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Edinboro Uni v e r sity

SHOP TALK : Editor: Design and Layout: Art Direction: Printing Services:

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Terry McKelvey Associate Professor of Art Brenden Lovejoy and Laurel Hoachlander

Professors Shelle Barron and Brigette Davitt Piper Press Print & Copy Center Edinboro University

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7 14 2016

Shoptalk Volume

late winter and early spring of

presents

artist interviews conducted by MFA candidates at Edinboro University

Editor’s Note: In editing these articles,

a couple notable themes emerged.

In an era when many MFA students consciously seek to avoid the perceived limitations of a discipline-specific label (sculptor, painter, ceramicist, jeweler, printmaker, etc.), many of the artists they interviewed reveal themselves to be deeply committed to their materials and processes, in a manner that strikes me as unapologetically traditional. The artists who, in many cases, are celebrated for the manner in which they’ve confronted traditional practice and succeeded in expanding the vocabulary of their media, also express a somewhat provocative appraisal of the prevalent attitudes that the Postmodern era has engendered. In doing so, they address philosophical, conceptual, and timely concerns that are universally relevant to visual artists.

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Shoptalk began in 2004 as a graduate seminar project, in which MFA students at Edinboro University each interview a prominent member of the visual arts community, producing a scholarly article for publication. The general idea was to visit a working artist in their workspace, to see their work and discuss matters of their production. The project replicates my personal graduate seminar experiences at Cornell University in the early 1990s under Professor Victor Kord, when I interviewed painters Leon Golub and Brett Bigbee. The artists and topics of discussion reflect the aspirations, interests, and concerns of the artist-interviewers, who are themselves engaged in a rigorous examination of their work and process relative to traditional and contemporary practices. Since Shoptalk’s inception, sixty-eight interviews have been published in volumes 1–7, mostly focused


on visual artists working in the studio disciplines of the graduate students who conducted the interviews, but also including visual arts figures who are less identified by a discipline. Shoptalk interviews serve to bring attention to visual artists who are making important work, but who might not (yet) be widely known to the art world. In cases where an artist has already enjoyed critical exposure, the interviewers query from an angle that remains less examined, touching on formal, technical, conceptual, and practical concerns. In this sense, the articles in Shoptalk strive to contribute intelligently to a greater critical dialogue within the visual arts community. The design, layout, and publication of each new edition of Shoptalk provides an opportunity for advanced Design students to collaborate on a commissioned project, with pleasing and effective results. Terry McKelvey, 2016


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Contributing Writers: Ben Frederick

Henry Gepfer

John Dubrow

Robert Tillman

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is a first-year MFA Painting candidate from Dayton, Ohio. He has a BFA from Miami University of Ohio. Ben’s website is benjaminfrederick.weebly.com

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Hannah Pierce Roberto Lugo

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is a second-year MFA Printmaking candidate from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He has a BSE in Art Education from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. Henry’s website is henrygepfer.com

is a first-year MFA Ceramics candidate from San Diego, California. Oregon. She has a BA from Humboldt State University. Hannah’s website is hannahmpierce.com

Matthew Coté

Josiah King

Sara Catapano

is a first-year MFA Metals candidate from Tacoma, Washington. He has a BFA from Central Washington University. Matt’s website is cotemetalsmith.com

is a third-year MFA Painting candidate from Faison, North Carolina. He has a BA from Mt. Olive College. Josiah’s website is josiahking.weebly.com

Boris Bally M

Scott Noel K

Kate MacDowell

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is a first-year MFA Ceramics candidate from St. Louis, Missouri. She has a BFA from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Sara’s website is saracatapano.com

Kyle Brandon Duncan

Claira Heitzenrater

Wendy Redstar

Erik Neff

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is a first-year MFA Print candidate from Waynesville, Ohio. He has a BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design. Kyle’s website is kbduncan.com

Peter Antor Kim Cridler P

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is a third-year MFA Painting candidate from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. She has a BFA from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Claira’s website is clairaheitzenrater.com

Shane Eugene Allen Gregory Jacobsen

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Ashley Bevington Matt Wedel

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is a third-year MFA Metals candidate from Sparta, Michigan. He has a BFA from Grand Valley State University. Pete’s website is peterantor.com

is a first-year MFA Painting candidate from Talcott, WV. He has a BA in English Literature and a BFA in Studio Art from West Virginia University. Shane’s work can be seen at instagram.com/shane_eugene.

is a first-year MFA Ceramics candidate from Nashville, Ohio. She has a BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design. Ashley’s website is ashleybevington.com

Joshua Mitchel

Jim Dunn

Royce Hilderbrand

is a second-year MFA Metals candidate from Wheaton, Illinois. He has a BS in Art from University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. Jim’s website is jamesdunnmetals.com

is a second-year MFA Ceramics candidate from Columbus, Ohio. He has a BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design. Royce’s website is roycehilderbrandpottery.com

Costa Dvorezky

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is a third-year MFA Painting candidate from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has BFA’s from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Design Institute of San Diego. Josh’s website is joshmitchel.com

Arthur Hash D

Peter Pincus r

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Contributing

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Ben Frederick

Henry Gepfer

Hannah Pierce

John Dubrow

Robert Tillman

Roberto Lugo

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Matthew CotĂŠ

Josiah King

Sara Catapano

Boris Bally

Scott Noel

Kate MacDowell

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Kyle B. Duncan

Claira Heitzenrater

Peter Antor

Wendy Red Star

Erik Neff

Kim Cridler

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Ashley Bevington

Josh Mitchel

Gregory Jacobsen

Matt Wedel

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Royce Hilderbrand

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Arthur Hash

Peter Pincus

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At the Time of Pausing:

An Interview with John Dubrow

Recently, painting seems to be having a difficult

time defending itself. Many are questioning the use of the medium, especially in the face of advancing technology. But the figurative painter John Dubrow

exudes a quiet confidence in painting. Dubrow works in a beautiful and spacious studio in Jersey

City, across from Manhattan. His paintings line

the walls of his studio in such a way as to be readily seen and contemplated. Their thickly applied oil

paint hangs over the sides of the canvas as if the underlying structure would at any moment fall away

full of energy, their surfaces flicker with light, while preserving depictions of a world with which we are

so familiar. A giant window opens out onto rooftops of industrial buildings, while beside it a panoramic canvas begins to reflect the view. I sat down with

Dubrow to talk about the way technology is affecting art, about being a figurative painter, his studio process, and the future of painting.

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John Dubrow Audrey 2014-2015 Oil on linen 20�x16�

Image courtesy of John Dubrow

and only the paint would remain. Full of paint and


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BF: I came across your artwork online, on Artsy. Are you aware of that website? What do you think of the way technology is affecting the art world? JD: I am aware of Artsy although I do not go on there to look. I think that there are a lot of out of date images of mine on there, because I might have a show and then rework the paintings after the show. That is just one of the problems of the internet and technology, in terms of my own process. I am constantly re-working things. Even if I remove the image, it is always on the internet somewhere, so there are a lot of problems with looking at art on the internet. The real paintings don’t translate to a computer screen. There is too much vibration on the surface of the picture. There is no correlation. You just get the image, which is really just a premise for the painting. But, on the other hand, it’s a great thing to get exposure to lots and lots of people. Twenty years ago I would’ve had a much smaller audience, and now it seems that people come up with things that they never would have (found). Before, that had to happen through a gallery.

I am interested in how you continually re-work your paintings. Are you searching for an end point in each painting or do you allow yourself to just keep painting on them?

I am searching for an end point though it might not come. There are a whole bunch of false endings. They are all pause points. At the time of pausing, it seems to me that this is something that’s worth keeping and not working on. But as I keep developing as a painter my ideas begin shifting. Sometimes I pause for two weeks and then keep going when I didn’t think I’d keep going and then, other times, I could pause for two years, or even ten years. When a painting is sold I’m very content to leave it. I don’t want to keep working on these forever, but I am trying to put as much energy as I can into them.

In this studio space I have the room to have all these paintings around me, so when I come in during the day, or when I am working on something else, I can glance over. I don’t think of each painting as fixed in time, as long as they’re with me and I think there’s a possibility to invest it with greater force. I’m always looking for ways to get them clearer and to get more into them. A lot of that is simplifying. In most of these paintings they were seemingly more finished earlier in the process. In other words, there was more incidental detail and there were probably more color shifts and it was more modulated in some way, because I’m constantly going back and forth between simplifying and modulation. What generally tends to happen is that they get simpler and they also become a little more aggressive as they end.

Is that an intentional thing?

No. It’s taking a little time away from them. Sometimes it’s having a good day. I’m constantly shifting the compositions and breaking down what I have there. In each of these paintings I’m constantly moving stuff around at the very end, to get some sort of energetic situation that didn’t

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John Dubrow’s artwork can be viewed at johndubrow.com

John Dubrow happen before. I’m happier with some of them than others, and the ones that I’m not as happy with I might keep going with, or I might just not. There is no rule. Sometimes I get bored after a few years of working on something. The image of them is pretty similar from the beginning to the end. I’m constantly shifting the composition and color and the light dark pattern, but the image is there underneath it. The difference is the exact intervals of things and how much energy I can put into the picture.

You mentioned that you try to make the paintings more clear but they seem more finished earlier in the process.

My paintings begin very simply then I make them more and more complex and then, generally at the end, they are simplified again, but they are going back and forth between simplification, modulation, and complexity. They all begin very simply because I don’t have a clear image of things. I don’t work from photographs. I work from either a moment that I have seen in the city or my imagination, just pulling something out of the paint surface that I see. The bathing paintings were just done from seeing the figure in a wiped out painting, and building from that. I’m sure that I have a method, but the method is really just trying to find your own process in painting.

I know that you made at least one painting from the World Trade Center… Yeah, I made four pictures from there.

Was that from direct observation? Yeah, that was from direct observation. I still occasionally do portraits from direct observation. This cityscape, here: you can call direct observation because it’s right out the window. But I’m probably painting worse when I’m looking out the window than when I’m not looking. I’m trying to not look out the window, because I’m not really interested in exact fidelity. I have a tendency to go for fidelity, but it doesn’t help the painting. That’s why I don’t look at my iPad sketches as much, anymore. Portraits are something different because you need fidelity, at least for the person’s features.

Do you feel like you are able to balance the need for fidelity versus the needs of the painting when you do portraits? Is there a balancing act to your portraits?

Yeah, the portraits are really interesting right now because I am actually working on them in the same way, doing a lot of sketches up front - color sketches or iPad sketches - and then just riffing. That painting over there is an example: spending three or four months on the head and trying to get it as accurate as I could, but not really caring about the exactitude of it. I’m much more interested in bringing the painting to life. So it’s interesting to pull the portraits into the same sort of arena as my cityscape paintings, which have a lot of imagined flexibility. With commissioned portraits some people really do want exact likenesses and that is doable; I just can’t work in the same way.


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situation—and fidelity to the visual world and the needs of the painting, which don’t sit easily together; they fight each other. In my past I was more interested in hiding the fight of these two opposing ideas, my attachment to the visual world and my attachment to the laws of paint.

Make paint be something else, almost?

So you don’t have an issue with doing commissions? No, I’m actually doing one right now. We all need to pay our rent and commissions can help do that. Also, they’re interesting paintings. There is a lot of history with commissioned portraits in art history. I’m quite interested in the process of it and I’m okay with going more or less towards what the clients’ needs are. I think it is unreasonable to expect that you can do whatever you want, because whatever I want might be to take burnt umber and put it over their head. So, within reason, I’m okay if someone wants their portrait to look exactly like them. Though, a lot of times, those needs and a painting’s interior needs don’t quite match. But I think that painting in general is interesting; you can find interesting stuff in anything.

Image courtesy of John Dubrow

This painting on the wall, Audrey, made me think about Frank Auerbach. What brought you to the way you are working? Frank Auerbach builds his surfaces pretty quickly, and it seems like you do, too.

I went to graduate school in the Bay Area and one of my first teachers was a second- generation abstract expressionist who used a lot of paint, Julius Hatofsky. Bruce McGaw and Julius Hatofsky were very strong influences on me when I was young, as were Bruce’s teachers David Park and Richard Diebenkorn. Everyone in the Bay Area who was painting was thinking about those guys, and I was no different. So I was using a lot of paint up front, and then I saw a Philip Guston show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1981. Even though his surfaces aren’t that thick, there’s a paint quality. At different points in my career I’ve used more or less paint, and a lot of my paintings are very thick. That is also because I’ve been working on them for several years, just layering them over and over and over again.

I am interested in the British guys, but I am probably interested more in Leon Kosoff than Frank Auerbach. Both of them are impressive painters. I feel on my own, now. I am holding the image together in a way that they’re not. They’re fracturing it. I have always been trying to balance the inspiration in nature—or some sort of imagined John Dubrow, Tribeca(detail) 2014-2015 Oil on linen 70”x64”

Yeah. How do you make a painting become as interesting as you possibly can, and not necessarily in a realistic way? Someone said it seems like a passing glimpse of something. That’s actually quite accurate. These paintings, the city paintings in particular, are just walking through Manhattan and getting a passing glimpse of something that seems interesting. I wouldn’t want to articulate every detail, because that’s not the thing that interested me in the first place. It was a more general atmosphere, a light quality, or the way a couple of figures are engaged.

Is it conscious that you want your paintings to reflect a moment?

Yes, it’s conscious. It is a lot of moments because I go back to these sites repeatedly. I am getting lots of information and ideas about figure arrangements particularly, but even different kinds of light situations. I always go back at the same time of the day to make them close, at least. As the painting develops it takes on its own life and you give up the initial moment of inspiration while, in a way, it’s always around. It’s hanging around and informing the painting, even if it’s buried. Recently I have begun fracturing the pictures more. I am not building incidental details as much. Heads are coming off of bodies in strange ways, and I am not as concerned with the articulation of normalized form.

When you fracture bodies, is that coming from thinking about paint, or thinking about the figure?

No, it’s coming from my whole history. It’s coming from the way that I look at paintings. It’s coming from my interest in paintings. When I look at old paintings—like Titian and Giotto paintings—I am seeing the disjunctive elements, which might be there because of age, or might be there because some color is washed out. I am interested in those things. I am trying to integrate my history of painting abstractions with my exploration of figurative painting. I am trying to make color weights flip in space. Something that is supposed to be sitting in the back is pulling forward, and vice versa. There’s no conceptual basis, but during the beginning of the painting, I have this idea for an image and then these color weights begin to assert themselves, and that becomes the painting. In the last couple years I have wondered how much I can get away with. I always thought I have to have an excuse as a figurative painter. I have to have an excuse for a blue to sit right there. Now, I feel like I might not need an excuse. That blue might not have to be a figure; it might just be an implication of something. These paintings go as far as I have ever gone in allowing the color weights to just exist on their own.

John Dubrow’s artwork can be viewed at johndubrow.com

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Connected to that is space and light. You talked about trying to capture a certain kind of light when you’re making sketches. Your painting process is disconnected from that, so, how do you maintain space and light while making a painting?

Is that part of why you don’t paint purely abstractly? I thought at different points that I would go back to painting abstractly, and I haven’t. My work changed quite a bit two years ago, based on a series of dreams where old paintings that I actually made transformed themselves and became digitally pixelated, and became different kinds of paintings. So I followed those dreams and thought that I was actually going to go into full abstraction, because that happened before. Right now I like the tension that happens by having the figures, and the really intense contradiction to those figures. For many figurative painters there is a camp of figure paintings and a camp of abstract paintings. For me it’s all just painting. It’s either good painting or bad painting, interesting painting or uninteresting painting. Most of the paintings have been worked on upside down, and not just a little bit, but a lot. When I am working on them upside down, it’s not that I am working on them in a more abstract way, but I have to juggle more stuff because I am still dealing with illusion and space, and even the color weights. A lot of times when I’m painting portraits, I even paint heads upside down. It gives me a way of breaking the realism if the paintings seem to be leaning in that direction.

Images courtesy of John Dubrow

I don’t paint from the motif (the observed subject) but, as I am building the picture, I’m imagining the whole situation. I am going for a very particular sense of light, which I remember, and a lot of times I lose the light and then I get it back. Two things are clashing: there’s the world that I am very engaged with—it’s my personal response to the world —and there’s my painting process, which I’m engaged with in a different way. But the world never goes away from the painting process, even when it starts veering off into a different realm. That’s an interesting conflict, where there is something really interesting happening and it didn’t happen at the motif. I’m willing to give up the fidelity to nature. On one hand, paintings are so very specific: a moment in nature. On the other hand, they’re being broken apart with just purely plastic, painterly issues. The more I push that, the more interesting they get. But I don’t want to lose the specificity of the original inspiration, of the thing that I saw.

John Dubrow

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John Dubrow’s artwork can be viewed at johndubrow.com

John Dubrow, Ruth 2010-2015 Oil on linen 50”x58”


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On your blog you refer to painting with our hands, and you say you are “shaping images out of colored clay”. That makes me think about ceramics. Is that how you think about paint? The reason that I started painting with my hands was mostly because I have severe tendonitis from using a huge palette knife and big brushes. Painting with my hands isn’t fixing that, but it’s using different muscles. It’s using my arm and my hand together. It was a relief physically from the discomfort I was having, but then I realized that something really interesting was happening. It was interesting in the same way as when I started painting with my left hand to give my right arm a break. That was even more interesting, because one uses different pathways in your brain when you are using your left side. That was a fascinating experience. I was thinking about painting differently, thinking about how I was thinking about paintings, what colors and what tonalities I was using, and even the compositions that I was tweaking were changing because I had a brush in my left hand. When I started painting with my hands my paintings got a lot thicker, because I was just grabbing paint. The expense was just overwhelming. Thousands of dollars in paint were being used but it was very liberating. After thirty-five years of painting I had these brand new tools, and I was putting down paint differently. I seemed to be accessing my imagination in an easier way, maybe because I was able to be a little wilder while I was painting. I would say that half of the day is spent working with my hands. John Dubrow, Playground Sandbox 2008-2015 Oil on linen 44”x54”

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Is that still out of necessity and relief? Yeah. If I didn’t have any discomfort from tendonitis I would probably do it less, for sure. Working wet onto wet, like I paint: when you are painting with a brush you just create mud. When you are painting with a palette knife you are able to get clearer tones. But when you are painting with hands and you’re laying thick paint on, you get very clear color tones. It’s been a revelation to be able to get these clear tones. So, the hands (I don’t touch the paint without the gloves) are a good way to keep things clear.

Do you have a systematic approach to color, or are you intuitive about it? The only systematic approach I have to color is that I lay down the same colors in the same spots on my palette, and that’s been consistent for thirty-five years. I have added certain hues over the course of the last few years and that’s been a pleasure. But I have absolutely no system of color. A lot of time it begins with color that I’ve seen, and then I tweak that color depending on what the painting is demanding. Color is all about relationships of color. Color is all about this against this against this, and I just keep going into those areas until they have a more ringing relationship. I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m doing. I don’t think about warm and cool colors, for instance. Generally, in my painting, I’ve noticed a lot of neutral areas and then there’s some bright color that’s interjected. It’s something that I see in the world a lot, so I’ve just gravitated towards what seems true. John Dubrow’s artwork can be viewed at johndubrow.com

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Is that still out of necessity and relief? Yeah. If I didn’t have any discomfort from tendonitis I would probably do it less, for sure. Working wet onto wet, like I paint: when you are painting with a brush you just create mud. When you are painting with a palette knife you are able to get clearer tones. But when you are painting with hands and you’re laying thick paint on, you get very clear color tones. It’s been a revelation to be able to get these clear tones. So, the hands (I don’t touch the paint without the gloves) are a good way to keep things clear.

Do you have a systematic approach to color, or are you intuitive about it?

The only systematic approach I have to color is that I lay down the same colors in the same spots on my palette, and that’s been consistent for thirty-five years. I have added certain hues over the course of the last few years and that’s been a pleasure. But I have absolutely no system of color. A lot of time it begins with color that I’ve seen, and then I tweak that color depending on what the painting is demanding. Color is all about relationships of color. Color is all about this against this against this, and I just keep going into those areas until they have a more ringing relationship. I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m doing. I don’t think about warm and cool colors, for instance. Generally, in my painting, I’ve noticed a lot of neutral areas and then there’s some bright color that’s interjected. It’s something that I see in the world a lot, so I’ve just gravitated towards what seems true.

Image courtesy of John Dubrow

I was reading about Frank Auerbach, and he was mentioning how he ends up throwing away a lot of paint through his process. Does your paint end up being thrown out?

There is probably close to a quart of paint a day that ends up in the garbage. As hard as it is to manage the expense of paint, you can’t be thinking about trying to keep the paint quantity down because you are in the middle of something. I am trying to not be thinking about anything when I paint. I am trying to be completely present, reacting to what’s happening in the painting, always just being there. Every time that I have to squeeze paint out of a tube or take it out of a can, it’s interrupting me, and it’s not a good moment. So I just put a lot of paint on my palette. A lot of it dries and a lot of it goes into the garbage and I scrape a lot of paint off paintings. Hopefully, in the end, you’ve got a painting that you’re happy with.

The expense of paint, did that used to be a concern?

It’s always a concern. It’s more now than it’s ever been because my consumption is so high right now. Thankfully, what’s also happened with my increased consumption of paint as I work with my hands is that I’m working faster, so I have more to show. It’s not really a conscious decision. One thing led to another, and I began using more and more paint, and I don’t know how I could not, right now. If I had to cut back, maybe I’d do watercolors, instead. John Dubrow Playground 2012-2015 Oil on linen 72”x60”

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The problem with me is that I have chemical sensitivities, so I can’t thin my paint down. I can’t begin with washes of paint. I have to begin with just paint. To start building from there, that’s when four gallons of white come in. My paint manufacturers are very happy with me doing what I’m doing.

Here is an excerpt from a Hyperallergic article, Painting Matters Now: Dubrow remarked that the “viability” of painting was “a problematic idea.” That there are great painters in history who aren’t known and that over time individual contributions get sifted out. “When I go to museums, I don’t see [individual artworks] as markers in history,” but rather “how an artist has personally engaged [an artwork’s] construction.” How would you change the way art history is presented? I don’t really think of art history. All painters have a very personal connection to art history, and art historians are not seeing things like painters do. For us, it’s our family, and these are our ancestors, and we are trying to take what we need and discard what we don’t need, and engage deeply enough with something that it becomes your own, and it doesn’t look like other painters from the past, even though you are deeply engaged with those painters. Painting’s viability is something else. There probably have been times in the past where there wasn’t that much interesting work being done, and other times there was a tremendous amount of interesting work being done. Right now painting is in a very difficult moment because of the internet and technology, but it’s not about those things. It’s about the fact that most people have a very short attention span for painting. Painting really demands a slow reading, generally. That can explain why certain things are popular right now, and other things aren’t as popular. You need to have a really loud or jazzed-up visual hook for them to look at it as much as they would look at Instagram, which is just images everywhere. Painting connects to a history of very complicated visual constructions and spirituality, all sorts of things, which our world isn’t going to take that seriously.

As far as viability goes, I don’t know what is going to happen from this generation on. Maybe less and less people will be interested, maybe not. People seem more and more interested in the art world rather than interested in looking at painting. It’s more about social enjoyment and trying to figure out what’s popular and what’s not popular. I’m a little pessimistic. I think there will always be stubborn painters who have the virus. It feels like something that enters you when you’re young, when you’re becoming a painter, and you realize that there is this incredible secret world of painting and everything that means. There will always be people that get that. The question is whether there will be a public for it.

John Dubrow’s artwork can be viewed at johndubrow.com

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’m following a moving truck into Baltimore. Drawn in the grime on the sliding door is a smiley face with a message: “Bye Bye”. I think about what this intervention means as I keep driving. I come up with nothing. I’m on my way to the campus of the Maryland Institute College of Art to meet with Robert Tillman. It’s late in February and it feels cold enough for snow. What we got, however, was rain. As social animals we are taught to read cues and contextual clues. When our expectations are upended, however, it can lead to a fresh perspective or a new understanding of the world around us. I’m not sure what the amateur drawing or the precipitation has to teach me. But, these are the types of things that I imagine Tillman might notice.


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Robert Tillman and the Public Sphere:

A Cartoon Writ Large

Tillman’s art is immersive and centered on themat-

ically similar visual fodder: advertising, signage, package design, print publications, stickers you put

on your car. Tillman draws on the kind of images and

objects that, when effectively employed, slide under our radar. So, in creating items that reference and

play on the interactivity of the public forum, Tillman has the distinct opportunity to create an arts-based

dialogue that is able to penetrate multiple commu-

Image courtesy of Robert Tillman

nities at once.

A native of Baltimore, Tillman has been teaching printmaking at MICA for five years. But, he doesn’t

work very much in traditional print. In his work, and through his waking life, it seems that he is preoc-

cupied with the weight of print culture at large. We meet in his office and he starts our conversation by

showing me a Risograph printing machine that the college has recently acquired.

Robert Tillman, Cotton Salty 2007 Installation, performance, printed giveaway materials and salty cotton candy.

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Henry Gepfer

Robert Tillman

HG: Can you describe your working process from idea through realization? RT: There are a couple different things I would categorize. One is the opportunity-based projects that I do. A lot of times there’s a space or an event that requires a project. An application to an arts festival or something similar to that would often drive the particular concept of the piece. For example, there was an exhibition that I had in Pittsburgh a few years ago and they had set the schedule up so that I wouldn’t be able to be there for the duration of the show. So, I executed the project around that. It was called While You Were Out. There was paperwork that people could fill out in my absence.

You said that you don’t often exhibit your freestanding prints. The majority of the projects on your website are not traditionally print-based. They are related, for sure. Is it a conscious decision for you to avoid traditional printmaking practices, at least in the work you are exhibiting, or is that just how your practice evolved?

It’s definitely an evolution. There was an element of consciousness to it. I shifted from a more or less pictorial, traditional, discipline-based printmaking activity to something similar to what I’m doing now, when I was in graduate school. Frankly, a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was at the University of Iowa and a lot of the people that were there were just much better at it than I was. Especially from a technical perspective, but also from a perspective of drawing, and coming up with ideas that worked as images. I came out of a background that was more satirical, very interested in the history of caricature and political cartooning. That was my back door into traditional printmaking. Think about Honoré Daumier, or comparable figures. Also, I was a big fan of comics and comic strips. So, the image making I was doing was successful, I think. I don’t want to undersell it, but it wasn’t necessarily the strongest manifestation of my capabilities. I saw a lot of limitations in what I was doing. I had this big suite of prints I was planning to do, which was a parody of traditional etchings. I dropped the project because I realized that I would never be able to do it as well as a traditional etcher would. I started to gravitate towards the kind of work that I’m doing now. Then it became more conscious, a search for inspiration in contemporaries who were doing work that was more invested in installation-oriented practice, or relational aesthetics. Those contemporary practices started to come across my radar screen and I started to identify with them a lot more strongly.

