In the Studio: Ryna Frankel

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

As a kid growing up in Chicago I loved art, but I didn’t think I was good enough to be an artist. When I started college I was pre-med and didn’t plan to study art at all. My second semester, I took a writing class called Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and there began learning about contemporary art as well as about a major at UPenn called Visual Studies that combined art practice with theory. So that’s what I ended up studying. After college, I did a post-bacc in painting at SAIC and then decided to take some time off from school before applying for my MFA. I moved to Brooklyn for a few years and learned about the struggles of trying to work and maintain a studio practice. I applied to grad school after about three years and ended up at the University of Washington in Seattle. In grad school, I feel like I finally started to find some success as an artist (maybe even to finally believe I could be an artist) and was able to take advantage of several opportunities. Now, I’m moving back home to Chicago at the end of the month and excited to see what comes next!

2. You stated in your submission that you work across painting, sculpture and installation. It also appears as though you have worked within performance art. Do you consider yourself an “interdisciplinary artist?” And what does the process of moving across artistic platforms mean to you and your practice?

In college I was a visual studies major which was an interdisciplinary program across Fine Arts, Art History, and Philosophy/Science of Seeing, so the foundation of my arts education was interdisciplinary. That is a really important aspect of my practice since it allows me to feel pretty open in the medium with which I am making work and open to trying new/diverse things. But at the end of the day, I am a painter. That is generally the lens I use to look at artwork and the world. And the paintings I make come in many different forms. It feels necessary for me to be able to move across disciplines in that this way of working seems truest to life where we are constantly engaging with all different sorts of stimuli and information.

3. The word “cute” and color choices, specifically the color pink, play a major role in the pieces you create. You stated “My hope is for the tenderness and care I extend to these representations to translate into a useful action towards living things on our planet.” What internal and external factors motivate you in the creation of your representations?

I am obsessed with cute things! But it’s more than just the enjoyable feeling I get from thinking about/looking at something cute that attracts me. It’s the power dynamic that makes something cute that I’m interested in… something is cute in part because it is pathetic or incapable in some way and that charms us into giving it attention. I think on a personal level I feel cute in that way of being powerless and by making cute things I am questioning how powerless the cute object really is. And then there’s another motivation which is that I want to make things that demand care and tenderness from me and from the viewer.

4. How do you know when a specific exhibition is ready?

I don’t know exactly. I just know. Some things there are just no room left. When they’re done being put together in a semi-coherent idea, I call it done. I come back to things, and I’m not completely committed to the idea that my interest in a project ends when an exhibition for it comes. I guess sometimes they’re “done” and sometimes they’re never ready.

5. I noticed you have been adjunct teaching while maintaining your personal studio practice. What are some of the biggest challenges in being a working artist? What parts are the most rewarding?

It’s really difficult to have a bunch of different jobs/teaching gigs and then also the job of going into the studio and making and then trying to apply to shows and opportunities on top of all of that. But I do really enjoy teaching. And I find that there are a few students every class with whom I can make a genuine connection and it’s so awesome and rewarding to watch them grow and see their ideas take shape. I have a tendency to overcommit to things and overextend myself, so that’s something I’m trying to work on to maintain a better work/studio/life balance. But when it comes to giving time and energy and advice to students, that feels like something worthwhile to sacrifice a little of my own sanity to.

6. Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events?

No. I’ve had an amazing but crazy year with 3 solo shows and a few other projects. I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio without any deadlines for a while.

7. What advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

My grandmother always used to tell me that if I don’t stick up for myself and advocate for myself, no one else is going to do it for me. I have to put in the work and only then can I expect people to care about it. And I feel like that has definitely been true in my life to this point.

In the Studio: Erika B. Hess

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

I grew up in a small town in south-eastern Ohio and was always interested in art. At a young age, my mom noticed my inclination towards drawing and put me in an art class at the local YMCA. The class didn’t last because of a lack of students but it was enough to show me that there was something outside of drawing in school and at the kitchen table. 

I ended up going to college where I fell in love with painting. I had wonderful teachers, Glen Cebulash and Diane Fitch, and luckily through low tuition costs and art scholarships, I pretty much took a drawing class every semester even though I didn’t have to. I was in love with painting and with the idea of being a painter. Looking back it was a bit of a fanatical love but that’s what happens when you are 19.

In 2007, I went to Boston University to study painting followed by a move to NYC in 2009. I consider those five years to be an informative time in my life. The paintings I made at that time were both terrible and wonderful. I was trying out a lot of new ideas and making abstract paintings. As I like to say, I felt like I was stumbling through the dark in those paintings. Bumping into edges and trying to make a painting out of that but I guess that is a lot of what life is like.

I ended up leaving NYC in 2011 to work at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design where I traveled around the country talking to art students about their portfolio and running a summer art program. It was a great job. I got to see museums all over the country and was paid to talk about work! I would travel, come home and make paintings in my live/work space. Soon I moved to Boston where I helped co-found the artist collective, MUSA Collective (named after Phillip Guston’s wife and daughter). 

What I learned as an artist assistant in NYC coupled with learning how to organize information at U of M and starting an artist collective truly laid the groundwork for where I am today. Through those experiences, I learned how to organize my studio, time and information to run art spaces while I continued to develop my art practice. Now I live in Columbus, OH with my two kids, and husband where I paint, curate shows and run the podcast I Like Your Work. 

