OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christos Pantieras

Am I Worth It?, 2017. Detail of installation.

CHRISTOS PANTIERAS transforms digital communication—emails, text messages, and chat conversations from gay hook-up apps—into tangible sculpture through the very slow processes of casting, carving and embossing. He gives weight  to these words, often typed casually and quickly, and forces the viewer to slow down in considering the lasting effects of all communication on the receiver. Christos earned his BFA at University of Ottawa in 1996 and went on to earn his MFA at York University, Toronto in 2015. Christos has exhibited widely throughout Quebec and Ontario and recently received a Municipal Grant from the City of Ottawa. His solo show Am I Worth It? is on view at Circa-Art Actuel in Montreal through September 9, 2017 and will be shown again at the Ottawa School of Art in January 2018. He has upcoming solo exhibitions in October 2017 at Art-Cite in Windsor, Ontario and at La Madison de la Culture, Gatineau, Quebec in Summer 2018. Christos lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do your material and process choices—cast concrete letters, carved wax and embossed text on various surfaces—support your conceptual interests?

Chris Pantieras: Each choice enhances what I'm communicating in my work. For example, the carved wax bricks of I miss talking to you feature a letter of regret that I received six months after a former partner of mine took off. I used wax recycled from candles people lit in my local church and that are never left to fully burn. I melt down these candle fragments and cure them into new forms, in this case the cast bricks. These bricks, if not physically heavy, doubtless carry the psychic weight of their earlier life as containers of hopes, dreams and contemplation. The final installation took the form of a wall which represents the barrier that was built between myself and my former partner.

Concrete, on the other hand, is bland and references the city. How often does one stop to admire a concrete building? We're surrounded by it, and it is just part of the every day. This plays into how language used on gay hook-up apps has become a non-event. The coded words, abbreviations and statements are a very normal and familiar method of communicating with each other. Additionally, bringing online text offline and making it tangible addresses the materiality of words. To make my letters, I need an aggregate—silica sand in this instance—to to bind the cement together. As a parallel, the individual cast letters represent the aggregate. When they're placed next to each other, they bind together and form a word.

I miss talking to you, 2012-2013. 1024 bricks cast in wax procured from a local church, carved text sourced from an email. 533cm x 3 cm x 243 cm

OPP: What about the processes?

CP: My processes are slow and time consuming on purpose, and I thoroughly enjoy the physicality involved in creating most of my work. For me, it's very important to record my presence, and I do this through repetitive acts and accumulation. The text is sourced from a screen; it lacks warmth. Through my methods, I add the human presence. A great example of this is the embossed text in the work Impress Me. Each piece of paper features one email that has been hammered into the surface using old fashioned, metal printing rods. As the viewer reads the papers from left to right, the text becomes more and more illegible as the embossing rips the paper. The viewer focuses less on what is written and more on the transformed material

Impress Me (Detail) 2005-2009. Email text hammered on to paper, six custom reading tables. 11 x 15 in (each paper)

OPP: Most of the text you render through these slow processes relates to dating and lost relationships. Is this work more about the value of slowing down the process of communicating or about the slowness of processing what’s been said after it’s been said?

CP: This is a great question. Firstly, it's important to know a little about the source of the various narratives and where the digital communication comes from. The text I use is either from emails, text messages or interactions on dating/hook-up apps. It is taken directly from my own experiences, encounters and lost/potential relationships. I'm also old enough to remember a time when online dating was very new, perceived as very risky, but was also extremely exciting. Going home to log-in, get online, and check my email was a rush. What people wrote had weight since communicating wasn't as fast and immediate as it is today. Now there's no offline; we're always online. Connecting and interacting with new people is extremely easy, and perhaps that interaction holds less value than it used to.

So, to answer your question, it can be both. My use of analog tools and repetitive processes highlights the contrast between the lack of effort required in my online relationships with the huge amount of commitment and investment it requires of me to make the work. The more recent work uses the language of immediacy from gay hook-up apps, but most of the other pieces were created from emails or text messages that I catalogued and held on to for years. This is an example of how I am processing what's been said, however the way the text will be used manifests later. I kept one email almost ten years before it took physical form. I still have several samples of communication archived in my sketchbooks that may or may not become new work.

GLEN, 2009. Lightjet Print. 26 x 47 inches

OPP: Your work isn’t just about communication between romantically-engaged individuals. Who Sits Here? (2009) explores the way adolescents communicated via writing inside desk drawers before the ubiquity of handheld digital devices. What does this series reveal about communal communication spaces?

CP: It reveals that individuals can be as candid as they want to be without much concern for accountability. The school desk drawer of yesterday mirrors the forums of today. We contribute, we take it in, we respond. Except for the fact that an identity, whether fictional or real, is attached to the author in today's communication spaces, they are no different in terms of what we communicate and how we respond today. The language is still honest, bare and risky. I love the focus on human presence in the doodles, the various penmanship styles and the carved surfaces. The desk drawers are amazing objects.

Tread Lightly, 2015. Concrete, sourced text message. Dimensions variable.

OPP: The cast concrete letter works—HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. (2015), Tread Lightly (2015) and Say What You Mean (2014)—reference alphabet soup and colored alphabet fridge magnets. Each installation uses these letters in a different way, but in each the experience of reading is slowed down for the viewer. How does the viewer’s experience of the various installation of these letters relate to dating in the digital era?

CP: Although my work specifically references my own encounters, I want it to be accessible and relatable to everyone. Yes, they're about my experiences as a gay male, but there's something universal about online dating that goes beyond any limits of sexual preference and orientation. You'll interact with someone who will be kind, respectful and genuine just as easily as someone who is direct, dismissive and crass. I enjoy engaging with people about my work and taking the time to explain where it comes from because it's great to hear them make connections to their own lives and their own experiences. They begin to tell me their stories about dating in the digital era, and I value that vulnerability.

HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. was featured in the Installation Zone at the Artist Project in Toronto in 2015. There were thousands of people there on opening night. It was amazing to see who related to the piece right away and who needed some time. Any gay male that walked by knew exactly what this was and where the language came from. They were not fazed in the least and felt that they were reading their own messages. The complete opposite reaction came from everyone else. They had no idea what they were reading until I explained it to them. Reactions ranged from disbelief about the direct or rude language to, once again, making personal connections and having conversations with me about their own online interactions.

HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. 2015. Concrete, buckets, sourced text from hook-up apps. Detail.

OPP: Your most recent installation Am I Worth It? (2017) is currently on view through September 9, 2017 at Circa Art-Actuel in Montreal, Quebec. I believe this is the first installations in which visitors can walk on the letters. Is that correct?

CP: That is correct. I wanted visitors to have a more direct engagement with my work. By putting them in a position where they have to walk on the art in order to take it in, I get to offer a different experience for each visitor.

Am I Worth It? 2017. Sourced text message, letters cast in concrete, silica sand, subfloor. Dimensions Variable

OPP: How does the title relate to the raised text in this floor of letters?

CP: The title Am I Worth It? is answered by the raised text that spells out the statement: I'm not willing to make the effort. Like many of my pieces before, the text is sourced from a relationship that had a lot of potential. But he wasn't willing to invest in it since it was long-distance, and I was moving even further away to complete my MFA. The sentence plays off the fact that this installation took a lot of personal commitment to complete. The floor is tiled with thousands of cast-concrete letters laid out like a giant word search. I chose to reveal the statement intermittently, pushing up from the jumble of letters, almost like they're trying to make themselves be noticed, or conversely, about to be buried.

To see more of Christos' work, please visit christospantieras.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 Zach Whitehurst

untitled (s15.5), 2015. Ink, Watercolor and Pencil on Paper. 16" x 12"

ZACH WHITEHURST's process-driven practice results in meticulous, textured and patterned drawings. In a often-monochrome palette, he both fills the void of the page and uses negative space in decisive ways. The resulting images evoke aerial views of landforms, bodies of water and cities, as well as collections of rocks or unnameable found artifacts. Zach completed his BFA, Magna Cum Laude (2003), and his Post Baccalaureate Study (2006) at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He went on to earn his MFA in 2008 from Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. In early 2016, Zach's solo show Dissecting Pattern opened at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery and he recently gave an artist talk at the Brooklyn Art Library. Zach lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Repetitive mark-making is the foundation of your practice. What does repetition mean to you outside of your studio? Where do you encounter it? How do you experience it?

Zach Whitehurst: In the studio my obsession with repetition is more complicated, but outside of the studio, repetition for me is mostly about patterns. There has always been something appealing and comforting to me about pattern. I see it everywhere. In architecture, nature, books, music, numbers, everywhere; the way bodega owners stack fruit outside their stores, subway tiles, the bark on a tree, bar codes, textiles. . . the list is endless. And pattern, for me, is not limited to a same shape or theme being repeated over and over. Sometimes my favorite patterns are the ones which form from a lack repetition.