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Robert Tillman’s work can be viewed at www.rltillman.com

I’m very interested in flaws.” Robert Tillman, Fearful Symmetry 2010 Miscellaneous printed promotional materials

Images courtesy of Robert Tillman

Freestanding prints that I make, which I actually don’t exhibit frequently, many of which are not even on my portfolio website, are just things that I’m generating. They are frequently sketchbook—derived or based on some inspiration that I found in a book or online, or material that I found and I need to output. The larger projects are frequently opportunity-driven. I work for a long time on things; years at a time, sometimes, before they are finished. The key is that it comes from a kernel of an idea and I play it out until its logical, most absurd conclusion and it ends up being as bizarre as it can be.


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You mention some of the political artists and the idea of comic strips because those are forms of art that are supposed to interact with and begin a dialogue with the reader. Taking into account the interactivity of your own work, as well as your history with Minstallations, which we’ll talk more about later, can you talk about the democratic possibilities of art and how it relates to your practice? I’m very interested in accessibility. There was always an element of humor in the work that obviously derives from a childhood obsessed with comics. The prints that I was making were almost too funny. They probably should have been comics or publications. If I had come of age as a graduate student now, that might be the direction I would have gone, through self-published documents, maybe underground or alternative bookmaking. That wasn’t necessarily quite as big a thing back then. I’ve always been interested in having the work be accessible on multiple levels. You know, there’s a gutter level and then there’s a very intellectual level. I am just as interested in the gutter level as I am in the intellectual level. I like the possibility of degrading that hierarchy. I like to flip through that hierarchy as an academic and a jokester and a jackass. I want to be able to appreciate the work on multiple levels and I want other people to be able to appreciate it on multiple levels. I want it to operate for as many people as possible. A lot of the work does depend on multiplicity in order to directly engage, as well: the idea of a give away poster or something like that, deriving from a very rich tradition in print and that more democratic practice.

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I have done a little bit of work in the public sphere, but that’s not the nexus of my practice, like if I was a street artist. But that is also significant to me: placing something for someone to find or experience, in a casual way. Those issues of accessibility, in terms of physical geography and understandability in looking at work, are important to me. if I was a street artist. But that is also significant to me: placing something for someone to find or experience, in a casual way. Those issues of accessibility, in terms of physical geography and understandability in looking at work, are important to me.

Do you find that you have to mediate the humor in your work or, if an idea strikes you, are you comfortable just letting it run wild?

The latter. The humor in my work is not laugh-out-loud funny most of the time. I don’t see it as being “jokey”. In that context, I think it would have a hard time fitting into a contemporary art discourse. You know, if it was simply a comic strip for the wall it might not find a home. The work is more wry than it is funny, most of the time. I like to think it is funny in a clever or smart way. I don’t feel the need to change what I do to find a place, in terms of acceptability. That also might be why I have an archive of prints that I’ve never exhibited. That might also just be because I’m lazy. It’s a combination of being too lazy and too busy.

Your work comments on everything from high culture in fine art, literature, branding, and design, to the banal and mundane nature of everyday life. With such a range present, what are the things that are continually inspiring to you?

In terms of visual culture, I am very interested in flaws and the idea of those flaws manifesting themselves in a lot of different ways, specifically through print syntax. I can’t really explain why print syntax has always been important to me. Pulp, print, comics, signage and graphic design, as well as package design: these sorts of pop-print influences have been a consistent influence. As I’ve grown I’ve started to rope in more historical influences. But I see most of those influences as being tied to more contemporary pop-print influences. The idea of roping in a William Blake reference, for instance; I see William Blake as parallel to the kinds of things I’m interested in, in contemporary culture. That’s how I reconcile those disparate influences. But, definitely, I’m interested in package design, comic books, comic strips. Those are the things that generally catch my eye. Weird infographics, the kinds of things you might not pay attention to, the more ephemeral aspects of print culture: those are the things that I try to record, document and work through and with. I’ve come to understand that those things are a metaphor for the thing that I am centrally interested in as an artist, conceptually, which is breakdowns in communication.

Robert Tillman’s work can be viewed at www.rltillman.com

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The idea of individual, interpersonal communication but also social communication: I find these documents of mass print culture often very elegant in the way they aren’t communicating, but also very flawed in the ways they are communicating. Where they are flawed, I find that to be a very potent and interesting metaphor for the ways that we fail to communicate with other people. The ways that I, specifically, fail to communicate with other people and the ways that we, as a culture, fail to communicate.

A few years ago you talked to Joseph Young from The Baltimore Interview and you mentioned that ‘bad design’ plays a strong role in your practice. Can you define ‘bad design’?

That was a framework that I used several years ago without really fully understanding the broader context of why I was interested in it. I knew that I was excited about it and I was mining it as a visual language for my work. I don’t think I fully understood at the time of that interview that I was using that material as a metaphor for interpersonal communications and political satire. It was a vehicle, as opposed to the endgame. At one point I really thought it was the endgame; that I was critiquing visual culture. Looking back at work from that period, I recognize that what it was about was broadly critiquing culture in general through that visual syntax. So when I think about bad design I

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Robert Tillman’s work can be viewed at www.rltillman.com

Robert Tillman

think about a lot of the same things I just mentioned: generic cereal boxes, signs that don’t make any sense or that mislead you, but also things that might be placed in a more positive light, like sports team logos that become metaphors for interconnectedness and community. As someone who grew up in a suburban environment and lives in an urban environment, communication-oriented material, to my eye, is the dominant language of the industrialized world that I have lived in. Street signs are the way that you know you are in a community. When those street signs succeed you don’t think about them. But when they fail they become an interesting metaphor, if you leverage it as an artist, for social breakdown. So, those sports team logos are the way that people identify with a community, but highway signs are the way they navigate through their environment. So, for bad design, those are just the ones I notice. Like I said, when it works it works and you don’t even pay attention to it. When it doesn’t, it becomes funny or outrageous or offensive, and that’s when you can start to pick at it as an artist.

It’s especially hard to peddle bad design now, because the internet is so quick to pick up on things not fitting right. Like you’re saying: when design works it’s seamless. On my way here, for instance, I saw an old truck with a hand-machined

Robert Tillman, While Your Were Out 2011 Printed memo pads, installation

Images courtesy of Robert Tillman

Henry Gepfer


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Steeler’s logo replacing the automobile logo. I don’t know what I’m supposed to take from that, but it’s genius. In an adjacent neighborhood I walk through sometimes, there’s this house whose lawn is full of lawn ornaments. One of them is a cast-concrete eagle that has been painted purple, with a “B” on its chest, so it vaguely looks like a Baltimore Ravens object. But it’s not: it’s an eagle that is purple. It’s still a marker that almost anyone from the area would identify with, and understand if they walked by it.

There should be a term for that. Maybe semiotic malpractice? Beginning with your Aphorisms and moving through While You Were Out and some of your false branding projects, like Fearful Symmetry and Coming Soon, I’ve noticed a dialogue between presence and absence in your work. While You Were Out has the most obvious associations. But, with the Aphorisms, for instance: by definition they are to contain a truth. But in your work, it’s just facades on empty containers. The branding projects also function as a facade to an empty front. Can you talk about this dynamic? Is it intentional?

It’s not, but it’s an interesting observation. There’s definitely a way in which I leverage the object as a surrogate for myself. In print work that’s one of the things I am interested in, in particular. The way that print exists in multiple spaces at one time is one of the things that make print important as an art form. In a lot of my projects, I really think of the printed object as a surrogate for myself. That can be in a direct way as a form that someone has

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to fill out, or an indirect way as an object that someone might collect, or a giveaway. But it’s important for me to think about the way my work reaches people. It goes back to back to that central idea of communication and how I can leverage the idea of multiplicity in order to reach people. In that way, my absence is significant. The idea that the individual branded projects are a facade for something that doesn’t exist is something that got me into a quandary at one point, regarding questions that were raised about my work. Like Cotton Salty, where I set up a fake salty cotton candy stand, or Fearful Symmetry, where I presented branding for a fictional private school, The William Blake Academy for Boys. Those projects were both misperceived in fundamental ways by a lot of people who saw them. In lectures and presentations about my work, I’ve often gotten questions on whether or not I was intending to trick people. That’s a legacy from when I was particularly interested in tricksterism and trickster mythology. There was a period of time in grad school where I did set out to trick people. That’s sort of a creative regret, actually. I’ve never been somebody who was interested in pranks. I didn’t really think of them as pranks so much as interventions. In retrospect, I think that they really were more like pranks and I feel they were unsuccessful in that way. I don’t feel that way about Cotton Salty and I don’t feel that way about Fearful Symmetry. Both of those projects were successful in the way I intended them to be. I saw those really as more of an outreach. They do have that aspect of being a facade or being false in some ways. But the only reason they would fool or trick anyone into thinking they were real is because they exist in three dimensions, in an immersive environment. If they were a picture or a cartoon, no one would perceive it that way. But since it’s a cartoon writ large, which is how I see those projects, people might have a tendency to expect it to be real. I try to make things absurd enough that no one would really think that these are real. Embedded within that stylistic camouflage that I’m using, there are signifiers that suggest ‘this is fundamentally artificial; this isn’t real’. To the extent that somebody didn’t pick up on that, it goes along with what I was saying earlier, about people not communicating properly, or me not communicating properly. To answer your question more pointedly, I don’t necessarily see these projects as empty. They are false realities, maybe alternative realities. They are pretty rich with metaphor and history. It’s not my intention to deceive.

Maybe “empty” brings an unintended negative connotation, where “identifying the potential to be filled” would be more apt. You talk about social outreach through art a little bit, and you worked with Printeresting for years, crafting a web-based community. Is the term social practice something you identify with, or that you feel comfortable associating with?

Robert Tillman’s work can be viewed at www.rltillman.com

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Henry Gepfer

It’s not, necessarily. There are a number of terms that I think are vaguely relevant to the practices I deploy. In the late 90’s, early 2000’s, it was relational aesthetics and the current community engagement is something that is a widely discussed practice. Those things generally are centrally focused around an engagement with people. I still think of my practice as essentially a visual enterprise, though it does depend on a community to exist. I am interested in alternative communities as a sphere or a sandbox to play in. I’m not that interested in a gallery space for my work. The expectations of the people who enter a gallery space are already fixed. Many of my projects have existed in a public space because I think that is a more interesting audience. But I don’t pretend to be as deeply involved in a community as people who consider themselves “social practitioners”. My primary goal isn’t engagement with the community as much as it is an investment in that community as a space, as opposed to the really worthwhile practical investment that many “community engagement” practitioners are working with. Those are generally people who are focused on doing really worthwhile work. My enterprise is still really selfish in the way most studio-based artists are. I wouldn’t adopt that banner, just out of respect for people who are using those terms. Community is important to me. I am interested—and have been interested in—making work that is for distinct communities, and seeing how I can operate in communities that are outside of the mainstream art discourse. I live in Baltimore and I have tried to make work here. It was the central guiding ethos of my work for a few years, to be working here, to demonstrate that good work can happen anywhere. You brought up Printeresting and the community of artists who are interested in print, and internet communities are things that are important to me, as well. Maybe this puts too fine of a point on it, but community and communication are really the two touchstones of my practice.

Robert Tillman Was that something that you aimed to do, or just something you’ve fallen into? It’s more something I fell into, but it’s something that’s vital to making a career today. It was crucial for me because when I was first out of graduate school and living in Baltimore, just trying to make a living, it was a lot of piecemeal stuff here and there. I was trying to find the right places to show, find new opportunities, make new opportunities, establish a blog, just working in all these different ways. Some of it was financially driven. You know, “Maybe I’ll curate this show because I can make a thousand dollars off of that”. I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of that as an opportunity, until someone who had seen a few curatorial projects I had done asked me to do that. You know, that’s the kind of thing you take on as a young artist. That was actually a very important time for me. I was almost pressed into it by the social and financial landscapes of being an artist. It’s interesting that the longer I’ve been working, the more single-minded my focus has become. I started working full time as a college professor about five years ago. Prior to that I was doing a number of different things. I didn’t have a full time job and I was juggling a lot of balls. I was engaged with more things than I am now, just out of necessity. I’m glad that I had that time and experience. It was hard to do all of that but it made me a sharper thinker and a more well rounded person. Now that I’m engaged in something that is more focused as a discipline and a career, I bring all of those experiences to the table. I certainly learned a tremendous amount working with Printeresting, just trying to understand the broad-based community of printed art. With the Minstallations I made a lot of connections regionally and a lot of friendships that remain important to me.

There’s a quote on your website about being committed to the notion that engaging art can be regionally relevant and accessible. Would you care to touch on that?

Images courtesy of Robert Tillman

That’s the notion that it can be appreciated and understood on multiple levels. I want to be clear about that, though. I don’t mean that in terms of groups of people. It’s not like there’s a gloss for uneducated people and there’s a higher level of understanding for people who are educated. That’s not what I mean. I want the pieces to be accessible as visual work, accessible as an experience, accessible as an intellectual experience. There’s multiple ways that people can access the work, no matter who they are or where they are coming from. I want the work to be enjoyable on multiple vectors. Maybe that’s a better word for it than ‘levels’.

You’ve been a maker, a blogger and a teacher. But you’ve also curated Minstallations. How important has it been for you to forge such a multi-faceted career?

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Robert Tillman’s work can be viewed at www.rltillman.com

(Previous Page) Robert Tillman, Aphorisms 2011 Screenprint on cardboard boxes, installation


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Before I knew you were involved with that project, I had seen this other thing, and I want to say Fecal Face (an arts blog and gallery space based in San Francisco) was involved somehow. They created this fictional character named Water McBeer, who ran the Water McBeer Gallery. It was literally a shoebox. It wasn’t the same thing as what you were doing, in that your project was publicly available. It was more of a prank. They were making tiny installations and photographing them like they were actual installations, Photoshopping people into them and posting them online. Some of it was engaging. Some of it just felt like they were snubbing their nose at people. What I think is engaging about your project is that it was publicly accessible and that, with such a small space, it forces you to really flex your creative muscles. When it’s something that is easy to move past and digest, you really have to work to get people to engage with it.

How did that project, the Minstallations, come about? That was another happenstance or circumstantially driven project. When I was in [graduate] school I had this desk in the studio that had this strange cabinet storage space. Just as a lark, I converted it into a space for exhibitions for miniature installation art, for a thesis in graduate school. I did about a dozen of those with friends I knew from school, most of which were really great. So, when I was in Baltimore a few years later, I decided this was an idea that was worth playing out. I approached a local arts venue, the Creative Alliance, and we worked to build a space that was more or less a cube. It was a fifteen-inch cube with lights, polished hardwood floors and white walls and dollhouse molding trim. Then I reached out to a number of artists and asked them to install in this space: not to put miniature artworks in it, but to use it as an installation space. The central notion there was that, much like a dollhouse, when you see it you imagine yourself in it. You are able to project yourself mentally into a tiny space. In doing that, you can use strange materials to build up a space and it can be surprisingly immersive to look at this tiny little thing. You can really get a sense of being there. It provides opportunities for artists to do projects that assume a monumental scale without actually making something that is that large.

Yeah, it’s a real challenge. If you look up “world’s smallest art gallery” on the internet, you’re going to find a number of different projects. Some of them are in a suitcase or some are really large in comparison. Some are shoebox size, but some are like the front window of a store so it’s actually not small at all, really. The thing that really distinguished what I was doing is that I was really focused on that transformative, immersive potential. What happens when you look into this space and what happens psychologically when you’re projecting yourself into that space? That is something I see in other tiny art projects, as well. But, it’s that quality of the dollhouse that I was really mostly interested in, that concept of psychological projection.

That’s right along the lines of alternate realities that runs through some of your other work: create a space that you can imagine yourself in.

It’s generally like constructing a fiction and placing it into our reality. The concept of the Minstallation Gallery is this very absurd thing: that it would be placed in this art center and that people would be expected to reckon with it, and artists would be expected to reckon with it in a way that was fundamentally serious. That’s something that’s at odds with some of the presuppositions that artists have, and that we have as culture consumers. So, it’s another kind of alternate reality, I guess.

Robert Tillman, Minstallation Gallery 2009 (with Matthew McConvilles’s Minument & detail of Minument)

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Roberto Lugo :

Throwin’, Copin’, and Hopin’ for Tides to Turn, For All to Learn

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Roberto Lugo is a visionary artist born and raised in the city of Philadelphia. With an array of artistic passions, Roberto Lugo can be described as a potter, ceramic sculptor, painter, spoken word poet, social activist, and educator. He received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MFA from Penn State University. He currently teaches ceramics at Marlboro College in Vermont while working towards a Ph.D. in Art Education at Penn State. While growing up in Philadelphia, Lugo started writing and reciting rhythmic lyrics and painting the streets with graffiti in order to reach out to his community. In his mid-20’s, he realized his immense love for the transformative nature of clay. During his college years, Lugo began executing conceptually-fueled ceramic works that lamented his struggles with obesity, social inequalities, and poverty. Lugo combines his street art aesthetic and his enthusiasm for hip hop culture with china-painted, ornate porcelain forms. He juxtaposes a variety of traditional ceramic influences with an assortment of culturally diverse portraits, incorporating images of himself, family members, historical figures, hip hop legends, and other contemporary pop icons. The irony and humor in Lugo’s work provides him with a therapeutic

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Photo by Jewellea Photography. Images courtesy of Wexler Gallery

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release as well as an effective form of ceramic activism. Spinning in his studio, Lugo’s pottery wheel reads, “This Machine Kills Hate”, and serves as daily reminder of his foremost mission: to promote social equality and eliminate hate.

Roberto Lugo has won many hearts in the ceramics community with his moving lectures at several National Council of Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conferences. In 2011 in Seattle, he delivered a lecture titled “Activism Through Ceramics” and a year later, presented another lecture titled “From Roberto Lugo Installation 2016

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the Wheel to the Wall” in Houston. In 2015, he was received an NCECA Emerging Artist Award and captured widespread attention with his soulful and emotionally charged speech in Providence, Rhode Island. Lugo’s work has been most recently published in Modern Magazine, American Craft, and Ceramics Art and Perception. He is represented by Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia, where his current solo exhibit, “Defacing Adversity: The Life and Times of Roberto Lugo”, is on display.

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Roberto Lugo

Photo by Roberto Lugo

Hannah Pierce

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Roberto Lugo’s work can be viewed at robertolugostudio.com and wexlergallery.com

Roberto Lugo, Latin Kings Jar 2013 Porcelain, glaze, china paint, lustre 27 x 14 x 14�


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HP: What sort of community outreach project are you currently working on?

Is this where you picture most of your energy going?

RL: I have been looking into starting up some clay workshops in Puerto Rico.

Yeah. This is where I see my work going more and more. I want to continue my studio practice and continue exhibiting in order for my voice to have any authenticity. But I feel like I am talking about a lot of things and not really doing anything to make them function. My next step is to figure out a way to use the status that I have within our ceramics community, to propel these ideas and give opportunities to people who don’t currently have them.

Sounds like a big project. What lead you to this idea?

My parents grew up in Puerto Rico. And they told me that when it would rain, they’d go outside because all the land around them was clay and grass that they could squeeze and play with and make little sculptures. My uncle, who lives in Puerto Rico, lives off of 150 dollars a month stipend. He was a carpenter, but he ran out of people to make things for, because not many people there have money.

What originally inspired your love for community projects and workshops?

Much of my ideas come from my background in graffiti.

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The people that live in that area can’t move out of there for fear of losing their home because that’s the only property they own. But the only jobs are several hours away, so they’re essentially stuck. I decided to take on this idea of creating a pottery workshop in Puerto Rico where people can use the clay that surrounds them. I want to go there eventually and take clay samples, meet the people there, and find out if a pottery workshop is something that they would be interested in. Eventually, I would want to open up a place where people that live there can go and create work, and possibly create an extra revenue stream through pottery. I’m going there with the idea of creating revenue for people that want to work and don’t have an idea of how to start. The other thing I want to do is create an artisan residency program where people can actually go to Puerto Rico, in the middle of an island, the middle of the mountains and make work right from the earth. It’d be an innovative place where you wouldn’t necessarily be going for the technology and materials, but students could go for a while without spending all their money. You can get a ticket to Puerto Rico for three hundred dollars round trip, without needing a passport.

That makes a lot of sense in how it reaches public attention. How has street painting influenced you? When I would paint, the city often covered up my paintings, and I when I eventually found myself in art school, I never thought of graffiti as an art form. In hindsight I thought about how powerful it was that the city always felt a need to cover up the messages that people wrote on walls. That took precedence over cleaning up or fixing a lot of the issues. As a professor, I try my best not to get myself in trouble. I now try to find more legitimate ways to graffiti that doesn’t include vandalizing.

Roberto Lugo’s work can be viewed at robertolugostudio.com and wexlergallery.com

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Do you see graffiti as being different from other street art forms? There was always someone like (Jean-Michel) Basquiat, which is like my style, who throw up a poetic statement or a punchline, rather than a whole composed piece. I like bombing throw-up letters or big bopple letters. I almost find it a completely different art form when someone takes up a whole wall with a highly rendered mural. A lot of things are street art, but my relationship with graffiti is different from a lot of people’s, because mine came out of sheer necessity. I didn’t really have anywhere else to paint but the ghetto. People will often start in sketchbooks and develop a lot of skill. Then they’ll go out with a crew or they’ll get permission to do a wall, which is awesome, too. But, for the most part, mine isn’t necessarily aesthetically pleasing. It mimics me, in a way. It’s almost like an acquired taste; you either hate it or you love it.

When I was making pieces in Philly was when I was younger, I didn’t consider it art. So now I like to bring the same sense to a contemporary gallery. Whenever graffiti art is placed in a gallery, it loses a little bit of esteem and street credibility. But for those people who say that it’s almost like a clique, like only certain people should know about this work: I don’t think so. The broader the audience, the better. And more people will grow to appreciate what street art really is.

You mentioned that, in Philadelphia, the city would make an effort to cover up graffiti, but then leave all the trash and detritus. Do you see that as an obvious form of silencing?

It’s kind of like an uprising of some sort because people are not happy and they want to have a voice so they can talk about things. That really scares people sometimes

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Roberto Lugo’s work can be viewed at robertolugostudio.com and wexlergallery.com

Roberto Lugo

because it reminds them of experiences, like the civil rights movement, when people started sitting inside of a restaurant, where they weren’t supposed to be. Art—in so many ways—is a privileged part of society. So, when people don’t wait for permission, but take on that privilege themselves, that scares people. That’s why I think they cover it up.

Has the experience - of watching art go up and come off the walls - influenced your craving to paint pots that could last hundreds of years?

Yeah, definitely. A big part of my art is giving permanence to these things. Recently I’ve gone to the idea of making mosaic murals, which has gone really badly, because people will promise me a space to be able do it and then they’ll go back on it. People seem to be afraid of the permanence. With mosaic murals, you can’t exactly paint over it and if you want to get rid of it, you’ll have to chip it away. Even when it comes to loved ones, people are like, “I don’t know if I want that.”

You have a wall in your studio that always features a new painting, and you post it on Instagram frequently. It seems like that wall in your studio is a great outlet for you. You can keep some things and paint over others and you don’t have to worry about ‘vandalizing’ like you mentioned before.

When I write a message and I put it on social media, it reaches a lot more people than if I were to put it on a wall somewhere. Many people are seeing it, and it reads the same. So everyday I’ll come in and usually cover up my previous drawing with white, red, or blue, and then I’ll write another message, or do another drawing. Roberto Lugo, Teapot Installation, 2015 Porcelain, glaze, china paint, lustre, dimensions variable

Photos by Kenek Photography. Images courtesy of Wexler Gallery

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So you do a new painting everyday? Yeah, everyday. A lot of these messages have to do with how I feel that day about the world, things I’m going through. There are more lighthearted ones, like this one that says, “Vermont. We Got Trees and Shit”. And this one is from a day I was feeling depressed and lonely. And so I wrote, “I hate me”. There’s one over there that says, “Pottery saved my life.” I was thinking about this one artist named Mark Eckō, who used to have a t-shirt that said, “Graffiti saved my life.” Then there is this piece [holds up different painting]. One of the characters on the T.V. show Fat Albert is called Dumb Donald. So I drew Dumb Donald saying, “I’m smarter than Trump”. I like making work that is very obvious and straight to the point. But I also have a little bit for the people that are interested in more academic, intense commentary. When I put a gangster rapper on a pot, some people will immediately get that you’re paying homage to this person. But, at the same time, anyone can get a giggle out of seeing Snoop Dog on a teapot. If you start to think about it, all these symbols, these forms and the decor were once used to make pots for aristocracy. And people can start to analyze, “What is he trying to say? Is he trying to say that these people are equal to those kings?” I don’t think people have to get as deep into the work to appreciate it, but there’s definitely the potential for that to happen.

I have read articles and postings online by people referring to your work as controversial. Do you think that is an ignorant thing to say? Pretty ignorant, yeah. You know, people haven’t said that to me directly, but I get that it is sort of an immediate response. I’m very much in touch with Anglo-American culture and the spectacle of painting a rapper on a teapot.

It seems as if they do not understand the meaning of the word, controversial, in this context. I’m counting on them feeling that way because if they’re saying that is controversial, my question is, “Why? Is it controversial for a black man to be on a teapot?” My work becomes a platform for that. In one piece called Bloods and Crips Ginger Jar, I put myself as a Blood, which is one gang in L.A. And then I put my friend as a Crip on the other side. I’m wearing a red bandana, and she’s a white girl from Oklahoma wearing a blue bandana. This allowed me to see peoples’ immediate reactions to both these figures. In one being a female, it might make it less intimidating, but her being white makes it far less intimidating. When

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people look at her they’ll think, “Man, that person’s sort of fashionable or cute, the way that she wears that bandana.” In me wearing that same bandana, gets to the point where people think, “Oh, he’s portraying a gangster.” In reality it’s not that controversial, but the fact that you feel it: that is what I want out of my work.

Your pots are highly decorative. Is it meant to prevent people from seeing your content at the first glance?

I use very decorative surfaces, to get a broader audience interested in the work. I want the work to be seen as beautiful. I enjoy making work with so much content, but I also really enjoy beautiful things. For the most part, people only sit with a piece of art for three seconds. If I can complicate it, then people will spend more time with it.

What specific historical references do you incorporate in your work?

I work with porcelain. At one point, it was considered more valuable than gold. I love the book called The Arcanum. It explains Western Europe’s great search for the recipe of porcelain in the early 18th century. The Chinese had it as this hidden secret, and they had it for so long that their porcelain vessels became one of their biggest exports. I love how only the richest of the rich could afford these pots. They were so valuable that people would fight over it. I find myself going back in time and thinking of how people of color were almost completely dismissed, as servants and sub-human. I feel that that curse still exists today. I feel inferior to pretty much everyone I meet. I may play that role but, at the same time, I find power in being able to put my face on a pot. I don’t think I’ve quite achieved it, but I have little moments where I feel equal. In the past, there was an obvious unequal distribution of wealth. And I think people are just as racist and negative today, but they hide behind a political party or a flag.