 

2. Which current art world trends are you following?

I’m personally interested in a couple of topics that have been popping up in the art world. Number one is artists as parents and artists making work about it that is being taken seriously. Of course work about children and home life has always been made but it has been considered, for the most part, frivolous when women made it. Over the past five or so years I am seeing tons of work dedicated to this topic whether it be through subject matter or process and it is thrilling!

Secondly, artists as creators beyond the studio. I used to believe that the only thing I should do was be in the studio. Now I truly believe in artists creating community, helping each other, and creating spaces or initiatives. 

 

3. You stated on your submission “Currently my work incorporates the cycle of living and death but is dedicated to the point in-between; the phase in a woman’s life as creator, mother and healer.” How do you feel that this informs women’s’ role in the arts both currently and in the future?

I truly struggled with the idea of becoming a parent. It was something I wanted but I was terrified would end my creative career. I came out of an era where 9-5 and power suits where the aspiration for girls like myself. Women in charge of their lives, who had successful careers, no kids and a corner office were my inspiration. You still see this trope in movies, sitcoms etc juxtaposed with the overly soft mom with spit up on her shirt who is a disaster. Now, this is a very masculine and capitalistic sense of success that looks down on women, which I didn’t understand when I was younger, but still, unlearning this version of success has been tough.

We all have masculine and feminine characteristics, but one has always been held as stronger, better, and more desirable. I think the discussion of women being empowered without having to don masculine armor ie “be one of the guys” whether in the art world or office, is becoming more open. Women, or men, who decide to lean into having kids and lean OUT of the art world view that to be a “serious artist”-ie one who forgoes children because they are a distraction, is becoming more apparent and discussed. Of course, you can replace “art world” with any professional arena and it is still applicable. 

I want to point out that you do not have to have children in order to push back against this supreme gendered view of success. When I say mothers, healers, and creatives, I mean those that are truly seeing the world around them, embrace feminine qualities  (women AND men), and are adding something positive through their acts because they understand we are only here for a little while. That working yourself into the ground in order to achieve an outdated version of success is not the way nor is judging qualities that historically have been labeled feminine.

The future for women in the art world is bright, I think there will be only more opportunities for women as they articulate their artistic voices and truth. Through platforms like this, blogs, podcasts, artist-run spaces etc women are sharing their experiences and it’s truly powerful. 

 

4. What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them?

I think like most artists, my biggest challenge is time. There are so many responsibilities for people and artists. Now we have tools like Instagram, websites and email lists but they take up more time on top of what we are doing in the studio. Add on personal responsibilities and a job and it can get overwhelming. I am a HUGE advocate of time blocking and have a calendar that I live by. Every night before I go to bed I write down what I did and on an index card map out my next day. It has helped tremendously in getting work done in the studio and reducing the anxiety that can creep in from having a lot on your plate.  

 

5. I feel as though also gallery and your podcast “I Like Your Work” have a lot in common as far as wanting to help promote artists in a time when we need art more than ever. Will you speak to how you began podcasting and perhaps any future goals you have for the project? 

Agreed! That is why I am so thrilled to be part of Also Gallery! I started podcasting after I had helped co-found Musa Collective in Boston, MA. I had such a wonderful time helping create a physical space for artists but I was going to be moving and therefore no longer in Boston. I thought about writing or blogging about art but I felt more confident speaking. I’m also a bit of a podcast junkie and listen to them in my studio so it made sense. 

It has been incredible to connect with a broader community of artists through the podcast. At its core, the podcast is something to help artists. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, feel alone, negative etc so I wanted something to help ease those feelings. To say, “Keep going! It’s ok! You are making what is right for you and we need people like you!”

In terms of future goals for the podcast, I have asked listeners what they want and artists are asking for more exposure so I’ve been busy trying to create platforms to show people’s work. That is part of the future goal, how can I show more artwork and help more artists. I’m excited that the I Like Your Work Fall Juried Show will be happening in November! It is our first juried show that will take place at Dutoit Gallery in Dayton, OH and have an accompanying Online Exhibition.

 

6. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Or perhaps what’s next for you?

Yes! I am in the process of creating I Like Your Work Artist Collections, prints by artists coupled with objects made predominantly by women! The aim is to have affordable options for collecting work, support artists by selling their work and have a little fun. I’ve never done anything like this so I’m excited to see what happens! I am also working on resources and possible courses for artists on time management, website curation, and feedback on work. I’m not sure when that will go live but I am excited to share that it is in the works. I’m also thrilled that I will be having a solo show at Marietta College in 2021 that I am currently making work for. 

 

7. My favorite question to end with, is what advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

Great question! The first piece of advice that really made an impact and that I still think about a lot is from the painter Stanley Lewis. “You will spend the rest of your painting career relearning what you already know”. So many times in a painting I will start to move into something and think, “Omg! I remember thinking about this 10 years ago!”

“Be careful who you invite into your studio”. John Walker when I invited a critic into my studio as my first studio visit in grad school at Boston University. I was looking forward to it and John came in beforehand to ease the whiplash that he knew would more than likely occur. In case you were wondering, it didn’t go well! 

“Find a way to support yourself,” and, “There are many different ways to be an artist”. Practical advice from painter Dana Frankfort who taught at BU when I was there. I was willing to be totally broke to be an artist but there hits a point when you need to have an income or health insurance. Finding a way to support yourself and then going into the studio is ok. Also, there are so many ways to be an artist, don’t look at one model and think that is the only way. 