Pattern and repetition are things that I have always been draw to. I think that I have a bit of an obsessive/compulsive nature and for me there is something meditative and therapeutic about pattern and repetition, especially in terms of routine and organization.

untitled (s16.2), 2016. Ink on Paper. 14" x 17"

OPP: Tell us about the recent introduction of color into what has previously been a distinctly black and white oeuvre.

ZW: For a long time I didn't want to introduce color into my work because I didn't want to take away from the process and pattern. The patterns I was using were, at times, so complex that they needed a minimal plane (white paper) on which to be presented and a minimal tool (black ink) with which to be made. Those drawings were all about process and pattern and often the larger organic shapes—as in the Repetitive Series—which formed as a result. When I was making those pieces, I was very drawn to the simple act of mark making. I would take a pen and paper and let the drawing come out of the process.

More recently, my work has evolved and has become, at times, more experimental. The process I use to make most of my work is, while minimalistic, also very time consuming. The larger pieces can often take so much time in the studio that I don't have any time to work on new ideas. As a way to experiment with new ideas, media and with color, for a year, I did a small 5”x7" drawing everyday. These were involved enough for me to flush out new processes and ideas but small enough to almost be “sketches.” This allowed me to maintain my studio practice and experiment at the same time. A lot of the new work that I have been making has come out of that experimentation. I have started to introduce color, but cautiously and purposefully. The process is still as important to me as the final piece and I am hesitant to have any of my drawings become too heavily imbued by color.

untitled(rs7), 2012. Ink on Paper. Detail

OPP: What’s your favorite mark-making tool and why?

ZW: I have tried, used and  continue to use many different tools in the studio. But the one that I can't live without, the one that I use everyday, is the Sakura Pigma Micron pen. Size 01 (.25mm) is probably the size that I use most often. For me, it's about the consistency of the line, the durability of the tip, and the quality of the ink. I've been using them for years and they have always performed well. Often I am working with a repetitive pattern that is very detailed and which involves tiny shapes. The Micron gives me the ability to work consistently on a small scale without the lines bleeding into one another.

untitled(rs11), 2012. Ink on Paper. 24" x 19"

OPP: I interpret your drawings as partly about a compulsion to fill space. . . what do you think? And can you talk about the moments you choose not to fill the space of the page, as in the Repetitive Series?

ZW: I don't know that I would say that they are "about" a compulsion to fill space, but I would agree that I often do have a compulsion to fill the space (depending on the series or piece) - and I think that this can come through in the work. In the Repetitive Series, I was working on a creating an organic process for myself to not fill the entire space and the series grew from there. What is exciting for me about that series is the negative space, especially when it is very tight. I like the energy and excitement that comes out of keeping the shapes just far enough apart to leave some space between them. At times in the series, I took that process to its extreme by leaving barely any negative space on the page at all. I have some forthcoming work which highlights the discomfort of leaving a piece "unfinished" or a space not "completely" filled.

untitled (gs12), 2014. ink on paper. 19" x 24"

OPP: Your Repetitive Series evokes aerial views of landforms and cities as well as drawn maps, whereas the Grid Series make me think of geology, rock collecting and the cataloging of found artifacts. Both of these are about observing the world, documenting it and trying to make sense of it. Thoughts?

ZW: I would agree that those elements exist and that the drawings from those series can be interpreted in those ways. And I have heard many people describe other things that they see or feel that are different from these. I can see elements of numerous ideas and themes in my work—most of which are entirely the result of the subconscious.

I have a very active "daydreaming" part of my brain that runs on autopilot most all of the time. It's sort of lives between the conscious and subconscious. It feeds from a constant stream of information gathered through conscious observation and study. When I'm working, it's running in the background, processing the information and informing/influencing the subconscious. The larger themes or concepts that come through in finished pieces result greatly from this cycle; starting with conscious thought, filtering through the middle layer and ending up in the subconscious. 

Almost all of my work is process driven. In the Repetitive Series, the overall shapes of the drawings are completely organic and resulted from a desire not to fill the entire page with pattern. Within each of these larger drawings are little "moments" that I found more aesthetically pleasing or exciting than others. I wanted a way to highlight those. That led to the Grid Series, which started a just a way to capture these exciting "moments" and give them a space to inhabit all on their own.

untitled (s14.9), 2014. Ink, Watercolor and Gouache on Paper. 20" x 16"

OPP: What’s different in your New Drawings?

ZW: The New Drawings are much the same in the sense that they are mostly process-driven works. Many of the different directions that I have gone with the newer work are a result of explorations from the year of small drawings that I did. Rather than create work out of research and concept and use process more as a means to the end, I let the process drive my work. Often I notice themes subconsciously seep into in finished work that relate to different aspects of research that I've done, or different ideas or concepts that I am interested in, but I hardly ever start from from that side of the fence. I am constantly trying to figure out how things are made or put together and am always interested in the processes behind the "product" and this is the same approach I take in the studio.

To see more of Zach's work, please visit zachwhitehurst.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 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward, with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hadley Radt

Overwhelmed Collection, 2016. Ink and Pen on Panel. 24" x 30"

Counting, a primary method of assessing and feeling mastery over the surrounding world, is foundational to HADLEY RADT’s drawing practice. The relationship between control and anxiety is present in her repetitive process, as she seeks to create order from disorder. The resulting abstract compositions of intertwining and overlapping lines evoke visualizations of neural networks, the rhizomatic structure of the internet and angular arrangements of planks in space. Hadley earned her BFA with Distinction in 2014 from Sonoma State University and is currently a MFA candidate in Painting at California College of the Arts (San Francisco). In 2016, she was a recipient of the Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award and recently completed a wall drawing for the related exhibition at SOMArts in San Francisco. Her work has been included in group shows at Sanchez Art Center (2016) in Pacifica, California, Southern Exposure (2015) in San Francisco and GearBox Gallery (2015) in Oakland. Hadley lives in Sonoma, California.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What does repetition mean to you outside of your drawing practice?

Hadley Radt: I have a pretty obsessive personality and a compulsive need to create order in my life. I approach repetition outside of my drawing practice with a similar logic as I do within my drawing practice. I come up with systems that allow me to find order within disorder. I often count, making up rules around numbers and putting order to things throughout my day. In my drawing practice, I am able to count the marks I make. Outside of my drawing practice, I find myself counting everyday objects and tasks. By creating these routines, I feel a sense of control.

Anxious Will, 2014. Acrylic and Pen on Panel, 40" x 30"

OPP: What’s your process? Do you start with a single mark and then replicate it, not knowing what will emerge? Or do you seek to render an image that you envision in your mind?

HR: In my more architectural line paintings, I start with an idea for the overall structure of the piece. I have a sense of what it will look like as a whole. As I zoom into the detail, I begin to create a logic and method to the patterning and repetition. I construct systems within my mark-making, counting each individual mark.

Currently, I am exploring a less controlled process. I start with a mark and continue to repeat it and let it grow and develop connections organically. I continue to create layers upon layers, allowing the nets to overlap and intertwine. This newer way of mark-making grew out of a lot of experimentation and failure. I allowed myself to let go of the rigid control. This was really difficult at first, but it was important for me to make this shift mentally. Although I am no longer creating strict numeric systems, the process of using repetition still allows me to get into the flow of creating and calms my racing mind.

Deconstructed Repetition, 2016. Pen on Panel. 36" x 48"

OPP: How often do viewers compliment you on your patience? Is it patience or something else?

HR: The first thing people often ask is how much time a piece took. My work is time intensive and does take patience, however, that is not the only aspect that drives my practice. My process is meditative for me. I find myself losing track of time while creating, focusing solely on the marks I am making. I want the viewer to get lost in the obsessiveness of the piece as well, feeling both anxiety and calmness.

OPP: I think that how a viewer interprets or physically responds to an extreme accumulation of marks has way more to do with that person’s nervous system than with the work itself. For example, I find overall compositions made of thousand of tiny marks tremendously calming,  but I know others feel overwhelmed. Thoughts?

HR: I haven’t thought about the viewer’s response in this way before. My process helps me refocus my own anxieties and feel a sense of calmness, as a result, I see those qualities within my work. However, I agree that a person experiencing the piece may feel overwhelmed or calm because their nervous system causes them to have a specific physical response to the accumulation of marks.

Emergence, 2016. Ink and Pen on Panel. 24" x 18"

OPP: Many of your 2016 drawings—Abnormalities, Consumed, and Emergence, to name a few—are rhizomatic structures that evoke simulated images of neural networks and the internet. Are these nets abstract accidents or intentional references? What led to the shift from more architectural accumulations of line, as in Framework (2014) to these more organic accumulations?

HR: In my recent 2016 pieces, I am exploring terrains of connections; physical, psychological, emotional, neurological. I am interested in the depiction of these connections and tracking layers of information. I am looking at repetition and geometry in both the natural and built environment. I’m inspired by maps, aerial views, architecture, fractals in nature, particle formations and magnetic fields. Our environment is full of repetition and pattern, I am intrigued by this order and it influences the structures I create in my work.