Can you explain your fascination in teapots and lidded forms?

I like using forms with multiple components and I like the fact that they both imply conversation. Teapots reference people sitting down and talking to one another at a table. I am interested in that community association that teapots have. And I use jars because they’re so mysterious. People cannot see inside so it leaves them wondering what it is used for. It could be an urn, or there could be cookies inside.

Roberto Lugo, Erykah Badu and Sojourner Truth, 2015 Porcelain, glaze, china paint, lustre, 10 x 10 x 27’’.

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Hannah Pierce

Roberto Lugo

On these forms, you incorporate a great number of self-portraits. Where did this concept come from? Has it allowed you to overcome insecurities that you often times reference in your work? Being in a school with mostly very privileged white people, I grew self-aware at one of the first critiques as an undergrad. A photo student took a picture of me and someone referred to me as a Mexican gangster, and I was not wearing anything that refers to anything gangster. That comment hurt me a lot, so I spent a while thinking, ‘’ Oh man! This is how everybody sees me’’.

You also put yourself out there in doing spoken word. Do you view it as performance art?

I do perform, but I use lectures as a time to perform. I do a lot of rapping, and I can tell from people’s faces that some of them are all about it and a lot of them are not into it [laughs]. I love it! Honestly, performing is something I am so insecure about that it’s almost necessary for me to do. I was always told to shut up, and that my voice sounded funny. At one my first critiques in undergrad, someone said that it would be okay if I never spoke again. So even if I get up in front of five people, I get so nervous and my heart starts beating. But as soon as I start talking, I feel fine. Overcoming those insecurities is like a high. It makes me really excited and brings me extreme bliss.

You gave an amazing speech at the 2015 Emerging Artists talks at NCECA. It was very well-received and became very well-known. How did that affect your life?

I didn’t talk about my work as much as I think people expected me to, because I felt like this is my eleven minutes to get in front of the whole ceramics community and say

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what is on my mind. I wanted to explain to them why it is important to have diversity, what it could bring to the table, and what it could give them.

If there is such thing as “ceramics viral”, that was definitely what that was. I got several thousand ‘friend’ requests (on Facebook) and several hundred emails. It was very overwhelming. During that week, my closest uncle found out that he had cancer and then died that very same week. It was unreal. The top three people in my life are my mother, my father, and my uncle. All the support I received from the ceramics community (after NCECA) helped me get past it. It was so inspirational. But it is hard to not focus on the negative. Someone wrote a review of NCECA that did not include me. And I remember someone posted in the comments, “Oh, it is a shame that you guys did not cover Roberto Lugo’s speech”. And then someone else posted, “Well, about Roberto Lugo’s speech: I don’t think his work is very good and I think he is just derivative of Grayson Perry. He is unoriginal”, and all this stuff. And I was just wondering where all this is coming from. Who has the time to do this? I am hypersensitive, and I don’t think people realize that they can deeply hurt me, to the point where I don’t want to make art anymore.

You recently experienced some spiteful people hacking your account and harassing you via Facebook. What was the deal with that?

Yeah, someone was writing stuff like ‘Faggot’ on my pictures, some people were writing ‘you’re a shitty artist’.

Roberto Lugo, Wu Tang Clan, Method Man, and RZA, 2015 Porcelain, underglaze, glaze, lustre, 9 ½ x 9 ½ x 15 ½’’

Photo by Kenek Photography. Image courtesy of Wexler Gallery

In undergrad, I was seeing a lot of naked art. I was trying to avoid doing it myself because I have a hard time looking in the mirror. One day, I got out of the shower and just grabbed my stomach. Sometimes when you are bigger, you look down at your stomach and want to rip it off. And then I thought, “You know what? I’m going to get a picture of this.” I took the photo and then made a big decal out of it and put it on a platter. I brought it to school and people didn’t really like it because of the glaze, so I got a lot of criticism. But I still feel very strongly about it because I really put myself out there. It got into a show. At the show, these two women came up to me and hugged me. They were crying and saying my platter related to their life so much. I realized that my insecurities are mutually shared by different genders, ethnicities, economic backgrounds… Nearly everyone knows the feeling of hating themselves and disliking the way that they look. After that I decided that, once in a while, I’ll put my face on a pot. I like the idea of putting my face on a place that it doesn’t belong, like a beautiful porcelain pot. Forgive my use of the word ‘beautiful’, because I know that is subjective. I don’t think that I am beautiful, but by putting my face on a pot, my face becomes part of this beautiful thing.


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They were doing it through people that I know personally. They were hacking into friends’ accounts, friends that I knew personally outside of Facebook. I don’t think they understood what those words meant to me. I was also offended because someone despised me so much that they would take the time to do that. So I cancelled that account and opened a new one. Then, little by little, I accepted lots of ‘friend’ requests. I’m just a sucker; I can’t say, “no.” So, I’ll probably go through the same cycle. It’s difficult, because being a successful artist comes with being known. If there was any way for me to earn a living doing the things I want and avoid anybody knowing who I am, I would do that. But that seems next to impossible.

It is unfortunate that that you just can’t put yourself out there and be honest without receiving so much negativity.

Yeah. Someone actually said to me, “I wish you would just put out pots and not talk.” Instead of being hurt, I actually appreciated it, because I feel that myself, sometimes [laughs]. But honestly, there is a part of me that feels compelled to do the things I do, even though I may not want to do them. The other day I just had to write ‘I hate me’ and another day, ‘pottery saved my life.’ I had to write those things and I had to post them on Instagram. The other day a student in California said, “Holy cow! I just heard one of your lectures and it really made me feel like there’s somebody out there that’s like me.” So, I’ve started taking on the role of not being afraid to be vulnerable and it’s very rewarding at times.

At your NCECA 2015 lecture, a big part of your speech advocated for social diversity in the ceramics community. Have you seen any changes happening?

Yeah, a lot of black and Latino people have written me and said they never thought they would have a chance to have a career in this field. I don’t like to take credit for it, but it seems like many people heard that lecture at a time they needed to hear it. If anything, that lecture opened the door for people to talk to someone like me. I don’t think that anyone listened to the lecture and said ‘’I’m going to be a ceramicist now’’, but I think it made a lot people already involved feel a little more validated.

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about figuring out how to bring the art I’ve been exposed to, to people where I come from.

At some point in my life, I was making pots for people where I come from to be able to afford. I figured out that there’s no current market for that. People where I come from don’t have very much money, so they’re not going to spend it on a piece, even for twenty dollars. They’re not going to spend twenty dollars on a book…I had to figure out how to represent them without trying to force them to buy my stuff. I’m not giving it away for free because I can’t do that, either. So, it comes down to representing them on my pots and being an advocate of educating people through art.

What advice do you have for artists interested in educating others and working with communities outside their own studio?

My advice would be: try to figure out how to make it as fun as possible. This summer I’m going to be doing a workshop with Baltimore Clayworks and one with the Claymobile (Philadelphia Clay Studio). For Baltimore Clayworks, I was thinking about making big planters for painting portraits on. We can get groups of people from the community and get kids to paint on these planters. They’ll be able to paint somebody who passed or a memory of them. Then we’ll fire it and then plant new plants and have a new life steam from it. I know in some ways that’s corny but I love corny. It makes me really happy. So, try to make projects as fun as possible. A lot of times you can get involved in something, and then all the work involved becomes overwhelming and projects don’t get done. It is important to choose something that you’re not only passionate about, but something that you know will be a blissful, enjoyable experience.

I am very curious about your journey to earn your Ph.D. in Art Education. Can you tell me a little about it?

It is about me finding connections between what it is that I’m doing in the visual arts and trying to do it through scholarship. A lot of people don’t understand artwork, but they understand when you’re able to write about it in clearcut terms. My artwork already, in some ways, resonates with the communities that I want it to. I feel it’s time to take the next step up and figure out a way to write about it really well. Because of my high school experience, I could barely write when I got into college. The Ph.D. is through the Art education program and I had to take a lot of art education classes, which were crucial to me. They were Roberto Lugo’s work can be viewed at robertolugostudio.com and wexlergallery.com

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Boris Bally: Humanufactured

Boris Bally is a celebrated designer, metalsmith, and

entrepreneur. His business, Humanufactured, creates functional furnishings from recycled industrial

materials. The first time I saw Bally’s work was while I worked at the Tacoma Art Museum. His piece Brave

(Necklace) #2 was on display and I remembered that

it instantly grabbed my attention whenever I walked by. I attended Bally’s artist talk at the Eastern Carolina University Metals Symposium in 2016. He spoke

encouragingly about the metalsmithing field, his Photo By Aaron Usher III (www.aaronusher.com)

life’s work, and displayed a stunning optimism for the future. It can be argued that his ability to speak

so optimistically comes from his ability to admit his mistakes while telling how he overcame them.

Bally’s brand name, Humanufactured, represents au-

thenticity and his creative process. A Swiss trained metalsmith/designer, Bally grew up in Pittsburgh

where his father, Alexander Bally, worked as a de-

signer, was associated with the Industrial Design

Society of America, and taught at Carnegie Mellon

University. His father’s Brigade Firefighter Helmet (1984) is in the permanent design collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Boris Bally, Rob Boyd, assisted by Jon Hill and Lukas Winklerprinz , Derry Stool The design is Inspired by the Giants Causeway, CultureCraft project (and participant David Dryden!) which was master-minded by Seliena Coyle and made possible by the Derry City Council. A percentage of the profits will go back to the CultureCraft project.

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Borris Bally

Bally’s Humanufactured studio takes up most of the 9,000 square feet of an old converted school building

near downtown Providence, Rhode Island. Road

signs are displayed in various locations, with chairs constructed from those signs hanging from the ceiling. Eclectic collections are scattered about but

placed with care: artist show postcards, champagne

corks, tools and equipment, and a large central table,

which acts as a hub for it all. It is as if each place is an

exhibit in and of itself. What makes the experience more memorable is how welcoming Bally is.

Boris Bally’s work is featured in the permanent collections of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, New York’s Museum

of Art & Design, Pittsburg’s Carnegie Museum of Art,

the Brooklyn Museum, Washington D.C.’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art & Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and New

York’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Bally is the 2016 recipient of the Society of North American Goldsmith’s (SNAG) Volunteer Recognition Award, for his length of service, exemplary initiative, and impact on the SNAG community.

Mathew Coté BB: Fred Rogers was one of my teachers at the Shady Lane Free School. When my family moved to Pittsburgh we lived in a house right behind the Presbyterian Church where Fred Rogers was the minister. Right next door was the Free School and he would come over there and interact with the students during the week. What stuck in my head was one of his characters, the man who manufactures. Fred Rogers would often sing a song about this character, and the song went like… “I’m a man who manufactures, a manu-manufactures things, and everything’s of a man who manufactures!” So here I am in the studio humming that to myself and I was like, “Ah! I’m a man… human… ufactures… humanufactures… human… man made… manufacture… this is so fucking cool!” So I quickly wrote it down and was like, “I wonder if I can get a patent on that?” I went to register the trademark. It wasn’t taken, so I got it: Humanufactured.

MC: From your years of experience what is the best advice you can give a metalsmith starting out?

The most important thing you could ever do is prepare yourself by having a really good technical foundation. There are so many people that get out there that just don’t have that preparation. They don’t have the tools they need to actually create or do the things they need to do in the world. The second most important thing is to have an understanding of business skills. You don’t have to have an MBA but have the savvy to know what you need and how to get it. The third thing would be to have a work ethic. You just have to put in the work. The bottom line is that you have to have the tools, you have to understand how finances work, and you have to bust ass. A lot of people pick this field thinking it’s not going to be that hard. They’re wrong.

Metalsmiths must have a business oriented mind to succeed?


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You do. You don’t have to be a business genius; I’m certainly not. In other ways I think I’m pretty good at organizing, organizing finances, and understanding when I need to start hustling to make up for a big deficit or something.

During your presentation at the ECU Symposium you mentioned, “You need to hustle or prepare to perish.” Was the insight about the hustle gained from staying in business for thirty years? What experience led you to that conclusion?

‘Perish’ is a little dramatic. Now I’d say, ‘prepare to flip burgers.’ You’re asking what led up to that, and I think what led up to it is my father had his own business and I got to see how that works. A lot of the mentors in my life have been people who sell the work. I’ve always enjoyed the thrill of having somebody putting down the money to buy something of yours. I did my first craft show at fourteen, which is pretty ballsy, and a big part of it was my parents saying, “If you want money to buy this or that, go earn it, go make it. We’re not giving it to you.” It’s the ultimate source of flattery for someone to part with their hard-earned money to buy something of yours. It’s always easy to say, “Oh yeah, you do nice work, that’s really cute.” It’s a lot harder to say, “Actually, I want to live with that piece and here’s some money for it.” That’s the ultimate compliment. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Photo By Aaron Usher III

What’s it like to be both an artist and an employer who manages a workforce? How does that influence your concepts?

It’s really challenging, and I know there’s a whole spectrum of who you can be. You can be more about being an artist and less about being a business. A lot of colleagues of mine are much more business and much less artist. The business people wish they were more artist, and the artist people wish they were more business. It’s really hard to be in the middle. As an example, I remember how frustrated I would be at times to look through my office window. Here I am, stuck in the office, so I can hustle up business, so I can pay my employee, and I look through the little window into my studio and I see the guy dancing a little, filing, grinding, music’s cranking, and I’m thinking, “Oh, do I miss this.” On one hand I really love being an employer because it allows me to tackle larger jobs and have more volume, more scope. It allows me to get out there and be more competitive with how I price things. A good example of the flexibility I built into my business is that I sometimes have as many as six employees, but when times are leaner, like they are now, I’m alone and the business keeps chugging away.

There is a debate as to whether or not jewelry/metalsmithing is an art or a craft. It’s a debate that will probably never die. How do you see jewelry/metalsmithing: as an art or a craft?

I see the basis of everything we do as a craft. A craft is the skill, the coordination, the skill that we got handed down from our teachers and our mentors. It’s the thing that Boris Bally,Loaded Menorah

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goes back thousands of years and that’s why we are able to do what we do. It’s an important part of the art. If you so choose to expand into the realm of communicating or conceptualizing within your craft, and using your craft to communicate something greater than the craft, then it starts becoming art. Art cannot be art without the craft, and your skill set is the most important thing. For you to be a successful artist you need to have that, because there are so many artists who do not have that. It’s hard for them to rise to the top because they are missing that elementary chip, ability. You have to have that ability to be able to communicate a message clearly.

How can you create a painting if you don’t know how the colors work? It just doesn’t make sense to me. A lot of crafts people want to be considered artists, and call themselves artists, who are just not. They are not doing anything beyond setting a pretty stone or making a wedding band. It fits a social niche that’s been around for thousands of years, and it doesn’t break any boundaries or challenge any new ideas. To me, that’s when it becomes art. Being an artist is something that’s earned. There’s so many students who go around saying they’re artists and I say, “You’re not an artist, you’re a fucking student.” You’re an artist when you have devoted thirty years of your life to creating your art, exploring your ideas, setting up your studio, living the life, seeing the world, and making a living from it. To me, that’s an artist.

A stereotype associated with jewelry is that it is effeminate. The stereotype is incorrect but the perception is still there. Your past work seems overtly masculine from time to time… Ooh, I like that.

On your website your models embody a sort of masculine fantasy or edge. Your models displaying the gun pieces are muscular and tattooed. Is the use of such a look, or in the way you display your work, a method to compensate for or rebuke the effeminate stereotype? I love it, yes! The gun trigger necklace: the reason why I did that is the wearable things worn in the Native American culture were masculine. They were about bravery and status, and they were earned things that you got to wear. They weren’t light and little and bright and polished; they were like bones, claws, and [growls] macho! You know, I am so fucking sick of seeing cute little effeminate models, little sparkly thing on their finger. Look in the neighborhood here: do you see anybody who looks like that? Sorry, no. Let’s get a guy in here, for a change. At the time, I can’t remember anybody having guy models. Marjorie Simon was on a jewelry panel where they saw my stuff and she said, “I especially liked that very un-SNAG-ish looking model that you chose.” I wanted the model to reflect what was going on with the work, together like a package, to tell the story. That is why I picked the male models with tattoos: show real people wearing the jewelry. A lot of people do that now; it’s not that original. Boris Bally’s work can be viewed at www.borisbally.com

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Growing up in Pennsylvania everybody had a gun. All my friends went hunting. The first day of deer hunting season was a school holiday. I grew up in the gun culture, but it was a hunting culture, which is very different than it is in the inner city, where guns can mean… the key to getting stuff, especially handguns; it’s a symbol of strength, masculinity, toughness… In Switzerland every male citizen (a very chauvinistic culture) at age nineteen gets an automatic rifle that they take home and keep in their closet with a whole bunch of clips, ready to go. So, I’ve been around guns a lot. They scare me because of what they are able to do; take a life with a single bullet from one wrong move or one mistake. They’re fascinating from the standpoint of metalsmithing skill. People who understand how to work metal make guns. I’m not anti-gun as much as I am anti-violence. I wish that the gun laws were more rigid so that not every idiot can get a handgun, have a concealed weapon, and walk onto school property when they have psych issues in their background. That’s just asking for trouble. You see Sandy Hook and all of the various terrible events that have happened in the last decade in this country: it’s all because of access.

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...all of the various terrible events that have happened in the last decade in this country: Your current work with road signs changes the signs from what they were and repurposes them into various objects: chairs, platters, etc. What originally gave you that idea? There was a specific event that got me into the traffic signs. Most people don’t know this, but Swiss people are very frugal. They don’t waste, and they learn how to fix things. If your brakes are broken you fix them, you don’t buy a new car. They always laugh at Americans: when your car ashtray gets filled you get a new car. The Swiss culture is not a throwaway culture. Rather, a saving and fixing and learning how to alter things to fit what you need culture. It’s a perfect breeding ground for designers, which is what my father ended up doing. Growing up with that in my family, learning how to collect things, fix things, going to the scrap yards to find something somebody else threw away, and finding cool stuff. My dad found a sousaphone at one point. So I learned not to look at something and see what it was, but look and see the potential of something. Always, in my studio, I’d have traffic signs from scrap yard runs when I would need materials. I would always have a sign or two for aluminum sheet, to make a jig or fix a table or something. At one point I got a commission from a collector who was based in Boston. At that time I was with my ex-wife, and he commissioned us to make a fireplace set. I came up with this design where the tools would go around the rail at the top with these wheels that I machined; a really weird, wacky thing, and they all hinged on having a base that was very heavy, so that it could rotate. I started raising this aluminum sign. While I was raising it I thought, “Oh my god, what am I doing here? Look at this! It’s beautiful!” The sign part was going to be on the inside, kind of like the platters are now. This was so cool on so many levels: it’s beautiful, it’s got a graphic impact. Signs are supposed to tell you what to do and I’m like, “I’ll bang you up, I’ll bend you up, I’ll cut you up, and I’ll put you out into circulation.” I also loved that it was a different material than what I usually used. You know: brass, Boris Bally, Brave (necklace) #2 Fabricated, cutlebone casting, riveted

Model Feyi O

What is your exact stance on guns and how did you get to that conclusion?

Mathew Coté

Photo By Aaron Usher III,

Borris Bally


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it’s all because of access.” and copper, and silver, and gold. Because I noticed what was going on, I started making a whole series of these things, raising them. Eventually that led to knocking myself off and making it cheaper. Instead of charging 2,000 bucks for that, why not charge 400 bucks for it and give people more access? The whole idea of transformation, pretty much everything that we do in here: that’s the idea. To take something that has no currency, has no value intrinsically, and then altering it so people are not immediately aware of where it came from. Altering it, so that it piques their interest enough to do a double-take and make them wonder, “What the hell is it?” That’s that moment when you have them: when it’s not a single thing. It’s got layers to it. I hope to transform an object into something of value, something that’s previously been overlooked. Value, meaning either financial, or just of interest. Value, as in someone who actually gives a damn that it’s out there. I especially love when people go up to something and they say, “Oh my god, that seems so familiar. What could it be?” and then I tell them, “You know, that’s made from a traffic sign.” And they say, “How can that be?” They still can’t wrap their head around it.

You have said in past talks, “Sometimes I make mistakes. Two years ago I bought 14,000 pounds of signs that I too quickly assumed would be useful. I spent $12,000 dollars, and the signs ended up being totally worthless, crap.” Why were those signs useless? What went wrong, exactly?

The answer to that is multi-leveled. On one level, that medium I’d chosen to work with: one that is ever evolving. I was not aware of the speed at which it is evolving. Working with traffic signs you are dealing with public safety boards and issues. The reason why I mention that is because they are constantly coming up with new technologies for traffic signs.

Lighter? Quicker to produce? Brighter?

Yes. More brilliant, stronger on the pole, easier to see, Made for Ursula Ilse Neuman for the collection Museum of Art and Design, NYC (pc#13514.1)(dedicated to Alex Schaffner)

trying different materials. They used to paint right on the sign, which is utterly useless. As soon as you shape it, the paint cracks off. So the next development, probably around the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, is they came up with an engineering grade film: 3M, mainly. It was glasscontaining, reflective, and they paint it on, so the film would be a single color. They would paint on that, then throw it on the signs, and that would be it. That film was beautiful to bend. A former employee discovered that by applying heat a certain way, you can actually have that film follow the bend, so that it won’t crack at the bend. They started replacing all these. So I started getting inundated with all of the good signs. I started getting cockier and braver about buying more and more signs. The way that I get the signs is that I actually bid for them. When I was a smaller business I could just go into scrap yards and basically bribe them with a case of beer and say, “I want that, that, and that pallet over there.” Now that I have a bigger machine to feed I’d go after state bids and city bids, like the city of Newport. What I would do is have to become a vendor for the state, get an official license, they make sure your business is on the level, and then you get to put in a sealed bid for how much you are willing to pay for the scrap. If the going rate for aluminum is forty-five cents a pound, I would bid ninety cents a pound. There’s no scrap dealer in their right mind who would ever bid more than sixty cents. I would win every time because, to me, it was more than scrap. The problem was, as the technology changed, instead of engineering grade, they’d come up with a high-vis grade, which was compartmentalized hexagonal cells. The new sign coating is actually much more ridged and breaks on the edges. Suddenly I would have signs that wouldn’t bend in a nice way. The signs that have that new surface you also can’t spin, because it just falls right apart. I found that out the hard way. I’d get 100 platters spun in Pittsburgh and I’ll get fifty back that worked and fifty, which I also had to pay for, would be ruined because it was the wrong surface. Boris Bally’s work can be viewed at www.borisbally.com

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Sometimes it costs to learn by experience.

So, you just avoid the label?

Unfortunately that’s the way it seems to work. I started designing to be able to use some of those high-vis signs, just in a flat way. I started designing clipboards, which are flat, or I’d use them as the rims of the platters, so they would work together with other components. I designed a new bench that used those, but still I’d say eighty percent of that 14,000 pound haul, I just had to re-scrap to the dealer and take a loss. They paid me forty-five cents a pound that I paid ninety. It was a hard thing to learn, but now I’ve got it. That’s now evolved into a deal where, rather than to bid against the other scrap dealers, I actually let them know that I’m not going to out-bid them, that I’m not interested. However, if I would be able to go through their scrap, so when they bid a low number like sixty cents a pound, they know I’m not going to bid ninety and win it. They can bid low and later I’ll come by the scrap yard and grab the signs that I want for ninety cents a pound. That means that I get the ones that I want, which is amazing for me: a perfect symbiosis.

Right, but a lot of the things I make don’t really fit into one category. That’s one thing I really like is that they blend craft and art and design worlds into something useful, which I love more than the wearable stuff. Stuff you can bring into somebody’s home and have it sit at the table to interact with a set of flatware, to me, is much more important than having something for display. At the same time, I’m mostly tickled to have things in a museum. For me it’s an ego boost to have something in a museum.

Do the stereotypes of what jewelry is effect your work? Do you have to find a way to design your work for the average person?

Yeah! Also, a lot more people see it in a museum than they would in a home. I’m 55 now, I’ve made a lot of stuff, and I’m sick of having it around here. So, I’m trying to download it to many different museums and create a legacy, and thank all the people who have given to me, so that when I donate something or sell something to a museum, I do it in the name of somebody. So someday, when I’m not here anymore, I want my kids to be able to say, “That was my dad” I want them to be proud of me. My kids don’t know what that is yet, but at some point when they are forty, or fifty, or sixty they’ll know that they come from the line of somebody, the same way that I was proud of my father for having pieces in the Museum of Modern Art. That’s cool! That’s my dad! If I’m lucky, there’s something like that in me…

Photo By J.W. Johnson

I don’t really call my work jewelry so much. I call it more, “wearable art” because I think that throws people out of the normal stereotypes and they say, “What the hell is wearable art?”, which is more open than, “Oh, it’s just jewelry…”

To have some people translate what it could mean…

Boris Bally, D.P.W. Platter® 2009, Recycled aluminum traffic signs, copper rivets

Boris Bally, Three Transit Chairs "WEIGHT LIMIT," " DETO," and "LIMIT" 2009, Re-used aluminum 046 traffic signs, champagne corks, steel hardware


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A Durably Beautiful World:

The Process and Vision of Scott Noel

Upon arrival at Scott Noel’s studio space at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, I was struck by the abundance of richly painted, large-scale canvases leaning against the walls. Noel, who has been working in Philadelphia since 1978, is a prolific painter of the still-life, figure, and landscape. The artist engages in the making of images through observing his subjects directly. Many of his paintings consist of constructed narratives, in which figures are engaged in roles reminiscent of ancient mythologies. I spoke with Noel about his process and mode of thinking as he was preparing for the opening of Philadelphia, a show of his most recent work at Gross McCleaf Gallery. Noel received a B.F.A. from Washington University in 1978. In addition to having over thirty solo exhibitions since 1980, Noel’s work is included in many public, private, and corporate collections. Noel has been reviewed in Art in America, American Artist, and Arts. He currently teaches figure drawing and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he has taught since 1996.

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Photo Credit Josiah King

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Scott Noel in his studio Pictured in front of Persephone’s Departure

Short session paintings executed by Scott Noel during Sunday painting sessions at PAFA

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Josiah King

JK: For starters, I’d like to talk about your phrase ‘the space of desire.’ SN: I group observational painters with painters that work out of their imaginations, and I set them in contrast to somebody who works a lot from, say, photographic references. You get great work anyway, I’m not dogmatic about that, but when you’re working observationally, or you’re working from your imagination, in both instances you’re tending to try to channel some kind of longing. You just wouldn’t do anything as gratuitous as make art unless you needed it in some way. You don’t do it because you want to do it; you do it because you need to do it. What you need from art is very elusive, but it’s almost as compulsive as an itch. I’m thinking of someone like Hammershoi, or Degas, or Velasquez, or Vermeer. Part of what we recognize in their work is a kind of strange, compulsive, working out of a series of concerns or needs.

