, Lego, aluminum, recycled bottles, PVC, collages, cinder blocks, photograph collages, acrylic paint and pastel
48 x 60 x 36 inches

OPP:  What role does reflection play in your work?

LLC: I want to explore this interplay of space in my sculpture and one way of doing so is through the use of reflections. It facilitates a material shift from the exterior surface to the interior structure, blurs the boundary between inside and outside; between the actual and painted surface. My intention is not to use reflection in a highly technical way to deceive the eyes. I’m not attempting to hide its mechanisms; instead, I am interested in the junction of a pictorial way of looking and materiality of things in space.

Embedded in my sculptures are micro spaces, constructed either by Plexiglas mirror or aluminum. These materials reflect and absorb the surrounding light, generating a different sense of light for the micro space. This creates both an architecture and a landscape. I always think of the densely layered space in urban environments. In Hong Kong, for example, hidden areas exist everywhere in order to maximize space. I have always been intrigued by the way people expand their everyday, constrained surroundings in an organic and illusionistic way.

I want to offer viewers a rewarding discovery by creating work that demands more than a glimpse. I create space that you can either dive into or step back from in order to complete the whole picture. My sculptures generate new meanings depending on the angle from which viewers approach them. The aim is always the same: to evoke the fleeting moments that we encounter in daily life.

To see more of Lee Lee's work, please visit leeleechan.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Austin Sheppard

All That Glitters (detail)
2013
Mixed media

AUSTIN SHEPPARD's mixed media sculptures and drawings are self-reflective and phenomenological in the sense that he begins from his personal experiences as an individual. But through the vehicle of the human figure, he also explores the shared human condition by expressing emotional experiences like anxiety, anguish, endurance and resilience. Austin earned his BFA in Studio Art from University of North Carolina, Pembroke in 2007 and his MFA in Sculpture from East Carolina University in 2010. In 2013, he was a finalist in the Young Sculptors Competition for the William and Dorothy Yeck Award at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In 2014 Austin exhibited in Lilliputians March at Purdue University and was an Artist in Residence at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Previously, he's been an Artist-in-Residence at Franconia Sculpture Park (2010), Salem Art Works (2011) and has participated in International Sculpture Symposia in the UK, Finland, Costa Rica and Latvia. Austin lives and works in Davidson, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you talk about your work growing out of a personal narrative, but do you think of your work as self-portraiture?

Austin Sheppard: All of my current work is either a literal self-portrait, or it is designed specifically for me to wear, which serves to alter or enhance my perception of self. While this may seem egotistical or vain, it’s simply the work of a strict individualist and self-reliant person. My work is simultaneously a diary and a therapist, and a perpetual attempt to firmly establish an identity. Its somewhat ambiguous nature (as the viewer is concerned) is a reflection of my difficulties with expressing my emotions to others.

Apocrypha (Unread Letters)
2015
23K Gold leaf, mixed media
30" x 22"

OPP: Words that come time mind when looking at the facial expressions of your sculptures and drawings are anxiety, anguish, angst. Is one more accurate than the others from your point of view?

AS: I would say they are all equally applicable. I think a lot about the struggles of navigating life as a human, particularly when it involves interaction with others. I think many of us go through periods where our minds are filled with regret, second-guesses and thoughts of missed opportunities. I try to constantly remind myself that these times are temporary, like seasons, and they are also a natural part of life. Though the work seems filled with negativity, the anticipations of better times are tucked away in there, too.

OPP: But you definitely don’t explore the joyous seasons in your work. How come?

AS: Oh, they are there, just in a more subtle way. For example, if I say there's a "dry season," that implies the existence of a wet season. When Winter is at its coldest, we know that Spring will be coming soon. If I present an empty birdhouse, we think of next Spring when the birds may return. I put indicators of these things in the work, but it's up to the viewer to pick up on them.

I will concede that by presenting these seasons in a more desperate manner, we suddenly find ourselves in a holding pattern or a waiting cycle. I think a lot about unfulfilled hopes, the danger of lingering too long and trying to decide when it's time to let go.



Model C
2009

OPP: Your figurative sculptures often evoke torture devices. Often, the body is pierced, as in Model C, or disembodied mouths, hands and heads are treated as relics. While I do read this as metaphoric, I'm curious if horror movies are an influence for you?

AS: You’re close! I was raised on Sci-Fi films and TV. Trippy stuff. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Ridley Scott’s early films, and Guillermo del Toro’s work are among the most personally influential.  Metropolis, Alien, Blade Runner all have a sense of struggle at their core, which is really what my work is all about. They all explore the darkest corners of the human psyche in a variety of ways. The main characters navigate their way through this setting while questioning their assumptions about themselves and others. Another major influence is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which is my favorite book of all time. The title character must confront his dark side in the form of a monster of his own making. This is a direct correlation to the way I perceive my work as I'm producing it and my primary motivation for making it.

I also just enjoy sci-fi visuals. Del Toro's work is pure eye candy. The elves from Hellboy 2 were really great, and they relate to the seasons that have appeared in some of my work. A new favorite is George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road. Gorgeous color pallet, and the costumes are outrageous, but in a very practical way. I've started to look at a lot of this stuff as I'm becoming increasingly interested in making wearable work.

Cathedral 3
2009

OPP: Could you talk about the Cathedral pieces from 2009? What is being worshiped?

AS: The pursuit of Knowledge. As a kid, I would go visit my grandfather, and he always had a cathedral radio sitting on his workbench. It was a relic of the days when he owned a radio repair business before the war. My Grandpa always taught me to never stop learning. . . and the recurring motif of the cathedral relates to this notion. In my work, this idea is slowly evolving from a personal challenge into the burden of the ceaseless desire for improvement. The idea of never quite being good enough relates back to the anxiety, anguish and angst.

Split Decision
2010
Cast iron
Figure is life-size

OPP: To me, “the burden of the ceaseless desire for improvement” seems like a collective problem exacerbated by our culture. What do you think?

