OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Corey Postiglione

Baroque Tango #3, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 40 x 80 inches.

COREY POSTIGLIONE's paintings use the visual language of geometric abstraction in combination with the literary device of metaphor. In crisp, flat color, he returns again and again to the curved line, the oval and the interlocking chain, allowing the meaning of these recurring forms to shift from painting to painting. Corey received a BFA in Studio Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a MA in Art History and Critical Theory from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. He has exhibited widely since the 1970s with solo shows at Thomas Masters Gallery (Chicago), Westbrook Modern Gallery (Carmel, CA) and Jan Cicero Gallery (Chicago), among others. In addition to his career as a practicing artist, his critical writing has been published in Artforum, The New Art Examiner, Dialogue, and C-Magazine (Toronto). He was a founding member of the Chicago Art Critics Association. He is currently Professor Emeritus from Columbia College Chicago where he taught Art History and Critical Theory as well as studio arts for over 25 years. You can see his work through March 1, 2019 in Curators Create Second Biennial at the Bridgeport Art Center (Chicago). Corey lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do geometric abstraction and metaphor work together in your paintings? Are they balanced equally, or does one drive the work more?

Corey Postiglione: This question is essential to my entire artistic practice, which extends over many years. I have always been attracted to the possibilities of abstraction—especially the geometric style— for its formal innovation, its freedom for color, no longer restricted to nature, and its potential for ambiguity of content. This last is where I have used abstraction for its metaphorical possibilities referencing such things as population growth (the Exponential series) or the recent effects of globalization (the Tango series). Also in this regard, the concept of personal “life paths” began with the Labyrinth series in the early 90s. 

Vortex # 14, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 16 inches.

OPP: Your titles are significant in terms of pointing to the metaphors, which are still quite open to interpretation. What do TangosVortexes and Lines of Flight have in common?

CP: All these series rely on certain themes mentioned above, a visual complexity or conundrum; the lines suggest flight or trajectories.  In fact I named one series of works Lines of Flight, for the possibility of escape. The Vortex series just increases the above concepts of visual complexity in the extreme as a metaphor for our current condition: where do we fit in this complex network of international globalization.

Dancer in the Dark #2, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 30 x 30 inches.

OPP: You’ve been working with recurring visual motifs for at least 15 years (if not more). What keeps you excited about curved lines, ovals and interlocking chains? Are you ever tempted to paint something drastically different?

CP: Since the 2000s, I have mainly used curved forms, ovals, circles, to further my themes of complexity and interconnectedness.  Moreover, what I like about using these curved forms is that they can be both mathematically geometric but at the same time suggest organic images.

The artist Robert Mangold, one of my early heroes, has said that when you reach a certain point in a series and it no longer provides a new and exciting place to go. In other words, when you have exhausted the possibilities, then you need to move on. This is excellent advice and one I take very seriously. Cezanne’s’ doubt is always hovering over you in the studio. However, these forms continue to supply me with new and exciting ways to create fresh work. But when that time comes, when I feel these forms are no longer providing new and innovative visual possibilities, I will take Mangold’s advice and move on.

Tango Primary WBG, 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 40" x 40."

OPP: You’ve written that you are “inspired by the great utopian notions of late modernism (the cult of the right angle),” but it seems you haven’t painted a right angle lately. How would you describe your relationship to Modernism? 

CP: This is a very complex question but a good one. In the early 90s, I started to question the notion that Modernism—or maybe more precisely Modernity—could solve the world’s problems through technology, science, design and aesthetics. I specifically titled a piece Utopian Dreams, visually referencing these doubts. We also saw the rise of Postmodernism(s) that critiqued traditional modernism. I never rejected the right angle, and some of the early Labyrinth series incorporated a stricter geometry. The curved forms just provided me with a more complex lexicon of visual potential that would better serve my personal and political content.

Tango Eclipse Diptych, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 40 x 60 inches.

OPP: What’s happening in your studio right now?

CP: I am continuing to explore new visual permutations with these curved forms. I am currently working on The Baroque Tango series. It follows the extravagant ideas imbedded in the concept of the Baroque: a rich and strong palette, emphasis on movement across the pictorial field and spatial complexity. It should be noted that as much as I strive to embody my abstraction with life-world content, I have always tried to make work that was visually generous in color and form. In other words, I want the work to seduce the viewer. I want the work to also be about the pleasure of the aesthetic experience, what Andrea K. Scott recently referred to as “retinal pleasure.” This is whether one gets what ideas are behind the making of the work. Otherwise I would just put up a didactic written statement. No, I am still an advocate of Visual Art with the emphasis on the visual.


To see more of Corey's work, please visit coreypostiglione.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.


Going Strong for 7 Years: Andrea Myers

Did you know the OPP blog just turned seven-years-old at the end of August 2018? In honor of our birthday and the artists we feature, we'll be sharing some blasts from the past throughout the year. In this post and throughout 2019, we'll share new work from Featured Artists interviewed in the first year of the blog. Today's artist is Andrea Myers.

What's new in your practice, Andrea Myers?

Andrea Myers: Looking back over almost a decade of my work, which sounds crazy to say, I have been busy with artist residencies, exhibitions, curating and teaching. I find as a continue to work in the artistic field, everything is a domino effect and is symbiotic. Opportunities grow from one experience to the next; the works I have been making are born from one another. Scale, scope and technique are things I intentionally or subconsciously push at in my work; I’m always seeking the next direction in my work. 

BurstBoom, 2015. Machine sewn fabric collage. 40 x 55"

I have had moments of collaboration and unique site-specific interventions. My work has been commissioned by public locations, corporate entities and private collectors. I have traveled to places I never thought I would go and also have done residencies where I am immersed in places for long periods of time. My teaching has grown from part time to full time, and as I have been teaching sculpture for almost ten years, I get excited to see how emerging artists are viewing the world through the lens of their making.

GreyzigGrayzag, 2017. Machine sewn fabric collage. 36" x 120"

I continue to learn and make; each new project or residency or teaching moment brings more learning curves and insights into my own creative practice. Through the evolution and change in my practice and myself over the last ten years, I remain engaged in saturated color, materiality explorations and looking to abstraction as a means of expression and visual experience.

Tangled Web, 2011. Detail of machine sewn fabric collage. 38" x 44"

In 2011-2012, I was one of five midwestern artists to receive the Efroymson Contemporary Art Fellowship recipients, which awards $20,000 grants to regional artists. Through this generous grant, I was able to afford more studio space, daycare for my daughter and other living expenses to help supplement my adjunct teaching at the time. The funding allowed me to feel able to take more risks in the works I was making and afforded me focused studio time, all helping to build momentum in my work.

Knotted Knaw, 2013. layered fabric, MDF, latex paint. 24" x 24" x 24"

I had taken some time off pursuing residencies because of having a child in 2010, and I started applying and attending residencies again in 2015. In the fall of 2015, I traveled to Daugavpils, Latvia to participate in the Fortress Man Textile Symposium at the Mark Rothko Art Centre. In the summer of 2016, I was chosen for the Work in Progress residency at the Textile Art Center in New York City. During the month long residency, I recreated a version of my studio space in the front window of the center and held public workshops, creating experimental textile collages.

Switchswatch, 2018. machine sewn fabric collage. 36" x 58"

In the summer of 2018, I was awarded the Dresden Artist Exchange by the Greater Columbus Arts Council, receiving a fully funded two- month residency in Dresden, Germany. I will be returning to Germany in 2019 to participate in a residency at coGalleries in Berlin, Germany. My residency experiences have nourished my studio practice, creating protected and concentrated time to make works and be inspired by new surroundings.

En Plein Air, 2017. Machine sewn fabric collages. 8' x 25'

Two larger recent commissions I have created have been for the Dayton Metro Main Library Branch, consisting of six textile wall-based works, entitled En Plein Air, inspired by Monet’s Waterlilies. In 2018, I was commissioned to make a large-scale immersive textile wall-based installation piece for the corporate offices of Facebook in Chicago. These projects have fueled larger scale works I am planning for the future.  A good amount of the works I make are commissioned, which I also balance with studio pursuits that are self-directed. I feel at this point in my artistic career, I have my chosen visual vocabulary established, and I am further exploring the possibilities within my own constructed language.

Rainbowedbend, 2018. Site specific machine sewn textile collage. Facebook, Chicago.