When I use the term space of desire, I talk about the way when you’re looking at something, your looking becomes flawed over time. To know it, in a sense, I have to imagine it in a certain way. That act of knowing through imagination is always fueled and driven by appetite, by desire. These are people I’ve been painting for years. (Gesturing towards a painting) Patrice: every time I paint her, her particular appearance is being mapped against other things I care about…such as characters in art. You really want to look at where the locus of desire in a passage is. Look at the intervals. The sense that the intervals are charges with a kind of purpose, or a kind of meaning, not in a literary

Scott Noel sense but in a formal sense, or a figurative sense. They become animate.

In fact, there’s a great line in The Remembrance of Things Past by Proust. Near the end, where one of his characters, who is an aesthete, is on his death bed, he’s dreaming of Vermeer’s View of Delft. What he obsessively circles on, it’s the little patch of yellow, the sunlit roof on the right hand side of the painting. He keeps talking about that little patch of yellow. I know exactly what he’s talking about. That idea of realist painting answering a need, or a longing, or a desire, is very important to me. It’s never just about the facts.

These spaces in between, when you were talking about how intervals are as important as the figures themselves, or-

They would be. I would want them to be at least as important. Because of the perverse way we tend to privilege things and people, I’m attracted to artists where you almost sense that the intervals are more important. Who am I thinking of? Morandi, Dickinson, Vermeer, Velasquez. There’s a certain kind of painter - Piero della Francesca - where interval is very meaningful. In fact, Edwin Dickinson actually had a specific word for this. He talked about his interest in terstices. If you look at Dickinson, you can actually find a strange fetishization of these small, tendril-like shapes that move between things. In the hands of a lesser painter or a young painter, they’ll paint something like this beautifully, and then they’ll forget how to resolve the form toward the edge. You look at Dickinson and Morandi: you can see they’re really thinking about those places as important. You can almost see it a lot of times in my own painting. The last thing that will get painted is a reiteration of a shape, which will bring the form into focus. Once you start really looking, that’s happening all the time. I might say, in a way


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that I can’t account for fully, those are sights of strange, almost erotic investment.

In a certain kind of painter, maybe all great painters, things like color and shape are erotically charged. It’s not just neutral, it’s not just scripted. There’s just a kind of a deep affinity among painters where the actual stuff of their métier: shape, color, forms of elision—that’s a fancy word for editing—the translation of space and volume into shape form: those are charged categories. They’re not neutral. Every painter knows this, but most civilians do not. That’s, in a short form, what I mean by the space of desire.

It’s funny how the quiet moments can be the most powerful in a painting. Well, yes, I agree, although, I wouldn’t call them quiet. Look at that Degas: that’s a study for a painting in the National Gallery called Madame Camus. Lots of young artists, and lots of really good professionals, would say, “Oh, Degas has done a really great job of off-center composing and it’s a really beautiful design.” I think it’s much more radical than that. I think Degas is in love with that abstract shape as an evocation of that wall, and it’s reciprocally related to her body as the shapes of the yin and yang symbol. I don’t think that’s just a big design decision: I think that’s profound.

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It’s funny how the quiet moments can be the most powerful in a painting. Well, yes, I agree, although, I wouldn’t call them quiet. Look at that Degas: that’s a study for a painting in the National Gallery called Madame Camus. Lots of young artists, and lots of really good professionals, would say, “Oh, Degas has done a really great job of off-center composing and it’s a really beautiful design.” I think it’s much more radical than that. I think Degas is in love with that abstract shape as an evocation of that wall, and it’s reciprocally related to her body as the shapes of the yin and yang symbol. I don’t think that’s just a big design decision: I think that’s profound.

I’m also intrigued about your thoughts about light, which is really important in your paintings. Absolutely.

Natural light. Absolutely.


Scott Noel

There were colors that got in my blood stream when I was a little kid, blue-greens, certain pinks, certain golds.

They’ve never left. 051

(Previous Page) Scott Noel The Furness Building Restoration 2016 Oil on linen 32”x94” 2009

Scott Noel Portrait of Bettina 2014 Oil on linen 40”x38” 2009

Images courtesy of Gross McCleaf Gallery

Josiah King


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You’re taking this substance, light, that you can’t really grab hold of, and you’re using a material to actually make it real, in a way. That’s the deal. One of the civilian mistakes about light is to think in terms of a binary of light and shadow, as if they were opposed categories. Again, one of the things every painter eventually learns is that there’s no such thing as the absence of light. Every shadow has light in it. Basically, what you eventually have to formulate as an artist is a kind of theory of light. What is light as substance for you?

Most painters, especially since Vermeer and Velasquez, have been more and more inclined to see light in terms of what I would call color atmosphere. Because what we’re really after is the color of light, and light doesn’t really have a color until it passes through the prism of an atmosphere. You see how almost ludicrously attracted I am to low humidity blue skies, which—for me—they’re just the most beautiful thing in the world. I love winter for that.

One of the clichés of Impressionism is that if it’s sunny, shadows are blue or violet because, for some reason, it seems like—back with Canaletto and Velasquez—shadows were grays and then suddenly, with Impressionism, shadows become blue and violet. Well, what happened? An art historian will give you a big talk about color theory and stuff like that. Another art historian will talk about plein aire painting (painting outside). What happened in that transit from a tonal interpretation of light and shadow to a more color-based one? One of the questions involved trying to figure out, what is the color of sunlight? It’s kind of obvious when you’re standing in full sun, the kind of strange heat that sunlight has, and the way it transforms different local colors, like a green and a red and a pink, into an overall golden light. Certainly, artists—at least as far back as Turner and Rembrandt—got that, so what was their interpretation of shadow in that light? Again, the Impressionists make the warm color of sunlight more explicit. You’d say, “All right, it’s only natural to make the color of shadow more explicit.” Most people tend to think of shadows as an absence of that sunlight. Every painter knows it is the absence of that sunlight, but what kind of light fills that absence? The sky. When you cover up the sunlight, you realize that a shadowy passage on a sunny day is diffused with reflected light. In fact, it’s more beautiful, because it’s not as absolute. It’s just color ricocheting everywhere. My evolving feeling about color, with more and more appreciation of what I would call light fields or light worlds, are expressive of a reflective light source. The most obvious one is the way, on a sunny day, the blue of the sky is a second light. It’s a distinct light from the sun and, when the sun is excluded, it becomes a parallel.

The big laboratory for this is what I would call insideoutside painting. I started getting interested in painting figures silhouetted against bright light, because it was so powerful emotionally. There was something about it: it was almost cinematic in its evocative power, but you try painting a figure silhouetted against bright light, it’s a bitch because, really, what you see on a bright day is the figure almost looks like this black thing against the light. If you (Next Page) Scott Noel Persephone’s Departure 2016 Oil on linen 78”x244”

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took a photograph of it, that’s what you’d see. If you try to photograph anybody against a light like that, to get any detail on the cityscape, you’d have to stop the exposure down so far that this would register black. To get any detail in the figure, that would blow out as a white, right?

Painters have been painting this convincingly for centuries, so what are they doing? They’re exchanging a literal value scale for a color scale. It’s always color based, it’s always more radical than copying, and yet it’s profoundly tied to a sense of atmosphere that locates things in very specific depths of space and very specific fields of light.

Whenever you think your work is about a motif, like a figure or a landscape or memory, eventually you get led to a very concrete visual question, which is, “What is your conception of the light?” My conception of light has really been increasingly filtered through a sort of love of color that is, for me, evocative. I’m absolutely convinced that I’m painting the color I see, and everybody who’s ever seen my paintings says, “Well, that’s your color.” That’s not always a friendly assessment. Some people just do not like the clichés of a given artist’s color. The joke I sometimes tell is my color…actually, as much as it’s driven by the experience of looking at nature, there’s a side of it: it’s almost like a strange Proustian memory of my mother’s interior decorating. Does that make sense? If you had in your family somebody who had a real creative bit for decoration that you liked or responded to, sometimes their color gets in your bloodstream.

It’s ingrained.

Yeah. There were colors that got in my blood stream when I was a little kid, blue-greens, certain pinks, certain golds. They’ve never left. Arshile Gorky: one of the subtitles for that great artist and mother picture is How My Mother’s Apron Unfolds Through My Life. Nothing is ever just simply an empirical iteration of the facts. It’s always the facts running through experience and meaning.

This meaning, or a sense of narrative, is a strong component in much of your work. Whenever you have these ideas, how do you go about realizing them? What are your steps in building a painting?

In my thirties and when I was forty I started to regain that courage to do narrative painting. I started heading in this direction around ‘93 to ‘95, when the pictures started getting bigger and more complex. I would start with places or spaces that I wanted to paint, and then those spaces would, little by little, begin to suggest mythic stories or narratives. As the spaces developed, it was very natural to just ask a model to pose here or there, then find them within the space in a way that always felt organically right. The minute a figure came into the mix, you’d almost exactly know where they should be, what they should be doing, how they should be made out of reflected light. When the figure came in, pretty quickly after that, there would usually be some sort of resonance with a story.

Scott Noel’s artwork can be viewed at grossmccleaf.com/artistpages/noel-t.html

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Josiah King

(Pointing to Persephone’s Departure) This story is the myth of Persephone, where Persephone is about to take leave of her mother to go to the underworld for half the year with Hades. Hades has come up at the end of the summer to collect Persephone and take her to the underworld. No one knows this shit. In fact, I have people on YouTube who, in a very sweet way, mock the preposterousness of my stories, because no one would fucking know. The stories are important to me, because they put the specific character of a place or a figure into what I would call a little archetypal dialect.

That’s one of the things that poets do. I don’t think a poet really connects with a mythic story unless they somehow recognize that story’s vibration or resonance with lived experience. At least I don’t. You know, you can find lots of examples. An arch-realist like Eakins has got all kinds of pictures where he’s trying to tell stories, like these Arcadian landscapes and those swimming hole pictures. Even the scullers are a certain kind of hero that’s set loose in a recognizable setting, like the Schuylkill River, or something like that. Degas was certainly like that. Love those early Degas mythic history paintings, like the Daughter of Jephthah, and the Young Spartans. Those are key works, because you can see, especially with the Young Spartans, those look like a bunch of Parisian gamines set loose on the fields of Arcadia or something. The tension between the mythopoetic and the realist is actually what is so exciting. It’s not a parody, but it’s definitely got an element of wit and humor to it. That would be another part of… I wouldn’t call it my process, but my temperament.

Scott Noel You have paintings comprised of several different canvas sizes, joined together to make one picture plane. A perfect example is The Convention Center from the 10th Floor. How did this come about? That’s a more recent development. It weirdly flows from the narrative thing. Probably about twenty years ago, I did start thinking that I loved large-scale decorative painting, but I’m really basically an easel painter. I’m somebody whose touch and temperament is tied more to the improvisation of a smaller surface. You know, if you’re doing big frescoes or giant altarpieces, you’ve got to plan those things out, because they just demand it, for all kinds of reasons.

My discovery was that I could combine the improvisation of easel painting with the grandeur of something a little bit more architectural and narrative by adding canvases. For years I did it to create a new, unified, single rectangle. About six or seven years ago, out of sheer accident, all the canvases that I had on hand were different shapes. I wanted to paint more than I had time to build the right size canvas, so I started putting them together thinking, how could I map the thing I want to paint against this composite surface? I realized that it actually worked well, because there’s a way in which, as you’re adding up the elements for the visual field, it’s almost like you zoom in or zoom out. Even the forms don’t all naturally align with a single scale rectangle. I started trying to use that as a way of deepening the experience.


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I had this fantasy that sometimes these multi-canvas pictures will be broken up, panels will be lost, and I want each piece to have enough internal energy to be selfsufficient. Each moment, in a sense, has to be a germ of whatever the totality was.

As far as surface area on the canvas, how do you figure out what you’re going to work on for the day? Do you work in a small section?

Well, I’m trying to learn to work in bigger and bigger areas. The final iteration of this, to be convincing, had to be all in one day. That doesn’t mean it’s only one day of painting, it might have been one or two statements that had to be rephrased, but that’s one layer of paint in there. If I don’t do that, I don’t get the articulation of the tones fine enough so that your eye really flows. My ambition is, above all, a sense of almost seamless flow. It is a lot like fresco painting. Fresco painting is basically giant alla prima paintings, a big watercolor painted into wet plaster. I like that idea.

The logic of this ‘all at once’ painting is my universal solvent for all the weird stuff I’ll put in the picture, even flying figures and flying objects. I found I can do the strangest things, and people will hardly even notice, because the unity of the color and the surface is enough where they just say, “Oh yeah, of course.” By the way, I think that’s what Tiepolo and Caravaggio would do, too: making the impossible completely plausible.

Do you have anything you want to share about where you’re moving forward?

I’ve never thought that way very much. I’m one of those painters that thinks mostly from painting the painting. I

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want more and more to keep synthesizing the elements of this imaginative world that my painting has become. For a very long time I thought of myself as a very straightforward observational painter. I still think that’s what I essentially am, but that doesn’t fully describe what I’m doing. The paintings are becoming more and more a kind of arena to put experiences together that illuminate each other and, in that sense, become an expression of something that I want to affirm. Maybe that has to do with just how durably beautiful the world is. The world is magically beautiful, especially as it crystallizes in the occasion of a painting. One of the things that paint does is bring us to our senses, in a way that almost nothing else can do. Painting is a pretty unique thing. It’s endangered a little bit, because if you don’t have or cherish direct experiences of paintings, you can forget what they do. Your generation does so much painting by reproduction, by the internet and stuff. You can know a lot from that, but it’s also sort of numbing after a while.

I hope to keep renewing that thing that I love about painting. That way that painting creates a world. They’re the symbol of so many domains of experience and then makes them durable, because it’s always worth remembering… Paintings don’t move; they’re still, but if they’re any good at all, they don’t feel at all still. They get your imagination moving, they get your mind moving, they get your sensuality more articulate, because they make specific and concrete all these moments of consciousness. I hope I get to be in that conversation. I absolutely know that conversation is real and powerful when I get to see Piero and Chardin. Those guys don’t seem passive to me. When I was young there was that sense of something being great, but old. They don’t seem old to me, anymore. It seems more radical and fresh than ever.


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Kate

MacDowell:

Environmental Undertones in Sculpture

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Kate MacDowell is a ceramic sculptor currently

working from her home in Portland, Oregon. Her romantic,

environmentally

charged,

Baroque-

influenced porcelain sculptures comment on the neglected ecological state of the world. MacDowell uses translucent porcelain to highlight the fragility

of organs, life, and the planet in her human / animal

hybrid forms. Her work was recently on view at

Bansky’s curated show, Dismaland, as well as being

the featured artwork for musical group Erasure’s album, Tomorrow’s World. She will have work at

an upcoming exhibit at MOCA in North Miami. She

is represented by the Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami, Vanessa Quang Gallery in France, Bo.Lee

Gallery in London, and Patrajdas Contemporary Gallery in Utah. MacDowell received her Masters in

teaching English Literature from Brown University, where she also earned a BA in English. 057


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SC: Do you have a concept in mind when you design these skull and animal sculptures, or are they based on design and aesthetics? KM: They are always based on a concept. Ceramic collectors and artists like the craftsmanship and that can be what attracts buyers. A lot of online social media and bloggers are not necessarily as interested in the concept as much as if it looks cool. But usually, for myself, there has to be a concept. In a way I see these as a form of memento mori painting, a warning about mortality, so I use animals that are extinct or near extinct.

You did not go to school for ceramics.

Photo By Sara Catapano

No, I took non-degree classes to build skills as I went. Early on, I felt a little bit like a poser, a little fake because I wasn’t particularly interested in the technical aspects of glazing and kiln building. What I found was, everyone has their passion when it comes to their medium, technique, and subject matter and if you don’t follow what your passion is, you’re not necessarily going to have longevity or find your niche market.

Do you feel like you’re missing out on anything by having a studio in your home?

Isolation is the main drawback of being an independent artist not associated with schools. Different artists have different kinds of communities. I definitely don’t recommend isolation; it isn’t good for productivity. Kate MacDowell in her Portland Studio 2016

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Sara Catapano

Kate MacDowell How was that?

Whenever I’ve had an idea for something and there’s been a technical aspect that I don’t have experience with, I’ve tried to either contract with people who know, or do a workshop or residency somewhere. I did the residency at Kohler because I knew a little about mold making but I wanted to know a lot more. It was great because it’s a factory environment and you have to be there around 8:00am to meet tours. One of the things that I really, really like and need as an independent artist is structure.

Would you be interested in working in a community setting?

I have paid to be in group studios at various points. I unfortunately don’t end up using them. The thing I found that best works for me, actually, is taking classes. I’ll take adult evening classes at the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts. Other working artists will take classes there, too, to use their salt kilns and other resources. I got most of my ceramics training at Portland Community College. I liked being in group critiques with a wide range of people of all ages, all skill levels. I try to take a class or do a residency every so often. But every time I try to do a group studio, the studio is in a cold warehouse somewhere, and my basement studio is warm, close by, and well-lit. The times I’ve done residencies I’ve been more productive, because there’s literally no other distractions.

Would you ever design a larger studio space in your own home but then open it to residencies or artists?

Yeah, I’ve had interns here, which I’ve liked and it often worked out really well. But that doesn’t always work, because interns want to come in evenings and weekends and my husband is like, ‘This in my house, I need some privacy.’ The couple times that I’ve been doing a big casting project I’ve been able to get interns from the local art schools for a concentrated point of time.

You got into clay rather non-traditionally and later in life, after you worked in India.

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(Above) Kate MacDowell, Nursemaid 1, 2, and 3 Hand built porcelain, glaze, 2015

What drew you towards ceramics? You really hadn’t had that much experience with it. You moved back to North Carolina after returning from India?

As a young person I was very interested in art and I went to a high school that was an arts career center, where half the day was literally art classes. But my parents didn’t consider that a good career direction. I got scholarships to art schools, but I went to a four-year college instead and I focused on English Literature and writing. I got a teaching degree and taught high school English. So when we got back from India I really had an urge to take some art classes, and I liked the tangibility of clay.

Did they give you any sort of instruction that led you towards sculpture, or were you already headed in that direction?

I was mainly making pots with intricate lids that had animals and plants attached to them, and drawing on the surface of vessels. When we moved here (Portland) I took a class at community college and the instructor encouraged me to try sculpture; her own work contained a lot of dark animal and figurative elements as well. I made my first connections with a gallery that approached me and then had an exhibit scheduled and that was enough to start me down that path. Once you have an exhibition coming up, you have to make a lot of work. I ended up with my first real body of work, and once I put it online with good photographs it took off and started circulating, and everything happened because of those images being online.

11"x8 ½"x11" – Nursemaid 1 18"x 13 ½"x10" - Nursemaid 2 8"x20"x14" – Nursemaid 3

Photos By Dan Kvitka

You’re obviously doing very well in this setting. If it were hindering your creative process, then it would make a bigger difference. So, without having that technical knowledge, how do you deal with the things that you wish you knew, since you’re an independent artist?

It was awesome. I worked at a meditation retreat center. We went to India because I’ve been doing this specific type of meditation for a really long time. In India, artwork is just on every street corner. People incorporate it into their daily life so much, and in the same way they incorporate their religion into their daily life. It’s something that one does automatically; you’d be passing by a statue of a deity, so you make an offering or prayerthe offering spaces themselves became a work of art. Art served a direct function in allowing people to connect with their own spiritual traditions, and it was really a vehicle for introspection in a lot of ways. Seeing that art had this function in society made me value it in a new way. The place I lived in India had a multiple acre forest and mango orchard, and there were sculptures of various Indian gods. I spent a lot of time studying the sculptures and plants and the animals there, because they were just incredible: caterpillars and frogs and snakes, living in my house. The natural environment was really magically beautiful, so I got much more interested in capturing that and started drawing, which I hadn’t really done since high school. I thought, this can be something I can do without necessarily having it be all about my ego, but I can use it more like a vehicle where I’m connecting ideas, nature, and people, as well as opening up a space for communion or connection to spirit.


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Sara Catapano

Kate MacDowell Do you find it is hard to keep up with the demand of your collectors and galleries? Yeah, I work very slowly. There’s definitely always more demand from the galleries I work with and from other galleries than I can provide. It’s a good problem to have. It takes me, on average, two weeks to a month per piece.

Do you get burnt out working so consistently on a similar body of work?

There is a search for balance in how to stay renewed and consistently productive in any artistic field I think. Deadlines help to some extent. Residencies help, but …

Well, the forever-terrible environmental situation we’re in: at least you’ve always got inspiration, right?

Because of your immediate success, do you feel like you’re stuck or expected to be in this animal – anamorphic – anthropomorphic realm of small-scale sculptures? Do you feel like you could explore more, if you wanted to? Well, I’ve done two bigger installations and I have other ones planned, like the clay pigeons piece I did. I also did a piece at Kohler with a whole bunch of toads. I work with commercial galleries, and about half of my income is from selling artwork and half of it is licensing images for album covers, book covers, magazine illustrations, stuff like that. I do explore different subjects, and I try not to directly repeat myself that much. But there is a certain aesthetic the buyers are interested in, sort of what they’ve seen before.

Is there a pressure, though, that you feel you need to make a specific style, because they’re buying it?

Yeah, making art is a job. Sometimes it’s great and wonderful and you’re super inspired and sometimes you’re not, but still need to be making. I know if I put certain elements together it’ll sell, so I’ll try to have a few pieces that do that along with new ideas as I’m planning artwork for a show. In general though, I try to go with the concepts and images that I find most interesting at the time.

You do some installation work. How do your collectors and galleries respond to these larger - scale, multiple - piece works?

There’s definitely value in making non-commercial work. I’ve been trying to find a balance where I can do both at different times. But making a non-commercial piece, I just have to do it every other year or so because of the time commitment, and usually at a residency.

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Kate MacDowell’s work can be viewed at katemacdowell.com; at mindysolomon.com; at bo-lee.co.uk; and at gvqgallery.com

Yeah, no problem with that. There are different expectations about production for artists in different communities. It’s interesting because there are distinct art worlds, even though they overlap. There’s the contemporary art world, where lots of volume isn’t necessarily that important; it’s the process, and are you reinventing yourself, and stuff like that. Then there’s the ceramics world, where quality and technical skill is important, but they also want more objects. Then there’s the really quantity focused pop surrealism/street art world, where they ask if you make editions. I’m like, ‘no I don’t make editions.’ It’s like asking, ‘do you make toys?’ It’s just not the direction I’ve wanted to go so far.

That’s interesting. Do you allow the consumption and materiality in society to affect you?

No, I haven’t been as interested in the design end and the goal of quickly creating a product. However, a lot of the online attention I get is somewhat related to that world. I have a large group of fans who are interested in the artistic aesthetics of High Fructose and Juxtaposed magazines and similar online blogs. It’s been good and I thought okay, I do need to make some things that are quicker, that college students can afford. But I’m not sure I want to go in the direction of plastic versions, or something. I’m constantly asking myself how I can work in all three worlds more effectively; it’s been a learning process.

Do you think that ceramics segregates itself from other mediums? Debates often touch on whether ceramics is ever going to be accepted in the contemporary art world.

If you’re in those contemporary galleries then, as an artist, you’re more likely looking at a variety of mediums and the larger culture for inspiration, even if you make something out of clay. You listen to how people talk about their work. That doesn’t mean the craft aspect of it, necessarily, because that can be the least significant part of it in that world, from what I’ve observed. A contemporary photographer could talk a little bit about craft but they’re (Previous Page) Kate MacDowell, First and Last Breath 2010 Hand built porcelain, mixed media 11"x9"x12"


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going to talk much more about the content and concept. Awhile ago I heard Garth Clark talk about craft and fine art. If I remember correctly I took away that craft has validity, but you have to think of it as craft. It’s not contemporary art; it’s serving a different purpose. It’s a lot closer to design.

He is distinguishing the difference between craft and art. Yeah.

That’s interesting, because I don’t often think that you can have art without craft. Sure, there are unskilled people that are making interesting things, but they’re using this material in a craft way. You can’t have one without the other, but maybe that’s just a personal opinion. Overly institutionalized thoughts, maybe. A lot of the contemporary art world is opening up more and more to craft materials, but I don’t necessarily know that craft is opening up more and more to the contemporary world, if that makes sense. In my experience I don’t think the contemporary art world cares too much about how you get there, as long as you’ve got interesting ideas.

Icarus Photo By Bill Bachhuber

You were talking about the market. Do you primarily make for the market, and are your ideas or concepts aimed towards the market, as well?

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Make people question the beauty in decay, or the causes of decay? If I wasn’t doing such dark subjects, I would be tempted to not make as technically polished objects. I could do really grotesque renditions. Actually, I respect a lot of artists who do that and then have red glaze dripping down; more visceral in color and texture, and stuff like that. I don’t want to only have the people who approach to look closely at a piece be the people who are attracted to gory and dark stuff. I want people who are attracted to pretty things also to come close to it and then be like, ‘what is actually going on here?’

You want people to feel the tension between the subject matter and surface?

Right, or question (it). You asked, how much does my initial concept matter? Usually it’s a big part of how I get the idea for a piece. I read scientific case studies about threats to the natural world and I think of them as a story. My work is narrative, so it’s sort of a poignant story. And then I want to illustrate or twist that in some way.

Do you think that it’s more successful, less successful, or doesn’t really matter if the viewer gets the full concept?

It doesn’t matter. But what is interesting is I have occasionally been asked by those companies (with track records of environmental degradation) to be part of exhibits they are putting on… I think, ‘Do you guys recognize the irony?’ Because of green washing, they all have a little exhibit about environmental art. But, I’m honestly not

They’re primarily for myself. There are things that I want to try that are more non-commercial in the future. But my fascination with plants, animals and organic forms in my current work: that is me exploring the grief of species and biodiversity loss. Occasionally I’ll use some part of a curator’s theme or a specific environmental niche related to an upcoming exhibit that gives me a jumping off point for making a small group of pieces. But in general with my white porcelain work, I want to see contradictory impulses in balance. I want the beautiful to be in balance with the grotesque, because I want pieces to raise questions.

a dyed in the wool ideologue about stuff. I always feel that there are two sides to any issue. I don’t want my artwork to just be political agitprop or to only have one interpretation. It’s more about witnessing than activism. But art can be politically powerful. Photography, in particular, can build empathy in a way that nothing else can. With the Syrian refugees, for example, one photograph can change a lot of opinions.