AS: It depends on how you define "improvement.” I think most of us don't really know how to find a sense of fulfillment. TV says we need a new car or a larger house; this is really a form of societal peer pressure. So we have learned to equate "more" with improvement, which is problematic in my opinion. I think every individual should define the concept of improvement for themselves. That's what I'm trying to do through my art; I'm trying to figure out what improvement means for me.

OPP: What's the role of isolation in your work?

AS: It’s a beginning, a middle and an end. It serves as inspiration, response and subject matter. There is certainly a precedent to the idea that isolation breeds creativity, and my most recent work in particular deals with the ramifications of this practice. David Bowie sang about it in Sound and Vision, and of course the Buddha was said to have reached enlightenment only after a great period of isolated reflection. 



To see more of Austin's work, please visit austinsheppard.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Daniel Kornrumpf

Coy Gu
Oil on canvas
42" x 48"
2015

DANIEL KORNRUMPF's oil paintings of close friends and family members and embroideries of strangers found on social media remind us to consider the intimacy and agency of looking and being looked at. While the paintings harken back to the tradition of sitting for a portrait, in which there is a tangible interaction between the artist and the subjects, the embroideries hint at the disembodied way his subjects present themselves online: they know they're being seen, but never experience the Gaze directly. Daniel earned his BFA in 2005 from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and MFA in 2007 from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. His solo exhibition Observing Energies opened at Emmanuel College in Boston in January 2015. Daniel is represented by Blank Space Gallery in New York. He lives in Berkley, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Portraiture is one of the very oldest genres of art. Why is it still relevant today?

Daniel Kornrumpf: Portraiture remains relevant for so many reasons. The human figure is a recognizable, universally relatable subject, no matter how realistic or minimally abstract the person is depicted. Through fashion and through the application of material, portraits can speak to the zeitgeist of a certain era. Portraits will continue to be relevant as long as they offer some record or document that speaks to the time period in which they were created. The most interesting portraits tell more about the artists who created them and their way of seeing than about the personality or likeness of the individual they’re depicting.

Austin Texas
Hand embroidered on canvas (detail)
42" x 36"
2009

OPP: You paint portraits and embroider them. What's the distinction for you in terms of subject? Who becomes an embroidered portrait versus a painted one?

DK: I was trained as an observational painter, and I would ask friends of mine to come and sit in my studio to pose for a painting. As I eventually started to run out of friends, thoughts about other ways to represent the figure entered into my work. In my down time between models, I began drawing people’s portraits from their social media profile photos. I started to think about the ways in which people are connected online and felt that embroidery thread could be a powerful metaphor for this idea of connectedness. The thread of the portrait is the same as the thread of the linen that it is woven in to.

The portraits that I choose to embroider are from images that I have found through countless hours of viewing online profiles, saving photos of people I find attractive, humorous, overly vain or compelling to me in some subjective way. I have never met any of the people I have embroidered. They are all strangers. My desire to connect with these virtual people compels the act of making something physical, an object, developed over time where a different, internal connection has been formed from something intangible.

The people I choose to paint, however, are my close, personal friends and family members. The act of sitting in a room with someone, having conversations that take place over multiple sessions, all while building a painting, is an experience that forces me to slow down and be present, creating a state of awareness that I don’t reach in any other of my other daily experiences.

no mold gold teeth
Hand embroidered on linen (with detail)
42" x 36"
2013

OPP: This brings up issues of intimacy and agency. When you ask your friends and family to sit for a portrait, they can say no. Do you ask permission to use the likeness of the compelling strangers you find online?

DK: No, I don't ask for permission beforehand. But I have, once the embroidery is finished, sent the person an image of the work. I expect them to be slightly creeped out or confused, but they've always been impressed and grateful, asking me to let them know when or where it will be exhibited.

OPP: Could you talk about the ratio of image scale to canvas scale in the embroidered portraits?

DK: The choice to create small portraits floating in the centers of large stretched canvases was to give the viewer a bit of context as to where the images came from; that it was not only a photographic reference, but one that was appropriated from online. The heads float like computer icons in a non-space similar to that of the computer screen. I also wanted to call attention to the linen as a material, not simply as an armature but as a woven surface, made up of individual threads, similar to the portrait. In addition, the space around the heads help to pull the viewer in to the work, allowing a closer inspection of the more intimate details without the distractions of the edge or supporting wall. 



Dena with her purse (in process)
Oil on canvas
2010

OPP: Empty space also shows up in your painted works. In pieces like Mr. David Lasley (2012), Tom (2007) and Dena with Arms Crossed (2007), the figures are not completely painted in. On the one hand, I think about your conscious decision as the painter to "not finish." But it also reads like the color has been drained from the person or that the figure is disappearing in some places. How do you think about the transparency in these pieces?

DK: The unpainted areas in the paintings do a few different things for me. For one, there is a “matter-of-factness” to some of the outcomes. For instance, in the painting Tom (2007), he could only pose for two hours, so what is shown is all I was able to get on the canvas in that window of time. I enjoy that element of urgency and spontaneity, and it showcases what I find to be priority in a portrait.

I also value artists that let you see their process in their paintings like Paul Cezanne, Alice Neel, or George Baselitz. The unpainted areas in my work allows the viewer to see the tricks or steps that go into creating an image: the evidence of drawing, the correcting or restating of a pose or gesture. They also create moments for visual rest or places to “breathe” in the painting. I find that when I make paintings that cover the entire surface, it not only hides my process but removes some of the life in the painting, zapping some of that spontaneous energy that I’m trying to preserve.

Ben Bois
Oil on canvas
2010

OPP: What's going on in your studio right now? Any new work in progress?

DK: I just completed an eight month fellowship at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts that ended in June. It was a very productive year and I was able to make new paintings and reconnect with friends that I haven’t seen in awhile. I have a few exhibitions in the works this winter, one at Simmons College in Boston and one in Cambridge, Massachusetts, both of which will be exhibiting some new embroideries that I have recently started. My work is represented through Blank Space Gallery in New York so if you are interested in owning one of my pieces please contact them and please check back soon for some new work on my website. And thank you to OPP for creating an easy to use, professional looking platform to showcase what I make!