Currently, I am represented by Hammond Harkins Gallery in Columbus, Ohio, McCormick Gallery in Chicago, IL and GUT Gallery in Dallas, TX with upcoming exhibitions at Galerie Klaus Braun in Stuttgart, Germany, the Columbus Museum of Art and the Textile Museum of Hohenstein-Ernstthal, Germany

Read Andrea's OPP interview from 2010.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emi Ozawa

This is Granny Smith, 2018. Acrylic on poplar. 52" x 52" x 13." Photo credit: Margot Geist

EMI OZAWA's skillfully crafted sculptures show thoughtful attention to line, form and color. The simplicity of her geometry—repeating circles, lines and squares—belies the complexity of her thematic concerns. In kinetic sculptures and wall-hung sculptures that change dramatically as the viewer walks past, she explores of the relationship between looking, touching and moving. Emi studied at Joshibi University of Art and Design and Tokyo School of Art. She earned her BFA in Craft/Wood at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and her MFA in Furniture Design at Rhode Island School of Design. She has exhibited widely throughout the U.S, in London and in Tokyo. In January 2018, Emi's solo show Follow The Line opened at Richard Levy Gallery. The gallery will also take her work to Art Miami in December 2018. Her work was included in the group show Parallax : A RAiR Connection Exhibition (2018) at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, alongside Featured Artist Justin Richel. In 2019, Emi will be an artist-in-residence at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied graphic design and furniture design. How did that inform the work you make now? 

Emi Ozawa: while I was working as a graphic designer, the feeling of wanting to create 3D objects by my hand grew. I had the idea that objects could be kinetic and interactive. The reason why I started learning woodworking was to make my sculpture steady for touching and moving. I was interested in furniture as objects that have a built-in invitation to touch and move. I also wanted to learn about wood. I love the feel and the texture of this material.

Square on Square, 2010. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 19.75" x 20" x 3". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: What led you away from functional objects toward visual art?

EO: From the start, I was combining my sculptural ideas into furniture. I wanted my work to be inviting. You can sit, you can open a door. Its function was secondary for me. For instance, Bird tables surface is very limited. My ‘box form’ sculptures—like Wound Up(2001) and bOX (2001)—have very small inside spaces. Each piece has very unique way of opening and closing. They needed to be explained by someone present, sometimes a piece would be displayed in a case, all of this intruded on the viewer’s full experience. Gradually I felt that I wanted my work to be independent like a painting on a wall. Viewers are invited to look and have an experience of interaction without touching. Further more, I wanted to focus on surface painting more than spending too much energy with building mechanical parts and joints.

Red Bridge, 2004. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 15" x 15" x 2.5". Photo credit : Mark Johnston.

OPP: In your statement, you mentioned that play is a central concern of your work. Early kinetic works like Triangle Train (2009) or See Saw 2 (2002) could be touched. What makes an interactive work a sculpture versus a toy? Does that distinction matter to you at all?

EO: Yes. This distinction matters to me, but I can’t help it if others blur the line between the two experiences. Making art which applies itself to our instinct to play is the connection I am seeking. I think a toy is for the users—user-centered. That’s why a lot of toys are made safe for certain ages, for certain development, or there is a room for how to approach the toy.

Speaking about my interactive sculpture, there is a very specific way that a viewer can interact with the piece. When it’s activated, it shows a movement or a surprise which I created to share. So it is artist-centered.

Rain on Rain, 2016. (front, left and right side views). Acrylic on poplar. 48" x 28.5" x 2." Photo credit: Margot Geist.

OPP: Your wall sculptures are very much about visual perspective. They change if you look at them from different points of view. Is this pure abstraction? Or do you think of these abstractions as metaphors?

EO: I think a lot of them are pure abstraction using color and geometry, but some are developed from my response to nature. For example, I considered rain drops falling in Rain on Rain (2016), the moon in a night sky in Once in A Blue Moon (2014) and the vivid colors I see during Summer season in One Summer Day Takes a Walk (2013). I like working with squares and circles because they are my favorite language. They tend to relate, and I use them towards what you are talking about in terms of visual perspective. 

Drifting Mist (two views), 2015. Acrylic on poplar. 15" x 15' x 1.875". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: When I first looked at works like Kaki to Yuzu (2018) and Blue Line (2017), I thought of variations on the Modernist grid and the textile grid of weaving, as well as an accumulations of ladders against the wall. Then I googled Amidakuji (2016) and had a whole new perspective. Can you explain for non-Japanese speakers? 

EO: Amidakuji is a common game of chance in Japan. You just need a pen and a paper. You draw vertical lines of participants number which could be two to however many. Then add horizontal lines in between the vertical lines, write prizes or numbers at the bottom end of the line and hide that detail. Each player can add more horizontal lines. Now the game begins. Each participant picks a line. You track the path downwards from the top. Following the line, it crosses sometime with other path but never overlap. When you reach the bottom, you find the prize. When I started drawing this idea, I thought everybody knew about it. Then soon I found out it is not common in USA. As far as the purpose of the game goes, picking the shortest straw might do something similar.

Amidakuji, 2016. Acrylic on mahogany. 54" x 46.5" x 1.25." Photo credit : Jeff Krueger

OPP: How important is it that viewers understand this reference when looking at the work?

EO: I structured these three pieces based on this game and applied this rule to color these lines. I wouldn’t be making these works without knowing Amidakuji. But it can be looked at as a sculpture without its references. Though it is not a must, I mention its inspiration because it is part of it for me, as is this work’s relation to the Modernist grid you mention. It is interesting to see similarities in Mondrian’s structure and this game.    

Five Blue Circles, 2018. Paper on board. 10" x 15" x 2.5" frame.

OPP: Many recent wall sculptures are made of paper instead of wood. Is this a new material in your practice? 

EO: I have been making paper models for 30 years. It was for my furniture, as it is now for my sculpture. From drawing to paper model to wood sculpture. . . this has been my process. Paper model-making is an important step for me to see and understand three dimensional aspects before working on a piece in actual size and material. I always enjoy working with paper just like I do with wood.

I have an upcoming residency  in 2019 at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there will be an opportunity for me to do some 3D lithography. Because this work will be on paper, I was looking at my paper models and drawings and started experimenting with paper towards the work as a finished art object. 

Sugar Plum, 2018. Paper, tape on board. 13" x 13" x 1.5" framed.

OPP: Can you talk about the material differences between wood and paper?

EO: Paper doesn’t have thickness like wood. Paper is foldable and flexible unlike wood. Paper is more fragile than wood. There are many differences between the two, with what you can and cannot do, yet my paper and wood pieces are alike though in different scales.

Some ideas echo in-between wood pieces and paper pieces. My newest paper pieces are inspired by my wall wood sculpture that changes its look from the different perspectives. I found it is interesting that the reverse process is happening. Adding paper to my materials, my play ground of ideas is expanding. 

To see more of Emi's work, please visit emiozawa.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mikey Kelly

Be Love Now v1.0 17.084. Acrylic on linen. 60" diameter x 1-1/2" depth. 2017.

MIKEY KELLY (@mikeykellystudio) explores the spiritual undertones of abstract painting. Line is his primary mark, and his meticulous methods yield surprising, vibrating networks of color. Mikey earned his BFA at University of Oregon and his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art. His work is included in the permanent collections at the Cranbrook Museum of Art, the Frankl Foundation for Art and the Neiman Marcus Corporate Collection, and he has been an Artist-in-Residence at Kala Art Institute (Berkeley) and at Lucid Art Foundation (Inverness, CA). He's represented by Chandra Cerrito Contemporary(Oakland), where he has had two solo shows. His work is on view until May 20, 2018 in the Lucid Art Foundation Annual Artist Show at GRO in Point Reyes, California and in Proto_Pop at Dab Art in Ventura, California. Mikey lives and works in Napa, California, where he recently completed the Painted Poem Mural

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you say, “The paintings truly need to be seen in person to fully experience them.” What am I missing as a viewer who’s only seen your work online?

Mikey Kelly: Changing tonalities and perspectives can’t be caught by the single image capture of a camera and need an advanced brain and the higher resolution of the human eye to truly experience these effects. When one gets closer to the paintings colors begin to separate and what you may have thought was a blue was actuality your eye mixing two or even three different colors to make that blue. There are also times when the canvases seem to bow or stretch visually as one moves around the pieces. These paintings test the viewer’s visual, neural and perceptual plasticity.

Embattlements 13.218.1. Mild steel, powder coat. 26"H x 21"W x 4"D. 2013

OPP: You used to work in powder-coated steel (2011-2014). I see a formal connection between your current systems-based paintings and the line variations in the steel sculpture. Are the processes at all similar despite the difference in media?

MK: All my work starts with a line. Formally they begin at the same place, but the sculpture work is much older than the drawings and paintings. The sculptures did dramatically inform the drawing and painting from their beginning, as I was familiar with playing with lines and the patterns that overlaying subsequent lines create. The process of making work changed dramatically a few years ago when I moved from the sculptural realm to the two-dimensional.

Mantra (Om Namah Shivaya) 17.016. Acrylic on linen. 24"H x 24"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: Can you describe your algorithmic process for making paintings? 