Kate MacDowell, Icarus 2007 Hand built porcelain, 13"x12"x3½"

Kate MacDowell’s work can be viewed at katemacdowell.com; at mindysolomon.com; at bo-lee.co.uk; and at gvqgallery.com

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Sara Catapano

Is it your empathy towards nature’s perilous encounters with man that drives your work? What sparked your interest in nature? I never wanted to have kids and I never played with dolls. My mom thought something was wrong with me. Probably, but I was always fascinated by wild animals, pets, stuffed animals, and observing animals. I’d spend a long time sitting on the back porch of our house, watching the bird feeder. We didn’t have cats, but I think I must have been like a cat. As an artist, I’ve always been interested— even with different mediums I have experimented with —in the natural world. One of the main things driving me is the idea of species extinction, and that when you lose biodiversity—when you reduce the total number of distinct kinds of life—you just lose so much visual information. It’s still there, theoretically, in photographs, but the difference between seeing a tiger in a photograph, versus at the zoo, versus seeing a tiger on the grass is massive. The idea that, within fifty years, we might lose half of those species…

Do you feel like everything is connected in nature?

psychological damage sustained by people directly affected by environmental destruction. It could be quantifiable. You can look at what happens to peoples’ bodies with pollutants, but also what happens to their minds because of the experience of loss. I was just reading about solitary confinement, how that can create physical brain trauma, and I think science and society is just starting to wake up to the mental health costs of a degraded environment.

Yes, like psychosis.

If you live in a destroyed, polluted environment, that’s irreversibly damaging. A lot where we find meaning and love and peace, is in the natural world for the most part, even if it’s just in the backyard or through a window. The more that we separate ourselves from that experience of nature, the more we create all these other problems, which are expensive to try to remedy.

Generally, your pieces are extremely well crafted and mimetic, to a point of perfect disguise. I saw that you print out all the images of animals that you’re sculpting, for reference. Do you ever feel the urge or desire to create a fully imagined species?

I haven’t felt pulled to do that so much. A lot of artists use animals as metaphors for human beings, but I don’t do that very much. A lot of animal sculptors are exploring human emotion, sexuality, and aggression; they’re standing in for humans. I usually sculpt animals that stand for themselves.

Photo By Dan Kvitka

Yes, I think there’s a lot of psychological damage that we do to ourselves because of the way we currently live. We’re paying the price for it. There’s a really interesting article that I was asked to create illustrations for, that was in the New York Times Sunday Magazine: Is There an Ecological Unconscious? A researcher in Australia was studying the

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Kate MacDowell’s work can be viewed at katemacdowell.com; at mindysolomon.com; at bo-lee.co.uk; and at gvqgallery.com

Kate MacDowell, Memento Mori 2012 slip cast and hand built vitreous china 6"x6"x5"


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Photo By John Michael Kohler Arts Center

By putting a human skull inside the animals, are you trying to say that humans are animal? Yes, on the level of imagination and empathy. I think about the Romantic tradition from the nineteenth and twentieth century: a lot of Romantic poetry was about entering into the natural world and joining with it. A lot of our relationship with nature comes from that tradition. I wanted those Romantic elements to remain there, but I wanted to conflict with what’s actually going on. We may feel a connection with the owl that we see, but then we created and dispersed pesticides like DDT.

What is it about glazes that you don’t particularly like? You mostly use a clear glaze and plain porcelain. It’s super refined and very pristine. Is it Baroque era sculpture that you’re inspired by?

Yes. At a certain point, I just want the form to be more important. There is ghostliness to bare white clay, an absence of naturalism, a white marble quality to it: this is the connection to Baroque sculptures. I do use colors sometimes, especially when I’m casting installations, and then the color is more symbolic, like when I did this big series of toads. That piece was about the golden toad that has gone Kate MacDowell, Last of his tribe, assemblage of 150 toads 2012 8' x 8' glaze, and oil paint,

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extinct in Costa Rica. The toads all had a particular time every year to get together in certain locations to mate. The scientists would come back year after year and count the toads. One year, there’s thousands, and then a couple of years later there’s maybe 2000, and there’s 300, and there’s fifty, and finally there was only one toad—bright orange against the dark earth of the forest. I originally envisioned the piece I made as one orange toad that’s surrounded by circles and circles of black toads on a black background. The forms of the missing toads are there, but they’re basically ghosts.

The surrogacy of that extinct animal?

Yes, I like the artificiality of trying to recreate something that’s extinct and repopulate an environment with it. It’s like creating a theatrical stage setting or tableau. The exact environment is not necessary. For example, the toads are from Costa Rica. I can’t go to Costa Rica so I went down to our local temperate rainforest in Oregon and set them up there, so it’s an artificial reconstruction. I like the idea of it being artificial: clay forms instead of real animals, an approximation of the outdoor habitat; the whole idea that you can’t capture these things, actually. There’s always going to be something lost in translation and you can never truly go back to ‘before extinction’.

Kate MacDowell’s work can be viewed at katemacdowell.com; at mindysolomon.com; at bo-lee.co.uk; and at gvqgallery.com

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Wendy Red Star:

ApsĂĄalooke Feminist

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Wendy Red Star is a Native American of the Crow tribe, and a contemporary multimedia artist who

lives in Portland, Oregon. Red Star’s work has been featured in multiple museum exhibitions during

the past few years, including at the Portland Art

Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, St. Louis Art Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and

Western Art, Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, and the Missoula Art Museum. Red Star received

her BFA in Sculpture from Montana State Univer-

sity in 2004 and her MFA in Sculpture from UCLA in 2006. Her work is based in historic and cultural

research, specifically about Native Americans. For example, in her four-part photographic series, Four Seasons, Red Star was inspired by the dioramas of

Native peoples often seen in natural history museums. Taking a satirical stance on the concept of the 065


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idealized American Indian, Red Star depicts herself

KBD: Do you consider your work to be feminist art? What makes it feminist?

different landscapes with inflatable animals, Astro-

WRS: What’s interesting is feminism has really come about in the last three years for me. It really has to do with life issues. I divorced and I was in a situation where there was a lot of control and things like that, and I also have a daughter. The last four years I’ve really gained my own independence, an awareness of who I am, and selfempowerment. I do feel like I’m very pro-feminism. I created this hashtag of Apsáalooke. Apsáalooke is how you say ‘Crow’ in our language, and it means ‘children of the large big bird’. There’s different facets to it, and race is definitely one of them. Black feminism is completely different than a white woman’s feminism. That’s why I’ve created this Apsáalooke feminist hashtag, as an art project where it’s my own hashtag. If you click on it you’ll see photos that I’ve posted on Instagram that are what I consider to be Apsáalooke feminist. Any art adventure that I go on or, if it’s a historical photo of a Crow woman doing something, that’ll go on there. I still don’t exactly know what an Apsáalooke feminist is, so I’m building this archive as things go along. I would consider my work to be feminist, and the work that’s currently at the Portland Art Museum is super-feminist. I really wanted to focus on women and our perspectives.

dressed in a traditional Crow elk tooth dress in four turf, and other artificial materials that, at a glance, appear like any other diorama.

Four Seasons attracted me to Wendy Red Star. An

analysis of this work makes clear that identity is a Image Courtesy of Wendy Red Star

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focus of her work. Red Star understands that Native

identity is often presented from a colonial viewpoint. She makes light of this by injecting humor into her works, and attempts to give the viewpoint of an

actual Native person. By doing this she simultaneously provides her perspective and critiques colonial

assumptions. I interpret the work as feminist art, and I wondered if Ms. Red Star intended this, so I had to ask her…

Wendy Red Star, Four Seasons Series (Fall) 2006 Digital Print on photo paper 34” x 40”

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Kyle Brandon Duncan

Wendy Red Star Why did you use Pendleton blankets?

What’s great about having all of that is knowing that the world is larger than just the Crow reservation. Because my mom’s whole side of the family is in Colorado, we’d always go to Colorado. My sister, who actually spoke fluent Crow, gets more excited when she sees Native people on the sidewalk than when she sees Asian people. She identifies more with Native people. My father was like the Red Stars: super progressive as far as ordinary Crow families; they are very much into art. My uncle, Kevin Red Star, is a really well known Native artist. My dad is the first and, I think, only Crow Indian pilot. We used to fly around with him. He’s a big musician: he played on a band called The Maniacs when he was younger. They were like the Beatles of the Crow reservation. I had this family that was always pushing boundaries. That’s really influenced my thinking and outlook on life, for sure.

In your recent photographic series, Apsáalooke Feminist, how did you go about deciding what props to use in the staged shots?

That series is a collaboration with my daughter Beatrice. It’s based on a lot of photographs taken of Crow couples (at the) turn of the century, but also mixing in classical portraiture. You see a lot of the Renaissance paintings where the women and backgrounds are very posed and deliberate. The thing I find interesting about the old photographs taken of Native people, not just Crow, is you’ve a European person taking the photographs, and they tend to pose them in stately poses, profiles similar to the Renaissance paintings. They use their own backdrops, so you’ve got a European backdrop, and then oriental rugs and stuff like that. You have different chairs, and to me that’s always really fascinating. It’s a culture clash. I wanted to recreate that, update it. We’re sitting in our living room on an IKEA couch, and then I made the elk tooth dress for Beatrice. The red elk tooth dress that I’m wearing I’ve had since I was sixteen. That was made for me. It’s been photographed in the Four Seasons, and I’ve retired it. The Pendleton blankets are hanging on the wall and on the ground, and I just blurred them out. I made sure that we were in sharp focus, with the background and foreground blurred out.

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Some artists claim that having a child changes the way they work, and the concepts of their work. In some interviews you refer to your daughter, B, as your muse. What do you mean by that, and how has your daughter influenced you as an artist?

I don’t really consider Beatrice as my muse. We started collaborating in 2014. I had a solo exhibition at the Portland Art Museum, Medicine Crow in the 1880 Crow Peace Delegation, and as part of that there were these delegation photographs of five chiefs. I made a bunch of Xerox copies of the chiefs, because I was outlining the outfits, and writing about who they are. So I’m working on this exhibition, and she keeps coming up to me, because she wants attention, I said, “Here” and I gave her stack of those Xeroxes. She came back with the most brilliant drawing over the top of Medicine Crow. I was still figuring out how I was going to close the exhibition, make it come full circle. When I saw that it was like, “This is it, and you’re going to be in the exhibition.” It was good work, and it was a way that she could be incorporated in what I was doing. She came to the opening, and she’s so into talking publicly, and does it really well. She talked to over a hundred people about her work. From then on we’ve started to collaborate more. I say, “Hey, I’m going to the Tacoma Art Museum to do something”, and she is like, “Can I do it with you?” We collaborated on a couple performative things. I’m going to do it as long as she wants to do it, and when it’s really uncool for her we won’t do it anymore. When institutions hear that my daughter is going to be in this, generally they tend to be prejudice against that, where they think it’s cute kid shit. We get there, and they realize this kid is very serious about this, and she’s really engaged. Does that answer your question?

(Above)Wendy Red Star, Apsáalooke Feminist #3, 2016 Digital Print on Museo Silver Rag photo paper 41” x 34”

Image Courtesy of Wendy Red Star

Your mother is Irish, your father is Crow, and your older sister is Korean. How has your multi-cultural family influenced your work?

Pendleton blankets have a long history with Native people, Crow particularly. We are really weird about our Pendleton blankets. For instance, when we get a Pendleton blanket you have to keep the tags on; if somebody rips the tags off, then it’s not really a Pendleton blanket anymore. We don’t use Pendleton blankets to sleep on. They’re just used to parade with, so you’ll put it on your horse, or when you have a parade car. There are blankets from the ‘70s with the tags on it and they still hold that merit. You can have a brand new one and one from the ‘70’s, and if the new one’s tags are taken off then it’s not new. Pendletons are regarded as an honor and wealth symbol, because they’re expensive. I get questions about whether I think Pendleton has exploited Native people. It’s got such a deep and complicated history, and I like it for what it is. There’s a Native guy trying to make wool blankets, trying to get Native people to buy his wool blankets. I’m like, “Fuck that. Pendleton all the way!” Pendleton designers do research into native mythologies and design preferences of Native peoples. I’m wearing a jacket made of a Pendleton blanket. In a way, this jacket is naughty. I feel a little bit dirty when I wear it. The designer who made the jacket could have bought raw Pendleton fabric to make this jacket but they choose to use a blanket.


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It was more than I expected. Can you talk about your exhibition Peelatchiwaaxpaash /Medicine Crow (Raven) & the 1880 Peace Delegation? That’s the one I talked about with B. There are these two images of Medicine Crow that had been mass-produced commercially. There’s one forward facing portrait of him, and then a three-quarter portrait of him. Every place I have gone, I’ve seen books with that image. Also I saw this image on Honest Tea, which was comforting in a way. A lot of native artists and non-native artists have redone his image. I grew up knowing a few of Medicine Crow’s descendants. I always knew about Medicine Crow. It was sort of weird to leave the reservation and see him; it made me comforted to see him on these really cliché books on Native Americans.

It seems like they exploited him?

That’s what I was uncomfortable about but, I was also comforted by seeing Medicine Crow. In my undergrad program I was the only Crow person in the Art department, and then for graduate school again, I was the only Native person there. I’ve got two travelling exhibitions: one is called Circling the Camp and the other is Medicine Crow & the 1880’s Crow Peace Delegation. When this exhibition came about I was going to get to the bottom of this. I’m going to see what happened when he sat down for this photo, and what the story behind that is. The story is that six Crow chiefs went to Washington, D.C. The government was trying to build a railroad through a large chunk of our territory, so they

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Wendy Red Star

brought them over. The government was doing quite a bit of (that), back then. It was bringing this delegation of chiefs and they used these tactics; they would take them to see all their military bases, so they would be like, “Oh, shit, we’re not going to fight. We’re going to go back home.” They held this delegation there for thirty days, but they took them to the zoo. Each reservation had a white agent that watched the Natives, and (the agent) asked Medicine Crow to recount his trip, and so he did all these amazing drawings. He had come up with names for animals he saw in the zoo. They’re beautiful, they’re funny; monkey is ‘man dog’ and it totally makes sense. We found this company in Australia that turns children’s drawings into stuffed animals, which were included in the exhibition. I just cropped out his drawings and I didn’t let the company know. I had no idea what their interpretation would be, and so they came back and they varied a little bit from what I thought, but they were also surprising. B saw them, and she just picked them up and hugged them. It feels like, in some really weird way, that we’re closer to Medicine Crow. It translated really cool, and humanized them in a way, like you could physically hold his drawings.

The Crow Chiefs brought their finest outfits, which are like military uniforms. Different parts of their uniforms meant that they had different achievements. If they are wearing an eagle feather lower on their heads, it means that they were the first person in the battle to touch the enemy before anybody else, so they had the right to wear it. All these things were rites. In order to be a chief you had to do certain things, and all of those things were represented in their outfit. Medicine Crow was wearing

(Previous Page) Wendy Red Star and Beatrice Red Star Fletcher, Déaxitchish/Pretty Eagle, 2014 Artist’s manipulated digitally reproduced photographs by C.M. (Charles Milton) Bell, 1880 National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian,Washington, D.C.

Images Courtesy of Wendy Red Star

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his bows and that meant he had to overcome an enemy and slice their throat. That’s pretty crazy: he is walking in and telling you what he can do. The other thing that I never knew is that they all (had) hair extensions, and for Medicine Crow there’s another view of him where his hair extensions go all the way down to the ground, and they’re from people in mourning. They take their hair, and they use pine pitch from trees and then stick them together. They all had these amazing hair extensions. To see them walking away from you must have been quite a sight. Historically, when other tribes would do drawings of Crow, they would draw (a) man with really long hair, because all men wore hair extensions, all the time. It was a great way to include Beatrice, a start to a whole new generation of art making.

You worked at Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, a printmaking shop for Native artists, and made a series of prints. What printmaking processes were used, and how did you go about designing those prints?

Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts is a really awesome residence. What I like about it is that it was started by James Lavadour, who is from the Umatilla Indian reservation, and Crow Shadow is on the Umatilla Indian reservation. He likes to get people who don’t have a history with printmaking. You work with master printers. I didn’t get to touch anything: he did all the mixing of the color. It’s an interesting process. Everything I did there was pretty much photo—based stuff. I’d been taking photographs over the years, or I have all these slides that my dad took in the ‘70s; I used some of those images. We used photolithograph plates.

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the exhibition there (are) four deer missing their heads. They’re on pallets and have metallic streamers coming out of their necks. I was talking about trophy hunting, that kind of thing. You mount the heads, but then what happens to the body? Often you see the trophies, but their heads are gone. What’s coming out of their heads is flowing metallic mylar that could be the insides, or blood. It could be really disgusting but there is something really beautiful about it. There is also that gold. I’m going to do that again with the decoys here in Portland, because I want to explore that idea a little bit more.

What is parading culture?

The parade is a symbol of when Crow people would migrate from one camp to the next. Our leaders would hope for better things for our people. Everyone in the tribe can take part in the parade. Riders on horseback wear elktooth dresses or buckskin pants and shirts. The horses are draped in Pendleton blankets, as well.

In your recent show, Parading Culture (Tokens, Gold, & Glory), at Haw Contemporary, you used wood pallets, coyote and deer mannequins, fabric, and gold tinsel. Why did you use these materials, and what is their significance?

That show was to talk about material and physical forms, but also value and status, and what’s important to some cultures, versus not. I was talking historically between the fur trade and Native people and white people: how that looks like now. The pallets represent goods. All of our goods come (from) overseas, or from wherever, on these pallets. The pallet represents the trade of what’s happening now. The animals in the exhibition represent that tie back to historic fur trade and hunting. But, how fucked up are hunting decoys? It’s so crazy that hunters actually buy decoys, take them in their truck, and then set them up. You buy animal urine and put (it) on them and then—I don’t know what they do—sit in a tree or wait somewhere, and drink latte until something like a deer comes by: it seems like not hunting. It’s so crazy how far removed we’ve become. Native people were very much used to doing all the hunting for the fur trade. The Pendleton blankets were representative (of) that exchange. All the Pendleton blankets have the tags on. I really wanted to make that blanket this high status thing, by painting them gold. When you first walk into Wendy Red Star, Tokens, Gold, & Glory 2016 Gold Mylar, Astroturf, Wood pallets, Deer Hunting Decoys

Wendy Red Star’s work can be viewed at wendyredstar.com

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Wendy Red Star

Image Courtesy of Wendy Red Star

Kyle Brandon Duncan

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Wendy Red Star’s work can be viewed at wendyredstar.com

Wendy Red Star, Red Top Tramp #14 (White Squaw) 2014 Archival Pigment Print11” x 18”


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You work in many different media. When starting a project how do you decide what media works best for the project? The photograph can give me so many different ideas. I can either pull from a photograph or turn things into 3-D. I don’t think in terms of photographs; I think in 3-D. Setting up that scene in our living room is 3-D, and then I’ll turn that into photographs. It’s never a photograph first. For instance, with the Parading Culture show, I was really into parade culture because Crows have very specific parade. I ended up finding all these parade online stores; I didn’t even know those things existed. They have all these parading materials that you can purchase. I had no clue. I’ll stumble onto something like that. I’m like, “Oh my God, this is insane. You can make 3-D blow-up versions of yourself, if you want, through this parade store.”

not derogatory when growing up. The way people would say (it) to me back home was normal, if that makes sense. When I was looking at all twenty-four book covers I noticed that Becky looks the same. Becky is kind of boring. It’s got these super brash titles, but Becky is just boring. There is all this weird innuendos of sexual acts happening beneath her in smaller drawings. I’m just going to scan each of the book covers and, through Photoshop, take her out and then replace myself with her character, and try to make faces that go more with the titles, or enhance the titles in some way.

What was the inspiration behind your series Four Seasons?

I took a trip to the natural history museum in Los Angeles. We had to walk through the dinosaur exhibit to get to the Native galleries. It was the first time where I really critiqued the institution that shows Native American objects. There were Crow dioramas in there, and my thought and feeling, seeing people walk around that space, was that they didn’t

Talk about the history behind your series White Squaw and why you chose to make that series

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I was researching the term squaw because I wanted to get to the bottom of it, because I heard that it’s connected to a couple of different indigenous languages. Growing up, I was told that squaw is a very derogatory term towards Native women. I always had that mindset and during the American Indian Movement, there was a woman who said it was a derogatory term. It’s a little bit confusing if it actually is a derogatory term, or if it’s just a word that was non-woman in a Native language. The way that it’s been used in mainstream society is derogatory. I’m just going with it as derogatory. Basically, (it) means cunt or vagina or something like that. Often the fur traders would have Native wives and they’d call them their squaw. The Native women were apparently really great for helping them with tracking and territory and just helping with the fur business. After doing that research I stumbled upon White Squaw. It’s a movie that was made in the 1950s. All of a sudden this book called White Squaw came up. The imagery of the book cover is very pop fiction but, also, the taglines are hypersexual. What got me, though, was that they were written in the ‘80s and the last one was written in 1997. It was so crazy and shocking that something this derogatory was published so recently. I was just blown away, because the taglines were so raunchy. The main character: her name is Becky. They do this whole pan-Indian thing. Sometimes she is Lakota, she will be Sioux, or she’ll be some other tribe. I don’t really know what Becky is. She’s all these different Native tribes, but she’s definitely half white. I’m also half white and I grew up being called a half-breed, which was

think Native people existed. They also had a bunch of dioramas that looked so much like Montana. This is such a surreal experience for me, a native person from Montana. This museum feels like they are saying that this life does not exist, and it does, and that’s what inspired me to do the Four Seasons.

Why have you chosen a satirical take on the subjects in Four Seasons and White Squaw? I’m just like my family: we are funny. We are so sarcastic that it’s just part of my family culture. I don’t get people who don’t have a sense of humor. I have some uncles who are funny as shit. You can talk about the most depressing things, but they could talk about it and make light of it. Humor is such a healing thing. I’m always looking at things from this other standpoint of deconstructing it. I’m not just going to accept things. Part of not accepting things is by looking at them in a critical way, and part of my critical eye is a humorous and cynical look at things. What’s really weird—I used to get this question a lot when I do lectures —is people would say, “Why are you so happy?” They equate happy with humor, the humor in the work. I’ve not seen that as being a happy thing, necessarily. I’m saying a fucked-up thing, but we could totally laugh about it in all seriousness, and that’s how we’ll talk about it. If it was so dark and heavy, no one would want to talk about it.

Wendy Red Star’s work can be viewed at wendyredstar.com

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The work of painter Erik Neff was, like many artists of the digital generation, brought to my attention via internet research. I was immediately interested in his work when I discovered that we employed similar techniques in our respective painting processes, with unique results. I am equally interested in Neff’s subtle, yet powerful use of color that is somehow evocative without representational imagery. These captivating paintings left me wanting to know more. I met Neff at the Akron Art Museum, where his work is included in an exhibition, NEO GEO, showcasing recent geometric abstractions by regional artists. After a very informative tour of the museum we sat down to talk in a cafÊ adjacent to the museum.

Erik Neff lives and works in northeast Ohio. He holds a BS in Biology and an MS in Entomology from Ohio State University, as well as a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and an MFA from Bard College in New York. He has exhibited in Cleveland, Youngstown, New York and Chicago, and was most recently featured at the Akron Art Museum, as well as at Akron University, in Ohio.

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Neff scraping a piece in the studio 2015

Photo By Erik Neff, Image courtesy of the artist

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Erik Neff abstraction, or was it a switch in your head, like “I don’t want to do this anymore”?

CH: What drew you to painting as a form of expression? EN: I’m one of those people who drew incessantly as a kid. Drawing is my primary mode of expression… I’ve always done lots of things; experimented with glass, stained glass… I’ve done a lot of carving, I do woodworking, that sort of thing. I was always on the fence between art and science, so I had done an undergraduate degree in forest biology and then got a degree in entomology. Then I had an early life crisis and went to art school. I had a pretty strong idea that I wanted to paint, which is odd. Even though I was curious about other materials, other media, painting was the thing that I thought I wanted to do.

What made you switch from entomology to painting, exactly?

It’s funny because, like I said, I’ve always done art and I found that halfway through my master’s thesis in Entomology, I was… Every available amount of free time I had, I was making art or carving, and I thought, ‘I think you’re telling yourself something, here.’ The next step would have been going into a PhD program in entomology, and then you’re even further down that particular road. So I thought, ‘I’m going to just take a break.’ Because I always did art, I took it for granted. But you can’t live with that, so I had this very pragmatic idea of doing something like science, you know? So I decided, rather than just completely jumping ship, I took a year off. Then I was going to go to art school for a year, which of course went to another year and another year. So, once I committed myself to the idea, I was fully committed.

Did your former studies of insects influence your work at all?

Not directly. Everything you’re exposed to and encounter in your life defines who you are, or the kinds of choices you make. So I’ve never made a one-to-one correlation between my knowledge or interest of insects to painting. The same reason I’m an abstract painter is because I didn’t want to be an illustrator of insects, for example. The same reason I don’t paint people: I wanted something a bit more openended than that. I got my fix with art in science, where I’ve done scientific illustration work from time to time. I still use those chops, occasionally. I’ve kept that separate, except that I see colors and forms in insects that might find their way into a painting, even though it’s not anything I’m conscious of.

Was it an organic switch that you made from working objectively (in terms of scientific illustration) to no-objective

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Erik Neff’s work can be viewed at erikneffpainting.com

It was a bit organic. At one point, I became a bit more axiomatic and I was… It’s funny, the notion of the grid, which is kind of present in the work now: I’ve gotten away from it and have come back to it. There’s something very compelling about it still, and it’s such a dumb thing, but it seems to occupy a lot of thinking, for some reason. I find it to be associative with man-made things, like human impact on the environment, that sort of thing. Not that I want people to say, “Oh my gosh, he’s very concerned about the environment. He’s trying to mix organic and rectilinear…”, things that are mutually exclusive at times. The idea of the grid becomes, for me, the notion of human invention or architecture, and the way that the shapes come together in a configuration over time. They take on a metaphor or voucher for the other aspects of the human being. The grid is a structure, too, to hang paint on.

Moving from painting, your 3-D constructions expand beyond the rectilinear plane. How do your expanded forms come together? Is it something that’s premeditated, or do you just build them?

I build them. It’s like the painting because I build them and they’ll sometimes have legs and then I’ll think, “No, I don’t think it wants to have legs,” so I’ll pull those things off. I’m stacking things up and dry-fitting things, so sometimes I’ll have these blocks and pieces already cut. But most are just found shapes with blocks or little rectangular pieces, and I just start assembling them in a funny way, like you would with building blocks, like a kid would do… until they take on a configuration that feels interesting. Then I’ll start to actually stick them together with glue or a screw or a nail, and then they’re a form. The painted assemblage becomes this extension of the painting. But in many cases, these actually are much more rectilinear than my paintings, where the drawing might twist or bend or arc slightly, so it’s not completely rectilinear. But these tend to be a bit more truly rectilinear, so the painting becomes a challenge of wanting to impose illusion on something that’s fixed. I jokingly call them my studio mascots, because they are kind of funny, characterlike manifestations of my paintings. They sit on my palette while I’m making other paintings. They sit there patiently, accumulating the paint that I don’t want to waste, until they start to look like something.