 

To learn more about Erika and her podcast “I Like Your Work,” visit her page here.

 

In the Studio: MANDEM

1. Tell us a little bit about MANDEM and how the triad got to where they are today.

MANDEM_ArtistPhoto_2019 (1)Mandem is one artist with three bodies. It’s not exactly an artist group nor a collaboration, though we’ve been described as both. Rather it’s a constructed identity — or a conglomerate —  that is inhabited, embodied, and created in a joint effort by (currently) three people: Maize, Moco, and Kiki. We are collectively Mandem, individually Mandem, and in theory, like Theseus’s Ship, Mandem could outlive any of these bodies. Mandem identifies as a disabled, neurodiverse, genderqueer artist because each of us is independently neurodiverse and queer in some way (is having three bodies and one identity is an inherently neuroqueer way of being?).  One of the bodies is also permanently physically disabled due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is the genetic disorder that forms the core subject of our Hypermobility series.

We suppose that technically, we got to where we are today by driving in our Chevy Suburban (which, according to the letters on the door, identifies as a Tacoma Truck).

2. What is MANDEM’s creative process like?

At best, it’s highly integrated with daily life. We all enjoy the absence of a work/life binary, and as a family we have spent our happiest months living in the same space where we were working, moving fluidly back and forth between painting and playing, without a lot of outside distractions. That’s peak flow — painting until the work requires a drying break, sleeping and living, and then painting again as soon as the canvas is ready. That’s amazing. We could just never leave the studio if the world would let us (which is why artist residencies are so amazing), and never get tired of it or struggle for new ideas. For every idea that makes it to canvas, we have a thousand things we wanted to do and didn’t have time. It’s turning off the creative process that’s so hard.

In the real world, the process is often broken up into days (or sometimes horrifically long months) in which we are hijacked by medical issues and adult responsibilities and the daily struggle to survive, and just waiting anxiously for a chance to finally get back to the studio. And when that chance comes, it can be really hard to pick back up where we left off if there’s only a single day unscheduled at a time. But if we can get 48 consecutive hours free? Then we’ll paint for the entire time straight, without sleeping and sometimes without eating, just to try to make up for lost time, painting until we literally collapse. Having to work in short concentrated bursts and then going for a long time with it all bottled in, that’s hard, like treading water and only being able to breathe in gasps. Burnout for us isn’t in working too hard on the art, it’s from having to put it away over and over again.

3. The Hypermobility series obviously has roots in traditional painting as well as performance. In the artist statement, MANDEM stated “…the [Hypermobility] series has expanded to explore paintings as a form of performance…” How does MANDEM feel the “performance” aspect of the work has progressed and challenged the traditions of the mediums explored?

MANDEM_Hypermobility_WIP-Photos-Web.jpgThere are at least two significant elements of performance within these works. The most obvious performance element is that for specific pieces within the series, we have created them in part or in whole as live paintings. That’s something we ordinarily don’t do, because the usual creation process is painfully slow and requires long wait times.  But the very large diptych in the series (which combined is a total of 20 feet wide and 8 feet tall) was created over the period of two artist residencies during which we would leave it installed in a public space and let people experience its evolution and incorporate their comments, feedback, and sometimes their own painterly additions into the work. It became a living dialog in that way. Live painting isn’t a brand new challenge to painting — it’s been part of underground art scenes and festivals for a long time —but doing it in a way where audiences see their own ableist statements integrated in a disfiguring way to the piece? That’s a bit more antagonistic.

The other performative element has to do with the way in which these paintings function as self-diagnostic and awareness-raising materials. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a genetic, congenital disorder. The average time between when patients with it begin seeking medical help for symptoms and the time that they finally get a diagnosis and begin receiving helpful treatment is a horrifying twenty years — which means that for every lucky teen to be diagnosed within a year, you have people who have been begging for help for the last forty years and still having doctors tell them that they’re just malingering or otherwise misdiagnosing them. This is despite the fact that the most common type of EDS is a clinical diagnosis consisting largely of a very simple checklist of unique outward manifestations that people who don’t have some form of connective tissue disorder are physically incapable of duplicating. It’s a strange phenomenon; our bodies are dramatically different from the average body in appearance, but there’s not education about it for doctors or patients, so people just grow up feeling “like freaks” without realizing that it has a medically-relevant relationship to their health problems.

Our paintings not only show these different body types, but generally also show the models recreating one of these diagnostic checklist items. When these paintings are exhibited as a group, you’ll see people standing in front of them flexing back and forth as they try to imagine being in these poses. We’ve had so many people come to the shows and try to recreate the poses themselves or ask friends to try it, and when we find someone who can actually go to each painting and reproduce the pose, it opens the dialog to ask them if they have chronic illness that doctors can’t seem to pin down. We have heard from dozens of people who learned about genetic connective tissue disorders because of the Hypermobility painting series and subsequently found answers to their lifelong health mystery.  The paintings become this locus of dialog allowing people to recognize their own bodies in the work and get educated about something that can literally save their lives.

Art is always capable of tremendous immediate impacts, but it’s not usually something that’s quite this directly active in getting people to consider their own bodies and what makes them unique in a way that’s medically significant.