MK: My process starts with an analog program using encryption methods developed for secretly passing information that can convert language into numbers. This is a generative way of designing paintings that leaves the outcome unknown. I start with a base 26 variation of a Vigenere cipher that allows me to convert language into numbers. The result is a string of numbers that I then use to calculate the angle of each series of lines. I end up with an algorithm that directs the line spacing, angle, line width and color in a predetermined sequence before I ever start painting. This means that I work with no preconceived idea of what the final piece will look like. Each series of lines results in color shifting and new interference patterns each step of the way.

Buddha 16.264. Acrylic on Linen. 11"H x 11"W x 1-1/2"D. 2016

OPP: How do you get such straight lines?

MK: The painting process starts with the construction of a scale outside the boundaries of the canvas. This allows me to use a straight edge to maintain the same angle across the canvas as each line is painted. I use a pin striping tool that was developed in the early 1900s—it is essentially a syringe with a wheel at the end. This tool allows me to paint consistent straight lines of the same width without variation.

OPP: What can the paintings do that the sculptures could not? And vice versa? 

MK: While both are quite formal, the paintings feel more like true expression of myself. Sculptures on the one hand allow space, distance, volume, light and shadow into play. This creates a lot of variables that a two-dimensional painting can never encompass. But the paintings have allowed me to incorporate outside interests into the design and underlying structure of the work. This is why I have been exploring ways of combining the two so I can incorporate what I love in both into one piece.

P.O.S., Acrylic on goatskin, wood and deer lacing, 62”H x 42”W x 1-1/2D.” 2018.

OPP: Recently, you’ve shifted away from the conventional rectangle to the circle and even stretched goat skin. What’s led you to this format change? Are these anomalies or an entirely new direction?

MK: This is definitely a new direction that the work is heading in. Working the way I do, I find that using a shape other than a square or rectangle allows for more freedom and a less confined feeling to the painting. This came about from working on a few murals and installations that I completed in the past year.

I have been working towards the goal of making more dimensional paintings that incorporate many different techniques and materials. I plan on incorporating more leather, steel and neon into my work in the near future. I find the flat surface of a painting to be confining and would like to see how warping or stretching the canvas or leather over other shapes will influence the viewing of the work.

The Happiness Project, 2018. StARTup Art Fair LA, Acrylic on Cardboard, 96”H x 192”W x 192”D.

OPP: Tell us about the Happiness Project.

MK: The idea was to make an installation that felt like the positive energy that was in the paintings. The Happiness Project started while I was preparing for StARTup Art Fair LA and was trying to figure out how I could transform a hotel room into a full immersive experience. I decided the way to accomplish this would be to fill the entire room by lining every square inch of the walls with painted cardboard panels. I began by taking two word positive affirmations, running them through my analog program and then painting the resulting angles on cardboard shipping pads. Over 30 panels were cut and fit around all the furniture, light switches and outlets.

After the initial installation, I had the opportunity to install the panels again this time at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary. For this iteration I decided to further cut the panels down and to also rotate them creating more complexity to the installation as the lines now ran both vertically and horizontally and the joints became more complex and varied.

The third iteration was as a Special Project Artist at StARTup Art Fair SF.  This installation became the backdrop for their panel discussion series and broadcast on Facebook live. This most recent version included much smaller pieces while still playing with the complexity of the previous version.

16.058. Acrylic on Paper. 40"H x 26"W. 2016

OPP: What does the phrase “spirituality hacking” mean to you?

MK: I started looking at different forms of religion and certain religious movements during a time I attended a series of events at the Rubin Museum in New York City. Most religious belief systems seem to have a short cut to attaining enlightenment or a closeness with God. Saying a certain prayer, doing a certain form of meditation or the spinning of a prayer wheel are all ways to cheating the system in a sense.

So this Idea of “spirituality hacking” became an element that I started incorporating in my work. I began by using the analog program I developed, which enabled me to take a prayer or mantra and to use it as the input. This then gave me a series of numbers that I could use as direction to paint from. This also led to incorporating rotations of the canvas during the painting process to create a painting as a representation of a spinning prayer wheel.

Mantra (Om Ami Dewa Hrih) 17.040. Acrylic on linen. 12"H x 12"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: But it sounds like the precise complexity of your process isn’t really a short cut at all. Perhaps the focus and flow of the studio is the direct path to enlightenment. . .

MK:  Although there are elements of my work that have a very spiritual jump off point, I feel like the work truly needs to be viewed as an abstract piece of art first and foremost. Throughout art history spirituality has played a very specific role. When abstraction began in painting, that role did not diminish; it just went unspoken. I have chosen to be vocal about the influences of spirituality in my practice. But if I am not there or if the wall label doesn’t tell you, then the work simply becomes a painting to be judged on its formal qualities.

Many people think that making this work must be meditational. Making these paintings means making the same type of mark thousands and thousands of times. Muscle memory aside, if I just leave the present for a moment while painting, I will make a mistake. It can be very stressful and physical. I endure the struggle because the end result contains such an amazing vibratory power. I hope the work brings joy and physical beauty into the lives of others and maybe helps them find a direct path to enlightenment.

See more of Mikey's work at mikeykelly.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center. Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Deborah Zlotsky

Cottleston pie, 2017. Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 36 inches.

DEBORAH ZLOTSKY's paintings and drawings emerge from a process that embraces accidents, coincidences and contingencies. Whether she's working in powdered graphite, chalk or oil, her abstract, interconnected compositions explore "the necessity of change and the beauty and complexity of living." Deborah earned her BA in History of Art from Yale University (1985) and her MFA in Painting and Drawing from University of Connecticut (1989). In 2012, she won the NYFA Artists’ Fellowship in Painting. She has received residency fellowships at Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, the Saltonstall Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ragdale Foundation and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art. In 2017, she opened two solo shows at galleries that represent her work: Fata Morgana at Robischon Gallery (Denver) and BTW, at Kathryn Markel (New York). Deborah’s most recent work was an outdoor, interactive work for Out of Site: Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood. Deborah lives in Delmar, New York and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does contingency play in your process?

Deborah Zlotsky: Contingencies and accidents fuel my process. I like to joke that my mother told me at an early age that I was unplanned, and that notion of accident probably permeated my thinking about being in the world starting in childhood. Certainly I never thought of being an accident as something negative—it was not presented that way, and the idea of hidden confluences of forces at work seemed important and revelatory.

As an undergrad studying art history, I loved the research part of scholarship, trying to gather and document all the forces at play to explain a particular decision or situation or mindset. But now I’m much more interested in harnessing or experiencing the variety of rules and responses that activate a process than explaining or describing,

After I research how to begin a painting, I’m buoyed by the thought that I’ve done my homework and feel equipped to start. However, I never know enough or am prescient enough to know how to proceed once I’ve started. Constantly assessing what in the painting is offering a way forward via a stray mark or an unanticipated proximity opens up possibilities and guides the way I value relationships and construct the painting. My reliance on contingencies and coincidences is hugely consoling. I need to work within a process that is, in a way, magnanimous. If I stick with the work long enough, not only am I not penalized for the fuck-up, but I’m actually indebted to the fuck-up.

Plan B, 2016. Oil on canvas. 60 inches x 48 inches.

OPP: A phrase that keeps popping into my head as I scroll through all your work is “abstract systems.” In some cases these systems seem bodily, as in the graphite drawings. In other works, non-uniform, angular blocks appear to grow out of one another, as in The inundation (2014). In paintings like The encyclopedia of obviously (2015), these angular blocks become more fluid and interlaced, evoking networks of air ducts. Does this resonate with you?

DZ: If you go back even further, my first serious paintings were figurative,  exploring the body as an intricate structure with complicated interconnections of form and movement and interval. I was interested in the poignancy of what the body could do, the weight and gravity of fleshiness,  and the complexity of color on and under the skin. Then, for a long period, I worked on a series of dark, invented still lifes, in which all the interconnected forms were cobbled together from disparate 17th, 18th, and 19th century painting sources. Combining still life and figurative imagery from diverse sources  and recontextualizing them somewhat surreally in one space created a new construction that straddled the past and present.  Even though I used a realist vocabulary in these earlier figurative and still life works, I treated the structures as abstract Rube Goldbergian configurations within the pictorial space.

Katchumpination, 2010. powdered graphite on mylar. 60 inches x 48 inches

OPP: Your on-going series of drawings with powdered graphite on mylar that you began in 2005 has such a different surface and line quality than the paintings. The forms are distinctly more organic and the edges are soft, almost blurred. They seem like bodies of creatures I’ve never imagined. Do you think of these as bodies?

DZ: In the drawing series, LifeLike, I manipulate powdered graphite on sheets of mylar through a particular Ouija board-ish  process. I like to say I draw what I imagine I see, as the velvety graphite is spread, painted, blown, erased, wiped and smudged on the surface. At the risk of sounding ponderous, when I’m responding to the graphite smears, I feel like I’m searching for signs of life. I don’t look at anything but the graphite, and I fabricate form and light from a muscle memory that comes from years of teaching observational drawing.