To see more of Daniel's work, please visit danielkornrumpf.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kristen Schiele

38"x 44"
Acrylic, silkscreen, oil on canvas
2014

KRISTEN SCHIELE is inspired by "stage sets, cinema, folklore, allegory, kitsch, and storytelling." Her paintings and sculptures combine color and pattern with appropriated silkscreened images from films and magazines. The result is frenetic and tumultuous surface intensity that belies the complexity of the interwoven stories of youth culture. Kristen earned her BFA from Indiana University in Bloomington and her MFA from American University in Washington, D.C. and went on to study at Hochschule Der Kunste in Berlin. Her work is a currently on view in Summer Mixer, a group show at Joshua Liner Gallery (New York City). Upcoming group exhibitions include Your Bad Self at Arts and Leisure Gallery (New York) and An Odyssey at Torrence Art Museum in California, both opening in September. OOOT MMMMM, a silkscreen book collaboration with Abe Smith published by Kayrock Screenprinting, will be available at the Printed Matter Book Fair at PS1 MOMA in New York City (September 17-19, 2015). Kristen lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern features prominently in your work, but so does the figure. . . how do the two relate to one another?

Kristen Schiele: I paint to tell stories, usually inspired by books, film and memories. The figure is either in the work or is the viewer seeing the work. In the same way a graphic novelist designs the page to tell a story, I use pattern as a framing element. Giotto would break up stories with intricate panels and borders in order to make the stories ornate and to lead the viewer. I'm obsessed with researching patterns in any books I can find. Carl Jung talked about ancient, primal, universal language, and since every culture has created pattern and design, there is something of this universal, primal language in pattern and symmetry.

Halston disco
27"x 36"
2015

OPP: Tell us about a particular go-to pattern and what you’ve learned about it in your research.

KS: I love geometric patterns: German, Swiss, Finnish, Swedish, Russian 1920s-1950s era. In the 1950s, the Marimekko and later 1970s California pattern designers did something amazing from the 1920s French design work of simplified, large scale patterns. But no pattern is a go-to pattern. I'd say love of the diagonal brings me to the Chevron pattern, as in the painting Melanie Malone. It mirrors the space.

OPP: Can you talk about layers in your work, both literally and figuratively?

KS: I have always loved to allow simultaneous readings in my work, and I probably think of too many things at once. Rather than make a reduced, perfect image, I layer work so the viewer is in several places at once. I often work from unruly, meticulously cut piles of collage material from hundreds of vintage magazines, books or movie screen shots. I start from the collages, drawing in the work, painting in acrylic paint, or sometimes adding layers of silkscreen. Silkscreened images can sit on the surface, but a viewer can see through them and cannot miss their shape and meaning—like in the newspaper or  Lichtenstein and Warhol pieces. I often go one more layer of color or use oil at the end, as it is dense and sits on the surface.

Disco Sucks
34"x 36"
Acrylic on board
2015

OPP: The layers of pattern give me a little bit of a voyeuristic feeling, like I’m looking through blinds or curtains to see what’s happening behind them. In some more recent pieces, like Halston Disco and Disco Sucks, that feeling is especially strong. There’s the visual attraction of the pattern and color, and then there’s the frustration of having my view obstructed and having to push past it to see the story. Thoughts?

KS: I do like the idea of a journey or voyeurism. I like there to be a journey in layers rather than the amazing, Japanese elegance of pictorial design and flattening of space. I think more in terms of a video game going front to back. Halston Disco is from the 70s/ Studio 54 era, and Disco Sucks is an image from a vintage Easy Rider magazine of a 70s biker, with his slogan T-shirt and adorable could-be-a-guy-in-Williamsburg, Brooklyn look. I pretty much smashed disco cuteness on cool people. I'm making myself laugh, essentially, and spending tons of hours on individual-taped off squares of color. In a similar piece Tiga, the aggressive, silkscreened image of a tiger is the negative space in what is really, a painted quilt of pattern. I like to play with what I think is masculine authority and give sweetness or craft the authority.

Futurismo
38"x 44"
Acrylic on canvas
2013

OPP: In what ways have you been influenced by stage sets, cinema and the theater?

KS: My first experiences of being deeply moved by art were watching the stop animation movies by Czech masters of the 1930s, like Berthold Bartosch’s L'Idee or Dada films, which also influenced Chilean director Jodorowsky. These artists create poetic space for a story, with pieces of bedrooms or houses, dense color and abstractions. This informs how I create space in my work. For me, the bedroom should include the dark sky and moon if you are, say, thinking of the lead character reading her husband's diary in Ingmar Bergman's film Hour of the Wolf. In the painting Futurismo, for example, there is a figure in the foreground, eating and reading an Italian Futurism manifesto. She is in her bedroom, but the moon and the suburban house are there as well.

OPP: Are the characters you are influenced by archetypes? How often do viewers “get” your cinematic references and does it matter if they don’t?

KS: Archetypes can be found in everyone, and I think about them a lot. No one needs to get a cinema reference, but I usually include the reference in the title or on the backs of the work. If I choose an image from a movie, it is the greater story or meaning that draws me in, so referencing the specific movie is just to pass on the appreciation of what an artist was seeing. I see something in it myself, then pass it on to you.

Spirit Girls
Lu Magnus Gallery
2014

OPP: You've made sculpture and installation work before, but it seems that you broke out of the rectangle, as it specifically relates to painting, in your most recent solo show Spirit Girls at Lu Magnus Gallery. Is this a new direction for you or was it specific to this body of work? What led you there?

KS: This was the first time I installed patterned, colored strips of wood. There were paintings on cut wood panels and some works on canvas. The installation and panels were not a new approach but more like combining groups of sculptural work I've made on layers of painted wood and taking it linear. The show was specific to the Spirit Girls theme. I was literally allowing myself to be super happy and free. I installed the wood patterned strips free-form all the way up and around a two story wall, and I allowed the panels to be in shapes and parts. I had not done that before because I was holding to the tradition of the rectangle-painting space. In the studio now I am pushing more literally into theatrical space. I am printing patterns on fabrics and draping them into a space. The space is a stage I'm setting up for live drawing in a group of artists, and I will see how far I push the next installation.