 

4. What is it that MANDEM hopes a viewer will take away from this particular series?

First, we want to challenge the dominant dialog in painting by which disabled bodies —and especially gender-nonconforming disabled bodies (over half of our models are trans, nonbinary, or otherwise genderqueer)— have historically been portrayed as objects of either horror or pity or both. Figure painting has a very long history of being tied up with these ancient classical ideas about beauty and goodness, whereby the perfection of the human form represents a perfection of the human spirit. It may have begun as a sort of homoerotic hero worship in Greece, but by the time it passed through the Roman Empire and into Renaissance art (remember that the Italian renaissance was funded in large part via colonization of South America) and eventually into the arms of fascism, this ideal of “beauty = morality” had metastasized and was being used to dehumanize not just disabled people, but also people of supposedly undesirable classes such as Jews, Roma, gender non-conforming and queer people, the urban poor, and non-Europeans as a whole. People don’t really talk much anymore about the connection between figurative work and fascism, but it’s part of the reason that more liberal artists in Europe and America started moving away from mythological and figurative work. But here’s the rub: bodies are cool. They’re valid and important and we should talk about them. It doesn’t help anybody to replace idealized bodies with idealized abstract geometries and call the work done. So for us, the answer is to go back and reclaim the idea of beauty from the fascists and the classicists, and take it for ourselves.  Let’s proclaim the right of disabled bodies to be beautiful.

We’re not alone in this instinct for reclamation, of course. There are a number of amazing women of color, for instance, who are responding to the Western canon by seizing the means of production, so to speak, and painting their own bodies with the respect and love that they deserve — Harmonia Rosales, for instance, who repaints Renaissance images to feature black women instead, or the formidable Lina Iris Viktor, who combines amazing figurative work with bold geometric gold leafing. By nature, these acts or re-insertion need to be a form of self-portraiture (or, to be clear, portraying one’s self by portraying one’s community) in order to function as they ought…. Which I guess gets back to the element of performance. Being genderqueer and being disabled, we painted first our own bodies and then our own community back into the canon.


5. Has social media played a role in MANDEM’s studio practice?

Sometimes.  In the diptych we mentioned, some of the audience engagement that was “quoted” in the piece was from social media. But that’s a rare event. Usually we try not to let feedback like that into the studio process. What we did depend on for this whole series, though, is the way social media connects us with other people who are living with connective tissue disorders like EDS. It’s a relatively rare disorder — not nearly as rare as doctors make it out to be, mind you, more “rarely diagnosed” than truly rare — but it’s still only a handful of people per city. So without social media, we no doubt would have had a lot more difficulty connecting to models. We’ve worked with models as far away as England, but we never could have made connections like that without social media.

 

6. A question that I always include: What advice has MANDEM been given that has the most influence?

Hmmm…  the best business advice ever was “You should get a man in a suit,” by which the speaker meant that we were doing fine with creating our art but had invested zero work in marketing or promoting it, and if we didn’t get help with that we’d never get out of the metaphorical woods. We bristled a bit at the time, because who likes to be reminded that white men have all the privilege when it comes to walking into a room and automatically commanding respect just because of their clothes? But the intended point regarding marketing chops was still a good one. As it happens, we never did get a man in a suit to do that for us, unfortunately, but we did start setting aside specific times for “man in the suit days” where we put on our adulting pants and actually submit to things or answer emails.

As related advice with a slightly more aspirational tone, one of our painting mentors, Lilian Garcia-Roig, describes this as the vital “why not me?” attitude required by women and other art world minorities. Whenever you see an opportunity, instead of thinking to yourself “I’m not what they’re looking for,” do what a trustfund kid with no qualifications would do and say “why not me? I’m as good as anyone else!” and just apply for it.  Leave it to the curators to reject you, rather than rejecting yourself.  Most of the time this doesn’t work out, but sometimes it does.

Apart from business, the most practically influential advice had to do with color —now, this wasn’t so snazzily phrased, so we can’t quote her directly— but the gist of it was this: The longer you look at a thing, the more colors your eyes will be able to decode in it. Because of [complex scientific reasons I could explain in four pages but not in one paragraph], cameras flatten those colors out and can’t capture them. People who don’t paint aren’t trained to see them and so they won’t. But you can see them if you’re willing to sit with a thing and look at it — what a camera sees as black is more likely a deep color like indigo or umber or dark green or blue. Not only is the existence of white and black skin a terrible lie, but human skin also isn’t just plain peach or brown — it’s always a wild mix of yellows and blues and greens and purples and pinks and dozens of shades of brown. Learn to see colors as they really are or could be, not the short-cuts that your brain takes when it’s just trying to give you survival-related information.

Which leads to the next part of this conversation: If you put a strawberry in a dark room and shine a green light on it and take a photo, in the photo you could color-sample the berry and it would be indisputably gray. Without red light waves, the berry physically cannot reflect red rays and look red. But if you actually looked at the berry in real life, your mind would still tell you that it was red, and you would “see” it as red. Because what you think you see in “reality” is little more than a lie fabricated by your nervous system to make it so that your brain will cooperate in keeping your body alive. Yay!

7. What’s next for MANDEM?

We often work on multiple projects at once. We’re still officially working on the Hypermobility series, though taking a short hiatus from the full-size paintings in that series to expand on our Medical Trial of the Saints series. We have some upcoming solo exhibits that will show these series side-by-side in a discussion about aesthetics, illness/disability, and self-creation. We’re also working on creating a new-to-us photographic workflow that combines digital photography with analog old school photographic techniques to create impossible surrealistic “forgeries” of antique photos (yep! Reinserting ourselves in that history too)  — but there’s a lot of experimentation that’s going to go into figuring out exactly how we want to make that work. Traditional photography is a form of alchemy, and it requires a lot of dedication and experimentation to get it right… even before you introduce the goal of integrating it with digital forgeries and hand painting.