So you definitely construct them before you paint them? Yeah, yeah.

Erik Neff, Windy, 2015 Oil on wood, 5.5x6.5”

Photos By Erik Neff, Images courtesy of artist

Claira Heitzenrater


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Have you considered the more organic movement that’s in your paintings? Have you considered constructing things that twist and turn?

In terms of your palette, it’s very sophisticated, individual to each piece. Is that something you develop ahead of time, or does it develop organically as you work?

I’ve done that in the form of the materials. I’m always fascinated with the material, that it drives the work. I mean, it’s like language again: you speak a certain language and you express thoughts differently. I’ve been making some work using plaster, which I discovered maybe three years ago? I always knew about plaster, but I discovered a sense of plaster—a “where have you been all my life” kind of thing. It has this wonderful paint-like quality. Of course it freezes solid pretty quickly… So, these wood things begin to develop a skin that didn’t have anything to do with paint color. Then I was using graphite and things like that. There are some that I’ve wrapped in canvas: blocky forms that I would staple canvas onto, and then plaster over the canvas. So you’ve got this skin-like material that’s not what it was before, and that’s another jumping-off place.

It develops. It’s a very intuitive palette. It’s not about those kinds of pragmatic decisions that one makes in the setting up of a painting. It becomes something felt, and you have an emotional, psychological connection to it, a spatial, navigational connection, as well. They’re pretty simple paintings in terms of foreground, background, and middle ground. Overall, it’s a very interior, internalized palette. But it’s defined by that sense of projection of what I think the thing is about.

It definitely sounds like they have a sense of surrogacy. Yes! That’s a good word.

Erik Neff, Quarry 2015 Oil on canvas, 72”x66”

Are titles difficult for you to come up with?

It’s very important to me. I can’t leave a thing untitled unless I just really don’t have a clue…. I usually have some sort of clue. I try to keep them very simple. That’s my one literary poetic license. I want the title to complement the piece, but not be a footnote to what the piece is about. A lot of times my game also is to try to come up with one-word titles, the most descriptive word I can think of that fits the mood, or the psychological quality of the piece.

Erik Neff’s work can be viewed at erikneffpainting.com

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In your artist statement you mention that you look at your pieces “like abstract realities, both ambiguous and evocative of human experience.” Are you influenced at all by your environment and the experiences you have in your own life? Yes. They very much come out of my life, or through process. They’re funny in the way that every artist’s painting, on some level, is somehow autobiographical. You can’t extricate yourself from the process of inflecting some of yourself in a piece, no matter what. I mean a big blanket statement: no matter what the imagery might be, or the mode of the imagery, it’s very hard to divorce yourself from that, unless you’re dealing with complete randomness and haphazardness, and even that implies an autobiographical decision. The things influencing my paintings are things I’m thinking about; they’re memories. A painting becomes evocative of something that feels real to me. There’s a psychological resonance that feeds back into it… a state of being, or quality of existence.

Are you influenced at all by aerial landscapes? I notice while looking at your work that, in some ways, they resemble those sorts of images.

It’s not something I consciously think about. Someone mentioned something about a medieval village—that they have a quality of the construction of one, the way the paintings come about. I suppose that’s part of the process of building the configuration of shapes, of nudge and wiggle and push against each other.

What sorts of tools do you rely on for the techniques utilized in your paintings?

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Erik Neff Very basic painter’s techniques. One thing that I use a lot, in conjunction with brushes of varying sizes, are drywall taping knives. I have a twelve or fourteen-inch one I use for bigger paintings. They go down to a little one-inch putty knife. I’ll sometimes use old-fashioned, traditional knives. So that, and rags and my fingers, and whatever it takes. The physicality of the paint is very important to me, so I’m not a glazer. I might glaze just by scraping. Sometimes there’s a little trail of paint that gets covered over by another bit of paint. But I’m not a careful painter. I’m very direct, and my sensibility is heavy-handed. Pushing around paint is important.

You can see the movement within the piece, and there’s a certain emotionality attached to the heavy-handedness, too. Are there certain emotions attached to different kinds of mark making, or do you get to work without thinking about any of that? Both. It is about getting it in, and getting it to work, and being very direct and honest, and trying to be authentic. Then there are times when I want to be scumbling. You use a brush that’s pretty worn down, in most cases, and push paint around. So you’re actually pushing paint away, pushing it off, scraping it off, to reveal the translucent quality, even though it’s using opacity.

You also use multiple kinds of materials in your work, such as plaster, wax, paint, et cetera. How do you think that contributes to the overall success of the work?

Each medium that you’re using is like thinking in another language, the idea that you express your thoughts slightly differently with different language structure, and so forth. For example, in printmaking you’re doing something that I always had trouble with, which is the indirectness of printmaking, which used to bug me. I really liked doing drypoint and things that were hands-on, but there’s still this remove from the experience to the final image. That’s just something you don’t do in painting, and that’s different information. Whether you’re using oil paint versus acrylic, or watercolor versus pastel: all these paints have a different touch and they give a different sort of tactile feedback. They also have different physical properties, whether they drip onto the floor or whether they puddle or run. You know, they do different things. That makes you think differently, you know?

(Previous Page)Erik Neff, Installation shot, Touch: Between Image and Surface, 2016

Photos By Erik Neff, Images courtesy of the artist

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Yeah, for sure. So, how do you know when a painting is finished? Oh, that’s the big question for any painter. Julian Stanczak was my professor in Cleveland and he used to tell people when they were done, instead of you shackling yourself to a painting and just killing it and killing it. He’d say, “Make another one, you’re done with this one,” even if you couldn’t tell yourself. His description was that the painting doesn’t need you anymore. It’s kicked you out. You might as well make another one.

I like that analogy.

There is that sense that there’s no more that you can do without completely making another painting all over again. That is something that is always a bit of a quandary for artists. There are all these false starts and stops, where you think something is done, and it isn’t. Or, sometimes conversely, you think something’s not done and you come back the next day to finish it and you’re like, “Oh, well that’s really interesting. That’s a cool painting; I made that?” It’s partly that gut feeling you have when it feels like something, and you can’t think of anything else that you would do to it that would make it any better, or make it any worse. It somehow feels like it’s alive now in some funny, metaphysical way.

Is Philip Guston’s late work a big influence on yours?

It is! It is, yeah. I’ve always loved Guston, and some of that is about sensibility, and I think that art always influences art. As an artist, or just as a human being, you’re always looking outside yourself for some sort of identification, that funny correlation. I’ve always felt empathy for Guston’s line as a draftsman, especially, and his touch. That’s something I’ve always felt a kinship with. I have all

Erik Neff, Tourist (verso) 2015 Oil on wood 11.5”x12”x3”

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of these painter heroes, especially (Giorgio) Morandi and Guston, and it has nothing to do with palette. It’s more about the touch, honestly. I love George Braque’s late work, his landscapes, his palette: just incredible. So I love all of those painters’ painters, but I have sort of a heavy hand, a clunky touch that I see in other artists, and I feel a kinship with that. He’s [Guston’s] also just a terrific thinker- a heavy, heavy thinker. He’s very articulate and eloquent in the way he talked about the process. I’m always filled with self-doubt. That’s why I have this process of constantly scraping things out. I want to be as direct and honest as I can. But Guston was a tremendous thinker.

So, speaking of Guston’s use of line, what role does line play in your pieces? When I’m drawing, I’m all about line, as opposed to form against form. With the paintings, sometimes I’ll use a small brush and just start making rough forms about where I want to go. Sometimes it’s about one passage meeting another passage, but sometimes that comes about after line has already been introduced. I do conceive of them largely in a linear way, actually. In the process the two happen simultaneously, but line is the primary thing. One of the things as a painter is the delight in losing a line, when you have a sense of a line and then it’s just gone. So there are always those painter’s games: the line coming back and then disappearing again.

I think without the game, we might all go crazy.

Yeah, absolutely. Painting is such a weird juggling act. There are so many things going on. Physically, you’re moving all over the place, but also you’re entertaining all of these different thoughts. Negotiation and affirmation, you know. It’s almost like a dream state if you’re really in it. It’s a funny mix of mental activity.

Erik Neff’s work can be viewed at erikneffpainting.com

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Vessels and

Containment:

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an Interview with Kim Cridler

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Kim Cridler is a sculptor and public works artist

who resides in Rockford, Michigan. Cridler attended the University of Michigan, earned an MFA in Metals from the State University of New York at New Paltz,

and studied at Skowhegan School of Sculpture and

Painting. Although trained as a metalsmith, she creates large-scale sculptures that utilize vessels as a

platform to explore the material, process, and history of objects. Cridler’s highly acclaimed sculptures are assembled with steel wire to create large, intricate containers. The objects are functionless

concepts. She has designed public art pieces across the country, including a pedestrian bridge in Phoenix,

Arizona and decorative grating for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Aside from her studio practice,

Cridler is also an educator who has taught at the

University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Michigan, and San Diego State University, to name a few. I visited Kim Cridler at her studio in Rockford,

where we discussed her influences, development, and artistic journey. 083

Kim Cridler, Mamaroneck 2014 painted steel, aluminum, granite, concrete, stainless steel Arch 14’4” High X 28”X10’ Wide On Plaza 38’X23’ Fabricated by KC Fabrications

Photographed by Peter R. Peirce

physically, but work metaphorically to depict her


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Kim Cridler that home. He drowned when he was about eighteen, but I got to know this guy who I never would have known, through his workmanship.

Nothing was valuable but everything was enshrined with this sense of being part of the story in this family. A lot of family identity was recorded in these embedded objects. I just thought that was marvelous and magical.

PA: In your artist statement you talk about how you found a sense of belonging in objects rather than in photographs. KC: Yeah, I think of it as this sort of Midwestern legacy. I grew up in a house that was German-Dutch and thrift was everywhere; everything was saved. I was surrounded and was embedded in this place where everything was being recycled, reused, or repaired. Through these objects I got to know family members, through the things that they made. There was a high value placed on being thrifty, but there was also a high value placed on being inventive and making stuff. I grew up in my great-aunt’s home. She had carpet that was woven out of her family’s clothing. It was this horrible, ugly, striped, rag carpet that lined two rooms in this big house, and it was clothes that they re-used, which was bizarre. The house was full of Victorian domestic objects with a lot of ornamentation. None of it was valuable, but it was super-thrifty so you would have an ornate carved settee on this god-awful striped carpet. There was pride in the idea that, “Look what we made out of waste.”

It sounds like a hodgepodge of things that may not have been beautiful, but every object had a story.

There was always a story. The stories made people alive and they made them real. My great-aunt had a brother, Ernest, and we had pieces of furniture that he made in

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Kim Cridler’s work can be viewed at kimcridler.com

There is a whole line of materialist thinking about the souvenir. It’s all about going to a place and having an experience and bringing back an object that is somehow embedded with this physical, sensual, experiential thing. Sometimes you hear a song and it directly transports you back to a certain time in your life. Once in a while I’ll catch a smell of something and it will do the same! For me, objects do this all the time. It’s almost embarrassing. If other people could see what you felt about something, you might blush. There’s so much information embedded in objects, it’s like a library of knowledge just waiting to be explored! Your gaze rests upon it and it takes you back to this chapter or experience in your life. And objects can play important roles in peoples’ lives. We had a samovar in our house and there was this story that went with it. My great-aunt and her business associate went to the Soviet Union, right after the revolution, and brought home a tiny gold and ruby Easter egg, and this samovar. I thought the samovar was super-cool and I thought, “I’m going to go study Russian history.” When I made that realization at school, that I could study the making of those kinds of objects that can become a receiver of both personal and cultural meaning, I thought that was fantastic. Material culture is a study of how objects and making, designing, architecture, and form are completely bonded and co-evolved with human experience and human culture. If that had been around when I was a student, I probably would have done that, because it talks about all the things that I talk about and care about as a maker. It also opened up this arena where it was actually okay to talk about a manufactured coffee cup, and it’s okay to talk about a bowl and a wheel. All of a sudden that was legitimate intellectual discourse, which was awesome.

Many times metal and metalsmithing is associated with smaller scale work. What led to your exploration of larger work? Do you feel you would have come to create your large vessel works if had you studied Sculpture instead of Metals?

I took a sculpture class at the University of Michigan and felt like I did not belong there.

I felt like all my ideas were sort of bandied about and thrashed in a way that had more to do with my gender than my abilities. So I went to where it was comfortable. In the Kim Cridler, Urn with Bees 2016 steel, bronze 70" x 35"

Courtesy Lisa Sette Gallery, Phoenix Arizona

Being drawn to objects is a common thread among many metalsmiths. For example, my professor has objects all over her house from trips she and her family have taken. For her, these objects hold memories, whereas other people may use photographs.


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metals department there were hand tools, there wasn’t the threat of danger around anything. The formats were super intimate and they were familiar to me. For example, the spoon. You could spend time and cast an ingot, which is exciting. Then you can forge the ingot using fire and hammers. There is a skillful application of process and in the end you have a spoon, this intensely intimate object that you’re going to put in your mouth. I thought that was powerful, but not in the big, heroic, powerful, sculpture kind of way.

Metals carries a sense of excitement, but perhaps without some of the expectations you might find in sculpture.

Yeah, of course. Certainly some of it traces back to its origins or being intellectually superior, because it comes from this grand tradition of sculpture.

Your work can very easily be viewed and discussed as sculpture.

I know, but there’s also the stigma about it because, to participate in a discipline, you have to be responsible to the history of the discipline. I feel pretty well-equipped to talk about craft and decorative arts and I actually think there’s tremendous value in it, and a subversive strength in the idea of making things that accommodate people. Craft is about empathy. Craft is about creating objects that follow a continuity, that follow a tradition, but respond to current needs. There’s really not a lot of the new or innovative in craft. It’s more about long traditions but I don’t think there’s actually that much originality in the world. It’s about rediscovering what we know and applying it to new situations.

What I love about craft is it doesn’t suggest that we’re here to build a new universe. It suggests that we are here to encapsulate what we know from the past and apply it to the future in a way to further the human experience, in a positive and maybe even comforting way. If you could make something that is beautiful, that allows someone the experience of pleasure, wouldn’t you choose to do that?

You talk about finding pleasure in beauty, through materials and through well-made things.

When I go to New York I go to the Met and I stare at these old things, and they’re amazing to me. They reveal themselves over and over again and they reveal the hands of the maker. I relate to this object that was made hundreds of years ago by a stranger, and I can relate to it because I’m so fascinated by the combination of processed material and meaning that is embedded in an object.

Kim Cridler, Witness Tree 2016 steel, mother of pearl 58" high x 56" x 6" deep

Kim Cridler’s work can be viewed at kimcridler.com


Peter Antor

Kim Cridler

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Kim Cridler’s work can be viewed at kimcridler.com

Kim Cridler, Witness Tree 2016 steel, mother of pearl 58" high x 56" x 6" deep

Courtesy Lisa Sette Gallery, Phoenix Arizona

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I am very fascinated with the process and materials, as well. The displays the works are hung and mounted on also interest me, because they are also made by hand. Yeah, because it changes your experience. I talk about beauty and pleasure as this empathetic connecting, but I do believe that there is a moral core to this notion of beauty. Elaine Scarry describes it wonderfully in her lovely book, On Beauty and Being Just. She writes something like, ‘When you experience something really beautiful, you are for a moment no longer at the center of your own private drama. Forgetting who insulted you and what your girlfriend is doing, and you forgot the laundry, and that your dog just ate all the cookies and, for a moment, you’re pushed aside from yourself’. She calls it ‘lateral displacement’ or something. It’s almost like meditation. You forgot about all your internal conversation and you are just experiencing this beautiful thing. You’re no longer really important but it feels good. It’s one of those few moments in the world where you have this lateral displacement and it feels nice.

That is something I strive for in my work: hopefully to get the viewer to get lost, even for a little bit, in the work; to create something that triggers a memory or sparks a daydream. It happens to me all the time, through beautiful art, or it can happen through everyday objects that remind me of something from the past.

At its heart, art should be about communication. Right now it’s fashionable to think about it exercising ideas about certain philosophical dialogues but, having said all of that, when I was a student I wasn’t really sure of any of these ideas. “Why are you doing this and why is it important?” That’s a huge question and it’s almost unanswerable. If you asked me the same question today, or if what I’m currently working on is any good, I don’t think I would have an answer.

Yes, it seems like an easy question, but; it’s not.

When I finished grad school I still wasn’t sure that these things in my heart, that I wanted to be true, were true. Such as, is beauty important? Is pleasure important? Is it worthwhile to make things to make people feel connected? I got my big re-education when I went to teach, because I found a wealth of knowledge I didn’t know existed. I found all this text about beauty and how it’s legitimate. I didn’t know. I didn’t even think to look.

Can you talk about the use of vessel forms in your work?

It’s this universal symbol. I’ll admit that I went to it because we had them in our house and I thought they were cool. I went to graduate school and began creating rings, then lockets, and it was during this time I began working with steel. It was a pretty formative experience for me. I just thought the material itself was beautiful. I was making one ring a day because I was super fearful of failure and I felt like

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if I made something quickly and it was a failure it wouldn’t be such a bad deal. After making rings and lockets my professor suggested, “Why don’t you try making a vessel?” I had all those vessels in my home, like the samovar that influenced me to go to school, so it just made sense. Objects have more to offer than their functional utility; there is deeper meaning beyond how they work physically. Vessels historically serve many needs. They are containers for what is precious, like grain, or wine. They serve as containers for the bodies of the dead. Vessels exist at every size, they function to contain a great array of things, but they also serve as rich symbolic moments; they become symbols of knowledge and collection and containment. They separate what we hold dear from everything else that exists in the world. Growing up on the farm, I spent a lot of time in gravity bins full of wheat. It was just a big container full of grain. The physical experience of jumping into a giant bin of grain: well, it was fun as a kid, because it is warm and it smells like the field and the sun and there’s lots of bugs in there. But it was also a big container full of seeds, which symbolized the both the beginning and end of life. So I started making vessels that didn’t work physically, and started to work metaphorically.

That helps put your work into perspective. What led to your use of steel over other types of metals?

I started working with steel because there were rolls of binding wire around and it was beautiful and inexpensive and, when you polish it, it has a beautiful gray color.

Many artists employ steel in many different ways. The way you use it is very elegant. Can you talk more about your exploration of the material?

I started working with wire and then, really quickly, it just went into large-scale steel. I was welding it, but I still didn’t have a really smart idea about how to use the material.

I feel I work the same way. I can only design about ten percent of a piece it before I have to start making it, and physically hold it in my hands to know what materials will work best.

I know, which is why I’m such a sucker for the experience of making things. I know that there are all these wonderful ways to create objects that are faster and more efficient, and rely on computer technology. I know it’s not for me because I still rely on the experience of making and learning through failing. My husband is an industrial designer, so he looks at what I do and rolls his eyes and he’s like, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing it that way. Always so slow’, and, ‘Could you be any slower?’ The one thing he keeps telling me is, ‘If you’re going to do this, just fail faster,just find a way to get out of your own way and do it without all the hesitation and anxiety and tearing your heart out. Just do it and get it over with so you can get onto the one that’s going to be more successful.’

Kim Cridler’s work can be viewed at kimcridler.com

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Talk about the role of scale in your work. In metals, the size of the studios and the tools can dictate the size of the work. My studio is not very large, great for jewelry work but not for larger work. Right. In a metals department, you could have a jeweler’s bench. There are expectations about the scale you’re going to be working. I was the kid in drawing class that couldn’t keep the drawing on the paper. I probably should have stayed in sculpture or architecture or something more high-minded. I went to craft where I felt like I belonged, and things just kept getting bigger. I was making vessels and, as I said before, vessels are like a thimble or a water tank: they’re every size. I was attracted to the idea of creating work that was life sized, so I started making vessels that were human-sized. I was influenced a little bit by the idea of burial urns, but (also) that this vessel, metaphorically, could contain us at any size.

Can you talk about how you began making public art?

It was an accident. I am a loner and I don’t like to be around people, and I get shy and nervous. However, it’s quite clear to me that being a part of a community gets you places that you can’t get on your own. After leaving graduate school I moved to LA thinking I was going to be an artist. I got a studio and started meeting people through shared communal spaces. Avenues opened, and I started showing more work. I eventually moved to Phoenix, where I found work at a community art center as an assistant curator, and I started serving on boards and committee panels to choose art. This was in the late ‘90s and every state project that was built - such as a highway, or a new courthouse, or anything in the infrastructure—had to include a percent of the budget for art. I got to know the public art coordinator for the city of Mesa because they were planning a new building. One day someone said, ‘Why don’t you apply?’ My response was, ‘I’m a jeweler/metalsmith.’ They responded, ‘We don’t think of you like that.’ I can’t tell you how many hundreds of public art opportunities I have applied for and not gotten, after that. This was the first

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Kim Cridler’s work can be viewed at kimcridler.com

Kim Cridler

thing I applied for and I got it, which never happens, right? Of course, then I had the really incorrect impression that you could just apply for these things and get them, because they’re actually really hard to get. It was a different time, then.

Now it’s a whole different ballgame. A lot of great state public art programs have been completely gutted. I did a project in Wisconsin right before Scott Walker came into office, and now it’s gone. The program had been around for twenty-eight years. The Wisconsin Arts Board has been folded into Wisconsin Tourism and they gutted the percent for arts programs. It’s just gone. On a positive note, there has been a great resurgence and interest in craft, and the Center for Creativity in Craft and Design, in the North Carolina area, is wonderful. They have really done a lot to put craft on the map as an academic subject, including the Journal of Modern Craft. Public art: the root of it was I met people that did it, I got to be around them, it was an open time financially to bring new people in, so I got a job to design a pedestrian overpass. I had zero experience. They were having mentoring programs for public art and you could work with a public artist, and it was a very happy period for public art. I loved it because, like I said, I’m shy, I’m a little bit introverted, but I had to go out and work with engineers and bridge designers and structural fabricators on this project.

I saw images of the Grovers Pedestrian Bridge on your website. It’s very beautiful.

I was hands-off in the fabrication of the bridge but I got to design it. It was wonderful because it wasn’t about me and it wasn’t about what I was trying to do. It was about me working with people in the community and trying to assess how their community might be enriched and made more comfortable and more beautiful with a public infrastructure. Which, if you think about craft, is embedded in that notion of ‘let’s make this a nicer experience for everyone’.

Kim Cridler, Basin with Pomegranates 2016 steel, bronze, bees wax, garnets 24" high x 36" x 29"

Courtesy Lisa Sette Gallery, Phoenix Arizona

Peter Antor


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Gregory Jacobsen’s Loveable Ugliness:

hicago-based artist Gregory Jacobsen boasts a wide-range of talents; as one

of the primary forces behind the theatrical musical group “Lovely Little Girls” Jacobsen demonstrates a

renaissance aptitude for the myriad factors involved in making a multidimensional art smorgasbord,

to the writing of lyrics and writhing of performances. He is best known for his luscious oil paintings,

which synthesize his sensitive and graceful approach to paint application with ludicrously abject

subject matter. Jacobsen apes traditional painting

conceits, creating images which draw upon and subvert the conventional painting genres of portrait,

still-life, and landscape. Misshapen, dwarfish figures wear the dresses of precious little girls;

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Gregory Jacobsen, Heroically and Glamorously Engaged in his Life’s Work 2016

Image courtesy of Gregory Jacobsen

from the sculpting and painting of props and masks,


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a pile of fluorescent, beautifully-painted offal and sex toys sports delicate ribbons and bows; incongruous, mutant anuses sprout fields of tiny, jaunty flags. Even the titles seem an affront to decency; a few

examples include Decorative Decapitated Head

with Fuckable Neck Hole and Petite Vulva Nose with Sunburn. This content might make us envision Jacobsen as a leering iconoclast, a gutter-punk who never grew out of a “gross-out” phase. My visit to Jacobsen’s studio revealed him to be a thoughtful

and dignified man, one who is somehow capable of finding the poetry that lies within these objectively repulsive exaggerated subjects.


t’s extremely interesting to hear Jacobsen’s thoughts regarding the intersection of his varied bodies of work. Do his performative proclivities spill over into his gallery presentation? The answer to this question would strike a theme central to Jacobsen’s artistic process; his absolute respect for his paintings and his belief that they need no distractions, nothing, as he repeatedly says, “gimmicky.” When he shows his work, he seeks the most neutral presentation possible. He says it flatly, “Putting it in a more neutral space makes the work more effective. Especially in galleries. Putting it in a neutral space attracts more people, puts it more on a pedestal and makes people take it seriously, whereas in a junky or an installation space people can more easily write it off. The sort of imagery I have, putting it in a pristine context makes it more effective… Just very simple, black frames. You want them to be taken very seriously, to have them be very neutral.”

being Cezanne!” Jacobsen crows in pride about a beautiful still-life titled Iridescent Placenta with Four Turquoise Dildos. Asked if the titular four dildos, painted radiant and jewel-like within the placental muck and murk, are referenced from an actual object, Jacobsen explains that they were not but that this fictiveness has a certain virtue. “If I tried to paint that [from reference] I’d probably try to paint it realistically, and when I try to paint like that I get really bored and it never really looks very effective.” He continues to discuss the process of balancing an image. “A lot of times I’ll be working at [a painting] and then I’ll look at it and I’ll think ‘that’s really contrived, really too stylized’ so then I’ll pull it more into a naturalistic state. This one is successful because it is not too stylized or too bland. “

tention to the fantastic network of visible brush strokes structuring the forms within a painting. “It mutes it, while the gloss really brings out the details. As far as varnish goes, in proper gallery lighting I look at these paintings and it is like, ‘Holy Moly!’ It always does look a lot better.”

“See, I just LOVE the bluntness of that! This is almost like a form of medical theatre. This was all set up for the photo, so it does have this very controlled artifice. If this had a gradient background and maybe some trees around it, then it would be a totally different message, whereas this [horrible image of a diseased man] is just confusing. You look at it like, ‘what is even going on,’ and then you think about this photo actually being set up and this sad fucking guy sitting here to get his photo taken. A lot of people respond to the landscape-tree stuff,” Jacobsen said, referring to a frequent compositional element he employs. “But there’s a reason why I like this so much, there’s no… no easy entrance for interpretation. Iridescent Placenta with Four Turquoise Dildos,” he repeated, emphasizing each syllable with a rhythmic, nursery-rhyme force.

The subject matter in Jacobsen’s paintings is frequently of the glistening, oozing, and slimy variety; likewise, his canvases shine with glimmering, glossy topcoats. When asked if this has always been the case, he explains. “I tried matte and these strokes never come through,” directing my at-

Jacobsen elaborates on the subject of lighting. “I experimented with tons of [studio] lighting over the years; at some point I had [my studio] bright as hell, and then I’d bring paintings into daylight and they’d just be gray. If it was regular ambient light it would just look like slate gray or something… very weird. That was when I started with oils; light works with oils in such a different way than acrylic.” Does acrylic paint factor at all into Jacobsen’s current practice? He describes pulling them out again to make some minor works, “but after a couple years of working with oils it was like, ‘auhhhgggh.’”