Berlin Girl
38"x 45"
Silkscreen, acrylic on canvas
2015

OPP: You exhibit all over the world. Tell us a story about a great experience exhibiting outside of the U.S.

KS: I love showing in Berlin. An opening there means underground bar late nights, a mural painting at 2 am, an art and clothes trade, long talks (trying not to be suffocated by cigarette smoke) and finding new books. The city inspired me to make a studio cooperative in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in order to keep my Brooklyn community as tight. I have old friends in Berlin. We grew up in our 20s together, and they are inspiring with fashion, music, film and painting. Berlin is less expensive, and the government has protections for rent stabilization. I wish we would do the same here in New York. I plan on staying in amazing Brooklyn and going back to spending my summers making work in Berlin. It's ideal!

To see more of Kristen's work, please visit kschiele.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Becca Lowry

Bows and Arrows
Mixed media wood carving
36" x 30.5" x 3.5"
2015

BECCA LOWRY's "carved warrior shields" are a harmonious orchestration of color, texture and pattern. She carves away at planks of plywood with power tools, but the elegance of her final forms belie the lumber yard origins of her materials. Her  exhibitions include shows at David Findlay Jr. Gallery (New York, NY),Jeffrey Leder Gallery (Long Island City, NY), Galarie Zürcher (New York, NY), as well as repeated shows at Fred Giampietro Gallery (New Haven, CT), where she is represented. Her work is currently on view until August 23, 2015 in Summerset, a group show at David Findlay Jr Gallery in New York. Becca lives and works in Mount Rainier, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your history with wood-working. Has this always been your predominant medium?

Becca Lowry: Wood was ever-present in my childhood. My father is a builder and, loathe to throw anything away, has always kept a vibrant scrap wood pile in the side yard. So I am quite sure that I have made art with wood for as long as I have made art. As an adult, I used plywood as a surface to paint on, in part because scrap wood was free and abundant, but also because I didn’t like the hollow feel of painting on canvas. 

I painted on wood for many years before it occurred to me to treat the wood as a medium in its own right, to try to carve it. I started timidly by incorporating very low relief carving, texture really, into the surface of my paintings. But as I continued to experiment, the carving became more aggressive and deeper relief until eventually the balance between painting and carving flipped. 

Although I grew up around wood and woodcarving tools, much of the technique I am using in my work now is quite new to me. Playing around with scrap wood as a child does not a sculptor make—nor a carpenter for that matter. What I’m doing now is much more akin to wood-carving than it is to wood construction, though there are still built aspects to my process. I’ve done a lot of experimentation over the past years, starting with tools and materials that I am most comfortable with and gradually incorporating input from the woodworking and fine art worlds.

Pansy
Mixed media wood carving, upholstery fabric, wire
33.5" x 14.5" x 2.25"
2015

OPP: What tools do you use? How do they define and expand the limits of what you can do?

BL: My primary tools for woodcarving are a jig saw and an angle grinder, which I use mostly with masonry grinding disks. I use a skill saw occasionally for very severe, straight cuts. For more detailed carving, I use a die grinder and a flex-shaft tool with various wood carving bits. I also have a handful of chisels and other hand-carving tools, but the bulk of the carving is done with power tools.

I have a long wish list, of course, but I like to add new tools slowly. Too many new variables all at once can be overwhelming. Each time I add a new tool, my work changes a bit as a result of the functionality of the new tool and the new kinds of cuts I can make. I open myself up incrementally, so as not to get overwhelmed with too many choices.

Red Right Return
Wood carving, oil, latex, spray paint
33”h x 30.5”w x 1.5”d
2014

OPP: What role do addition and subtraction play in your process? At what stage does color enter the development of a piece? Is it purely additive, or does it ever get stripped away?

BL: Perhaps because I was initially just painting on plywood, I have developed a process of “sculpting” that is in some ways more additive than it is subtractive. At first I was carving low relief texture into one sheet of plywood and then, as I broke through the surface, adding another layer on the back of the first, and so on. Eventually I shifted to a thicker stock of plywood, but I still use the same process, more or less, of beginning the carving in one piece of wood and, as the piece starts to take shape, adding additional layers onto the front and the back. So the piece, overall, gets thicker as I go, not thinner, though I am of course carving away wood as I go.  

Color usually comes in after the shape is more or less solidified. There’s still some refining to the shape that happens after I start adding color, but I try to get the rough form sorted out before a lot of color comes into the picture. And then there’s an iterative process of carving and painting and patterning that happens until the piece is “done.”&

All of this
Crayon rubbing of original wood carving, oil on rice paper
24" x 36"
2014

OPP: You also make crayon and pastel rubbings on paper of your sculptures. When did you first do this and why? Was it a practical or a conceptual decision?

BL: People had been telling me that my earlier low-relief carvings looked like the block of wood-block prints, and some suggested trying to take prints off of them. I did try but with little satisfaction. Upon the suggestion of an artist friend, I tried rubbings instead and found it to be quite magical. 

I started doing these rubbings as a compliment to the carvings and a means of having more time to play with texture and pattern. It allows me to select out elements from a carving and reuse those elements in new ways. And the paper pieces are physically less demanding, so when I feel I need a break from the carving, which admittedly is not that often, I can spend some time with paper. Increasingly these paper pieces lead me to new compositions that I’m interested to try out in wood. So the paper pieces may start to be part of a feedback loop of experimentation, where carving informs paper informs carving and so on.