In the Studio: Elise Thompson

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

I was born in Cincinnati, OH and grew up just across the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky. I joke that I was a “prolific” child artist, meaning I made too many drawings; often the same drawing over, and over, and over again. That’s right; I would make one IMG_3139-1drawing, and then I would repeat that same drawing with slight changes endlessly. The subject matter was usually animals ranging from ducks, dogs, lions, horses, dinosaurs, etc. One of the more hilarious serial drawings I made was of a lion in the middle, roaring, with a terrified zebra and giraffe on either side looking shocked that a lion would do this; all on the same picture plane. Just grass, as if they were hanging out in someone’s backyard in suburbia. With each iteration, the giraffe’s neck shortened until it looked more like a hippo than the originally intended creature. My mom commented on this, and I’m pretty sure that was the first “critique” of my work ever. I took it pretty hard.

From ages 9-17, I was a competitive figure skater, training full time by homeschooling my 8th and half of my 9th grade year. For five of those years, I was also a competitive dancer in jazz/ballet/tap for cross training. Acting, singing, and improv were thrown in for good measure, and I honestly thought theatre was going to be the way to go! Dance was also, ironically, less hard on my body when compared to figure skating. I got my first stress fracture in my lower back when I was 12, and my second at 14, effectively putting me in a corset back brace almost full time paired with years of physical therapy. I had many awkward growth spurts during these years, which didn’t help! When I quit figure skating for good at 17, I grew another two inches. I think my body was waiting for me to give it up already! Athletics didn’t just put me through the paces physically, it taught me self-discipline and perseverance psychologically. I’m still learning my threshold, and while skating and dance really did a number on me, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Except that maybe I would try swimming instead next time haha. Seems way more low impact, I’m just sayin’.

It wasn’t really until my last year of high school, and when I started attending undergrad at Northern Kentucky University, that I began to pursue visual art seriously. I did a foundations class in theatre my first semester, and after surmising that, “Yeah, I don’t think this is for me..” I took my foundations courses in fine art. I vividly remember having a one-on-one with one of my professors during Foundations I and them saying, “I can see you majoring in fine art and going onto grad school.” Seed planted. That’s all it takes sometimes! Just a mere suggestion. I had been looking for a direction, so maybe I was waiting to hear that someone believed that I COULD finally commit to visual art. 

I officially received my BFA in painting in 2010, took a few years to intern at the Cincinnati Art Museum, worked as an art handler at the Contemporary Arts Center, and as a Teaching Artist and mural painter with ArtWorks Cincinnati before attending Florida State University for my MFA in studio art. I stayed in Tallahassee, FL to teach for a few years, co-directed a non-profit gallery with my art partner in crime Haley Lauw, and managed a warehouse studio where I worked and subleased to local artist friends. I attended artist residencies at the Vermont Studio Center (summer 2016), The Wassaic Project (summer 2017), and The Maple Terrace Artist Residency Program (winter 2017). By mid to late 2018, things were already beginning to change drastically in my personal life, but I knew I needed to push even more. I decided to finally move to New York City after a few years of friends attempting to convince me to do it and me endlessly talking around the idea. Things just really lined up last year, and I’m really thankful for my family and all the friends, new and old, who continue to make this transition as smooth and painless as possible (if possible!). I’ve been in Brooklyn in a live/work space since March, and I’m still finding my footing, but I know this was the right decision. It’s been really challenging, but rewarding too, and while this city demands so much, it really does give back. Friends have said, “You probably won’t feel all that comfortable until about year..5.” So, great. Here we go!

 

2. What does your work aim to say? What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices?

Whether it’s subconscious or not, my work is definitely a reflection of my inner desires and neuroses. Perhaps it’s a cliche to say that the things you make are an extension of yourself, but I am often surprised and pleased by how my painting and sculpting processes coalesce or run parallel with my personality, my (seemingly) involuntary inclinations, and my contradictory need for dominance over the medium/image versus intuitive flow of the materials and outside variables. I’ve joked that my type A and B personalities are constantly at odds, but this friction seems to produce cohesive work. Even when I’m battling restraint over this maximalist urge to rein in 10 paintings into one, formally and conceptually, the things I make seem to work together, especially in groups. I’m using translucent surfaces such as clear vinyls and chiffon as substrates, and the way that I treat what is below the surface, between layers, and above speaks to this psychological notion of keeping secrets/veiling truths and cutting away obstructed layers to divulge what is really underneath. I think of the gestures as metaphors for language and communication. We can use semantics to somewhat skew what we really mean, remain ambiguous in our intentions, soften clarity. We can also use our words to be powerfully clear and succinct. I’m physically frosted and blurring surfaces, layering up the material while also trying to keep various parts of the surface untouched or cleared away as this push and pull idea regarding self-disclosure. There are elegant moments of judiciousness and satisfying occurrences of indulgence, but not without points where these two concepts clash. I’ve referred to this “clashing point” before as a “wrench” in the image that can make a viewer stop short. Within all these luscious and sumptuous moments in the painting material, there are usually moves I’ve made that are not conventionally beautiful and can be downright uncomfortable to look at whether it’s the way the colors are meshing or that the textures allude to something else. I keep those parts in the work as a visual example of a consequence or as a reminder that things are not endlessly “smooth sailing”. The good can have an underbelly.