This shift in my work started when I began to experiment with new tools and materials. In previous work, I was using micron pens and house paint. In my newer works, I am using a squirt bottle tool with a needle tip to create a repeated pattern. I am intrigued by this way of mark-making. I draw with it like a pen, yet, the ink pools up and “mistakes” occur that I cannot control, adding a human quality and interrupting the systems I create.

The Annual Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Awards Exhibition, 2016. Paint Marker on Wall. 16' x 13'

OPP: Can you talk about the tension between contemplation and anxiety?

HR: The tension between these two states is something I often feel. My process is a way for me to refocus my compulsions and feel a sense of calmness. I hope the viewer experiences and connects with my work in this way as well. This is an idea that I am trying to push further. I most recently did a 16’ x 13’ wall drawing for the Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award exhibition, using a similar repeated pattern as in my paintings. When the piece is larger than the viewer, they become consumed by it. The tension between contemplation and anxiety becomes even more prominent. I am excited to continue to make large wall drawings, and create environments of controlled chaos.

OPP: You are in your 2nd year of grad school right now at California College of Arts, expected to graduate in 2017. Have any practical advice for young artist thinking about applying to grad school or in their first years?

HR: Allow yourself to experiment and explore. Don’t be afraid of failure. Be honest and vulnerable. The connections you make are invaluable, so take advantage of being surrounded by amazing like-minded people!

To see more of Hadley's work, please visit hadleyradt.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 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Brent Fogt

Last Leg (2015), Would It Be Nice? (2015) and Edge of One (2015)

BRENT FOGT courts the unknown in an intuitive exploration of materiality, accumulation and, more recently, the tension between organic and designed form. The foundational gesture in his practice is the slow build-up and evolution of marks, evident in tiny, drawn circles, crochet stitches, cut up bits of paper or unique prints of twigs and leaves. In recent sculptures, he adds the marks of urban life (found furniture fragments) and of nature (fallen branches). Brent earned his BFA in Studio Art with Highest Honors from University of Texas at Austin and his MFA from the University of Michigan. His work has been featured in New American Paintings and Art in America and in solo shows at Terrain Exhibitions (Chicago, 2014), Austin College (Sherman, Texas, 2012), Emory University (Atlanta, 2009) and the Lawndale Art Center (Houston, 2009). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at the I-Park Foundation (2015), the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2014), Yaddo (2013) and the Vermont Studio Center (2009). Brent has recently reviewed Chicago-based exhibitions for New City and Bad at Sports. He lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a difference between the marks you make and the ones you allow to accumulate?

Brent Fogt: In all of my work, I am driven by the question: what would happen if…? I love to experiment with new processes and techniques, and when I think I’ve been repeating myself, I try to complicate the process or come up with a new one.

There is an organic quality to almost all of the work I create, whether I am making the marks or I am using a process that removes my hand from the equation. When I started making rain drawings, I was amazed at how much they looked like my Circle Drawings. By drawing circles over and over I was imitating natural processes.

What I like about work where my hand is more present—whether it is my collages, drawings or sculptures—is the presence of imperfections. A close inspection of my Circle Drawings, for instance, reveals oblong circles, overlapping lines and ink smears. The rectangular pieces of paper I cut for collages are always slightly askew, and my crochet stitches range from too tight to too loose.

Ink on paper
60 in x 96 in

OPP: What’s more important in your practice: yielding to your materials or controlling them?

BF: I probably yield to my materials more than I try to control them. When I begin working, I don’t know how a final piece is going to look. Rather, I take cues from my materials. With my most recent sculptures, for instance, I think a lot about how pieces fit together. I try many combinations until it becomes obvious that, say, the V shape of this branch perfectly complements the curve of another branch.

With many of my rain drawings, I yield completely to them, not adding any extra marks. With others, I am interested in seeing what would happen if I add my own marks or transform them into collages.

The 4th & 5th Great Awakenings, detail (from inside)
Crocheted cotton

OPP: Can you explain the process for your Rain Drawings and how they feed into your shingled collages?

BF: I actually wrote out the instructions for making rain drawings for some friends who were interested in making them.

a) Place some sturdy paper  in the rain (you’ll be handling it when it’s wet so the paper needs some heft).
b) While the paper gets wet, go foraging for leaves, twigs, pine needles (these work really well), grass, bark, anything organic really.
c) spread the organic materials all over the paper.
d) sprinkle ink over the organic materials and the paper. I like to start with diluted ink (the ink doesn’t have to be black; can be any color) in a 10-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
e)Sprinkle darker ink, a 4-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
f) Let the paper dry. If you’re outside, leaving the paper in the grass is a good idea, because air will reach the bottom of the paper and aid in drying.
g) Once the paper is completely dry, brush off all the organic materials, and you’re done!

The process is pure joy, because you never know how they are going to turn out. After a while, however, I started wondering how I could combine this process with a secondary process that was more rooted in geometry. I experimented with cutting up the rain drawings into squares and collaging them, but these first efforts seemed to reference pixels and computer screens, which I did not intend. The best solution I found was to cut the rain drawings into rectangular pieces and arrange them according to value, going from darkest in the middle to lightest on the periphery. This strategy maintained a strict geometry, but visually has more in common with weavings than computer screens. And since I placed each rectangle based strictly on value, it took color decisions out of the equation.

Ink and other liquid media, paper, gel medium
64 in x 36 in

OPP: Speaking of color, it is generally—with a few exceptions—very sparse in your work. How do you make decisions about color in other projects?

BF: Color is tricky for me because I was diagnosed pretty early on in my life with mild color blindness. As a result, I don’t trust that what I see is what others will see. At times, I avoid color altogether. In my early circle drawings, I used black pens on white paper and nothing else. After a couple of years, however, when I was looking to add another variable into the work, I took tentative steps into color, using blue and green pens and some graphite.

One strategy I have is to use “found color.” With my very latest sculptures, for instance, I photographed the floors of the space where I eventually will be showing them, opened up the photos in Photoshop and used the eyedropper tool to figure out how I could mix them. It turned out that I could make one of the colors with four parts yellow, two parts light blue and one part magenta. I made that color and then mixed it with white gesso. A long time ago, I made paintings in a similar way, finding color combinations in magazines that I liked, then figuring out how to mix them. My assumption is that someone with a better color sense than I have made them, so why not try them.

Installation, Emory University, detail
Crocheted candle wicking

OPP: You’ve been using crochet in your practice since 2008. Earlier installations—at Chicago Artist Coalition, at Dominican University and at Terrain—evoke other-worldly hanging plants or hives. They emphasize the capacity of crochet to grow organically as stitches accumulate. More recently in discrete sculptures like Last Leg or SonRisa, the crochet becomes a skin, bandage or clothing, stretched taut to hold found fragments of discarded furniture and fallen branches together. Can you the discuss this shift and the introduction of hard lines and angles into your visual vocabulary, which used to be dominated by circles and organic lines?

BF: The hanging pieces got bigger and bigger over the years  until I started thinking about them less as otherworldly objects and more as potential containers for people. At an exhibition at the A&D Gallery at Columbia College, in fact, I invited people to get inside of them, and many did. My own experience getting inside the pieces was really interesting. I felt a real sense of calm and felt totally safe and protected.

The next step might have been to make the crocheted sculptures even larger so that multiple people could have gotten inside them. I made lots of sketches and thought I was going to move in this direction, but when I started thinking about how to create more sophisticated substructures to support the larger pieces, I changed my mind. The substructures themselves— the bones of the piece— became more intriguing.

Right around that time, I also started collecting discarded furniture. I began cutting up the furniture and combining it with fallen branches to create armatures for sculptures, playing up the tension between the mass-produced, hard-edged pieces that I was finding and the more organic shapes of the branches. The pieces you mentioned, Last Leg and SonRisa, are two of about five works in this category. As with the earlier, more organic work, I still relied on crochet as a skin to cover the bones or substructure.

The work I have underway in my studio right now represents another shift. I am leaving much more of the bones uncovered, but I am strategically crocheting or wrapping the places where the bones connect as if I were symbolically healing or repairing the sculptures.

The pieces are becoming increasingly vulnerable. They began as fully formed hives, homes, nests and have evolved into sculptures that are increasingly fragmentary, tenuous and fragile.

To see more of Brent's work, please visit brentfogt.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carrie Dickason

Untitled (Grid)
Ink, acrylic, gouache, tape on paper
30" x 22"

CARRIE DICKASON investigates the accumulated, repetitive mark. Through material and technique, she draws a parallel between a constructive accumulation of individual units—blades of grass in a lawn, threads in a woven carpet, knots in a net—and destructive accumulations of post-consumer plastic packaging and unwanted junk mail. Furthering this paradox, the subtractive mark and additive mark are equalized in her recent work with stencils and spray paint. Carrie earned her BFA from Indiana University and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Corporation of Yaddo (2009) in Saratoga Springs, New York, Santa Fe Art Institute (2010) and has received two full fellowships at Vermont Studio Center (2009 and 2016). Recent solo exhibitions include Industry Practice (2016) at Burlington City Arts Metro Gallery in Burlington, Vermont and Nothing Ever Goes Away... (2016) at Vermont Studio Center, Gallery 2 in Johnson, Vermont. Her work is currently on view in the group show Garden Week until June 4, 2016 at 1708 Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. Carrie is currently living and working as a staff-artist at the Vermont Studio Center, in Johnson, Vermont.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a connotative difference between scavenging, collecting, gathering and accumulating for you? Which process is most important in your practice?