RIP 06
Wood carving, oil, latex, spray paint, steel
39"h x 30"w x 2.5"d
2014

OPP: For me, your work reads more as having a ceremonial/spiritual function, rather than a purely aesthetic one. The tangibility of the three-dimensional texture adds to this sense. Each piece beckons to be touched and used, not simply looked at. The material and the process carry references to totem poles and carved altars, and occasionally the titles—i.e. RIP 06 and Family Crest—hint at memorial functions. Admittedly, this is my particular lens. . . I'm very interested in the spiritual and emotional functions of art. What are your thoughts?


BL: This is really nice to hear. I always enjoy when someone comes away feeling that she wants to hold on to one of these pieces or that the work resonates on some level other than aesthetic. In my head, I’m making modern interpretations of carved warrior shields like you would find in innumerable forms across time and cultures, from Oceania to Europe. Besides the most obvious, G.I. Joe symbolism, there’s a ton of room to play with the concept of a shield.

I love that shields operate on both a symbolic and a functional level. For centuries they have not only served as a physical barrier between self and other, but their surfaces have been carved and painted with symbols and images meant to intimidate foes and flaunt the prowess of their bearers. And I love, too, that so much of this flaunting is a sham, that what we think of as bravery is merely fear masquerading. I am both fascinated and confused by what I see as a very fine and shifting line between vulnerability and strength, by the strange truth that often the bravest thing we can do as humans is to expose the most tender aspects of ourselves. These shields I am making try to speak to that, to the relationship between the soft and hard parts of the human experience.

Sometimes I am aware of making a shield for a particular person or being, as in the case of the piece you mentioned, RIP 06, which was made in honor of a legendary female grey wolf. But most often I have no idea what particular function the shield will serve or for whom. For me, this is what feels most spiritual about my work: that by some strange alchemy, in the pretend world of my studio, I am forging from wood some very vital protection for some very vulnerable soul somewhere out there in the world.

To see more of Becca's work, please visit beccalowry.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Diana Gabriel

Projections
2014
String and wood

DIANA GABRIEL’s expansive, angular string installations are conversations between her, the material and the exhibition space. Her enduring exploration of the line is born of her training in painting and drawing, and the architectural space of the gallery is simply a new blank surface on which to make marks. Diana earned her BFA from Northern Illinois University in 2004 and her MFA from Illinois State University in 2007. She currently teaches at Harper College in Palatine and College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois. She is the co-founder of TheCGProject, a creative platform for artists and audiences with a shared vision of increasing appreciation and accessibility of art in our culture. Recent exhibitions include All In (2015), curated by Karen Azarnia for the Riverside Arts Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Transcending Boundaries (2014) at the Bridgeport Art Center (Chicago). Most recently, she collaborated with Rita Grendze on an installation inspired by the bobbins donated from an American textile company that closed its doors in 2009. American Spinner (1903-2009) is on view at Water Street Studios in Batavia, Illinois until August 22, 2015. Diana lives and works in Elgin, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does linearity mean to you? What's appealing about a straight line?

Diana Gabriel: A line is more than just the distance between point A and point B. It's one of the most basic and versatile of the art elements. We use line to communicate by changing its direction and length to create shapes in the written language. We’ve empowered it to create and negate, divide and connect, to add (+), subtract (-), and bring equality (=). Even within the context of our messages, we use line metaphorically. It’s cross-culturally embedded into our vulgar verbal and physical expressions. 


Ciclos
2014
String and wood

OPP: Your large-scale string installations respond to the architecture of the exhibition space and capitalize on tautness and tension to create straight lines in pieces like Trifecta (2014). But string also has the capacity to curve, and you make use of that in drooping pieces like Tracing Time (2012) and Under the Table (2013). What led you to include the curved line?

DG: In my practice, the straight line provides an underlying structure and sense of control. I’ve made it a rule to use straight lines as my starting guide to set the parameters of what I will and won't allow. However, another one of my rules is to keep my process organic and change those parameters as I go. In other words, I always bend the rules I set for myself. The straight line and its rigidity, visually and metaphorically, are the starting and finish line. The curved line, on the other hand, is the precarious improviser. It provides my process with a healthy balance. Maybe it’s my Libra nature, but I always find myself in the pursuit of balance. The straight, the curved, the taut and loose, the thick and thin are all ways of finding the perfect amount of balance within the work.

Reach Across
2013
Acrylic
12" x 12"

OPP:
Thinking about your string installations, your acrylic paintings of lined pattern and some early pieces using marking tape, I imagine a similar process of unrolling, unspooling and squeezing straight from the paint tube. How do these processes relate to drawing?

DG: I’ve always loved drawing. Its immediacy and spontaneity are playful traits I find important in art making. Most people have a studio in art school, but when you graduate you're faced with the fact you might have to use a corner of your room or a dinner tray as your studio. That was the moment when I began to think about making work out of existing spaces. It’s very liberating to have a different “surface” every time I make a piece. It also feels very natural to start a piece without the “blank canvas jitters” because the conversation has already started before I even get there. In my installations, I’m just responding to a space by drawing lines there-dimensionally from one edge of the room to another.

Under the Table
2013
Wood and mason line
10' x 13' x 13'

OPP: Is your response to those spaces improvisational or planned? Tell us a little about your process of installation.

DG: I normally study the space and do a few sketches that help me figure out color, mark and a general idea of the structure for each piece. I really enjoy making meticulous perspective drawings of the space. It helps me understand the height, width and distance between the multiple planes with which I’ll be working. Then I think about the type of marks I want to incorporate and how they’ll interact with the space.

I do, however, need to keep my process organic. Once in the space, I modify the piece as it develops. I see it as a conversation, not a lecture. It’s a two-way street, a give and take relationship. Sometimes I want the string to do a certain thing, like go in a specific direction or be tight in a certain spot, but the light won’t be right or the logistics of the space simply won’t permit me to do it. So improvisation becomes a large part of it. Those situations are nerve-racking but exceedingly exciting. That is when the magic happens because I have to put my plans and rules aside and work "with it.” It starts to feel like a collaboration of sorts.

Looping System (detail)
2011
String, nails and gaffers tape

OPP: What about the experience of deinstallation? Do you reuse the string?