 

3. You stated “Through gestures of concealing, revealing, and the suggestion of the familiar, these works allude to vulnerability, desire, and the competing inclination to either remain private, or explicitly share.” Do you feel your work is about control in any way?

Most definitely! I even say “Control, however, is always present.” That’s a characteristic I’m battling all the time, in life and the studio; control vs. going with the flow. On the surface, I can present a very “chill” and “even keel” demeanor, but underneath the surface is a whole mess of anxieties. What else is new? The urge for control is where I’m trying to reel in the things that I think are making me anxious in an effort to exact power over them. Control them so they don’t control you. This isn’t always the healthiest solution, and too much pressure can have some adverse effects; many more obvious than others. Some of the more interesting moves I’ve made with paintings have been because I’ve forced myself to give up being so overbearing with the material. I will also drive myself insane by trying to corral every poured surface and every piped line. I’ve incorporated working around or living with “the accidents” that occur when making work. The first hole I ever cut in a painting was an accident. I want to say I had every intention in cutting a void in Give Me Sugar, but that wouldn’t be completely honest. I was trying to cut a clean line where I had masked off an area knowing that when I pulled up the tape, it would pull up jagged and messy. The blade when through the surface too far, and I was convinced I had ruined this thing that I had put so much time and care into starting. I decided that in my practice, I need to be more flexible when it comes to these unintentional occurrences by responding with intentional solutions. I’ll either cover it up or go with it; whichever move is best. Thankfully, this mode has been working for me! It’s almost impossible to hit the “undo button” with vinyl and chiffon. It shows everything and it forgets very little. Learning how to mind the material is important, but learning how to work with your mistakes is another.

 

4. What does the word “successful” mean to you as an artist?

FullSizeRender-2This is a really hard question to answer because I’m still trying to figure that out. Regarding flexibility, it’s important for this definition to evolve as you grow. Right now, for me, “successful as an artist” means to continue making work and putting myself out there. Continue making whether what I think I’m producing is good, bad, small, large, anything at all, and taking other artists seriously when they want to do studio visits to stay engaged. That likely seems like I’m setting the bar low, but honestly, working day jobs, affording a place to live, making time to be social, carving out time to be alone, and finding time to get away are all consuming. If I can fit in a full-time studio practice with other full-time responsibilities that will allow me to continue on, then GOOD. That’s my goal right now. And the more people you meet and the more studio visits you accept, the more opportunities come your way. Perseverance is a success to me, even if there isn’t always concrete show for it yet.

 

5. What advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

You can’t make work that is going to appeal to everyone, and you shouldn’t make work that you think will do so. Follow your inclinations and your gut, even if the idea seems totally weird. Above all, if you can afford to, try making the things you’ve been thinking about to see them. You can talk yourself out of doing anything, but you can’t know if it’s a good or bad idea until you try. One time in grad school, I painted every chip from an entire tube of Pringles, meaning I put paint ON the chips. I didn’t paint a still life of chips, I PAINTED the chips. Get it? Paint chips? Was that a good idea? No. Was it a good idea to try? Yes, because I got it out of the way, and I don’t have to think about it anymore. Plus, it’s a story my mentor from graduate school loves telling other students now. I’m good with that!

 

6. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Or perhaps what’s next for you?

Right now, I’m settling into my new studio situation, and I’m trying to continue the “Voids and Gaps” body of work I started last year as well as works that hide additional paintings under frosted surfaces. There’s a lot more to mine there. I currently have two works at the Wassaic Summer Exhibition titled Ad Astra Per Aspera at the Wassaic Project until September 21st if you find yourself in upstate NY! I’m also conceptualizing a two-person show San Antonio-based artist Brittany Ham at Mantle Art Space for January 2020. It seems far away, but it really isn’t! We’re in the early stages right now, but I’m excited about what we’ll be making in the coming months.

In the Studio: Arielle Rebek

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.

In pinhole camera selfI grew up in the Chicago area in a family of artists. As a young teenager, I would spend full days sitting on the green carpet of my great aunt’s home looking through boxes filled with photos of relatives and strangers. I studied these photos again and again, never growing tired, and developed a deep fascination for personal histories through photography. These experiences would later influence me to investigate photography, memory, and place in my work.

I attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota and earned my BA in Studio Art.  Upon graduating, I worked for the art department which allowed for valuable studio time and teaching opportunities. I worked closely with my mentor and photography professor to develop an experimental photography course, and in doing so, started working in a physical and intuitive way in the darkroom. In 2013, I moved to southern California to teach elementary school art and ended up learning about my relationship to place and affinity for the mountains.

After a couple years of struggling to balance full time work and my studio practice, I decided to attend the MFA program in Art Studio at UC Davis. The most rewarding aspects of grad school were the relationships with my cohort, critical input from faculty/peers, and the time to flail a bit.  After school, I moved to Oakland, became a studio resident at the SF arts non-profit, Root Division, and worked on Programs at Minnesota Street Project. I spent the last year teaching photography courses at Carleton College and will now be starting a three month artist residency at The Image Flow in the North Bay.

2. How has working in the education field influenced your art and artistic practice?

Teaching forces me to engage with photography in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise in my studio practice.  I am always searching for new material, artists, or techniques that I can bring to the classroom which often find their way into my work. My students bring ideas and topics to class that teach me just as much as I teach them, if not more. Of course, it’s challenging at times. Teaching requires so much energy and passion that I am sometimes left with little to give my artwork. Ultimately, I find the rewards of teaching and working with students to be important for my life and art practice.