Munter, 2012.powdered graphite on mylar. 48 inches x 40 inches

OPP: Are the titles nonsense words?

DZ: Each drawing is named through soldering together fragments of sounds and grammatical parts to construct a whole, much like my drawing process. While the resulting descriptive drawings are fictitious forms developed from collaged, invented parts, I feel the concreteness of the illusion I conjure up blurs boundaries between documenting nature and inventing nature. The uncertainty between what is credible connects to what is identified as natural at a time when so much is researched and implemented to distort/exploit/mimic/redirect nature. I continue to make drawings through this process as it’s always thrilling to see what it yields, especially because the botanical/biological forms in the best ones acquire some of the irregularities, complexities and beauty of the natural world.

Pillow talk, 2017. Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 36 inches.

OPP: Your most recent paintings tackle the interplay of flatness and volume. Can you talk about the “process of accumulation, rupture and shift” in these new works?

DZ: In a general human way, my neural gravitational compass seems calibrated to discover the purposefulness and connectivity in things that initially appear disconnected and not quite operational. Finding that connective tissue launches a long and unpredictable process. For years, I thought of my role as a constructor, constructing relationships that perhaps weren’t that self-evident at the start. Now I see myself more as a repairer, patching up relationships that need a little TLC and introducing relationships to create a more nuanced infrastructure. That probably sounds overly anthropomorphic. It’s also rather biographical—my mother went to art school and my dad was an orthopedic surgeon. I always thought of my dad’s rarefied actions repairing bones, ligaments and tendons as super-smart and helpful, but grim and bloody, something alien to my squeamish, illusion-based, two-dimensional activities. However, the older I get, I seek remediation, creating flow and access by cementing together necessary relationships. Perhaps this is something I’ve inherited from my lovely dad.

Peccadillo  2017  Oil on canvas. 48 inches x 60 inches

OPP: “The paintings materialize out of a friction between intention and coincidence, much like the daily processing and deciphering required to be in the world.” This is such a precise description of the process that drives the work. How does this investment in process gel with the finished piece as a discrete, complete object?

DZ: There is a moment when the process and product become enlivened together—enough of one and enough of the other to work together. A painting is also painting: both the noun and the verb, which allows for a certain simultaneity of being in the process and deciding that the process has reached a moment of synthesis.

My paintings are about figuring out relationships as much as they are about the relationships themselves: a process of continual revision, revealing the history and poignancy of the making/experiencing/seeing/sensing. Anoka Faruqee said that “a painting is finished when it asserts a presence that I can only describe as the right balance of discipline and unruliness, when its structure unravels in the act of looking.” Her definition connects to what I’m aiming for when I make the decision to let go of the painting and release it to others to look at and fill in the blanks.

To see more of Deborah's work, please visit deborahzlotsky.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Julio Cesar Rodarte

Be Still My Soul, 2013. Acrylic on Shaped Panel. 22.5 x 24 inches.

Both figurative and abstract threads run throughout JULIO RODARTE's colorful paintings and illustrations. In work that celebrates sex and pleasure, he counters prudish taboos by rendering the body in geometric abstraction. Other works explore balance, symmetry and the interconnectedness of natural systems through pure, geometrical pattern. Julio earned his Associate Fine Arts degree at Glendale Community College in 2007. He has had solo exhibitions at A.E. England Gallery, Practical Art and the defunct One Voice Community Center, all in Phoenix. Two paintings will be included in Present Tense, a group show that opens on September 1, 2017 at MonOrchid Gallery (Phoenix, Arizona). You can purchase prints of his work here. Julio lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona.

OtherPeoplesPixels: First let’s talk about the queer, sex positive works like Friends Forever (2015) and Sit On It (2014). There’s a lightness, fun and joy in these paintings. Can you talk about how the bodies seem to merge into one another through your use of geometric patterns?

Julio Rodarte: The idea behind this series was to express that sex is not something dirty and perverse. It should be talked about it, rather than kept quiet. I remember when I was taking art classes and going to the museums and looking at these beautiful paintings of couples kissing. Sometimes they were naked, but there were no paintings of sexual intercourse because obviously sex is still a taboo. So, in my life drawing classes I would draw the human body by using shapes. That helped me draw better. By using geometric patterns, shapes and color I made something “dirty” look fun. I want the viewer to engage with my artwork, to take a deep view of what is in front of them. Sometimes people don’t quite get it first until they analyze it deeper and that’s when I know I have succeeded. Friends Forever was quiet a challenge, sometimes colors and shapes don’t get along with others and I go back and change things. The funny part of these works is when people ask me, if I get an erection by working on these type of paintings. I just think to myself “If you only knew all the work I put on it” and laugh. People are funny!

You Really Are My Ecstasy, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 60 x 80 inches.

OPP: Symmetry plays an important role in many of your paintings. What are your visual influences in works like Encounter (2011), Be Still My Soul (2013), Invasion (2013), The Pyramid of Love (2015) and Anahera (2017)?

JR: Symmetry is balance and balance is harmony for me. My first experience with symmetry was when I was a kid. My mom would make these beautiful cross-stitched designs for tablecloths or handkerchiefs, mostly flowers. She was so meticulous about her work, she would make in one corner one design and then another. Her work was extremely symmetrical and very addictive. She would use vibrant colors, red, blues, greens, yellow. My mom was my first art teacher, now that I think about it. She taught me beauty and balance. So in college, you explore painting and get to go to museums. I went to the Phoenix Art Museum and there was an Al Held painting on the wall. This painting was gorgeous, more beautiful than any realistic painting there. So when I got home that day I looked online for more of his work and I discovered other artists working in geometric abstraction like Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland and artists from Argentina working with geometrics, among many others. Every time I discovered a new artist, I fell more in love with pattern and color and that’s when it hit me that’s what I wanted to do.

ANAHERA, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 20 X 24 inches.

OPP: I can totally see that connection to embroidered tablecloths, especially in When it Ends, It Starts Again (2014). I also see pinball machines, video games and sacred geometry. I was thinking a lot about the presence of sacredness in play and in the everyday. Is this something you are interested in?

JR: I have never been a spiritual person. But I like to listen to a lot of vocal trance music, which in a way is spiritual and very uplifting. I like the progressive beats of this music, the melodic parts which combine vocals from mostly female singers. The title for the painting When It Ends, It Starts Again was actually a title by the DJ ATB from his album Contact released in 2014. My latest painting Miracle Moment was inspired by Andy Duguid's song "Miracle Moments" featuring the vocals of Leah. Parts of the lyrics are in the painting. so I guess vocal trance music is a source of inspiration for me. Some other paintings are also titled after vocal trance songs such as Higher.

TOGETHER AS ONE, 2016. Acrylic on Canvas.

OPP: Can you talk about balance in non-symmetrical works like Together as One (2016), Where Life Begins (2016) and Overenthusiastic (2016)?

JR: These paintings are so different from the rest. They don’t have symmetry but they have balance. Overenthusiastic was a really hard painting. I was adding pattern on one side but then I would do something on the other side, and it quite didn’t get along. I was going back and forth. Sometimes color helps to balance everything; sometimes it just ruins everything. I didn’t start with a sketch like I did with Together as One and Where Life Begins. Together as One I had a simple linear sketch with no color. So when I was painting it some colors were not getting along. The blue background was initially lighter and it looked awful. I went back and changed that and I decided that it was done. Where life Begins was an interesting process because it went by so fast. I knew how the outcome was going to look because I did my preparatory work. I didn’t go on an adventure like with Overenthusiastic.

OPP: Can you talk a bit about the imagery in Together as One and Where Life Begins? These aren’t entirely abstract.

JR: Together as One is a painting inspired by connectivity. The first sketch I did was very similar to the final result. It was a very spontaneous drawing on a sunny day in Phoenix by the pool. I used to go tanning by swimming pool and take my sketchbook. I would draw nonsense drawings. Some never survived, but others like this one did. I guess I tend to relate how all things in this world all connected somehow. As for Where LIfe Begins is a painting that deals with nature and how it hangs on to survive in a very busy world full of human construction. I have a geometrical-looking star that represents the sun, a cloud watering three plants that represents nature and life. An empty building that symbolizes the darkness in humans and how we destroy natural beauty with the things we make and expand.

ELECTRIFY, 2016. Acrylic on shaped panel.

OPP: When and why did you first begin painting on shaped canvases? What makes you choose the conventional rectangle for some pieces and a shaped canvas for others?