DG: I get a lot of my drawing/ mark-making ideas for installations when I deinstall. I usually take many photos during this process. The breakdown is in some instances more enriching than the build up of the work. I’ve made it a habit of creating new “pieces” as I take others down. It's very exciting to cut the edges off of one plane and see the limpness versus the tautness of the string. I fall in love with those moments and try to incorporate them in creating new pieces. It’s pretty evident in a piece from 2012 called 342, which is when I first started incorporating this practice. The whole right side is one of my favorite parts of the piece.

Perhaps it’s because I see these new ideas under certain light and and with a specific material that I do tend to reuse my string. I also hate how wasteful art can be, so I work extra hard to save most of my materials. I have bins of string I hope to use one day. Art is the only aspect of my life where I allow myself to do a little hoarding. That and scarves.

Blue Window
2011
Acrylic, nails, and string on panel
8"x 8"

OPP: Your background is painting and drawing, but I see such an affinity for Fiber and Material Studies (my own background). Both weaving or crochet use the line in different ways. Weaving is a system of interconnected lines on a grid, while crochet is more akin to drawing in space with one looping line. Do you have any experience with these textile techniques?

DG: I never knew what drove me to the linear until I visited my childhood home in Colombia. I noticed all the baskets, plate settings, tablecloths, even the “carpetas” under the flower vases were woven, made through macrame or crocheted. I’ve always enjoyed lines and patterns because they felt familiar, but my connection to them has been solely through drawing. Being around all these hand-made things made me realize my linear bias made sense; it all suddenly clicked. I recognized that I come, not only from a long line of artisan women in my family, well versed in the “handy crafts”, but from a culture of talented people who resourcefully use these skills to survive.

Oscillating Reciprocity
2011
Cotton Yarn
Detail

OPP:
What can you tell us about what it's like to walk around in the string installations, since our readers can only experience your work online. I'd like to hear about your own experience and how they relate to your body, as well as any interesting comments you've received from viewers.

DG: I like to hang around the space while others experience my work. I enjoy when they find their favorite ”moment” and nook within the work. I especially like to hear them question and make assumptions about the process. I feel most connected with the viewer when the work triggers motor memory. We all know the motions of tying and pulling, or bunching and stretching. I use that as a way to connect the viewer with the process of making. With so much technology nowadays, we are losing touch with the instinct to pull and push, tie and unravel. . . to physically build and create. The idea of manual labor is somewhat repulsive to some and seen as unnecessary to most, but it’s extremely important to me. It’s honest, primal, human; a connection to our natural state.

To see more of Diana's work, please visit dianapgabriel.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Cable Griffith

Deception Pass
Acrylic on panel
24 x 30 inches
2014

CABLE GRIFFITH creates and explores fictional worlds in landscape paintings informed by the aesthetics of early video games, visually triggering the nostalgia of a generation. Fictional worlds, of course, are simply analogs for the world we live in, and these colorful, cartoony landscapes use formal reduction to hint at the expansive complexity of imagining what might still be left to discover. Cable earned his BFA in Painting from Boston University in 1997 and his MFA in Painting from the University of Washington in 2002. His numerous solo exhibitions include Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start (2013) at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, Washington), FlotsamJetsamLagan: The Oneness (2013) at SOIL Gallery (Seattle), Domestic Landscapes (2014) at two shelves (Seattle). The forthcoming Sightings will open in December 2015 at G. Gibson Gallery (Seattle). Cable is a faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, where he lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The earliest work on your website (2006-2008) is characterized by intense, accumulative mark-making. Works like Orange Jungle (2008), Green Canopy (2007) and Vertical Shear (2007) hover between abstraction and chaotic environments. Did you consciously shift towards the more designed, organized landscapes that came later or was this an organic evolution in your practice?

Cable Griffith: That transition was definitely organic and happened gradually over several years through several bodies of work. Looking back at the shift, I can try to make sense of it now. The earlier work was a record of me arriving at an invented place, mark by mark, with little-to-no pre-defined plan. I still rely heavily on improvisation, but in 2009, I made World One Overview, my first “map” painting, which attempted to conceive many separate locations into a more fully connected world. Using the maps, I began to locate myself in a more intentional way inside that world and the continuing description of it. Now, some paintings take a vantage point from far above, and some are at ground level. In short, I think that as the invented world became clearer in my mind, aspects of my process became more deliberate.

World One Overview
Acrylic on canvas
48 x 60 inches
2009

OPP: In your most recent work, I see clear influences from both the aesthetics of early video games—specifically, Nintendo and Atari—and Modernist painting. Do the discourses of these seemingly disparate fields share territory? What are the connections for you?

CG: I grew up with Atari and Nintendo and have played video games ever since. More recently, I’ve realized that my understanding of landscape has been heavily informed by video games’ systematic and formulaic way of reducing the complexity of natural environments. This influenced me long before I knew what Modernism was. I’m attracted to the reductive qualities of both and their potential as language. Once I identified that my work was influenced by the history of virtual space as much as painted space, I set out to explore that territory.

One of the crossovers is how reductive form is used in both modernist painting and early video games. Many modernist painters were trying to reduce form intentionally towards a simple and efficient result. They might say they were trying to capture the “essence” of something. In early video games, however, the reduction wasn’t intentional, but rather a limitation of the technology of the time. Because of the limited colors, chunky resolution and minimal memory, the game designers needed to be very inventive with how they maximized the given set of parameters. Some of my favorite games—Zelda and Mario Bros., for example—felt like expansive worlds, when in fact they were entirely made up of only a few variants. In many ways, I’m trying to do the same thing by limiting my parameters while trying to built something that feels limitless.

OPP: What can games do that paintings cannot, and vice versa?

CG: Some games sell millions of copies? And some paintings make people travel thousands of miles to see them in person. Honestly, I’m having a hard time with this question. There are many painfully obvious answers one could come up with that separate the two. But the more I think about it and consider the vast range of things that people have done already and the unlimited potential of both fields, I’ll go out on a limb and say that hypothetically, there’s nothing one can do that the other can’t.