Many of Jacobsen’s paintings are what would traditionally be understood as still-life. But is there an actual, physical still life that he works from, some pile of trash rotting away somewhere? “Sometimes. I did at some point, a few years ago, and I took photos for reference. I want to do it again. Pretty much each painting starts with me working abstractly and then pulling stuff out of it. I used the reference photos from that shoot for form ideas and depth ideas and how something might sit somewhere.” We were looking at one of his favorite paintings. “That’s me

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Gregory Jacobsen

Gregory Jacobsen’s work can be viewed at gregoryjacobsen.com and zggallery.com/jacobsen

The importance of balance between stylization and naturalism reminds me of Susan Sontag’s claim, “the greatest artists attain a sublime neutrality.” I ask Jacobsen about this notion and whether it applies to his work. “Well, hmm. It is more so that… I like where the artist’s intention is really confused. For example, this…” Jacobsen reaches for a thick medical text, bristling with bookmarks, on the subject of dermatological diseases, and flips it open to a photograph of a man covered in warty protuberances.

Given that we are looking at a painting featuring conspicuous sticky patches of what appears to be mucus or semen, I ask Jacobsen for his feelings regarding the use of abject materials in painting. Is he ever tempted to employ non-traditional organic fluids in his process? Why paint it when you could just ejaculate on the painting yourself? He showed an immediate revulsion. “Noooo, because it’s not… it’s not interesting any more. It seems very gimmicky to do something like that and it takes a person out of falling into the reality of the painting. It’s like in film-making when the camera draws attention to itself and its movements: that’s the analog to me.”

Gregory Jacobsen, Scavenging Party Oil on Panel 24”x18”

Image courtesy of Gregory Jacobsen

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Shane Eugene Allen

Gregory Jacobsen Jacobsen speaks of his work with intelligence and selfreflection. I ask how important the theoretical aspect of art is to his painting. “I was very involved in it in school but, at this point, not so much… Maybe Susan Sontag? It’s definitely something I should read more. I haven’t been into it much. Once you approach something so theoretically you almost turn into an illustrator. I would rather figure it out afterwards. At this point, I’ve been so deep into it that I fall into it and figure it out afterwards. What I’m always trying to get forth is ambiguity: ambiguity of intent and meaning and psychological ambiguity, too, towards the viewer and towards the paintings.”

Jacobsen’s work evinces a real love of the voluptuous, sensuous quality of language; the titles he uses for his paintings and exhibits, as well as the lyrics he employs in his performances, are uniquely unwieldy, elaborate, and tumescent. Has he experimented with more direct inclusion of words, using phrases within the picture plane itself? “I used to put that in more often,” he explains, “these weird little phrases that I’d constructed, but I found that there was a trope of how words are used in paintings and I found it boring and distracting. I did a painting with a lot of figures and one had underwear with the word ‘tilapia’ on it. I was unsure about actually putting it in there, but I thought it was too funny to resist. ‘Tilapia’ is a funny word; it was on the butt, like Juicy sweatpants. ‘Tilapia’ to me is this very fancy-sounding word but also a trashy word, like having Juicy on your ass. And tilapia is this fish everyone is eating but it’s a garbage fish. “When I first started working I really tried to integrate all these things I was interested in but I feel it is a lot more effective when things are isolated. It’s not relying on these gimmicky sort of things. As for the way that I name my paintings, well, the feeling of the words relates a lot to the feeling of the painting. Iridescent Placenta with Four Turquoise Dildos. The description is so scientific but also absurd.” Again Jacobsen voices his aspiration to balance or reconcile contradictory concepts. “The words are so clunky as well.” He repeats the title yet again, with obvious pleasure.

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Gregory Jacobsen’s work can be viewed at gregoryjacobsen.com and zggallery.com/jacobsen

Many of these drawings utilize a compositional device similar to a comic book, with each page broken into a series of panels, each featuring a distinct and apparently unrelated image. Confronted with this pointed lack of linear storytelling, we briefly return to the topic of narrative. “Composing it like this, with unrelated images, you are going to naturally construct your own narrative or your own relationship.” Comparing these drawings and the intersection between drawing and painting, Jacobsen reveals, “I have tried to do paintings based on these drawings and I was only successful once. Whenever I’ll start painting one of these I’ll go, ‘boy, this is going really well and is fun’ but at some point I’ll just get bored. I’ll want to get deeper into painterliness and form and mass. If you make a painting of this, you need to make everything really flat and that’ll be the most effective. Once you introduce volume it’d be one of those paintings you’d look at and say, ‘why did you spend so long on this dumb image?’ At least with the drawings, you look at these and, you know: at least it was fast!” Originally from New Jersey, Jacobsen has spent two decades living and working in Chicago. Given the unique place Chicago holds in the history of American painting, as the center of Chicago Imagism, it seems prudent to ask Jacobsen about his relationship to that tradition. In a much older interview Jacobsen seemed dismissive of the Imagists, and I’m interested to know if his opinions have developed or changed. They have. “I really do love the Imagists. At one time I did try to distance myself from them and I did think they were painting just a little too cute but, now, after learning more about them, I love that stuff.

Gregory Jacobsen, Snout Thing 2016 Oil on Panel 6”x6”

Images courtesy of Gregory Jacobsen

Considering how distinctly styled and individuated Jacobsen’s painted characters are, and how similar many of his vignettes are, it is striking to me that no greater overarching narrative has developed through the body of his work. I ask him for his opinion regarding the narrative quality of his work, particularly this absence of a grand narrative. “I never had interest in having this narrative flowing through the paintings… There is a loose narrative to all the paintings but not necessarily a very specific one. When I’m painting a character I am trying to do something I haven’t done before… I am always trying to make it different. “

If Jacobsen’s current work is primarily conceived independent of theoretic considerations, how about historical considerations? Is he at all preoccupied with his position in the history of art? He offers a qualified affirmation. “I take so long to do stuff is because I’m always trying to make this big iconic image; I just cannot escape that kind of cliché.” Jacobsen produces a box and opens it, revealing a large stack of ink drawings. Their simplicity of execution and stark, graphic nature contrast intensely with the elaborate complication of his paintings. As he leafs through this dense pile of work he continues, “I do this black-and-white stuff, which is really nice because it frees me up from trying to make The Big American painting. Just farting it out. They’re very successful because you can tell I’m enjoying doing it and it’s just mind-fart. There’s no preplanning or reworking through any of these.”


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Chicago has finally re-embraced it after twenty years of shunning it. I guess that in that old interview I wanted to be taken more seriously, and I thought the Imagists were intentionally crass, whereas I really wanted to have more depth to my work, to have more of an ambiguous sensibility. Now, over the years, looking at Karl Wirsum and Jim Nutt, their ambiguity and strangeness is really embedded in the forms. I just thought it was goofy and now I look at them and think that’s the strangest, non-intuitive, non-ideomatic form I’ve ever seen. And those characters [Wirsum] makes are very vulgar in this way that is very deceiving.”

literal. They might not be able to explain it but they relate to this painting in a certain way and it makes them feel better. One thing with Instagram that I’ve noticed is, I get these random comments from ‘normal’ people, people you’d expect to not even want to look at the work. On some grotesque painting, some college girl or someone will comment, ‘Me when I wake up in the morning.’ People are relating to the work and I’m happy that what I’m painting isn’t just this mockery of ugliness or freakishness. I’m putting something into the work of everyone’s insecurities, but still making it very loveable.“

Gregory Jacobsen, Steak and Iridescent Placenta with Four Turquoise Dildos Oil on Linen 14”x18”

Gregory Jacobsen’s work can be viewed at gregoryjacobsen.com and zggallery.com/jacobsen

Given the stomach-curdling, retch-inducing, body-horror content of most of Jacobsen’s work, who would actually want it in their house? Why paint this stuff, anyway? “That’s what my mother asks,” Jacobsen laughs. “People do need this sort of thing, relating to something that isn’t so

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500 Pound Eggshells:

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An Interview With Matt Wedel

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Navigating the winding back roads of Athens, Ohio, my GPS announces I have arrived at my destination. A sense of urgency overtakes me as I do not see the residence of Matt Wedel. I am relieved once my eyes rest upon the sight of towering, brilliantly colored ceramic heads and floral covered rock formations, littering the yard in front of a beige garage. I have arrived.

Matt Wedel creates sculptures, often larger than life, in clay. He began working with clay as a child; his father was also a ceramics artist. He relies mostly on intuition to guide his process. He allows himself a sense of play within the vocabulary that he knows. Wedel is influenced by the idea of landscape, the traditions of clay, and references from art history. Photo By Ashley Bevington

Matt Wedel was born in Palisade, Colorado, received his BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005, and his MFA from California State University in 2007. Wedel recently had a show at his gallery, the LA Louver titled Peaceable Fruit. Wedel has exhibited in solo and group shows internationally, and his works are in numerous public collections worldwide. Matt Wedel, In His Studio 2016

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AB: What was it like having a studio potter as a father? MW: It was limiting because my understanding of art was from the history of vessels and ceramics. I wasn’t really exposed to contemporary art until I went to school, so all I knew really was local, outsider artists and the history of ceramics. I had no idea about what was actually going on. Once I went to college I had to rebuild, start from the beginning again as an artist. At the same time I had been exposed to this history that my peers didn’t really know anything about. That gave me a unique perspective. I became interested in ceramic sculpture as a place to begin as an artist, because I couldn’t really connect with other materials. With a production potter as a father it was like, “this is how you do a handle”. Their livelihood revolves around refining a craft. Someone comes in and they want their signature handle. There were these really concrete rules that made me think, “I can’t make this handle so therefore I’m not a good artist; I’m not a good craftsman”. Once I began school I started to realize, there is no particular way to make a handle.

Has having a studio potter as a father influenced your dedication to use strictly clay for your sculptures?

I’ve developed a fascination and connection to the history of ceramics that my work is relating to, or is continuing to develop, or interacting with. Growing up with the influence of my father is a big reason why. Also, having teachers like Kristen Morgin: her work didn’t need to be fired. It was made with clay, glue, tar, paint, and all kinds of stuff. You could break it and it didn’t matter. The work still functioned. I was responding to her by making these objects that were fired and they couldn’t have cracks. They stopped working if they were cracked. Maybe it’s a response to her work.

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Matt Wedel’s artwork can be viewed at mattwedel.com

Matt Wedel

Could you describe your process? By working on multiple pieces at a time, the first piece will inform the next piece, and that piece will inform the next, and so on. They grow together. Usually I’ll start by creating these platforms, or some kind of context for something else to exist in. Earlier it was these faceted rock structures. I wouldn’t have any rules, I would just start making them and once I would get to a point, I would try to use them as a place for something else to exist upon. As those started to become repetitive, they’ve become more of this plinth structure. At one point I removed the base completely and what remained was this flower structure, and now objects are starting to exist on top of this simplified geometric plinth structure. First I make the base and then respond with form, and then respond with some kind of additional layer, and finally redirect that form with the surface. Then it gets fired, and then I’m redirecting the piece with color. It’s always this idea of reinterpreting the piece. If I just make one piece at a time and it fails, that’s a big deal. But, if I make twenty pieces, then not only can I play around with color, I might get one piece that works. I don’t want to be worried if I make the right decision with color. I just want to be freer and trust my intuition at the time. That’s also why I work multiple pieces: it allows me to be more playful, color-wise and form-wise, and not have them be so premeditated.

Is there a symbolism to the faceted rock flower formation?

They started as a way to try a new method of working, to force myself away from abstraction, as a way of building up a vocabulary. Then it became an idea of landscape, an idea of culture, of figure, and the faceted structure became the symbol of ground, of land, of platform. They are symbols of these flowering landscapes. The figures became these archetypes of the idea of the figure, idea of person, of Matt Wedel, Installation View of Sheep’s Head 2013 Ceramic, Dimensions Variable

Photo by Jeff McLane

Ashley Bevington


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culture. Initially, the geometric things were specifically a rock. I had seen abstraction as this thing that was keeping me from what I was actually trying to say. Now it’s starting to develop as I understand how to sculpt, allowing that element to come in, to expand on the works, rather than being an impediment. There’s something to being able to make before you can make abstract work, in terms of why it’s abstract or it’s abstracted from something. I didn’t have that something I was abstracting from. I think that’s why it was confused in the earlier works.

Do you glaze your work in the kiln?

Within seven months pieces will resolve as a collective, and then I’ll slowly start finishing them. I’m slowing down the drying process right now. I’m changing the way I work so that I can remove as many stresses as possible. I have some lag time in between shows, so I can just make things and put them away and then let them dry on their own. That’s changing a little bit, which might increase the time period of completing the pieces, or even double it.

Is the involved process more important to you than the concept of each piece, or does the process dictate the concept?

How long does it generally take to finish a piece?

Do you have a clear base glaze in which you add different colored stains, in order to achieve your brilliant colors?

No. The concept is important. A lot of times it doesn’t come, or people don’t quite see the intended concept. All this stuff doesn’t really matter. What matters is the piece in the end, which is funny because, as the maker, you spend more time in the process than around your works, but the public spends time viewing the work. It’s a really different understanding of the work between the artist and the viewer. The artist never gets to see their work and the viewer doesn’t get to see the process. I get skeptical if I’m comfortable with the way I’m working. Generally, that means it is time for me to start disrupting the process a little bit, so that I’m not comfortable anymore.

Photo By Jeff McLane, Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA

Generally, I’ll have a basic glaze that I’ll be interested in and then load it up with colored stains, and then use that stain glaze as a base, to then start disrupting with oxides, or mixing it with other glazes. Usually I’ll have around ten glazes that I’ve made. Then I’ll start mixing them together and doing gradients as I’m adding color onto a piece, really intuitively.

The big ones, I load them in the kiln and then glaze them in the kiln. Sometimes, if I have a deadline, I will do the color outside of the kiln. I can lift them in the kiln after I glaze them and then touch up any areas that get rubbed off from the hoist chain. But, sometimes I keep the rubbing: the iron from the chain makes the piece seem handled. Sometimes I like that quality, but sometimes I’m doing surfaces that are a bit more subtle, so I’ll load it in the kiln and then glaze it so I don’t ruin the surface. (With) lustered pieces I’ll glaze in the kiln, since you can’t touch the luster once it’s applied.

Matt Wedel, Installation view of Peacable Fruit 2015 Ceramic

Matt Wedel’s artwork can be viewed at mattwedel.com

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Does the viewer create the concept of your work, or do you create the concept as you make your work? No, I think the viewer brings their own thing, but I think about the works, I think about what I do, I think about what it means. Now there is more of a narrative developing in the work as a whole, more so than previously, where I believed the works were the byproduct of a way of working, or a mentality. They’re still that way. I think they’re a byproduct of decision, of interests, of ways that I work with the material, but now I’m starting to learn from the works that I’ve made and I am starting to curate them a little bit more. It went from not knowing what these objects were saying to having more of an idea of where it’s all coming from.

Do you ever think that you will know exactly where your work comes from, or is not knowing part of the excitement of it?

I think I won’t know it, but I think I’ll always be in this state of not knowing what’s next. As the pieces are made, they start to become clearer. Something that you thought was irrelevant starts coming into your work ten years or twenty years later. But giving yourself room to not know, especially in the beginning, is really important.

You mentioned that you taught for a few years, but now you’re a full time artist. Talk about the transition from professor to artist, mentally and financially.

Sometimes as a young artist there’s an obligation to teach. That’s what you do. You teach so you can afford to make work. It was really nice to be challenged to only teach if I really wanted to teach. In the process of teaching, I found out that I really loved it. It was exciting; this idea of being a technician to help other artists realize their work.

Has having children changed your work? Have you noticed a shift?

When I’m in the studio I work, which is problematic in that sometimes I don’t give myself enough time to just sit in the studio. I have one day a week where I come and just sit. Having a time where I’m in the studio, but not physically working, is important. I can just come in and not feel like I’m being habitual in terms of making things.

Do you think having children has influenced you aesthetically?

In terms of the narrative, yes. I’ve been working with this child figure. Initially it was influenced by cherubs, then it became more of this symbol of humanity, and then it became a symbol of youth. Now it’s becoming more of a symbol of a conflict or a struggle. Having children, miscarriages, and our daughter being born three months premature: dealing with all of that has given me a different sense of the feelings of loss, and a connection to emotion. They’ve had a huge effect on me, and treating my work more playfully.

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Matt Wedel’s artwork can be viewed at mattwedel.com

Matt Wedel An LA Louver video interview starts off with you and your son looking at fungus on a tree. Do you often closely observe objects from nature as a source of inspiration? Sometimes. I garden a lot, now that we have property. Gardening and being around people doing permaculture and sustainable agriculture in the area has influenced some of the symbolism within my work. We’re planting a lot of trees in the back, naturalizing the hillside, and that’s a rich influence to my work.

Do you bring a collection of the specimens that you find into the studio?

We had these geese that had lived here their whole life and they all died within a week. They were these massive birds, yet they only weighed as much as a loaf of bread, and I was doing studies from the geese because they looked like stone or marble. Other than that, I mostly look through images: art history images or interpretations of nature, more than direct references to nature.

Do you ever find yourself struggling with self-doubt? If so, what do you do to get over or to prevent the feeling?

I think it’s healthy. Self-doubt causes you to be skeptical of your decisions, be skeptical of solutions, of ideas that seem of certainty. Being skeptical of certainty is really important because a lot of times that becomes a distraction, or misleading. I’ve noticed myself using gardening and playing with family as a way to calm myself and interact with things outside of my work. I have a lot of anxiety about my work and - especially being a working artist - I’m depending on the health of my body to make a living. I’m dependent on so many other external things. That’s where a lot of anxieties come from. For the most part, I try to not be too worried about what other people think about the work and just not let that affect me as much as the idea of getting hurt physically.

Are individual pieces planned to interact with other specific pieces, or do you find complementary pairings after the works have been made?

It’s another process of re-contextualizing the work. When I put it into a new space it’s a totally different object. I put (it) into a gallery or a public space, and it’s this totally new thing. Then I use that as this point of refining the meaning of the sculpture. Generally, they’re singular works that I’m trying to contextualize in this space, and sometimes they’re within terms of arranging by color, or colors of different pieces, or just them on their own. It’s a way to activate space, and present a series or a mindset, or a frame of thought. Initially, I was so anti-installation because it seemed like people were using this as a formula. You could make all this crap and put it into a space and call it installation and then it was justified as serious art. I was, and still am, really skeptical of that. I didn’t like the arbitrariness, like you could move it over a little bit, and conMatt Wedel, Flower tree 2015 Ceramic, 77”x74”x69” (195.6 x 188 x 175.3 cm) 440 lbs

Photo by Jeff McLane

Ashley Bevington


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textually it would be the same. Sometimes you could take something out and it would not really do that much to the work. I think that led me to wanting the pieces to have the ability to be themselves, but they could also interact with one another. There could be narrative in relationships, but it would be in the context of the single work. That was my reaction to this so-called formula for making work. That happened in abstract expressionism. Anyone who wasn’t making abstract expressionistic work wasn’t making serious work, especially in institutions. You had this whole generation making these abstract expressions, because that’s what real art was. The new thing now is interdisciplinary installation performance art. That’s what serious art is. That’s what led me back into working with the more traditional singular sculpture; it was a reaction to that.

In the Christopher Miles interview, you said you wished your pieces could just disappear once they were finished, so you wouldn’t have the burden of the object? What’s the burden that you were referring to?

They’re heavy. They take up space. Caring for work, over time, takes so many more resources than is sometimes worth the initial gesture, and that’s overwhelming. Sometimes institutions have committed to this lifelong endeavor of caring for this work. I was thinking about how sometimes things are more valuable when they have a life span. Ceramics is something that stays around forever. I made these series of works for a show. I had a month to make the work and I made eight pieces, three of them really big pieces. I made so many flower petals that my fingers stopped working. Within a couple of days everything collapsed or it blew up in the kiln, and it was really beautiful. Everyone else was traumatized by it, but in a way it was just this huge relief where I had this deadline and all of a sudden the deadline didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t have to worry about moving them. I didn’t have to worry about creating them, but I still felt like I got what I needed out of the experience. I didn’t feel like anything was taken from me

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as an artist. The end result is this symbol or this relic or this thing that exists, which stands in for that study or that burst of energy.

Do you ever end up disliking a piece once it’s glazed? If so, will you re-fire it, or is it just done?

It depends if I feel like there’s an avenue out. If I have something really bad, I’ll treat it as an experiment. If I have a glaze that’s horrible, and it’s a low fire piece, maybe I’ll just fire it higher and see what happens, and watch how it collapses in on itself, just to learn more about the material. It’s a way of freeing up the piece and seeing if you could do something else with it. Sometimes, it gets exhausted to the point where it can’t be resolved, and you just let go of it. Sometimes it’s easier just to let go and move on. Sometimes it’s just a waste of your energy to obsess over something that might not be there. It’s certainly easier for smaller works to keep re-firing but, then, at the same time, I have a small piece over there that just died and I don’t know why it’s there. I should smash it. I have a whole pile of stuff over there that’s just smashed. A lot more artists throughout history did that, especially at the end of their life. They’d spend the last month of their life burning things, to make themselves look good.


Ashley Bevington

Matt Wedel

Are you so used to the space of your kiln that you can start making something, knowing that it will fit inside, or do you have to measure as you go? The whole idea of making a big kiln was so that the works didn’t prematurely have to stop. I would be making something and then I wouldn’t have room to complete it, and it looked stunted. I had this idea that if I made a big enough kiln, l wouldn’t have that problem anymore. Then I built the big kiln, and the work got bigger, and then I dealt with that same problem, just on a larger scale. Rather than it being a problem of scale, it’s a problem of learning how to work within the scale that you have. I’m noticing that I now know the proportions of my kiln a little better. I think these platforms keep them in scale. Sometimes they get a little bit tall and the pieces get squished in the kiln, but I haven’t had to cut anything off, yet. The pieces I put outside the studio are those that felt stunted, like the head is real flat because I just didn’t have enough room to complete it.

Do you paint anymore?

Do you think your forms dictate color, or vice versa? In getting looser with form, will you get tighter with color?

As of now I’m getting tighter with form and looser with color. There’s a tightness in terms of attention to detail with the form, and then the color seems to be a lot looser in order to bring movement to the form, or redirect the form. Initially I was a lot more rigid with the way I was adding color. I would only put color in the flowers and then the kiln would let that color spill out over the pieces, but now I’m allowing that to happen in the action of applying the color.

Can you talk about the pinched texture that appears throughout your work?

I like that it’s my print. It’s my hand. It is me. I like that the marks are gestural, and the way that the glaze flows over the marks.

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Matt Wedel’s artwork can be viewed at mattwedel.com

You did mention in your Christopher Miles interview that you enjoyed failure. In my experience I’ve witnessed a lot of people give up after a failure. Do you have advice on failure or how to move on from the unexpected? Ceramics is really good at weeding out people. There are lessons that you’re going to have to learn at some point in your life, in terms of death. Ceramics really brushes with the way people relate to loss, and death, and noise. How do you care for something, even though it might explode? How do you work so hard on an idea that might not come to existence? We’re taught that failing is bad and that we did something wrong and we’re ashamed of our failures in our society. I think that’s changing on the periphery; of the way people understand teaching methods now. Our generation, in particular, grew up being ashamed of failure. We weren’t taught that failure is the way that we learn, that you can’t learn without it. That’s where the learning comes in, more than your teachers in school. Putting yourself in those predicaments is where you progress. I find myself taking risks in my work; sometimes they are very successful, and other times they’re a huge failure. But you have to take the bad with the good. After my last show in 2013, I wanted to work with higher temperature pieces and decided to make all of the work using porcelain. Everything just exploded and cracked and shrunk and looked terrible, and that felt so good. I felt like I was in school again, because I felt like I had the time to fail, to learn. Hopefully, when you do fail you can learn from it. For me, sometimes it takes three times for me to actually learn, because I’ll learn maybe one aspect of the failure, but usually there are a lot of different things that led to it. Sometimes the failure is too complicated to understand, so it takes a while to grasp.

Matt Wedel, Child Flower Tree Landscape 2010 Ceramic, Dimensions Variable

Photo by Jeff McLane

I don’t, because my paper doesn’t hold up in the ceramic studio. I’m excited about paintings. I paint with my kids sometimes and find potential pieces from that, so I hope to do more. I feel like with sculpture, with ceramics, it is this balance between painting and form. My sculptures: they are paintings, I am a painter. I think that’s a funny barrier between sculpture versus painting, because of the way I understand color and the way I use it to direct line and shape.


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Photo by Gary Conaughton 2008

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Matt Wedel, Flower Tree 2008 Fired clay and glaze 71”x37”x49”(180.3 x 94 x 124.5 cm)

Matt Wedel’s artwork can be viewed at mattwedel.com

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An Interview with Costa Dvorezky

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On a brisk Saturday afternoon in late February I walked down the street in one of Toronto’s hippest neighborhoods, Queen West, to meet Costa Dvorezky. We decided on a 2:00 meeting date at the trendy Drake Hotel (since a studio visit was not an option, there may as well be scenery and cocktails involved.) I spotted my interviewee smoking a cigarette, adorned in a black bomber jacket and black glasses. We shook hands and headed inside to the back of a space that felt something of a hybrid between a 50’s lounge, a library, and a 70’s record shop. I remember the first time I stumbled upon Costa Dvorezky’s “action” paintings. I was trolling the internet for more accomplished painters during an episode of self-debasement, when I was caught off guard by a striking painting of an aerial trapeze artist intertwined with a silk rope, emerging from a background activated by highly saturated

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Image courtesy of Costa Dvorezky

color, textured paint, drips, and robust mark-making. This painting felt like dessert for other painters. I thought, “Oh my god, under what magic mushroom has this painter been hiding?” Working in a highly recognizable style, Dvorezky’s paintings incorporate luscious brush strokes, tons of visual contrast, and a saturated palette, all executed with the virtuosity of a modern master.

I immediately launched a personal campaign to know more about this painter I had never heard of, with all the consonants in his last name. Costa Dvorezky was born in Russia in 1968 and academically trained at one of Moscow’s most prestigious art academies, the Moscow Academy for the Arts. In the late 90’s Dvorezky emigrated to Toronto, where he has been living and working ever since. His work has been shown all over Europe and North America, and is featured in private collections all over the world.

Costa Dvorezky, Party Girl 2014 Oil on Canvas, 48” x 72”

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Josh Mitchel

Costa Dvorezky

Like age seventeen to twenty-three, or..? Actually, fourteen to twenty-three. The college starts earlier, so you don’t have to finish your high school. You can get the last high school grades in college. Basically, two years, it goes parallel to high school, and then another three years. It is four years total in college. Then you go to the arts academy.