Carrie Dickason: I liken scavenging to hunting, or searching for something specific, which I sometimes do. But collecting, gathering and accumulating, which have similar connotations, are more important processes in my practice. I’m inclined to use materials that pass through my hands on a daily basis. The black foam rubber, for example, comes from an automotive factory where my father works. The vacuum formed plastic packaging used in Family Tree were gathered through the collective efforts of family and friends. Usually I collect the materials myself, accumulating them over time, from places where I’ve worked, including restaurants, an Armenian carpet store and in a small automotive trim shop in Detroit.

I collect, investigate and experiment with the materials until I have enough information to move forward. In all of my work I think about the idea of cultivation, and think of the work as growing and developing into whatever it will become. I’m not always sure where this process will lead. I cut, crumple, stack, fold, and layer materials to explore their physical properties. I liken the process to a kind of gardening or meditative exploration.

Drift 1998-2014
Discarded plastic packaging
10' x 12'

OPP: Have the jobs themselves influenced your art practice beyond the accumulation of materials?

CD: Each job has informed and influenced the development of my artwork, from material palette to the way in which I actually construct the work. Sometimes my studio practice leads me to work a job that then informs my artwork further. For example, I’d been working on the suspended webs for well over a year before I began working in the repair department of an Armenian carpet store, where I collected much of the material in Drift, which came from the plastic packaging protecting rugs during shipping. The processes involved in the repair and reconstruction of the hand-woven carpets translated physically into the development of the suspended webs. Carscape, a tape and paper casting of the interior of my Subaru Legacy Wagon, was made while in residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Little did I know that I’d find myself working professionally on the interiors of Porsches a few years later. I’d like to return to that project to do a new iteration from discarded leather, vinyl and carpet collected from that job, applying the skills acquired during those five years.

Sprawl 1998-ongoing
Discarded plastic packaging
9' x 10' x 11'

OPP: Tell us about Sprawl (1998-ongoing), a textile web of accumulating discarded plastic packaging, and its variable installation. Why are other pieces—Drift 1998-2014 and Allure 1998-2014—made of the same material and begun at the same time not ongoing?

CD: In 1996 I moved to Florida with work that was made from a combination of paper, marbles, fabric and food packaging that I had gathered from my studio and also while walking to the studio. This work quickly deteriorated in the humid climate of Florida and had to be discarded. I was really disturbed that I’d taken materials that could have been recycled and that I’d basically turned them into trash by combining all of these things together. So I began imposing rules onto my work. The first was to use materials that were not recyclable, and the next was to make the work from only one material, with very few tools. I only needed scissors to cut the plastic, after it was washed.

Sprawl developed as I explored the use of plastic packaging being thrown away in restaurants where I worked in Florida. Packaging is designed to protect and attract, but then it is discarded. I was interested in extending the potential, using the material instead of traditional fiber, as it still maintained its physical integrity, came in a colorful palette and contained a material history. Sprawl was part of the initial experiment of learning what to do with the plastic. I now recognize that evolved as an intuitive response to the Spanish moss hanging on the trees outside my porch. I’ve always been influenced by observations of systems found in nature, particularly plants and minerals. The network of plastic packaging in Sprawl links together remnants of disparate moments ranging from day to day life, family gatherings, birthday parties and materials gleaned from the carpet and automotive industries. Sprawl has continued to shift and change for each exhibition, when I’ve expanded or contracted the form to suit the space, each time adding new materials. 

Drift, Allure and what used to be called Deposition—which has recently been divided into Nothing Ever Goes Away, and A Good Deal More—each had their own rules, mostly specific material constraints. Allure is all food wrappers. Drift is mostly shipping plastic, and Sprawl is a combination of everything. I worked on all of them simultaneously until I began exhibiting them in Columbus, OH in 2002.

Shifting Focus

OPP: Can you describe your process of stenciling and spray painting in Shifting Focus (2015) and how you arrived at this new way of working?

CD: I began Shifting Focus in June 2015 when I started working at the Vermont Studio Center (VSC). I’d been using mostly post-consumer materials as the primary media in my work for over 15 years and was feeling very stuck in my practice. That mode of working was no longer serving the same purpose that it once did.

At VSC I had a studio visit with Sheila Pepe, who recognized the struggle and basically challenged me to approach my practice from a completely opposite perspective. She suggested I work with materials that were new, rather than discarded, and that I work in a subtractive manner, rather than constructing something large from small parts. I didn’t know what the materials would be, except that they should be large. At the time I was preparing for an upcoming solo show inside Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project in Detroit, and the material change was scary, but became an incredibly insightful challenge, at the perfect moment.

I developed a process of working that alternated between cutting, then spraying through the stencil/drawing, collecting the over-spray on new pieces of paper. I think of it as a generative practice, whereby the steps included in the making of one piece, lead to the creation of the future pieces. I’ve been incorporating the small cuttings from the larger pieces into a series of collages. There are four “parent” pieces that supplied the patterns for the rest of the pieces. Each one of the individuals contains information from at least one of the “parent” pieces.

Shifting Focus

OPP: When I first looked at images of Shifting Focus (2015) online, I thought there were mirrored tiles pasted on the surfaces of huge, hanging pieces of paper or fabric. But in looking closer, I see now that this mirror effect is light shining through cuts in the paper. Does it have this same effect in person? How does this shift in perception relate to the title and the shift in your practice?

CD: I hope that Shifting Focus has a similar effect in person. The openings allow light to pass through the pieces while also revealing the surrounding physical space through the other side of the paper. The pieces are double sided, with a different color scheme and pattern on each side. In some places, the pattern on the opposite side shows through, revealing both sides simultaneously.

The idea of Shifting Focus stems from the term cognitive shifting, used in psychology and meditation as a tool to express the act of choosing what to pay attention to, in order to positively affect emotions and well-being. I think of my older work as a meditation on consumer culture, desire and excess. This new work shares those concerns, despite the change of materials.

When I began working this way, I felt like things moved forward almost immediately. Since most of my work has been repetitive and labor intensive, developing slowly, over long periods of time – literally years—the speed of this process is liberating. It was very interesting to arrive at what felt like a very familiar place so quickly. The combination of spray paint and the cut paper creates a web similar to the discarded plastic material tied together. I was worried that I would lose the meaning of my work, as I shifted materials, but instead I am revisiting what seems familiar and reworking how I’m thinking about it all.

Terra Charta
Handmade paper from junkmail; soil; grass seed; ink; paint; duct tape; astro-turf
22" x 30"

OPP: I recently asked this question to another Featured Artist Antonia A. Perez, and I want to ask it again: Do you think artists have an ethical responsibility not to contribute more waste to the world?

CD: Wow, I just looked at her site and love her work! It’s beautiful and poetic—thanks for referencing it.

Artists do generate a lot of trash. We use materials that require natural resources, in order to exist. We use water. We throw things away. I don’t think that artists have different ethical responsibilities than other humans, unless the work is explicitly about not making waste. I’m most interested in making work that can open a dialog and possibly change the way someone perceives the world. I try to make conscientious decisions with how I work and what I make, but I’m currently using spray paint, which is environmentally and physically disgusting. . . and beautiful.

I used to be more worried about creating waste. I was specifically concerned with wasting water in the process of dyeing fabric and yarn, which is partly why I chose to work with materials that had already served a previous purpose. But now I feel it is unavoidable in this consumerist society to not contribute to waste. We humans have decided to process and develop materials that make our lives easier in some ways, but more complicated in others.

So many people are alive today because of technology, which invariably generates waste. I wear glasses that are made from plastic. I have a silicon patch on my heart. It’s very likely that if I’d been born at another time, or in another place, I wouldn’t have had the privileges that have enabled me to live this comfortably. The process of developing those materials relied on thousands of years of technological development, which has altered our planet and created a lot of waste.

In some ways, this waste is evidence of human development. Packaging is specifically designed to attract a purchase and to protect the contents within. On the other hand, plastic is filling our oceans and beaches and tricking birds and fish into starving to death as they fill their bellies with these tiny floating particles.

While I don’t promote belligerent consumption and waste, I also recognize that waste is unavoidable. But I do think that if everyone, especially Americans, became more conscientious consumers of natural resources, life could be a lot better for more people.

Between Zizek and the Lorax
Junk mail, personal papers,cardboard tubes

OPP: This seems to echo the imagined conflict in Between Zizek and the Lorax (2013), an installation made from accumulated junk mail, personal papers and cardboard tubes. What inspired the title?