Mountain Stream
Acrylic on canvas
48 x 36 inches
2014

OPP: Tell us about your collaborations with programmer/artist Brent Watanabe.

CG: In 2012, I was working on a large painting installation Side-scroll World One for my exhibition Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. It was my first body of work that explored the crossover of video game space through painting. Side-scroll was composed of over 20 connected/sprawling paintings and referenced the classic platformer video game convention. I posted an image of the paintings in progress on Facebook, and Brent made a comment about mapping a game projection on top of the paintings. I really wanted to see that happen, so we started talking seriously about it.

Although we didn’t use the Side-scroll installation at the time, we got together and came up with a game and world concept, then went our separate ways to work. Brent designed the game system, and I developed the background environment. The final piece was called for(){}; and was a playable triptych, very loosely based on the Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. This year, we revisited the playable painting/video game collaboration on the original Side-scroll World One installation and the game used much more of the wall space in between and around the paintings, including various objects in the room. Both games shared a lack of any clear objective. And this was intentional. As the "player" you could explore the world freely, interact with the environment, try to figure out various cause and effect relationships, consume and leave waste behind. Kind of like humans on earth! We’re continuing to develop these ideas and are looking forward to a new collaborative project in 2016.

for(){};
(collaboration with Brent Watanabe)
Projection mapped video game, acrylic on canvas
2013

OPP: Recent paintings from 2014—Desert, Landguage I, and This is the place - Be prepared to defend yourself, among others—read like pictographs, hieroglyphics or maps key symbols, while still maintaining a clear connection to both video games and landscape. Are these new works landscapes or texts?

CG: They’re both. To me, all landscape paintings are texts. Of course, the more we know about a painting, the more it tells us. And the perspective of time gives us a much different reading on paintings now than 300 years ago. Or even 20 years ago. Everything about a painting is part of its story, down to the pigments and tools, the artist’s social or political relationships, patrons, and trends of the time. Generally, I’ve found that the more you look, the more you find. Of course, the artist’s intention is important, but that’s not where meaning always resides.

The code paintings are, in some way, are a further reduction of natural forms from my map paintings. But I’ve become increasingly interested in the domestic function of paintings. Generally, domestic space is where paintings eventually spend their time. Paintings have a very strong connection and history with living spaces. And yet, artists like to think of their work in a clean, white, empty gallery space. I certainly do. The code paintings and  “tapestries” (painted on loose, raw canvas) are explorations of landscape with a relationship to a domestic site in mind, referencing wall paper and textile patterns.

Desert
Acrylic on canvas
30 x 30 inches
2014

OPP: Tell us about your upcoming solo show Sightings. This body of work takes an entirely new inspiration as its jumping off point.

CG: The Sightings series was conceived in conversation with the history of landscape painting, notions of the Sublime and the role of painting as documentation. The paintings are all inspired by reports of various unexplained phenomenon in contemporary culture. I’m hoping to evoke a similar sense of wonder and awe as the Romantic landscape paintings of the 19th Century, but in an updated way.  Artists like Thomas Cole and Casper David Friedrich depicted a magnificent and untameable world that suggested the insignificance of man in the face of overwhelming natural forces. Today, much of that landscape has been conquered and covered by a civilization whose aspirations now aim beyond the terrestrial. In a world where anything seems possible, perhaps we give the most pause to things that seem impossible.

Many of the paintings are based off of actual UFO reports in the Pacific Northwest. I use part of the witness’s actual description as the title and research the location and time of the sighting as a starting point for the painting. I don’t take a position on the validity of any of the claims. I’m mainly interested in the sighting phenomenon overall. There are images of several studies of the series on the G. Gibson Gallery's website, but the full show will open in December 2015.

To see more of Cable's work, please visit cablegriffith.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Melissa Leandro

Fracturada, Monument
2015
Woven fabric, plastic, vinyl, electrical tape on linen. Heat fused
82” x 100”

MELISSA LEANDRO creates complex, sumptuous surfaces using traditional textile techniques in unconventional ways. Her diverse repertoire includes drawing, hand embroidery, machine sewing, paper-making, felting, heat-fusing and weaving, and she ultimately balances all these in a symbolic exploration of her cultural identities as both Latina and North American. Melissa lives and works in Chicago. She is currently pursuing her graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, while maintaining an active exhibition record. After winning the Juror’s Award at the 57th Annual Beloit and Vicinity exhibition in 2014, her solo exhibition Recuerdos de Un Paseo is on view at the Wright Museum of Art in Beloit, Wisconsin until August 2, 2015. Her work is included in the group exhibition, Mom & Pop: Family Business in Art and Life, curated by Anthony Stepter. It opened last week at Arts Incubator at the University of Chicago and will be on view until September 11, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your history with the various techniques you use in your practice. How does each feed into the others?

Melissa Leandro: I originally began with traditional floor loom weaving and then quickly moved to weaving with the aid of a digital Jacquard loom. I also have an obsession with learning and inventing new techniques while using my hands for repetitive and methodical systems of making.

Weaving and stitching follow a particular pattern—over under, up and down—but intentionally causing inconsistencies in that pattern to achieve an unconventional outcome is extremely satisfying. I’d like my work to constantly generate or branch off into new ideas. My process of making and thinking through ideas never completely ends. I often go back and fourth with imagery and process by using reoccurring marks and patterns from finished or in-progress works.

At the root of my practice is a perpetual interest in considering how to create harmonious combinations of process, material and pattern within a given object or textile. Over time, I’ve developed a working method that often calls for the fusion of materials into new textiles and surfaces through processes like heat-fusing, weaving, felting and paper-making. For example, I often build up multiple layers of plastic, paper, felt, yarn and fuse them together to create a new substrate. The materials are often cheap, cast-away domestic objects, like upholstery, tablecloths and polyester fabric. Through the process of weaving, elements of the original materials are hidden, exposed and thus fragmented. I use embellishment techniques like embroidery and stitching to further build up, expose or hide pattern and color.