JR: My first shaped painting was This or That Way? created in 2008 after discovering Elizabeth Murray, who’s artwork deeply impacted me. She inspired me a lot to be wild and adventurous. So I went to the woodworkers store bought my self some big pieces of MDF. I drew shapes, cut them carefully, assembled and gessoed them, and started to draw. It was a very spontaneous process but very detail-oriented. In 2010, I had my first show at Practical Art. The show was titled Shapes and it included all these shaped paintings. It was quite an experience and a very successful. Overenthusiastic was the last shaped painting I did, and the reason why is because I have not bought anymore MDF and cut new shapes. But I have a sketchbook full of shaped paintings I want to do, I just need a day or two to fully do all of these. If I don’t do it at once, I just not gonna do it because it’s time consuming just to prepare the surface.

1937-PINK TRIANGLE, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas.

OPP: One of your newest works is 1937—Pink Triangle (2017), referencing the pink triangles homosexuals were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps. Why paint this right now? Do any contemporary viewers not get the reference and simply see this as abstraction?

JR: You know, I was invited to participate in a show about the LGBTQ history organized by the Phoenix Public Library back in March. The show was titled LGBTQ: Rights and Justice. Looking at what the other artists were putting together, I realized that we were omitting gays that were put in concentration camps, humiliated, raped, starved and murdered. I needed to paint that Pink Triangle that identified them from the rest. People were taking pictures of it. I think most people know what that symbol means, even young generations. But my painting was meant to be more educational than artistic. Somebody offered me money for it, but I didn’t sell it. I won’t make money from the pain of others.

To see more of Julio's work, please visit juliorodarte.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Cook

Swimmers, 2016. Acrylic on Paper

Painter BENJAMIN COOK's abstract, mostly colorful works live as physical objects and as images on the Internet. . . and he values both equally. His work is driven by a fascination with the structures, rules and algorithms that guide both our online and offline lives. Ben earned his BFA at the University of Louisville in 2012 and just completed his MFA at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the Spring of 2017. He is represented by Zg Gallery in Chicago, where he had a solo exhibition titled How Do I Know You in 2016. Other solo shows include Paintings for the Internet at Rochester Museum of Fine Arts in New Hampshire and Image Construction at Project 1612 in Peoria, Illinois. He is a founding member and Co-Director of Say Uncle Project Space, an experimental residency and nomadic exhibition program located in Central Illinois. Ben lives and works in Champaign Urbana, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Where do you position yourself in relation to the history of abstraction in Painting? What part of the discourse are you most interested in? What are you adding to the conversation with your work?

Benjamin Cook: I tend to jump back and forth between looking at historical movements in painting and contemporary works by artists on social media. I usually stray away from positioning myself within the typical art historical cannon because I feel it sets up a hierarchy that favors a certain vein of artists. I prefer to look at “nameless” artists making work today with the same level of seriousness that I look at artists in the Washington color school, abstract minimalism, early digital art, etc. I have noticed that artists in the early digital movement often pulled protocols and strategies from abstract artists that came before them, and I see what I do now as the next step in that process. I am pulling from the digital world and making it physical again.



Psychosis in Pink, 2015. Acrylic, Spray Paint, Glitter Paint on Paper

OPP: What influences your work outside of fine art?

BC: I am really interested in social media and the Internet in general. As spaces of analog and digital creep closer and closer together, the structures and rules that guide them tend to affect one another. My research into the reverse flow of information (from digital to analog) propels me to ask questions about how and where we allow these systems to have control over our lives, the decisions we make and our taste. We saw in the last election, the power that platforms like Facebook can have over our lives. I am largely influenced by those powers.



OPP: Tell us about Paintings for the Internet (2014). Are these painted as a gift for the internet as an entity—as in poetic odes—or are they somehow about the internet? 


BC: That series started off as a sort of experiment. I was interested in seeing where I could move images around through figuring out what blogs were influenced by other blogs, what Instagram users followed other users, things like that. I was attempting to deconstruct the algorithm and reveal the structures that played a role in what I was seeing.

Untitled 071315, 2015. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: So, are the paintings then, not the point, but rather a pretense to figure out influence and viewing trends?

BC: It might have started off with that question of trying to figure out the system and its biases, but the physical paintings were always important, too. I tend to see very little distinction between the physical and digital versions of the paintings. Sure, there are things that can only be seen by standing in front of the painting on a wall, but there also things that can only be experienced through a digital interaction. The methods and processes in which the paintings are created come from protocols of both the digital and analog world, and I see the works as a sort of merged experience. You can see this sort of thing happening all over the place. In pop culture, the fidget spinner, a toy that spins in your hand using ball bearings, also exists in countless forms as a smartphone app. Modern finance is so tangled in the digital that being physically closer to the massive computers that buy and sell stocks in fractions of a second can give a company an advantage. In education, supercomputers are able to let humans reach beyond the limits of the human mind to calculate immense equations and sort through incredible amounts of data, creating a system in which the literal facts about the world we know are structured through a  digital lens. To claim that the paintings are just a means of getting at the “trend” or “algorithm” would significantly diminish the importance of the analog within the digital.

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: And what did you figure out about the trends in the process?

BC: One of the patterns that became apparent through this project was a constant visibility by a certain group of artists. Through the structure of the algorithms, many different publications, blogs, galleries, and institutions that all are functioning under the pretense that their curatorial selections are based upon the judgment of an actual human. Through the consistency of this small group of artists being shown in these spaces and publications, it became apparent that the algorithms are playing a role in curation, helping to decide who “gets in” and who is “left out” though visibility. This all may seem like not that big of a deal, but when you think about the people writing the code, they’re not writing it while thinking about the art world. They’re thinking about engagement in general. This sets up a system that has the potential to favor specific groups of artists and disenfranchise others. The art world already has plenty of problems with excluding the voices of women and people of color, and if the algorithms are not considering that (and they aren’t), it only further exacerbates the problems.

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: How do you think about the paintings as paintings?

BC: I love them! I have always been a painter at heart. As I said before, I see very little separation between the digital and the analog. This allows me to both work with paint, in all of its physical viscerality, while still asking questions about my place within a digital world. There is always a new way to push paint around, and I always get excited about that process of discovery.


OPP: You have a strong tendency toward multicolored-ness. What does it mean to you to balance colors by using so many? 


BC: Color theory has always been an interest of mine. Each color on a painting is individually mixed and unique. I use that process to further test my boundaries of color knowledge. Placing them all in a grid or right next to each other becomes a sort of game for me. It is an attempt to replicate randomness, which is impossible. I pull a lot of my knowledge of color from the impressionists. I think about combinations of cool, warm, light, dark, and balance colors of the same value but a different hue right next to one another.

Arch, 2015. Graphite on Paper

OPP: In relation to your other work, I read your graphite works as having had the color drained from them. Were you excited or bored by working in grey tones?


BC: The graphite works come in moments of respite. When I find that I am leaning to heavily on the color to make a painting work, It helps for me to eliminate it all together. I can think about the composition and structure in greater depth without any distractions.

Static Structure 3, 2016. Acrylic, Resin on Basketball Net

OPP: How do you think about Static Structures (2016), a series of paintings on deconstructed basketball nets? How is working on the net different or the same as working on canvas or paper?

BC: They each have the ability to utilize structures from digital spaces in the same way. For me, the basketball nets came from how I interact with different social media platforms through the limitations and controls set up by the algorithms and code that structure them. The basketball nets acted as a given set of parameters that I had to work within to manipulate into something new. The element of gravity, through the drips of poured resin, invited an aspect of larger analog controls to the undulating net and froze it in a new form. From that new structure, I find and pull patterns out of the grid. The process of working within the structure to create my own image was largely metaphoric of the task of defining yourself through a digital platform. What images show my best side? What short bio, best promotes how I see myself? These types of questions that seem mostly open ended are actually largely confined to the set of parameters that each platform allows. The images created in the nets of patterned bands of color were defined in a similar fashion, a decision all my own, but severely limited in its possibilities.

To see more of Ben's work, please visit benjamincookart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matt Phillips

Luxor at Dawn and Bungalow

MATT PHILLIPS expertly wields color, line and texture in mid-sized paintings and smaller works on paper. Drawing a clear parallel between Geometric Abstraction in painting and in quilting, he divides the rectangle into endlessly-surprising, smaller shapes. He renders the repeated triangles, rectangular bars, half circles and curved lines in varying colors with repetitive, overlapping brushstrokes, balancing the importance of each mark with the overall composition. Matt earned a BA in Art/Art History from Hampshire College (Amherst, Massachusetts) in 2001 and an MFA in Painting from Boston University in 2007. He was a McDowell Colony fellow in February 2016 and has had solo exhibitions at Cerasoli Gallery (Los Angeles, 2009), Steven Harvey Fine Arts Projects (New York, 2013 and 2016), Branch Gallery (North Adams, Massachusetts, 2013), Kate Alkarni Gallery (Seattle, 2013) and the University of Maine Museum of Art (Bangor, 2014). His work was recently included in Summerzcool: A Group Exhibition at David Shelton Gallery in Houston. In September 2016, his work will be included in a three-person show, also featuring the work of Austin Eddy and Benjamin Edminston, at Charlotte Fogh Gallery in Denmark and in October 2016, his solo show Yard Sale will open at Devening Projects in Chicago. Matt is a professor of art at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent paintings evoke quilts, especially the Gee’s Bend Quilts, which are often asymmetrical and slightly irregular. Are these an influence for you?