CD: Until very recently, most of my titles have emerged after the long process of cultivating a piece. It’s usually quite a struggle for me to commit to a title because it’s really important to me that the work is accessible to a wide audience, and I don’t want to impose a narrative. I’d rather someone connect in their own way, if they are so moved.

However, in the case of Between Zizek and the Lorax, I had recently watched the film An Examined Life (2008), in which there is a provocative segment with Slavoj Zizek. He walks around a garbage transfer station discussing some of the complexities of nature, ecology, ideology and love.

There was one moment in particular when he speaks about how true love includes all of the flaws, imperfections and annoying details that one might not necessarily desire, but accepts. While standing in a giant room full of garbage, he proposes: “And that’s how we should learn to love the world. True ecologists love all of this.”

While researching ideas for titles, I revisited a childhood favorite, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. I feel like this imaginary discussion is actually a discussion between my younger self and my getting-older self. Zizek proposes an abstract, nature-less, mathematical universe. At this point, I’m much more excited and inspired by his criticism of the new age ecology movement as ideological, than the ranting, but adorable Lorax. However, I do love nature and stand somewhere in between the two.

To see more of Carrie's work, please visit carriedickason.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Noël Morical

Eidolon IV
Paracord, Metal Hoop, anodized aluminum ring
Photo credit: Rachel Smith

NOËL MORICAL's sculptural practice is driven by color, texture, material and repetition. Most recently, she has taken on macramé—a decorative knotting technique thought to have its origins with 13th century Arab weavers who knotted the fringes of their woven rugs to keep them from unraveling. Eidolons, a series of hanging sculptures made with paracord, both refer to and transcend the popular plant hanger craze of the 1970s. Noël earned her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011. She has been an artist-in-residence at Doukan 7002 in Chicago (2012) and the SÍM Residency Reykjavik in Iceland (2014). She will be exhibiting new work at Faber & Faber, as well as participating in a collaborative installation at Kitchen Space Gallery in December 2014. She will be exhibiting new work in a two-person show with Max Garett at Slow in March 2015 and a solo show at Kitchen Space Gallery in the summer of 2015. Noël lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Repetition is a staple strategy in your work in a variety of media. What's your personal relationship to repetition? Is your art relationship to repetition the same or different?

Noël Morical: Repetition is a process that allows me to slow life down. It’s a way to balance out, to process and to gain a better understanding of the symbiosis that is art and life. It has become a means of constructing a reality that is under my control and in complete order.      

I’ve never participated in yoga before, but working with serial techniques has proven to be an ideal way for me to meditate, I’m terrible at standing still.  While knotting, for example, there are moments when I feel like I am on autopilot. The movement is fluid and intuitive, and I don’t have to think or be fully present for the work to progress. It may sound a little robotic, but I am truly content in those moments. I find I get a little on edge if I have not had enough time in the studio.

Time Doesn't Go Anywhere, It Only Adds Up.
Paint Samples, Vinyl

OPP: Tell us about your large-scale piece Time Doesn't Go Anywhere, It Only Adds Up (2011), which has the drape of textile, but is actually made of paint samples and vinyl. Its surface evokes both scales and chain mail.

NM: Collecting paint swatches is a sort of hardware store ritual I have participated in since I was young. This ritual was the impetus for my BFA thesis exhibition. Working on something that large, laborious and connected to my past provided me with a great deal of comfort, a method to deepen my understanding of process. It also moved me through a difficult time in my life. There was a serendipitous moment when I was able to see the connection this piece had with my life—a way for me to organize intangibilities such as color into a physical form.

Efficiency and endurance became two big points of consideration when planning out Time Doesn’t Go Anywhere. The “scale” shape is non-referential. It’s a form that utilizes a majority of the paint swatch without being a standard square. The shape only required a simple, fluid cut. With the help of many, I cut twice my weight in paint swatches to complete the piece. I walked around 60 miles adhering all the paint samples to the vinyl, and the whole piece was completed in less then four months. The production of this piece  was like tending to a very large, living thing. I was completely consumed by the work, and I would say my behavior was compulsive. I was living out of the studio, getting six or less hours of sleep a night, occasionally missing class to get it pulled together in time. It was very hard to step back and actually look at what I was doing. It wasn’t until the School of the Art Institute of Chicago BFA show opening that I was able to experience the fruits of my labor through other people’s experiences with it. The different interpretations of the work have added to my experience of the piece itself, giving me a new set of eyes with which to view what I created. I have heard everything from dragon scales to feather cloth to a fictional drippy cave. A few people approached me during the opening and thanked me for creating a sort of sanctuary/reprieve from the crowd. I enjoyed the fact that so many people could take what they wanted from the work.

Eidolon II
Paracord, Metal Hoops, Stucco, Wooden Beads
Photo credit: Rachel Smith

OPP: Could you talk about the Eidolons? What does the title mean? What led you to work with this material and technique?

NM: The light switch in my old studio was as far away from the exit as possible. Leaving or coming in at night involved stumbling over my studio mates’ partially completed artworks in near darkness. The Eidolons hung in my corner, barely visible like phantoms or apparitions backlit by a streetlight outside. Despite the fact that I made them, knew what they were and knew they were there-I was repeatedly surprised by their presence in the dark. I will also admit I like being creeped out and am curious about supernatural phenomena.

I materialize color much the same way I did in Time Doesn’t Go Anywhere, It Only Adds Up. That being said, paracord is another mediator for the inexplicable relationship our eyes have with color. I was completely drawn to it based on the spectrum of colors and patterns that are commercially available. By nature of the knotted structure, the Eidolons are definitely bodily. The fluidity between phantom, the fleeting nature of color and the body is rich and emerges naturally from the way knots fit together.

Untitled (in-progress)
Metal Hoops, Paracord

OPP: What do you think and feel about the cultural baggage that comes with the technique of macramé?

NM: I don’t think too much about it. I can only dictate how I would like the technique to exist currently. A close friend, who is a jazz pianist, explained his take on visual art to me once: “Much like music, it's a matter of rearranging elements to create something new." The continuum of the knotting system gives me the grounds and freedom to reconfigure the application of knotted units. I am able to challenge the traditional understanding of the knot through form and color.

Other artists—Ernesto Neto, Alexandros Psychoulis and Janet Echelman—are using macramé to create experiential environments and technology-driven public sculptures. Non-artists are using paracord and renamed macramé techniques to create survival gear and accessories. The technique is alive and being expanded upon, and that's what's important to me.

Eidolon III
Paracord, Metal Hoops, Prayer Plant
Photo credit: Rachel Smith

OPP: You went balls out with Eidolon III (2014) and fully embraced macramé’s plant hanger history. The other pieces in this series reference plant hangers, of course, but this one IS a plant hanger—one of the most intricate, beautiful plant hangers I've seen. What exactly is a "prayer plant" and how does it add to the meaning of this Eidolon?

NM: Prayer plants are very mobile plants—their foliage moves up and down depending on how thirsty they are. They also grow towards the sun. The name “prayer plant” does not mean anything particular to me, and the choice was largely aesthetic. I think it makes sense to indulge in a techniques history at least once. The piece began as a structural experiment—ok, maybe even a joke—but tending to and caring for the work as a living thing fit perfectly.

OPP: What is in the works right now in your studio?

NM: A lot. Right now, I am focused on preparing for several upcoming exhibitions in December 2014. I’m also working on a couple of pieces to swap with new friends before the new year and on some smaller ceramic work that will be available for purchase at a Tusk and UTOTEM in Chicago. In addition, because I am really trying to get better at planning, there are some in-progress hanging works for 2015 shows as well. It’s never too early to start, right?

To see more of Noël's work, please visit noelmorical.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sage Schmett

Fold away house
Cardboard, acrylic paint, hot glue

Using cardboard, catalogs, magazines and other recycled paper, SAGE SCHMETT returns repeatedly to the motif of the house as a repository for both loss and desire. Her uninhabited, pop-up houses are impressive in their engineering and emotionally haunting. Recently, while indulging in the pleasure of collecting as a strategy, she has turned to domestic interiors, revealing our attachment to the objects with which we share our lives. Sage earned a BFA in Fiber Arts from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2012. Most recently she debuted Dollhouse #1 (2013) in the group exhibition Dwellings, curated by Rachel Gloria Manley, at Center of the Commons in Harvard, Massachusetts. Sage lives and works in Boston.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Houses are recurring visual motifs in your work. Could you talk about the different manifestations of this motif and why it continues to be a staple in your work?

Sage Schmett: I've been making houses in different forms since I was a kid. Back then, I loved making dioramas, especially of little rooms and interior scenes. I also had lots of Polly Pockets (still do!), and would build dollhouses with my dad. So my fascination with building houses goes back even further than my sense of being able to know why, beyond the fact that I just enjoyed it.

By the time I came back to building them in my late teens, houses became more associated in my mind with memory, dreams and the cycle of life and death. I began to see them as imprints of personal experience or repositories of memories and desires.

Cardboard, acrylic paint

OPP: Talk about the form of the pop-up book in general and your material choices of recycled cardboard and hot glue.