 

3. What is your creative process like?

Light is such a material for me that my process often begins with either noticing the behavior of light or wanting to experiment with light in some way. Whether I am on a hike, walking to the store, or in the darkroom, I am thinking about how this light, this material, is linked to place, memory or experience. Photography can represent truth and yet also create such illusion and deception.

Experimentation and working towards an unknown is critical to my process. I want to be surprised by my work. Traditional B&W darkroom printing is about precision, working slowly and printing carefully, but I am more interested in what happens when I’m not careful or precise. Whether I am working in the darkroom or outdoors, I am fast, intuitive and respond to the materiality of my medium.

 

4. How do you make your location decisions? And how does the location play a role in deciding which photographic technique would be best for capturing it?

I’m interested in how photography translates experience. Our world is so saturated with images and social media that I feel an urgency to reflect on the origins of photography, what we choose to capture, and how that changes our relationship to subject or experience. I am also often reflecting on my particular relationship to place, and my impulse to photograph or not to photograph. What warrants a record? In my series of cyanotype self portraits, I was thinking about how a meditation in everyday surroundings (my backyard, my studio, etc.) could be depicted through photography. I took large pieces of cyanotype fabric and swaddled myself in them. I would then sit still for about 20 minutes while being simultaneously “exposed” and protected. The final prints act as the residue of a particular moment, while reflecting the specifics of my body position and lighting conditions. Cyanotype allows me to work outdoors, on a larger scale, and retain evidence of the environment.

 

instudio self 2

5. How has social media affected your studio practice?

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship to social media. Of course it’s a great tool for sharing work and ideas with pretty low stakes, but it also facilitates constant consumption and comparison. It’s fascinating to me that I will take a photo, and while taking it, I will think “oh yeah, I’ll post this on instagram”. And I know I’m not the only one in that. While I’m not blatantly questioning social media in my work, it certainly influences the way I think about my relationship to photography.

 

6. What advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

Early on in grad school I had a conversation with a faculty member about the importance of routine and making time for your studio practice daily. I was also once told to give myself assignments when feeling stuck, like take a photo of the same object once every day for two weeks or write for ten minutes every morning. I find that these little tasks help build routine, restore my energy in the studio, and often lead to other ideas.

 

7. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Or perhaps what’s next for you?

During my residency this summer, I will be working on a new body of work that investigates distance and scale and how these are humanly felt. This work will employ various processes, including pinhole photography, photograms, and digital scans. Stay tuned!

In the Studio: Kristin Hough in collaboration with colleagues

Note: Much of my practice includes pulling source material from the public. The paintings shown in this exhibition originate as screen-captures of nature based reality tv programs and include transcriptions of dialog from contestants. So, as part of a larger interest in crowd sourced content and collective authorship, I’ve asked fellow artists to answer these questions for / as me.
 
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.
Life is getting things done. I set arbitrary untimed mental time-limits for myself to get things done — one of which is this: two minutes to complete the answer to this question. This has gotten me to where I am today. -OP
 
2. Can you speak to your creative process for “Microcosmic gods” – featured in this exhibition?
Microcosmic Gods is an exploration of the imagery, emotion and aesthetic of reality TV through paintings of stills from various survivor shows.  When creating art I am continually interested in intertwining the real and the fake and blending these ideas to show that they are often one in the same.  My process centered around taking time to watch and snapshot scenes that further the idea that a reality show is itself a microcosm of life – saturated with drama, emotion, and intensity, though still contrived and altered. -SH
 
3. What is the role of the artist in society?
What are any of our “roles”, really? I think that an artist in society has the opportunity to connect or bring awareness to the gaps between perception and reality. That said, everyone has this potential, although artists tend to have more urgency with demonstrating the gap. 
 
or….for a gruff alternative:
 
“opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one” lol -AB
 
4. Where do you feel art is going?

A lot of times when you face adversity, and you feel that you’re at your weakest point, the best thing you can do is bond together and strengthen as a unit. We can’t afford for people not to get along. Hope factors in a huge amount for your existence here. Mentally you need to feel comfortable where you are. Symbolically, [art] is just showing that there’s another level of our relationship with each other.

Every now and then you get a glimpse of closure, and you get a glimpse of the impact, and you get a glimpse of how significant it is that we’ve gotten this far. You can’t help but think about what’s around the corner. Let’s, you know, start something new. We are now addicted. It’s so good. We wake up in the morning, we make [art]. After we eat breakfast, in the afternoon, we make [art]. At night, we make [art]. It makes you feel as if the world doesn’t really stop without you–it keeps going. That’s what’s good about [art]: you never know what’s going to happen. And at first I didn’t get the big picture, but when you stop and think about it for a while you realize that you’ve been given a lot.

Strategies are starting to develop more and go in different directions, and the more we learn about each other the more you start to second guess what you’ve done. Definitely [art] is changing, and maybe for the better. Maybe for the worse. I don’t know. I certainly don’t think this answers everything. We’ve still got to catch the fish. -NR

 
5. How has your work been influenced by your fellow exhibiting artists, if at all?
The way that my fellow exhibitors work has influenced me is that it helped me realize that I explore landscape with color and texture. -SB
 
6. What advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?
Once when I was a little girl I biked to the pond to feed the geese with Aunt Zeeta. Zeeta had recently pawned off those God-awful velvet socks she had the audacity to wear any time she supposed her orthodontist pen-pal was “braiding the tulips,” as they say…anyways, it was clear she was flush with breadcrumbs. Zeeta’s charity for those brats was unabashed; we all knew the Nivea Street geese were spoiled rotten, and by whom.  