Matt Phillips: The Quilts of Gee’s Bend have been very important to my relationship with painting. They share so many affinities with geometric abstraction and synthetic cubism. I love the spontaneity of the quilts’ imagery and the resourcefulness of the artists. Quilts and textiles teeter on the edge between image and object. Many of the Gee’s Bends quilts have such an incredible and varied physical surface found in well worn clothing and old denim. It is a kind of imagery that is generated by the exchange between the body and a swatch of fabric—a process not unlike the act of painting. I am also interested in how, as a sculptural object, fabric gives form to some of the more invisible forces of the world such as gravity.

Slow Dance (for E.E.)
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: I’ve noticed quite a few contemporary painters referencing both quilting and weaving in the last few years. What’s really interesting about abstraction in these textile forms is that it grows directly out of the process. In traditional quilting, one cuts just squares and rectangles from different fabrics and rearranges them using the grid to make other shapes. It’s a process of building up into a rectangle, but the rectangle doesn’t exist at the beginning. Painting, on the other hand, seems to be partly about dividing up the clearly defined rectangle. Your thoughts?

MP: I feel like the way that I approach my paintings has certain similarities with the process you just described. The painted image ultimately has to exist within the edges delineated by the support. In much of my recent work, though, the pictures don’t entirely fill the rectangle. Instead, the image form either extends towards or recoils from the edge of the canvas, sometimes both at once.

Untitled
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: Can you talk about the texture within your fields of color? It reminds me of coloring a large expanse of space with a very fine-tipped marker. The hand is really present. Is this effect something you sought to create or a happy accident that emerged from your process?

MP: This texture comes primarily from the paint that I use which is made by dispersing raw pigment into a silica binder. Making my own paint naturally creates inconsistencies in the opacity and transparency of the color. I also paint on a course linen using small brushes. The result is that the viewer can see many discreet passages of the brush within the larger flat areas of color. The place where two marks overlap create a darker seam that is slightly more opaque. Lately, I have been really interested in how this process creates a secondary illusionistic space within my paintings. It appears almost as if someone took the completed painting, crumpled it up, and then tried their best to flatten it back out. I remember turning in a lot of homework in a similar condition as a younger child.

Untitled
Silica and Pigment on Linen
24" x 20"
2014

OPP: In 2015, you translated Belay (2013) into a ceramic tile mosaic called Ascent. This translation really highlights the texture in your paintings in a new way. Did you execute the mosaic yourself or just lend the design? How do you feel about the translation after the fact?

MP: This work was a commission that I received from the New York City Public Art for Public Schools Program and installed in PS106, an elementary school in the Bronx. I collaborated with a great mosaic artist name Stephen Miotto. We worked together to find a way to translate some of the material issues I just described into tile. It was a great back and forth process as we tried to use hard pieces of ceramic tile to describe the way that wet paint looks. The school itself is designed in such a way that the youngest children are on the ground floor and the oldest children are on the third floor of the building. I wanted to try and make an image that somehow marked the student’s process of vertically climbing through the school as they learn and advance through the different grades. I also like that the work, like a ruler, consists of regular parallel stripes. My hope is that the students actually use these line as a tool to measure how they grow taller while attending the school.

Ascent
Ceramic Tile Mosaic
14' x 8'
2015

OPP: I’ve noticed a few recurring compositional motifs. House of Hands (2013), The Well at the Watering Hole (2014), Campfire by the Comfort Inn (2015) and Arboretum (2015) all have a figure-ground relationship, while simultaneously reading as pieced quilts. I see stacked boxes, stairs, mountains or buildings against a backdrop of blue sky. Can you talk about repetition of compositions and forms in your work from a process point of view?

MP: A lot of my works are built upon similar compositional structures or divisions of the rectangle. I like the idea that two things can have a similar point of origin but end up having two totally different conclusions. Those works you mention present the viewer with architectural forms. I think that such archetypal forms are a way I try and entice a deeper relationship to the picture on the part of the viewer—to get one’s eyes to pull their body through the picture plane.

Arboretum
Pigment and Silica on Linen
58.5" x 48"
2015

OPP: What’s your experience like when painting these works with similar origin points? Do you long to paint that form again or does it surprise you?

MP: It really happens both ways. Sometimes I make a painting and then later feel compelled to revisit it through successive pieces. For example, I may want to see the picture at a different scale, or develop a new idea about light or color in relation to the original image. At other times though, I will just be following a painting wherever it takes me and I’ll end up finding out that there is some unfinished business with regard to a certain form or motif. The four paintings that you just mentioned were made over two years. There were times when each one of those paintings had drifted into really different territory. The final four works ultimately returned to this related motif of stacked blocks, yet each one has its own distinct and winding path to this shared commonality - I think this gives each painting its own unique voice and story.

To see more of Matt's work, please visit paintingpaintings.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Heather Brammeier

Inside Outside
2014
Oil on canvas
36"x 54"

HEATHER BRAMMEIER’s flowing, curling lines—rendered two-dimensionally in paint and three-dimensionally in PEX piping—evoke vines, waves, hair, intestines, smoke and even cursive writing. Her paintings and installations are unified by the balance abstraction and representation, or expressions of the internal and the external. Heather earned her BFA from Bradley University in 2000 and her MFA from University of Pennsylvania in 2002. Her representational works will be exhibited alongside abstract reinterpretations in She Defines Herself, a solo exhibition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that opens on June 26, 2015. A rooftop installation at the South Bend Museum of Art in Indiana will be on display from June, 2015–May 2017. Adorn, another rooftop installation, will be on view for the month of September 2015 at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago.  Most recently, she was chosen to take part in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art's SENSE exhibition, as part of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Heather is an Associate Professor of Art at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your process in general. Are you a sketcher/planner or an intuitive maker?

Heather Brammeier: I love planning and sketching, but I always know the finished works will be very different from the plans. At the beginning of a studio day, I allow myself to follow any line of thought and imagine ambitious new directions. I mentally undertake any project and see where it goes, forgetting about physical limitations, even discounting the effects of gravity. It’s just like when I was a little girl, trying to balance huge Lego houses on a tiny base. This over-reaching is part of my process, because it gives me interesting problems to work on. I often find myself looking at a sketch and asking myself how I can achieve similar results with simpler, more direct means. This is how I devise new ways of working, or new ways of addressing current work.

Painting in Space 5
2015
Repurposed paintings, fabric, play balls, suitcase, chair, and other mixed media

OPP: I'm utterly enamored with the installations that you refer to as Painting in Space. Personally, I think of these more as sculptural quilts than paintings because of your decision to include found objects like chairs, suitcases, and balls as well as repurposed art work. Why do you think of these works as paintings instead of installations?

HB: I tend to see visual characteristics—shape, color, space—before naming objects or identifying things. This makes me very aware of the way our brain flattens visual input into an image. When I started assembling objects to make the paintings in space, I imagined myself “fattening” my paintings by giving them dimension and then “flattening” them again through photography. During construction, I definitely anticipate how the photograph will flatten out all dimension (as the brain does). The paintings in space still hold up as installation in an exhibition setting, but my primary focus is the image created, rather than an environment. Your term “sculptural quilts” is apt, as it describes both the dimensional and flattened qualities. I have an interest in the area between two and three dimensions, and I have explored sewing to work in that realm.

Ribbed Cave (With Uccello)
2014
Oil on canvas
45"x 30"

OPP: You return again and again to loopy mass of curls and coils in your Invented Landscapes and PEX sculptures. At times, these organic lines evoke vines, waves, hair, intestines, smoke and even cursive writing. Could you talk about your attraction to this form, as well as its counterpart, the triangle, that shows up in many of your installations?

HB: Loops and biomorphic forms have the potential to refer to interior and exterior simultaneously. I welcome all the associations you identified. I tell people I am “aggressively introspective.” I’m being a little self-deprecating, but also completely honest. My introspection over the years has led me to view experience of the mind, body and physical world as very fluid and continuous.  My imagery can easily shift from being read as interior to exterior space and from mental struggle to physical struggle. 

I use circles and triangles to evoke strength and stability. Just as the stability in our lives can turn quickly into chaos, carefully measured structures can transform into masses of lines that spin out of control. My return again and again to biomorphic tangles creates a physical manifestation of the constant search for meaning that we all experience.