SS: I like making art that requires interactivity. I want the person viewing my work to feel encouraged to explore a bit. And with pop-up books, there's an aspect to creating them that touches on engineering and other forms of logical problem-solving. I find this to be a fun challenge. Most importantly, I want the houses to stay safe and somewhat private.

The great thing about cardboard is that it's free. It's also easy to work with and easy to rework when I want to change something. The process gives me a sense of catharsis and relaxation. I like the trance-inducing nature of accumulating tons of miniature pieces, as in the Dollhouse and the repetitiveness of cutting and gluing.

Cardboard, acrylic paint, hot glue

OPP: There's something somber about the ghostly pop-up houses and their grey and creamy-white exteriors. They seem dilapidated, possibly abandoned. And yet, because they fold up, they could easily be carried with you. I read these pieces as about nostalgia and clinging to the past. Thoughts?

SS: A lot of the emotional content of the houses is rooted in my past, for sure. Growing up, we lived in apartments. I always fantasized about having my own house, mostly so I could paint my bedroom a painfully bright color and install bead curtains and other tween decor. I also remember car rides with my whole family. We would drive by impressive, old New England homes, and I'd imagine interiors that were filled with adorable nooks and secret passage ways.

After my father passed away, I rummaged through his things. I discovered a box of photographs. The pictures were all of gorgeous, unfamiliar houses. I began my Dream Home series shortly after. The pop-up books are replicas of the houses my father photographed. Building these homes helps me stay connected to him, and allows me to realize our shared dream of having a place that is ours. Going through his apartment and his belongings was such an intense, private experience; it felt like I had stepped into his own inner world. The whole thing left me with this impression of how houses can be so personal and otherworldly at the same time, even just by virtue of the stuff that's in them. Though it probably just indicates a lot about the person who inhabits it, the why and how of accumulating dreams, desires and memories in the form of stuff and clutter. These ideas have stuck with me and show up repeatedly in my work.

Dollhouse #1
Cardboard, catalogs, hot glue, acrylic paint, other collaged materials
2' 9"x 4'3"

OPP: In 2013, you shifted from focusing on the exteriors of houses in your pop-up books to the interior in Dollhouse #1. This piece has a dramatically different tone to it; it is excessively lived in. Who are the imagined occupants of this house?

SS: That shift in focus seemed natural to me at the time. My life had changed a lot. Time had passed since my dad died, and I was falling in love. I felt less vulnerable sharing things about myself in my work. I focused on exteriors before as a way of exploring architectures that my dad and I both liked. But I became interested in how houses' interiors can reflect private parts of the personality, both my own and those of people I care about. They are places to hold all the things we like, all the things we bind to our memories and dreams. I wanted to make a piece that would enliven these inanimate objects come and the space.

My process still involved architecture and kinetic, pop-up influenced elements such as a rotating toy carousel and a ringing phone. But I became much more immersed in basically "shopping" for things that appealed to me. I spent the better part of a year collecting pictures of toys, junk and clutter, mostly from free catalogs, magazines and decorating books. It's actually a rush! Once I had cut out an item and mounted it on cardboard, I felt a lot of satisfaction. It's a bit strange: I'm probably more excited to find a tiny paper version of a beloved object, than the real thing. I love the challenge of being constrained to such a specific scale when choosing an object. Outside of that, I just choose images of objects that genuinely appeal to me. The mess and clutter adds to the intimacy of the scene, but it also makes the house more alive, and it allows me to keep adding more stuff to it over time. The only occupants I can imagine living there are myself and my partner.

Dollhouse #1 (detail)
Cardboard, catalogs, hot glue, acrylic paint, other collaged materials
2' 9"x 4'3"

OPP: Could you talk about the interaction of two-dimensional and the three-dimensional in your work?

SS: This interaction has its origins in the dioramas I used to make, but it also comes naturally as a result of my interest in both architecture and collage. I like how the mixture of both elements plays with the eye in interesting ways, with a kind of push/pull effect happening between flatness and depth. I also love how it photographs, since in the right lighting it can end up looking very realistic, obscuring the true scale of the scene. In this way, it gives even more life and focus to all these flat, throwaway objects.

Past Manicures (1 year) (detail)
Nail polish, toothpicks, glue
12" x 12"

OPP: Speaking of throwaway objects, let's talk about your 2013 piece Past Manicures (1 year). I definitely see a connection to the houses by way of process: the collection of lots of tiny objects. Your earlier description of the houses—"imprints of personal experience or repositories of memories and desires"—certainly applies here, too. Is this piece a singularity or a new direction in your work?

SS: I see that piece as more of a continuation of my previous work, in that, as you mentioned, I was still collecting lots of miniature parts and trying to make them all say something when they're all together.

I took an interest in nail art about two years ago. After I would paint my nails, I found myself looking at them a lot throughout the day. When I was ready to paint my nails again, I would carefully remove the polish and save the pieces. The polish bits resembeled little jewels, and for some reason I loved them. Since the piece is a survey of a year's worth of manicures I had done, there are certain memories attached to each one. I'm not currently working on any other nail-based pieces like that one. For now, nail art is a fun hobby.

For the past six months, I've been collecting pieces for my largest house yet, and  I recently began building the structure that will contain all of them. I love the architectural side of things, but my heart is really in the collecting. Since I find that the most fun, I see it continuing to be a major part of my work in the future.

To see more of Sage's work, please visit sageschmett.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video,
collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dyan Green

Bailing Hook, muslin and ball pins
6" x 8" x 5"

DYAN GREEN's sculptures are augmented found objects from the early 20th century. They include rusted farming tools—a bailing hook, a muzzle, a harness—and domestic tools—an antique sewing machine, a milk basket and ice hooks. Her signature white, ball-headed pins simultaneously evoke the human decorative impulse and the organic growth of mold, dust and cobwebs that signal the passage of time. Dyan holds a BFA from Kansas State University, a MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a M.Ed. from Texas State University.  In 2013, she had two solo exhibitions in San Antonio, Texas: Colonies at the Clamp Light Gallery and Rust and White at Equinox Gallery. Dyan teaches 3D Arts and Art History at Saint Mary's Hall in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a BFA in Ceramics, but your current work involves modifying found objects with muslin and ball-headed pins. Does your background in Ceramics influence this work or is this a break from the past?

Dyan Green: The aesthetic vernacular of ceramics and the craft world in general are still very much a part of my work. The internal dialogue that I turn to when creating is often the voice of a ceramicist. Ultimately, I am an object maker. My work is still about the relationship between our hands and the tactile nature of material.  

Early in graduate school at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, I realized I needed to explore materials other than clay. I was so entrenched in the ceramics world that it felt like a betrayal at first. But, in leaving ceramics, I realized something really important about being an artist: you have to follow the work and not force it to follow you. I followed my work through all kinds of craziness (laugh), but really all that experimentation was important to my creative growth.

Clay will always be my home base. When I get lost, when I’m seeking direction, I work with clay for a while. These ceramic pieces rarely turn into show pieces, but they always guide me to something. Before I did my most recent body of work, I made a few thousand clay beads. Just rolling clay balls and poking a hole through them. I liked to make them and run my hand through piles of them. Then I started playing with ball pins.


What was the first work you made with the white, ball-headed pin as a staple material?

DG: I did a series of works on pillowed canvases that used ball pins and loads of other smaller items. Most of the works in that series were explosive in color, but I did a couple just in white, including Drift (2011). I fell in love with the white ones. I liked the quietness of them. So I committed to just working with white pins for a while.

OPP: I want to hear more about the “craziness” you mentioned. Can you give me an example?

DG: Well, I did a lot of experiential art in graduate school. I had a show that took place in a swamp and involved a man in a tiger suit and a canoe—that was pretty crazy! I did installations with swings and also invited people to apply make-up to reproductions of Botticelli’s Venus. These kinds of works were intermingled with more labor-intensive works including a piece where I glued several thousands of sheets of paper together and another where I chewed scores of gumdrops and spit them out into medicine bottles. Surprisingly, more people comment that the work I do now is "crazy. They imagine that the physical act of pushing pins for hours must be so tedious and maddening. However, I find a kind of peace in the process of doing it.

Found object, muslin and ball pins

OPP: Could you speak generally about your interest in artifacts? Are you a collector beyond your art practice? If so, what else do you collect?

DG: Well, I grew up around artifacts. As an only child, I spent my summers at my grandparents’ farm in Kansas. It’s been in the family for many generations. I would go exploring in the barns, the old carriage house, the woods and the creek beds. My grandmother made me wear a whistle in case I fell and broke something while gallivanting around on my own.

The farm was like an archeological site in some ways. I still recall seeing that place with a child’s eyes. I pretended the junk-packed barns were museums of ancient treasures. I saw the giant pieces of antique farming equipment protruding from the creek bed as dinosaur bones. 

I never was much of a collector of things, more of a collector of experiences. It is my grandmother who is the collector and really all of the items in my work are hers. She thoroughly inspected my excavations before giving me permission to use them in my art. When I first picked them out, I wasn’t sure how I’d use them, I just knew I liked them for all of the history they held and for their disintegrating beauty. 