We circled the water, slowly, careful not to trip over the scatterings of Chuck-E-Cheese tokens and quantum charcuterie, no doubt the aftermath of a Nivea Street Weasels meeting grown rowdy.
 
I caught the attention of the friend mostly covered in dark feathers—“Soot,” as my aunt called him—and flashed my baggie of sourdough particles. He inched my way, and the sight of his midmorning snack began to register. 
Soot—never before one to cause a riot—flapped out of the pond like a maniac, seized by a divine vision. Like an amuse-bouche from a irritable pair of hedge clippers, this goose pecked my forehead, its full weight heaving into my body. I went toppling backwards into the grass. Zeeta was no use, absorbed in her Walkman, entranced by an errant horsefly. 
Soot waddled over to me, solemn, and I swear to Jeremy that goose looked me straight in the eye. “Kristin, honey” he said, “You ever find yourself running outta gas on that stretch of interstate in Arizona with no stations for a hundred miles? Well, you should turn off the AC in your car, roll the windows up and slow down to fifty-five miles per hour. That’s right, fifty-five miles per hour gets you optimal gas milage. Sure, people are passing you right and left, but you gotta resist the temptation to speed up. Fifty-five is that golden number. Any faster and you’re burning too hot.”
 
I’ll never forget that bird. -LL
 
7. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about? Or perhaps what’s next for you?
I am working on a series of paintings of scenes from the 2001 Fox series Temptation Island. The paintings will reflect the deep-seated urges that are evoked when humans are returned to a primal setting. -KI
View more of Kristin’s work here.

In The Studio: Faith Sponsler

also gallery is excited to bring you three separate interviews featuring the artists of our current exhibition, “Placed.”

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today.IMG_1412

I grew up in a small mountain town in northern California. The experience of growing up in a wild place, at the base of an active volcano, intensely linked my emotional memory with my sense of place. Throughout my schooling, I had always been interested in both art and science, ultimately choosing art with the hope that my interest in the sciences could have a place there too.

I studied painting in my undergraduate program, and haven’t traditionally painted since. Immediately afterward, I attended graduate school at UC Davis which gave me the space and time I needed to cultivate my practice. Honestly, the most invaluable thing it gave me was all of my peers, some of whom I am still in close contact with. They are all incredible, diverse artists and people that I learned more from than any seminar.

After teaching a little, I attended a year-long residency program at the Headlands Center for the Arts located in the coastal hills of the Marin Headlands. The program was filled with incredible artists from all over, with work just as diverse. The time spent within the landscape and buildings of Headlands, with their tangible history, helped to refine my practice and reshape the way I thought about my work.

Currently, I am working on making a new studio space for myself and in the planning stages for a new body work.

 

  1. What does being an “interdisciplinary artist” mean to you and your practice?

Through experience, I have found that I need different modes of working and seeing in my practice. In undergrad, I chose the concentration of painting, only because it was what I was more familiar with. The programs within the art department were very separate and I was left feeling wholly unsatisfied in the work I was making, so I made a point to find a graduate program that was open to interdisciplinary work. It was only there that I was allowed to explore different ways of making in any real way.

In my most recent body of work, which was made for the Headlands Center for the Arts Graduate Fellows show, I included sculpture, monotypes, site-specific window painting, and a zine. It was the first time I felt like the different ways of making were actually working together in a space. The zine was of particular importance for a couple reasons: It was something affordable that could travel beyond that show and gallery space, and it was made as a collaboration with a friend and fellow artist.

 

  1. What is the biggest challenge in being an artist today?

I can only speak personally, but surviving alone is difficult as an artist. Myself and most of my friends have multiple jobs and/or side hustles and its difficult to make the time and space in order to make work.

 

  1. Can you speak to your own relationship to risk and sacrifice, and what risks have you taken.

IMG_5287 2I suppose prioritizing art in one’s life could be seen as a sacrifice, although I don’t really think of it that way.

Risk-taking has its place in my practice, but I think that there’s a certain level of risk in anyone’s studio. But those risks are made within the world you create for them. There usually aren’t life or death consequences for decisions made in the studio.

Some risks I have taken have to do with pushback against museum/gallery limitations on material. Some of the materials I have used can be quite volatile and/or have a live component that can be tricky for insurance reasons. Pushing back on these restrictions is always a risk, but a risk worth taking when its important to the work.

 

  1. Why did you feel it was important for your work to be a part of this exhibition?

I both love and respect the work of the other two artists in this exhibition. The work is very different, but speaks to one another in an unexpected ways. I was also very excited to be a part of an alternative gallery space that supports women and minority artists.

 

  1. What advice have you been given that has influenced you the most?

There are a few short and sweet gems that have always stuck with me. The two that come to mind are, “Don’t judge while you’re making,” which is a great mantra for the anxious mind. The other is “Showing up is the hardest part,” which is specifically about showing up and making time/space for the studio. Even if you just write for twenty minutes, or stare at the wall.

 

  1. Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

I’m currently in the planning stages of a new body of work. I don’t have much else to tell, other than the fact that it will include sculpture, monoprints, and a zine!
View more of Faith’s work here.