She Defines Herself (Bordone's Princess, Jess)
2015
Conte on Rives BFK
30"x 22" each

OPP: Your Masterworks Interpretations began are based on famous paintings of the St. George and the Dragon story. In paintings like Waterfall (With Moreau's St. George) and Ribbed Cave (With Uccello), you  reinterpret isolated parts of the original paintings and place them inside your characteristic coils. But in 2015, you've made a major stylistic shift with drawing diptychs like She Defines Herself
(Uccello's Princess, Tura's Princess) and She Defines Herself (Bordone's Princess, Jess). What led to this shift?

HB: The masterwork reinterpretations began a few years ago when I used the language of biomorphic abstraction to reinterpret a master’s composition. I recently started allowing myself to start copying portions of the masterworks. I began to see that representational imagery can provide metaphor for internal struggles, just as abstraction does. This gave me permission to mine personal experience—through snapshots—and combine it with the masterwork imagery I was studying. These drawings were my way of breaking through the barrier I had set between abstraction and representation, but they do not represent an abandonment of abstraction. My plan is that the portraits will lead to paintings that combine abstraction with representation.

Incorporating the study of masterworks into my studio practice has taught me things I didn’t anticipate. While I am nothing like an art historian, I think I may understand now how connected an art historian feels to artwork. I also feel like I understand portraiture in a way that I never had before. A similar sense of longing arises in working from either a snapshot or a reproduction of a painting, as both have limited visual information. When drawing from a snapshot, I have to strain to find detail in the image, but I am compelled by my interest in the woman pictured. When I draw a woman from a reproduction of a painting, I am also constantly straining to see more in the image, but I begin without knowing the woman. The process of visual searching leads me to feel more connection with the woman in the painting. The gap separating real women I know and fictional women I can never meet is closed by visual study and interpretation. 

No matter the medium or approach, I tend to take disparate elements and put them on equal footing. In the paintings in space, objects stored in my basement are considered raw material on footing with oil paintings. In the masterwork interpretations, my approach to abstraction and the representational approach of the master artist are both on the table for me to use. The women in the conte portraits are considered equally, whether they are toddlers, young women or princesses. I put aside the distinctions that most people would consider first in order to present more universal qualities. Each woman’s expression suggests complicated thoughts and even inner conflict. I like to pair these portraits as diptychs, but I also like grouping them in different ways. Exhibited in one long line, the women seem almost to talk to one another, and the cropped horses and dragons from masterworks create a sense of absurdity.

Seeing Through (wall installation)
2013
PEX plumbing pipe, zip ties
20'x 15'x 4'

OPP: You have two upcoming rooftop installations, one at the South Bend Museum of Art and one at the Lilllstreet Art Center in Chicago. What are you planning? What's exciting about a rooftop space and what's difficult?

HB: I actually have three rooftop projects coming up! I was just chosen to do a piece at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I will be working in their Terrace exhibition space on the roof of the building. My outdoor installations utilize PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) because it is very resistant to the elements. PEX is more flexible and light than PVC and more rigid than most hosing, so it holds curves very well.  The cross-linked fibers allow me to drill holes through the PEX; red and blue zip ties are threaded through to hold curves in place. I make large, elegant tangles that can drape across walls and tumble over edges. 

Each space holds its own challenge. The piece I am making for the South Bend Museum of Art will tumble over the edge of a twenty-two foot high wall. Creating a piece that has a substantial visual presence viewed from the sidewalk as well as from the various tall buildings surrounding the Century Center will be a challenge. I am using some wooden structures with arcs and triangles to help establish a strong visual profile and to physically anchor the piece. The Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago has four flagpoles on the edge of its rooftop, and I’ll be draping PEX loops from one to the next like a necklace or adornment for the building and the sky. At the UICA in Grand Rapids, I have a much larger space than I ever have before.  Some of my plans for this space are still in the works, as I have a lot of research and testing to do. I can tell you I will be building more structures for the PEX to climb on, and I’ll be making striped walls with red and blue tape.  The optical effects of red and blue PEX in front of red and blue stripes will be exhilarating for some, and disorienting for others because of the strong color vibration. The red and blue lines invite associations with arteries and veins, which can lead to contemplations of the visceral experience of artwork.  I also embrace associations with toys and hula-hoops. As in much of my other work, I am addressing the fact that apparent opposites often exist together and that ambiguity reigns over clarity.

To see more of Heather's work, please visit heatherbrammeier.com
.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leslie Bell

Cosmic Wall-Les Territoires (installation view)
2009
Water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
8' x 40'

LESLIE BELL's immersive, colorful collage installations hover in the threshold between abstraction and representation. The organic, rhizomatic lines evoke explosions, sea life and planetary movement, but formal decisions are often influenced more by materiality than imagery. Leslie received her BFA from Alberta College of Art & Design in 2002 and completed her MFA in Painting and Drawing at Concordia University, Montreal in 2009. In 2008, she attended the Cosmic Ray Research residency at The Banff Centre, and has been the recipient of numerous project grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (2008, 2010 and 2011). Leslie's stop-motion animations of water-based paint over back-lit glass have been screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival (2013) in Australia and the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (2014) in Toronto, among others. She has exhibited widely throughout Canada, including solo shows at Skew Gallery (2011) and SQ Commons (2013), both in Calgary, where Leslie lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are your collage installations pure abstractions? What visually influences you in the creation of these works?

Leslie Bell: These collages, composed of over a hundred paper and paint-on-Mylar cutouts, were developed from two different directions. The paper shapes are made by tracing projected photographs of trees, plants and fireworks explosions as contour line drawings and then cutting them out by hand with an X-acto knife. This process is a holdover from older works. In undergrad, I was primarily a landscape painter who worked from image references that I projected and traced. When I switched to abstraction, I incorporated these contour drawings into the layering of the paintings and later into stand-alone drawings on paper. Over the years I have shot hundreds of photographs on hiking excursions in British Columbia, on holidays in Europe and of my own houseplants. These photos are now my source materials for the white paper collage pieces that are a direct development from this early abstract work.

The paint-on-Mylar shapes fall under the category of pure abstraction. The material conditions, rather than any outside images, dictate the formal language, but those abstractions sometimes lead me to think about sea-life, mucous and cellular organisms, which in turn influences the work. I work on the floor, pouring out puddles of FW ink and acrylic paint and allowing them to blend and mix as they dry. Saturated puddles of ink on Mylar dry in a particularly interesting incremental way, leaving thick lines and edges and creating smaller shapes within the form. I started out making jellyfish-like shapes, and I embraced the way folds in the plastic or uneven floors would allow "tumors" or new "limbs" to sprout overnight. With jellyfish in mind, I considered giving the shapes "tentacles" and then began to incorporate gestural lines of paint, mirroring the action of a swinging wrist and arm into the shapes as outcroppings. From there, the shapes made me think of the mind maps I draw in my sketchbook composed of circled text and lines, as well as strings of sap or snot, so I began adding intricacy to the forms by making multiple puddles of paint or "nebulae" connected by swooping and drooping swaths of lines made with large flat brushes. The frosted Mylar I use comes on four-feet wide rolls, so I would make larger shapes by stretching the "snot strings" lengthwise. At a certain point I became fascinated by the texture that can be created by splashing and dripping concentrated ink into the puddles with an eyedropper—it looked like leopard spots to me—and I went through a whole period of making "leopard amoebas."

Cosmic Wall-Banff (detail)
2008
Water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
8' x 20'

OPP: What first led to the shift from painting to installation?

LB: I first started the Cosmic Collage in 2008; my goal was to solve a problem in my painting practice. At the time, I was really into the work of Julie Mehrutu, Matthew Ritchie, Dil Hildbrand and Melanie Authier, and I was struggling to emulate their work. I sought a level of layered complexity that just wasn't happening in my paintings. It occurred to me that pre-planning the compositions through collage might achieve the level of intricacy and layering I was looking for.

My work took on an unpredicted trajectory. The collage itself became a satisfying, exciting, fully-realized body of work. New material explorations changed the aesthetic, and I began to consider installation and space. But I always kept my original goal in mind. Over the next year or two, I poked away at some paintings, working from the photo documentation I took of the first collage-installations at The Banff Centre and Galleries Les-Territoires. Thinking of my favourite painters, I switched to oil paint for these studies and began from some simple questions: canvas or birch panel? Paint loosely or photo-realistically? Masking tape hard-edges: yes or no? I considered these initial studies to be failures up until SIM 1 when something "clicked" aesthetically.

Pith 4
2013
Oil on birch panel
48" x 60"

OPP: Could you talk about the intersection of dimensionality and flatness in Simulation Series (2014)?