Antique Sewing Machine, muslin and ball pins

OPP: The found objects you work with are clearly of a bygone era. But these objects aren't just old. They represent various forms of labor that no longer exist in the same form: the farmer, the milkman, the housewife who sews all textiles for the family, the ice delivery man. How does your meticulous, artistic labor relate to these occupations that have all been rendered unnecessary by electricity and mechanization?

DG: There is something innately somber in the work. For me, each piece is not just an old object. It is something a family member of mine used. So, there is a personal history there, as well as a collective one. For example, the horse muzzle in Muzzle was made from wire by my great, great grandfather. In other objects I used, I could feel where the handles were worn from work. I could see where the buckles have pierced through the leather a thousand times. I am drawn to this evidence of labor and the work of hands. 

My process with the pins is derived from women’s handicraft, but I wanted to invent my own handicraft. I was looking for some way of making that would be all my own.The pins were a natural solution. They are not only tools of labor but a measurement of the labor itself. 

It became clear as I was making, that these weren’t simply sculptures. They are collaborations with the past. Each piece is an intimate dialogue spoken through the language of objects. My work is quite literally built on the work of others. I labor on their labor. I exist because they existed. We are, because they were.

Milk Basket
Antique milk basket, muslin and ball pins
12" x 16" x 9"

OPP: When you talk about rolling all those beads, I think of rosaries and meditation. One thing that gets overlooked about handicraft in general—because the final product is often a decorative object—is the ritual of it. I see handicraft as a practice that engages aesthetics and labor, but is ultimately spiritual in nature. Thoughts?

DG: I always liked Harold Rosenberg’s essay “The American Action Painters.” He described a canvas as an “arena in which to act.” I ask myself these questions a lot: What is my act? What is its purpose? Clearly what has emerged from my action is a sort of ritual. I think this idea of ritual through repetition has been a mainstay in my work for a long time now. Focusing all my energy into the placement of a pin somehow relieves the chaos of everything else. Sometimes my pieces are work. Sometimes they are meditations. Sometimes they are like voodoo dolls absorbing negativity. It’s also important to mention that I think quite a bit about “flow” when working. I want my pieces to have a fluid, oozing quality which does tie into a spiritual metaphor for me. This underlying spiritual essence is also the main reason I prefer to stick to white. I love color, but it seems I keep coming back to white for its simplistic power.

To view more of Dyan's work, please visit dyangreen.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, opens on July 25, 2014 at Design Cloud in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Lyon

Dendroclimatological Meditation (detail)
Kraft, tissue, and drawing paper, pine branches, india ink, colored pencil
84"x 24"x 36"

Drawing, whittling and shredding paper are all forms of mark-making in BENJAMIN LYON's time-intensive art practice. He seamlessly unites both natural and manufactured materials in mysterious altars and monuments, revealing reverence and curiosity about time, chance and the nuanced experience of change that only occurs through ritualistic, haptic repetition. Benjamin earned a BA in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice with a minor in Fine Arts from San Francisco State University. He continued his artistic development at City College of San Francisco, and is in the process of applying to graduate school. Benjamin lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the presence of repetition in your practice and in the resulting work? I see it in the india ink drawings, the paper-shredding and the whittled pine branches, which are all forms of mark-making or marking time.

Benjamin Lyon: Repetition drives my practice because it brings me into the moment of making. Usually it gets me started and keeps me going. The work often begins without a plan. I think it grows out of a faith in the power of chance; I let go of control and rely more on the experience of making to guide me instead of its outcome.

My work is an intimate conversation with time. Time is fascinating to me because it's both abstract concept and a real experience. It's hard to define in an concrete way. There are so many different interpretations of it depending on what, who and when you are.

All of my work is handmade, and often I choose the repetitive act because it helps me become comfortable with anxiety and boredom. It's therapeutic for me. I dedicate a lot of my studio time to making marks, whittling sticks, shredding or braiding paper. Ultimately, the marks and objects function as witnesses that tell a story of change, and that story is written in nuance.

Wishing Well
Kraft paper, newspaper, india ink, acrylic, watercolor, plywood, oak
55"x 25"x 16"

OPP: You repeatedly use brown kraft paper, wax paper, newspaper, construction paper in your works. What draws you these particular types of paper? Could you talk about using a two-dimensional material as a sculptural material?

BL: I've chosen these items because they're accessible, inexpensive and often taken for granted. The challenge for me is to take an object or material that is not precious and to inject meaning into it and express something important. And since my work often appears whimsical or other-worldly, I anchor it in reality with the familiar papers we find in our houses or on the newsstands.

Paper is a magical material. When I was a kid, art was always two-dimensional. My dad was an architect/engineer, and all of his work was prepared with different types of paper. I trained as a draftsperson with him for a handful of years and learned his quirky and efficient methods of constructing working drawings. These sheets contained layers upon layers of ink drawings on tracing paper. They were glued, taped, whited-out, xeroxed. They contained pasted notes and hand-drawn details that were repeatedly removed and replaced with the old torn edges of other sheets of paper. Each stage of the process remained subtly visible on the original, but would disappear once the paper was xeroxed on a copier set to a low sensitivity. The sheets were neatly organized but wilted by the end of the process. They had a lot of character. If you looked closely, you could see that they documented all of the changes over time.

Paper was such a large part of my development as an artist, that it seemed only natural to use this traditionally two-dimensional material, historically used for documentation, to create three-dimensional sculptures that document change over time.

Befriending 5,000 Splinters
Fallen pine branches, kraft paper, india ink, colored pencil
3"x 18"x 18"

OPP: Paper is just wood in a manufactured form, and the presence of shredded paper makes me think of the absence of wood shavings that must have been produced when the fallen pine branches were whittled down. Was it the process or the material that drew you to wood-carving and whittling?

BL: I'm glad that the pieces produced such imagery for you. Through the visible marks of the tools, I'm trying to evoke the presence of work and its energy. In those pieces you're seeing manufactured forms as well as my own marks. Present are the many stages of transforming a specific material by machine or by hand. All of this is possible only with work. Tom Sachs is an artist that I admire. In an interview with Gaia Repossi, he says: “I'm trying to communicate transparency. I'm looking to show the scars of labor and the evidence of construction.” I relate to his sentiment. There is something truly satisfying about the act of creating. From cooking tasty food to building a sturdy book shelf, if a thing is made well and the process is satisfying, it makes all the difference for the maker and user.

I can’t say that it is either the process or material that draws me to these practices because it’s almost always both. I use a material in a way that illuminates the actual work done over time, but I also often choose acts that the viewer won't ever see in the final product. For example, I frequently go on walking adventures through the city and its parks in search of a material to gather. Or, in the new drawings that I'm developing, I've made a gazillion little, repetitive and beloved marks that I call “ink scratches.” I'm not using pens with ink cartridges but instead dipping a pen with metal nib into an ink well after every few marks. It's a little bit ridiculous. . . but enjoyable. It slows everything down for me.

For each piece, I chose materials that represent both nature and culture. I mix the two symbolic artifacts to address a perceived dichotomy. Time-intensive work allows the two symbols become more similar than they are different.

To Love and To Work
Basswood, gathered fallen pine branches and redwood bark, acrylic paint
18"x 12"x 16"

OPP: Many of your pieces, including Fortune Teller (2012), Befriending 5,000 Splinters (2012), and Dendroclimatological Meditation (2012), evoke altars for me. Others, like Tangle Ish (2013) and Wishing Well (2013), are like monuments, sites of human longing or reverence. Does this reading echo your intentions? If so, what are these sculptural altars and monuments for?

BL: Observing the work through someone else's eyes can be really valuable for seeing new things! After considering what you've said about the 2012 pieces appearing as altars and those from 2013 resembling monuments, I think that the two different years mark different stages in a process of conjuring the energies of both natural and cultural elements. The altars from 2012 were made with the intention of awakening the ideas. I wanted viewers to feel as though they had stumbled upon a ceremony in an unknown world. I created my own rituals that could induce magic, bringing me closer to understanding nature, culture and time. The imagined ceremony itself was distant from the site that remained. It felt distant for me, too, because it was new.

Perhaps the altars did work as I intended, awakening the energies to produce the monuments in 2013. Reverence is a great word that I also use to describe those pieces. I have a deep respect for the world around me with all of its experiences and interactions. The respect that I try to maintain adds mystery to everyday situations. Life is rich with possibility when you allow the unknown to exist instead of desiring full control.

Tangle Ish
Newspaper, walnut section, Ikea wood slats, Manzanita branches, string
46"x 20"x 20"

OPP: How does your experience as a teenaged graffiti artist in San Francisco relate to your current work in sculpture and drawing? What did you learn in that time that affects the work you currently make?

BL: Graffiti was a rush of excitement. It was a tight community that admired and hated each other at the same time. We shared secrets, tricks of the trade and lived and worked by a code that's hard for everyone to understand. But the code is heavy and present. It's an interesting subculture that I still have a lot of respect for. I think that writing graffiti did not so much transfer into a visual style for me, rather it developed my interest in the process of creating.