Recuerdo, this and that
2015
Woven cotton, electrical tape on linen. Heat fused.
44” x 64”

OPP: What role does translation—in terms of materials, media, and language—play in your practice?

ML: I’m interested in moving sourced pattern and drawn lines through multiple processes of translation. I often begin with a base process—small-scale line drawings, two-dimensional collages or cyanotype prints, for example—that is consistent and has limited freedom in its output. I create these intimate, abstract works during moments of transit, extended travel or moments of boredom, usually in a sketchbook. Then I translate them through embroidery, machine sewing, paper-making, felting, heat-fusing and weaving. I enjoy the idea that my paper pieces can move through multiple iterations until they are drastically different from their original form, both in scale and texture.

Lately, this has been through the use of cyanotype or “sun prints.” Cyanotype, a photographic printing process that uses the sun for exposure, leaves only an impression of the original object. I imprint family trinkets and mementos, fabric, lace, leaves, rocks and small sculptures, but their nuanced textures and colors are stripped away. What remains is a distorted—translated—image of shapes and lines.

From here the image is traced, photocopied, cut and collaged to create new drawings, weavings and sculptural objects that only slightly echo the original linear elements of the cyanotype. The sentimentality of these objects becomes blurred and sometimes totally lost. My titles connect the final work with its original inspiration. Spanish phrases, words and slang in my titles often refer to being on journeys, endless paths, lost in mazes. Alternatively, there are more specific cultural adjectives about character and class.

I am conflicted by being a part of two different cultures, identifying myself as both American and Latina. I struggle with bouncing back and forth between thinking and speaking in English and Spanish. I’m continually concerned that one culture is becoming more dominant than the other. My practice has become a means to seek out systems that highlight these stark differences while forcing them to coexist within the same plane.

I'll make my own
2012
Jacquard weaving
26.5" x 36"

OPP: I love your idea of language as the "warp and weft of a mixed culture." Can you expand on that as it relates to Spanglish?

ML: In Miami, it’s common for people to speak in English but regularly use Spanish words or phrases as a form of slang. Although, I don’t live in Miami any more, I still occasionally use Spanglish and process thoughts and memories in both languages. As time progresses, it becomes difficult to differentiate whether memories were in one language or another; things are lost in translation.

This mixing of languages has often lead to the creation of new slang words, which correlates to the mixing of material textures in my practice. I combine natural with synthetic, bright with muted, digital with analog, just in the same way Miami was a collision of cultures, music, food and so on. There is also a huge contrast between the rural landscapes of Costa Rica—my family’s home country—and the more urban, party town that is Miami and now my urban home of Chicago. I find comfort in merging the physical qualities of a very rural landscape with the rich, hyper extreme colors that surround me in the U.S. Through material investigation, I believe this play between local and foreign influences will impact my work for some time to come.

Waist Side
2014
Jacquard weaving, gradient stitching

OPP: What's a "gradient stitch?" Tell us how you use it in your work.

ML: A “gradient stitch” is a term I use to describe a very dense zig-zag machine stitch that requires gradated sewing thread. Every sewn inch, changes thread color, fluctuating between three-five colors in one given spool of thread. The thread has a smooth transition between each color, allowing for solid, colored lines to be “drawn” on fabric. I frequently choose colors that are vivid or neon because they give a desired effect of vibrating on the fabric’s surface. Similar to my pen drawings on paper, I use sewn stitches to draw repetitive lines, dashes and shapes. By making crucial decisions on thread color, the sewn plane is alive and in constant transition. The end results are illustrations that resemble warped and deconstructed topographical maps.

Paz
2013
Braided tapestry warp on jacquard weaving
28" x 26"

OPP: In works from 2011 like Mi Mama, Mi Papa and La Familia, there were more literal references to your family and heritage. But in recent years, you have shifted more towards symbolic abstraction. In your statement, you say, "I create an inventory of symbols connected to [childhood] memories based on abstract structures, systems of map making, topography, and landmark images." Could you highlight a favorite recurring symbol for us?

ML: One repeating symbol in my work is a cluster of linear, mountainous forms, forming landscapes. Specifically, they are hill-like shapes that stack on top of one another, often consuming the paper, woven cloth or stitched fabric I’m working on. This symbol represents my affinity for rural environments. Growing up, I spent many summers in Costa Rica. I later realized the rural, mountainous and lush landscape subconsciously influenced what I was doodling in my sketchbook. As the imagery became more pronounced, my doodling turned into a body of drawings that depicted mountains, valleys, dirt mounds, roads and river paths. Now I spend much of my time in urban cities, so my drawing practice reconnect me with surroundings that are currently quite foreign to me. My drawings shift between landscape and aerial views. The symbols have also begun to mesh urban and rural elements together. I associate squares and straight lines with urban environments, while circular shapes represent rural/natural environments.

Untitled
2015
Synthetic weaving, plastic, rubber, electrical tape. Heat fused

OPP: You've also been working with the doily as a material symbol. What does it mean to you?

ML: Doilies have recently become an incredibly prominent symbol. The doily has a rich connection with home decoration, dinning and social class. I’m interested in thinking about how the doily has moved through materials; first as silk ornaments made for furniture coverings, then cotton doily placemats, to recent uses as plastic coasters and tablecloths. There is a fascinating juxtaposition between a handmade cotton doily heirloom and a mass-produced plastic, disposal doily coaster, which hints at a huge shift in class status and value for the handmade. The disposability of this symbolic object make me want to invest in it as pattern.

I have begun to weave with plastic doily tablecloths. I cut the material into strips, weave them together using a tabby construction and then heat-fuse the whole piece; the heat melts the plastic strips to form a new substrate. The imagery of the doily is fragmented and obscured by other woven-in, synthetic materials like plastic rug liners, disposable tablecloths, fabric gimp, trim and sequins. These cheap, domestic materials were a huge part of my childhood home, which was decorated with plastic dishware, textiles and furniture. My work reincarnates these utilitarian and disposable textiles into something surreal, gaudy and precious.

To see more of Melissa's work, please visit melissaleandro.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.