LB: The paintings from Simulation Series are essentially photo-representational paintings of abstract source material. I place two-dimensional forms into three-dimensional systems, photograph them and then paint the resulting abstraction with the same representational techniques that I developed when I painted from life and landscape. I love the idea that the viewer can recognize and appreciate the tropes of traditional, representational painting, including cast light and shadow, colour value and focal depth, while the subject is unrecognizable: I’m literally simulating abstraction.

With my earlier abstract paintings, any sense of flatness or space was an unintentional byproduct of trying to develop an abstract aesthetic through a combination painting and drawing while being unsure of my direction. I was trying to achieve a virtual space through a mental process without any real reference points. But with the Simulation Series, which references Baudrillard's notions of hyperreality, I embraced the ambiguity between abstraction and representation, between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional.

The initial source materials are flat shapes that occupy real space, casting interesting shadows that I exaggerate in the paintings. The bends in the paper in the collage and the source lighting create highlights and shadows that add value and ambient light to the original local colours. The photos I take of the three-dimensional installations distort the forms through cropping and a combination of sharp focus and blur that can be emphasized through a combination of hard-edge and gestural blending techniques.

Cosmic Wall-Skew
2011
Wall collage, water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
15' x 40'

OPP: Are your Cosmic Wall installations planned or improvised? What are some of the practical logistics of hanging your installations?

LB: The installations are loosely planned. I reuse the shapes with each new installation. After finding out where the work will be shown next, I get a general idea of what kind of superstructure I'm going to go for based on the conditions of the space (on the wall or hanging from the roof, horizontal swoop or water-fall, one main shape or small clusters, etc.) With this in mind, I make as many new shapes as time allows with the specific space in mind. I always start out with a general idea of the composition, but the installation grows incrementally and decisions are made organically in the process. I'm never very picky about exact placement of every piece. It is an abstract collage after all, and I personally enjoy accidental formations and surprises that happen through the process.

Through the different installations, the individual pieces have suffered some wear and tear, and I often need to patch some chipped bits up with paint or retire them altogether. All the individual bits have a maximum size of 4 x 8 feet because everything is stored in flat, cardboard portfolio packs—with the exception of some 20 foot ribbons that get rolled up for storage in a box. I've learned through experience that the paint shapes need at least a week of drying time before being packed away, and I need to separate them with newspaper or they will stick together.

SIM5
2011
Oil on birch panel
60" x 60"

OPP: Do you use assistants?

LB: At first, I did all the work from creation to installation myself, but as early as the Les-Territoires installation I began to delegate tasks and rely on installation assistants. I invited my friends to help me X-acto knife out my paper shapes to save time. The more complicated wood shapes were made by a professional printing company using computer laser cutting. My husband would hang my wood bits for me because I'm not strong enough to lift them. He's a commercial electrician and figured out the framework for hanging the heavier wood pieces, which are anchored to walls with metal rods painted white or hung from the roof with aircraft cable, using supplies he pilfered from construction sites. The collage itself is hung with clear push pins and fishing wire.

With the Glenbow Museum and Art Gallery of Calgary installations, I had a team of professional installation technicians helping me. I spread out all the shapes on the floor and handed them pieces one at a time while they were up on ladders. I told them where and how high to hang things, and they problem-solved to make it happen. The installation process is generally a fun and stress-free collaboration with the installation technicians, and I'm open to their suggestions in terms of installation and lighting.

Cosmic Wall-Glenbow
2013
Wall collage, water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and MDF cut-outs
12' x 20' x 5'

OPP: In general, are your animations pure stop-motion or do you ever employ digital editing techniques?

LB: I try to achieve as much as possible in-camera with the hand-painted stop-motion techniques, but there are some digital effects added in post-production using AfterEffects. But with every digital effect added, the original source material becomes slightly degraded. I am compulsively obsessed with maintaining as much high-definition detail as possible. (I abhor seeing these films projected in SD!) So I make sure the lighting is perfect before filming and for the most part, I use the original paint colours and light levels. I crop and blur with the camera set-up instead of using computer scale change and blur filters.

When I first started Chromafilm, I was still learning animation, and I had some strategic struggles trying to achieve pre-set goals based on combining existing aesthetics of paint animation with my own pure abstract painting technique. I was thinking about animation as a way to create a living painting, emulating the experience of painting as the mind works through the possibilities and permutations of abstract composition. But I mostly wanted to make moving versions of the paint-on-Mylar shapes from the Cosmic Collage.

Chromafilm
2011
Stop-motion animation, water-based paint over back-lit glass
3:38 minutes

OPP: What about speed and mirroring in Chromafilm (2011)?

LB: I was never really satisfied with the level of frenetic activity of Chromafilm. Throughout the process, I did as much as possible to slow the paint down, but paint dropped into water moves at a certain speed and the camera takes a certain amount of time to capture each individual picture. The paint-on-glass painting technique is achieved with Golden fluid acrylics mixed with water and some glycerin (which never dries) poured over a glass window on a light table that is tipped slightly by a margin of millimeters. I wanted the final film to be HD, so I needed to capture the largest possible image files. Each individual frame took about two seconds to capture. Those two seconds felt so long as I watched the colour explode on the table into the water.

I learned a lot while tinkering with AfterEffects. I discovered the mirroring effect, which anchors the movement centrally and alleviates a previous sea sickness that came from watching the fast-paced movement flow rapidly from side to side. I learned to colour reverse by switching the curves, which turned the white background to black and altered the original stained glass-like color palate to an ultraviolet one. This aesthetic turned the recognizable paint on a light table into a cosmic and psychedelic field. 


Apollo
2011
Stop-motion animation, water-based paint over back-lit glass
16 minute loop

OPP: Your animation Apollo (2011) pulses back and forth in imagined scale. One second I see outer space; the next I'm looking at carbonation bubbles rising in a glass. As I watched the 16-minute loop, I fluctuated back and forth between wondering how certain effects were achieved and surrendering to the visual pleasure. What’s different in the process of this piece?

LB: One day while shooting Chromafilm, I took a break to go for a walk and when I came back, the paint had dried somewhat and mixed into a thick gooey puddle with some air-bubbles in it. On the computer screen, this shot looked like a starry sky. This moment was the impetus for Random Peter, Aquarius and Apollo. I shot Random Peter that same day. I used a brush to scrape away paint, and then shot image sequences as the paint slowly spilled in and filled the mark. In real time, the paint was moving at a slug’s pace because the paint mixture had less water in it than what I used for Chromafilm (speed problem solved).

The sequences I used for both Aquarius and Apollo were made by using a sponge off frame to soak up paint from under the bottom of the frame and squeeze it out over the top. When you see an explosion of dots in the frame, that was achieved by whipping a goop of paint from a paintbrush from out of frame. This process took more than half a year, and I ended up with 48 minutes of raw footage.

There is a particular effect that is more predominant in Apollo where the bubbles seem to streak in chains or lines. I copied the clip multiple times and repeatedly offset it by a single frame. When it looks like molecules slowly popping in and out, that’s actually a set of clips multiplied and offset about 40 times. I personally consider it both the success and bane of Aquarius and Apollo that the animation is so seamless that it is not readily apparent that it’s origin is hand-painted. Typically stop-motion animation is appreciated largely for the amount of work that goes into it. Because these films seem to be digitally created, that aspect goes unnoticed.

COSM10
2008
Acrylic and pen on masonite panel
4' x 6'

OPP:
From a purely process point of view, do you prefer painting, installation or animation more?

LB: Overall, my practice is a combination of intuitive and analytical approaches. These varied processes fall somewhere along a spectrum between active/reflective spontaneity and compulsive methodology.

Painting is challenging and makes me think at every step. It is an energetic process where I am reflecting and responding to each and every brush stoke. Discoveries are made, boundaries pushed and surprises happen. When I feel like I've mastered a particular technique and I'm sure of how a painting will turn out, I move on to a new series of paintings. I don't like going through the motion of painting when I feel I already have the answers. To me, painting is a thought process as opposed to a technical one. Installing my collage work is downright fun. All the production work is already done. I literally wave my hands around, and, like magic—the magic is that other people do all the labour—a massive art piece comes to fruition.

I like animation because, I get so involved in the rhythmic methodical making and the rabbit-hole of editing that I can spend hours at it without stopping. By the time I was working on "Aquarius", capturing the stop-motion paint reached a point where I repeat the same action hundreds of times without the need for much reflective thinking or interpretation. The same could be said for hand-drawn cel-animation; although it leads to new forms, it involves an iterative process where I am basically tracing the same shape over and over again with only a small set of slight changes. These methodical actions put me in a meditative state where all thought or stress leaves my head. Video editing also satisfies my masochistic need to focus on very small details and set-up overly complicated processes where I create an unnecessarily labour-intensive procedure that could not be explained in simple terms.

I feel like you just asked me to pick my favourite child!

To see more of Leslie's work, please visit lesliebell.ca.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.