I started writing graffiti when I was in middle school. I still have old drawings of my first pieces on paper dating back to '91. The pieces are so funny with their letters filled in with brick patterns and their star-dotted letter "i"s! We'd go out walking in the streets searching for new spots to plan our pieces before heading to the wall, or we'd explore the streets while bombing, which is what we called tagging. But what's most memorable to me is the practice I put into perfecting my moniker. I must have filled hundreds—I mean hundreds!—of spiral notebooks with my name. I'd write my tag over and over and over, slightly varying the styles or the spelling in search of that perfect combination. This is where I developed my fascination with repetition, the nuance of change over time and the never-ending exploration of my surroundings.

To see more of Benjamin's work, please visit benjaminlyonart.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 her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage 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 exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Haenlein

Graphite on Paper
18"x 21"

NATHAN HAENLEIN’s graphite drawings of old ladies at slot machines, the willingly-hypnotized, car engines and snow storms use the geographic region of the Rust Belt as a container for exploring universal ways of coping with the life’s difficulties. His gel pen drawings, on the other hand, employ an arbitrary analog system that leads to complex, colorful patterns. The underlying connection for these disparate ways of drawing is an investigation of patience and repetition. Nathan received his MFA from the University of Iowa in 2002 and is currently a professor at Sonoma State University. His work has been included in Shifter magazine (2006 and 2009) and the forthcoming international drawing annual Manifest (2014). He has had solo exhibitions at Visalia Art Center (2008), Cleveland's now defunct Exit Gallery (2006) and The Ridderhof Martin Gallery (2003) at Mary Washington College. His work is included in the group exhibition Deadpan (the art of the expressionless), which closes on December 7, 2013, at Whitdel Arts (Detroit) and in a juried solo exhibition at the online exhibition site Gallery Gray. Nathan lives and works in Santa Rosa, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do the seemingly unrelated subjects of your meticulous graphite drawings have in common?

Nathan Haenlein: This body of work began with the collapse of our economy in 2008, the bankruptcy of GM and subsequent bailout by the government. I was raised in Michigan and Ohio. The majority of my family was employed or benefited from the auto industry. I was distracted by what I read and heard in the news and the reality of the people living through the lowest point in an economy that had been below the national average for decades. My graphite drawings are broken into conceptual subgroups that expose the complexity of a geographic area and the varying possibilities of experience.

The willingly-hypnotized are a metaphor for the Rust Belt. For years, the people in this area watched as economies constricted and changed their cities. Works depicting food, vice and escape shine a spotlight on how we cope. Additionally, the drawings elicit a small amount of shame followed by guilt. These feelings are powerful motivators that can cause either change or stagnation. The factory and its products are the gems in my work. I focus on the product and how they make it. I think of them as science and the genius of engineering. Lastly, the environment is always present. The weather and landscape shape a community. I am interested in natural beauty and the human impulse to control it.

Mount Pleasant Freedom
Graphite on Paper
11"x 13"

OPP: Are the human subjects in your drawings individuals or are they just symbols of unwavering consumption? Do you relate to them or feel compassion for them?

NH: The human subjects in my drawings are archetypes. Since I have lived in California for ten years, I have become more and more removed from the day-to-day experiences I have taken on in my work. I purposefully avoid the use of friends and family as subjects. The distance, both physical and personal, allows me to build a narrative without conflict. I am absolutely empathic to the individuals in my work. I come to them with a sense of loss and hope to somehow elevate them from struggle. I take extreme care and patience producing the drawings. I am at times conflicted about the act of consumption. Why we consume and how what we consume shapes our personal economies, class and perceived wellness. Where does this lead us?

Gel Pen on Paper
32"x 40"

OPP: What are your thoughts on patience and repetition in the digital age?

NH: As I answer these questions for the blog of the company that hosts my website, the obviousness of the digital age is too apparent. It sounds moot to use the term, but the speed of change has an impact on how I work and experience art in general. I fall victim to the constant distraction that technology affords. My studio practice is a counterbalance to these distractions.

Since childhood I have been a model of impatience; my daily life is a battle of impulse control. These struggles have led me to hone my working habits. There are now long periods of exaggerated patience. I have yet to understand my ability to focus completely on the production of art works. Additionally, the daily act of working satisfies my compulsions/obsessions and brings about a state of equilibrium. I am curious about the act of repetition. Whether it is revisiting the same ideas or repeating the same physical exercise, this need for repetition in our lives somehow reflects the human condition in a non-narrative way. What propels these acts and thoughts?

OPP: In my opinion, it's about a spiritual need. Repetition involves a way of comprehending the world that is beyond the intellect, especially when it includes a physical act, an embodied motion. Through physical repetition, anxiety can be transformed into presence. So when you say that your studio practice is a counterbalance to the distractions of speediness and technology, I think about meditation, which is about coming back to the body and to the present moment. Is it a stretch to call your studio practice a meditation practice?

NH: It would be a stretch to call my practice meditation. I think of meditation—which I have been advised to utilize by professionals—as an internal space of absolute calm, a way to remain still both physically and mentally, and recharge. While my studio work is very repetitive, it is wrought with a constant stream of thoughts and urges I tamp down in order to produce the work. I find the finished art works have a richness that comes from forced patience and this internal battle. Lastly, I think you answered my question on what propels these acts and thoughts, and I will adopt the idea of repetition transforming anxiety into presence.

Graphite on Paper
11"x 13"

OPP: Quad Drawings, a series of geometric, gel pen drawings, and your resin and enamel paintings from 2006 are stylistically different from the realistic, graphite drawings? What made you decide to unite these two styles as postcards in 2011?

NH: The Quad Drawings and resin works grew together in my studio, informing each other and allowing me to formally investigate a two dimensional plane. All of the quad works began with a detailed plan before entering the studio. I focused on color and a mathematical system similar to knitting or crochet to create the compositions. Additionally, this detailed plan was an analog system, quoting the vector software used to produce the resin work. I was interested in building a three dimensional illusion simply by my counting and color choice. After years of counting, color testing and sitting still, filling in rectangular boxes, I became dubious of my intent and started to question whether these drawings were fulfilling my need as an artist.

In 2008, I simply put down the gel pen and cleaned my brushes. I needed a new challenge. I was no longer able to ignore my needs for a concrete narrative in my work. I made rules: no color, no counting, be descriptive and simplify my tools. The graphite drawings are the result of these new rules. They are visually completely different, but the planning and execution of the drawings mirrored the quad works. The tedium of my practice started to take its toll on my production, and slowly I began to break these rules. My intent in the postcards was to give myself a break from a rigid system that didn’t/doesn’t allow any play or improvisation in the production. Soon I had made over 50 new small pieces, and my daily practice was consumed by working on the postcards. I still don’t know if this is a bridge of the two bodies of work, but I continue to produce these small works.

List 10

OPP: Your newest body of work is a series of paintings of repeated racquetball instructions. The text reads like an advertisement, encouraging the constant striving to be better that advertising always capitalizes on. Stylistically, the work evokes psychedelic concert posters from the 60s. When I Googled you, I found that you have a racquetball player profile and ranking, so obviously you have some experience with the game. How did this body of work grow out of your personal experience? Is racquetball a metaphor in this work?

NH: There is an apparent under-current of obsession in all of my work. I am obsessed with racquetball. It keeps me up at night. I replay matches in my head and focus on points where I could have made better decisions. I decided to make a gouache painting of the growing list of things I need to work on. Before I knew it, I had made eight. I photographed the courts I played on, digitally printed them on fine art paper and painted the list directly on the court. My initial intent was to become a better player, but soon these paintings started to reflect a larger narrative of my daily experience.

The game for me is a metaphor for control. The paintings let me impart my will on the game. While making these paintings, I began to look at vintage GM ads and the promises of a better life through Chevy. These absolutes are mirrored in my lists. I have never shown the list paintings, but for some reason I decided to put them on my website. I still read the list before each match. And I have enjoyed answering this question immensely.

OPP: What about the experience of flow? Do you feel it more on the racquetball court or in your studio?

NH: Again, I am enjoying these questions too much!! I believe there is a time when flow in the studio happens. It is so elusive, here then gone, and only recognized days later that it occurred.  But to link my obsessive hobby/sport with my professional practice is giving me too much credit as a racquetball player. My studio is a place of ideas and actions converging into objects. Also, the underlying structure of my studio practice hinges on current conceptual concerns for the project at hand. Whatever the content, it is the impetus for making the work. Racquetball on the other hand can be a metaphor in my work, but it doesn’t go both ways for me. I can remember a NBA finals game when Michael Jordan scored an insane amount of points in the first half, and the announcers proclaimed he was in a place of “flow." I guess my point is that flow comes to the truly invested and focused regardless of the endeavor. I have not reached that yet in racquetball.

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanhaenlein.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 her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage 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 exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.