Okay, and that’s all traditional training?

Yeah, of course. It’s very traditional. Russia is very traditional country. There is no left or right there. We have to do what you got to do, which ... in terms of figurative painting, it has great outcome, because you really focus. They really focus on construction because, from 1920s, where Constructivism was in favor, right? Everything in Russia based on Constructivism there. When you know, let’s say, how (the) human body (is) designed, let’s put it this way: you can really easily manipulate with that.

Yeah, I’m totally envious of that kind of training.

I didn’t realize how lucky I am until very recent, because you don’t appreciate what you got sometimes, because we’re always complaining, “Oh this is boring.” It gives you ability to do whatever you want, pretty much. With the human body, landscapes, and whatever.

There’s criticism that that type of atelier painting produces a lot of artists who all draw and paint alike. What do you think about that?

CD: We have different system rather than here. Education in Russia was free, so I really didn’t have to pay for it, but you have to get accepted. You have to pass all the exams and everything. Like in sports, when you realize you want to do, like you want to draw, you want to paint, so you have to get yourself ready for the school, basically. You go to the regular art school. It’s after hours. You’re done with your school during the day, and then immediately, you go to the art school. Then you go to the art college and then, you have to have some knowledge already, so you can get accepted to the college from the very basics. That’s why you go to art school. After college, you go to the university.

Oh, they’re separate. So, college is not university?

No, no, no, it’s different. It’s not university. It’s called art academy, but it gives you master degrees, so you have to get four years of college and then another five years of academy.

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Costa Dvorezky’s artwork can be viewed at dvorezky.com

When I came here in Canada, I brought a few paintings with me. I put them in a gallery, and everybody liked them. I wasn’t painting much of the figure at that point. I was highly motivated because you have to make a living. Then I realized what I should do. I met a few friends and they said, “Well, you can draw pretty well, you can paint pretty well, you can do whatever you want. So just do more figurative stuff.” I just change the subject matter, but it stays the same way. It’s very abstract. When you get close to it, it’s just a matter of putting brush strokes on a canvas.

Do you still technically struggle with your work? Do you struggle with it formally or conceptually? Do you still grapple with what you’re doing?

Costa Dvorezky, Mermaid 2016 Oil on Canvas, 42” x 84”

Image courtesy of Costa Dvorezky

JM: You were trained in Russia. From an early age? Can you talk about that?

Well, yes and no, right? Of course there is a mainstream tendency in there, but all the artists are artists. Every artist wants to be individual, wants to be independent. They do the school, but what they do, they’re just trying to be a part of that. For instance, I can talk about myself when I graduated from the academy. I was doing Primitivism. You have so much school and it’s kind of everywhere. For, I don’t know, ten years after, I didn’t want to really do anything like that. I have my own mindset. I did formally primitive works, very minimalistic. It was pretty successful at that time, in Europe.


SHOP

Yes, absolutely. It’s an everyday struggle. It’s very miraculous. Sometimes you look at masterpieces and you see how it’s done so nice, and you never got in your head that the artist was struggling, although maybe not everybody’s struggling. I know artists who don’t struggle at all.

They’re assholes.

I don’t know. There’s no judgment, but for me it’s a struggle. I believe it’s because you have your idea, a very approximate idea. You want to transfer it to a canvas, and when you start working on a canvas, the canvas becomes a great source of inspiration, which moves you to different directions. Then you get confused because, basically, the best you can do when you paint is not force the canvas. You’re just creating a situation where things happen on its own. You still have to apply paint, but the real art happens in imperfections, somewhat. Right?

Our struggle is where we push ourselves really far, not worrying, and we forget about that. We really have to let it go. The frustration comes because you have one thing in mind, and then the other thing comes, and over the years I cannot figure it out. It’s not really a struggle; it’s more a curiosity. Sometimes you force things somewhere where you think it should be, and then it becomes a struggle because it just doesn’t satisfy you. The struggle comes from our lack of satisfaction at the moment. That’s how I struggle…. like everybody else.

From my perspective, I see somebody like you - with such technical virtuosity - and I think, “This guy has such a command over material, or such a command over anatomy, and it just must be so easy for him.” That’s why it’s interesting to hear that you struggle.

Yeah, because I don’t plan my painting. I rarely do sketches, unless I have to make a huge painting, so you have to make a sketch because you can’t afford to go back and forth to the canvas. Right? When I do my regular sizes, I just go with a very rough idea and I see what’s happening in there, what’s really going on. Then, I just pick up the details. Basically, what I do, I try to build everything on imperfections.

How do you know when your paintings are finished? Everybody has a different idea about that. Some people say it’s never finished.

That’s what Degas says: “The painting is never finished. It always stops in interesting places.” It’s time. You know, you can work and work and work but all of a sudden, you lose the interest. The vibes become different because, when you start the painting, you have certain vibes and certain ideas and certain energy. If you push that for a long painting, your mood changing, your conditions changing, the seasons are changing, and it becomes a different painting. Basically, realistically, you can work on the same painting for your full life.

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I really like long paintings, because it’s something that you live with. It’s like a girlfriend. You live with a girlfriend and then you’re fed up with her, you just move to something else, right? It’s the same about art. When I’ve done a quick one, when I start a painting, I like it but I’m not satisfied with it.

What’s a quick painting for you? I take note of your sizes, so a lot of your paintings are 48” by 60”, or sometimes they’re 6’ by 8’. I haven’t seen any that are smaller than that.

No, I don’t like smaller paintings because of different things. I need a larger scale. I just have fun with that because I just want to dissolve in my paintings. Quick painting—I could do some paintings in a week, but I hate that, because it’s not (satisfying).

It’s tough to develop a painting in a week, at that scale.

I was okay with that ten years ago, but now I just probably want to put more time, more energy, more value—if I can say that—in this painting. So, I prefer to do a longer one.

You have that series of paintings with divers and people jumping. I’m curious, what was the inspiration for these? What turned you on to that theme? I call them ‘action paintings’.

The theme is very formal for me, because they just come up. When you’re in a dark mood, you probably want to do lighter paintings. When you’re happy, you just want to distinguish it with your darker paintings, believe it or not. It’s all about the balance, because we have to be balanced. When you’re really deep down, you need to pump yourself up and go to an optimistic kind of thing. It helps to balance yourself, because it’s not about art. It’s about us more, right? Painting doesn’t reflect your personality. For me, it’s just a therapeutic thing.

Well, how do you think your paintings reflect your personality? Do you think some paintings are more autobiographical than others?

I don’t think so. I never connect. The application is the only valuable thing in my paintings and that’s what they reflect, because sometimes we see the paint goes smoother and has more weaving. Some pieces are sharp. Everything else doesn’t really matter. As I said, again: for me, the most important thing is just applied thing. Mixed paint, white paint, play with brushes. I’m still in that stage, let’s say in your life, I’m not that much (of a) mature person, so I like to play.

Costa Dvorezky’s artwork can be viewed at dvorezky.com

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Josh Mitchel

There’s that texture that you have in your paintings. You have those Captive paintings where I can see what looks like a putty knife, or where there are hatch marks on it. I see a subtle crisscross pattern. What’s that about? It’s just technical aspects of the painting, the image, when you see it on your screen, or something like that. My idea is to captivate a person from far away, so you know it is your painting. Then, drag in closer and closer and closer, and then we drag in really close and you want to make them stay there. Then you want to push them back and get them to come back again. When you get close to my paintings, you see just random brushstrokes and lots of different textures. I use layers in the majority of paintings, starting with pure canvas, to the thick brush strokes. I try to put them in the wrong order. Those hatch marks is the art, the thing that makes the canvas alive, so when you get close you see more than just the canvas. You have your really nice scratch marks together with pure canvas, and the soft oil brush strokes. They create a really nice contrast.

I completely agree. Is it a physical texture?

So you are using molding paste and applying it with a putty knife, like spackle? That’s right. Plus, it’s extra motivation because when you’re on the painting and you have these hatch marks, so the paint is stuck inside of them and it creates a certain different dimension. It’s not just the pure, pure canvas. Sometimes, I do things without them, which motivates me to put more details, because I want to get the canvas busy. That’s the easiest thing for me to get organized, to have something already there. It’s like wood texture, any texture; maybe it’s a bit artificial but in certain cases it works really well. In certain cases it doesn’t, but that’s what I do. I try to get extra inspiration from the medium.

Your subjects are suspended in mid-air. How are you capturing those? They feel super accurate and fresh. Are you just building those figures from your head? Are you doing any visual research? You said you don’t really like to work from photos, so is this something that was inspired by a trip to the circus? Where is that imagery coming from?

Images courtesy of Costa Dvorezky

Yes, it’s basically gesso.

Costa Dvorezky

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Costa Dvorezky’s artwork can be viewed at dvorezky.com

Costa Dvorezky, Zero Gravity Rehearsal 2011 Oil on Canvas, 72” x 56”


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Actually, when I do those girls on trapeze, I went to the circus rehearsal and I spent some time there. I got some pictures, but the thing is, when you start working with the photograph, you’re becoming... you’re just starting to copy that, and I don’t like it because it doesn’t really make you happy. Most of the time, I just do it out of my head. The thing is, the trick is, when you put the figure on a tough angle, you can have so many discrepancies. It’s so forgiving in terms of judgment about anatomy: you won’t believe it. It’s much easier than doing the still figure.

The anatomy is super convincing.

It is. It’s just a trick. It’s a total illusion, just between me and you.

I notice two distinct palettes in your work. One is highly saturated and the other feels much darker, more limited, and incorporates earth tones…umber, sienna, and such. Did these palettes evolve simultaneously, or did you start with one and transition to the other?

Yeah, I believe so. Those darker paintings have a more muted and traditional palette, but feel more real. Then I just want to refresh my studio, so you do a different setting. I think it’s an erotic thing. Okay, I’ve had enough of that, so let’s move to something else. Then you kind of get fed up with those pink and oranges and say, “okay, I want to do something like really nice.” We’re all human, right? So that’s where I’m coming from. Costa Dvorezky, Reclining Nude 2014 Oil on Canvas, 48” x 72”

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One of the things I find so interesting about your paintings is your use of the negative space and the relationship of the figure to the ground. Can you describe the relationships of your figures to your ground? In some of your paintings your figures are clearly on top of the ground but, in others, you are dissolving the figure within the ground. How do you determine which element is on top, and are these decisions purely formal? There are two paintings, Reclining and Salsa Teacher, where the compositions are very similar but the color is very different. The bright orange washes over the figure in Reclining and assimilates into the background, but with Salsa Teacher, the grey background remains behind the figure. One is on top and one is dissolved into the atmosphere. With the Captive series, they emerge from or sink into the darkness. Sometimes, you want to do something softer, and sometimes you want to do something more pronounced. The bright backgrounds: I believe it’s really interesting to work with because, first, it’s very challenging for the artist.

Costa Dvorezky’s artwork can be viewed at dvorezky.com

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Josh Mitchel

Costa Dvorezky

To integrate that with flesh, it’s like, all of a sudden there’s an arm that’s neon orange and it feels so local, which is really impressive. I try to challenge myself. You know when you see a gray cat on green grass, because green grass is really, really bright and then, all of a sudden, we see the cat there. You cannot miss it because the green grass doesn’t really distinguish that cat, and the cat has no color—it’s mostly gray. That’s what I try to merge into the painting.

It’s not only just bright backgrounds: I try to create a depth with warm colors, which is more challenging. Sometimes I just challenge myself to something I believe will be really, really hard to do in terms of the concept. Because it’s the bright background it’s supposed to look really flat, and one time I told myself ‘I want to do bright background but I want there to be (atmosphere)’. In some cases it works, but everything depends on what color, what paint you put in a figure. At the same time, know that (figure and ground) has to merge. Let’s say I do those borders in between midtones and shadows: very saturated, and that pulls the figure in close, and the very subdued translation of the flesh marries everything together. It’s really a fun thing to do.

One last question about that: there are a lot of painters out there that use drips and splotches and runs, as contemporary devices. However, I think there is a difference between an evolved surface and an affected surface, as in just adding that stuff to make the painting look cool. What are your thoughts on that?

I want to have my drips a certain point, so I am hoping the paint will drip where it has to be. It has to belong. Sometimes, it saves my composition, because you can balance the composition and add to the variety of the brush strokes, sharps and smooth… Most of the time, I’m trying to do a figure, so it’s basically the consistency of paint, so it drips but it’s not so liquid. It’s more like a thick cream, so it drips slowly.

I often get criticized for painting young, attractive, sexualized women, which has come under fire given the political climate now. A lot of the women in your paintings are young and idealized, and they’re beautiful. Do you encounter that kind of criticism? Do people ever attack you for that? Do people say you’re objectifying women?

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Costa Dvorezky’s artwork can be viewed at dvorezky.com

I don’t care what people say. I objectify women. Why do I have to be politically correct? I don’t have to be politically correct because it is politically correct. They are the most beautiful creatures. I’m doing master classes and I have really nice models, and I look at them and they make me want to paint. It’s a great thing. Why would I stop? There’s nothing wrong with that, I believe. It’s been for ages.

What are your thoughts on the male gaze, and the criticism of the way that men have been depicting women in Western painting for several centuries?

You know, people do what they want. I believe there are tons of beautiful men’s body interpretations and they look awesome. There’s nothing wrong with that. The subject doesn’t matter as long as you find beauty in that. I’m not sexually driven by men and that’s not my thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. I see women more and I just paint women. Someone accused me of that kind of thing publicly, and I just have nothing to answer, and I believe I don’t have to answer. Some people like cats, and they paint cats, or dogs, or birds, or whatever. I don’t want to say that men are bad. I don’t want to say that women are bad. It’s just such a weird subject for me to discuss because I don’t know what to say. I think it’s just brought up because people have nothing to talk about, but I think it’s very natural. Costa Dvorezky, Adam 2008 Oil on Canvas, 48” x 72”

Images courtesy of Costa Dvorezky

They are devices, but sometimes I wanna use them. I like the dripping effect. The only thing, if you do the dripping effect it has to be very, very pronounced, and I’m struggling with that most of the time. Sometimes it’s really hard to predict, because it’s a drip.


SHOP

I noticed a pair of paintings on your website, Adam and Eve. A lot of times, they’re painted together, but you’re physically separating those two. I just caught the titles, but also there’s a pretty large departure from their traditional depiction. A lot of times Eve and Adam are young and virile or fecund and, in your paintings, they’re both older and kind of robust. That was a very sarcastic move from my side. I admit it. I still want to show that it’s Adam and Eve. We’re all getting old, we’re all getting bellies. I just want to have fun. It wasn’t serious. It’s more like a joke. But, it’s a bit sarcastic, it’s a bit grotesque, because I try not to follow anatomy at all in this point. I just want to make a funny statement. That’s it.

Were there models for those paintings, or were those figures just out of your head? No model, from my head.

Is it important that your content is accessible? When people see your paintings, is there something that you want them to get from them?

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No. Never. Because when I’m doing a painting, I’m just picking a theme and I have no idea what is going to happen. And whatever happens happens. I’m motivated by certain themes in my head, which are, again, painting canvas. When people see and interpret that painting, I’m open to any interpretation. People can see so many different meanings in there, or explanations. I just gladly leave it up to them. I’m not a Messiah. I have nothing to say to the world, except peace and love. Let the world be on its own and figure out what to do.

What do you think about the discourse in contemporary art world, in which critics declare the death of painting? Do you feel that any portion of that statement is valid?

Usually, every hundred years art comes up with something new. We don’t really see anything happening since, I guess, Andy Warhol. But I can’t categorize Andy Warhol as a painter, because it’s different art. Pop art is not about paint, it’s about the statement. I believe that painting itself will never die. It’s always going to stay for one hundred years from now, two hundred years. It’s probably going to be less and less masters, and it’s going to evolve. Even figurative paintings, nowadays, have evolved so much from three hundred years ago. I’m not saying it is bad or worse, but it becomes different and that’s the process we can’t stop. It’s always going to change, but it will never go away. It will always stay with us.

Is there somebody that’s been a major source of inspiration for you? Somebody working now, or somebody from the past?

I don’t know. Since I went to school, my inspiration always changed, year after year. At a certain age you were crazy about Rembrandt, and then Van Gogh, and then someone else and someone else, and then you go back to Rembrandt. There are so many great artists nowadays. The modern artists, I can’t tell those names because I’m very illiterate in that respect. I don’t think it motivates you; it just makes you happy.

What advice do you have for young painters, things you learned the hard way?

Never do something that you don’t like. Every brush stroke, you have to enjoy brush strokes. Don’t do brush strokes which means nothing to you. Every time you touch the canvas, it has to be something that you want to do. If not, just don’t touch it there because it won’t make sense. Same about your whole life, things in life. If I don’t want to do something, I don’t do it. I don’t want to touch the canvas without the need. I know some artists who just produce. They have a number of paintings. It’s easy: they don’t really change anything. They have their idea, their photograph. They paint, next painting, next painting, and they’re fine with that. They will give you different advice. I wouldn’t be able to do that more than a month, because it (feels like) you’re going to work.

Costa Dvorezky, Eve 2008 Oil on Canvas, 48” x 72”

Costa Dvorezky’s artwork can be viewed at dvorezky.com

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Desktop Meets Benchtop:

The Art and Craft of Arthur Hash

Arthur Hash is a jewelry designer and metalsmith

living in Providence, Rhode Island. Hash received his MFA in Jewelry Design from Indiana University and

his BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Hash is known for his integration of technology into the craft based discipline of jewelry. In a field

often focused on tradition, Hash has found ways of combining old techniques with new technology. Hash was named a Searchlight Artist by the American

Craft Council and was awarded two Fellowships by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. His work has been

exhibited at the Ross Museum of Art in Delaware, Ohio, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, and at the Wayne Art Center in Philadelphia.

Hash’s tasteful combination of traditional met-

alsmithing techniques with 3-D printing and laser cutting distinguishes his work among his peers. I

caught up with Hash at his home in Providence,

where he lives with his wife, Liz Clark, another accomplished metalsmith and jeweler. After a tour of his studio we talked at length about his work and the jewelry field as a whole. 117


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JD: Metalsmith, jewelry artist, designer, wearable sculptor: is there a title you prefer? AH: Yeah, it’s a question that I have to answer often. I hover somewhere between jewelry designer and jewelry artist with serious metalsmith tendencies, just because of my background, a very traditional education in metals. I can’t help but approach a lot of the things I do with the eye of a metalsmith. Also, I really love the utilitarian side of a lot of crafts. Metalsmiths, particularly, like vessel forms, flatware and whatnot.

Image courtesy of Arthur Hash

Speak about how you got in to the world of metalsmithing and jewelry. Who has affected your path, what have you learned from them, and what has stuck with you over the years?

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to visit my grandmother after my grandfather had passed, she would just let me into the shop and I could do whatever I wanted. That freedom to make whatever was really great. At the time, I was making little skateboards, carving them out of wood blocks. Hardwood blocks on a scroll saw; whatever was handy. I took a CAD class in high school. The CAD class was paired with a hands-on shop class. That was definitely an influence. I had a metalsmithing teacher that told me straight off, “You’re not going to make anything new.” That was a tool that instructors use, but it really pissed me off, like, “I’m going to make something new. I’ll show you.” That really started the work ethic that I have now. Not that I’m trying to make something new every time, but it was good for me at the time. It really motivated me to make something crazy, and not the metal ashtray that everyone else was making.

My grandfather was a strange carpenter/handyman guy. I don’t remember a whole lot because he died when I was young, but the thing I do remember was receiving handmade wooden toys that he made. That really planted a seed for something. More importantly, when we continued

Arthur Hash in his studio

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Jim Dunn

Arthur Hash

Much of your current work is created using new technologies such as 3-D printing and the like. How do these technologies fit in the field of metalsmithing and jewelry? Is technology another tool in the tool box or has it entirely changed the ballgame?

Do you feel that there are negative connotations associated with 3-D printing and computer software in the field, anymore?

Uh, yeah. It’s tough, man. The thing that drives me insane is when people get worked up into this anti-CAD frenzy. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the people that do that have zero experience using any of it. I like to think that the metals community is somewhat open. For this one particular thing, no. I find myself instantly making enemies of people that I don’t even know. That’s disturbing and heartbreaking. People that know me, know that I have a certain respect for the field. I have a respect for people that do everything in our field and I try to carry that over in my interactions with other people. Anyway, what’s really painful is that you run into people like that and then, years later, they’re like, ‘Hey, can you tell me what 3-D printer to buy?’ There’s a lot of respect that I have for people who do things without technology. I’m constantly in awe of what they can do with their hands. I covet that work for many different reasons, not just because it’s a beautiful object and made incredibly well. I want to inspect it. I want to look at it and touch it and use it as a reference. This is a benchmark for what’s good. I know blacksmiths that don’t have welders. They just do forge welding or heat things up with a torch,

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Arthur Hash’s work can be viewed at arthurhash.com

maybe. I think that’s a great world to live in, where there are people that want to be that nuanced about something.

In an article published by the American Craft Council in 2014, you state, “The craft world is more accepting of traditional fabrication techniques than newer technologies.” Do you think that’s changed in the past year and a half ? Do you see that changing in the future? What would you say to the skeptics?

People that are dismissive tend to be people that don’t understand or don’t have experience with the technology. The American Craft Council is definitely a little more open about accepting artists who use new technology. There’s a certain caveat that’s placed on it. I’ll see that in exhibition announcements or calls, like, “You can use new technology, but a percentage of it needs to be made by hand”. That’s fine. It’s great that it’s just there and you see more of it everyday. It’s not as utilized as other fields, like industrial design, product design. Those people aren’t as material sensitive or process sensitive as our field. While it’s been around forever, we’re slow to adopt it. There are certain people in our field that use it very well.

How do you see these digital technologies effecting the next generation of metalsmiths?

I see people entering that route with a stronger base foundation. Some of them just come in with CAD experience. They have a certain way they view the field and that might be kind of dangerous, but it definitely forces the field to grow. More things are happening as a result. It’s forcing people to be a little more creative, and I think some people are a little nervous about that, as they should be. Arthur Hash, Coffee Stain Brooch 2011 Steel, Automotive paint 3”x3”x.75”

Images courtesy of Arthur Hash

I think it’s not that much of an issue anymore, because it’s finding its way into studios and becoming very common. Metalsmiths or artists that are material specific often use whatever tools they need to do the job. In one sense, it is just another tool in the tool belt, but often it has more to do with the piece that you’re making, and the intent of the piece. I find my work to focus more on the body and wearability and some other issues. I don’t really care what tool I use. I hate to compare 3-D printing and new technology to a hammer, because it does something so much different, but if it makes the work stronger, if it supports the intent of the work, I’ll use whatever tools I want. I sometimes think that people have hang ups on that, which is totally silly. That would be like a metalsmith removing all the tools in their studio. It’s just a tool. I don’t think it’s necessarily changed the ball game. If anything, it’s supported the field, changed it in a time that we needed change. People are scared of that a little bit, and hesitant to move in that direction. It’s the perception that it does something easier, which is a misconception. The time that it takes to master a technique and a tool is probably the same, if not less, than learning and mastering this tool, the new technology, and learning when it’s appropriate. It has a big impact on what I do. There’s a convenience factor, being in front of the computer all the time. With my job, it’s become the only tool I can use, sometimes, to make my work. When traveling, you can’t bring your bench with you.


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Do you use digital technology because it allows you to most accurately produce a form or object? Yeah, I use it when I want to or when it’s necessary, or maybe it’s something that I want to see quickly. There are many reasons why I would use it. If it’s easier to make in a traditional way, I will definitely do it that way. The focus is around the intent of the work: maybe it is form, maybe it’s wearability.

Can you speak about the limitations of digital technology and where you see these technologies heading in the future?

There’s been an increase in access. The more accessible the technology is, the more it’ll be used. If you were to place it in the hands of certain people that have an aptitude for problem solving, you can almost see something explode in them. There are limitations placing it within the timeline of learning. If you introduce it at an early stage, then they do leapfrog certain foundational skills that are necessary to any kind of studio education. Then you run into a little bit of a problem down the road, where you’ll be backtracking, much like I’m doing. I never was exposed to stone setting and now I have to go back and learn it in a really roundabout, backwards way, which is maybe bad, but maybe good. Thinking about how people absorb information and how they learn, introducing it at an early age makes people more efficient at absorbing information, or understanding how they absorb information. I like to use the tools in a way that not only supports my work, but also supports the field.

You exhibited some 3-D printed works that you made at the Smitten Forum. Are those works wearable? Does it matter to you if they are wearable or not?

It’s totally wearable. Basically, when my wife would go to the mall and I would tag along, I’d find myself incredibly bored when she would go into H&M. Then I started going back into the store and exploring some of the jewelry that was being mass-manufactured. It bummed me out for a couple of reasons. They were solving these incredible design problems, like wearability and weight and color, in a very simple way. I always think that I overcomplicate things in the studio. I gave myself a homework assignment to duplicate those objects in the way that I would want to make them. First, I would buy the object: I’d buy the stretch bracelet, for example. Then I would take it home and break it apart, and really distill it down to basic elements, and then cut them apart and figure out how it actually works, and then duplicate that in CAD. Once I had the really basic CAD model down that was that object, and understood the mechanics of how that object worked, I tried to have ownership, conceptually. There was some person that made that original, and it was probably a jeweler. Then, they sold it to the company and the company did a massmanufacture. Then it’s gone: it’s just a horrible carbon copy of the original. Just a blurred, blah version. In a weird way, I was trying to bring it back to what the potential could be. I knew I figured it out, and really I stole it, much like the

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Arthur Hash company stole the design from the person. Then I apply geometry to it and make it my own, really change it into something that I would be proud of making or wearing. Those pieces were a result of that project. That’s been an ongoing project for me and I have a small collection of samples from the mall, basically. Providence is the fashion jewelry capital of the United States, or, at least it was.

A lot of your imagery recalls recognizable objects or everyday objects. Talk about your inspiration and design ideas.

Sure. It’s specific to the intent of the work. I’ll appropriate images for the purpose of wearability. Some part of the work is important, the reason why I use it. For example: coffee stains. It’s a very everyday thing. Recontextualized as a brooch, it has the opportunity to effect the wearer and the viewer, as opposed to just seeing it on the table. That’s very specific to that piece. I like to spend a lot of time thinking about the work, so obviously there was a moment where I was drinking a lot of coffee. I still do, but in grad school that’s the fuel, so there was a lot of that around. That was definitely a direct influence. I’ve done these little, mini welding tanks. Those have never really made it out in the world. I had a little welding rig and I was doing a lot of welding at the time, so it made sense. It’s very specific to each piece. If it’s talking about the history of jewelry and then has an enlarged version of a traditional clasp, that’s very specific to that piece or that series. It’s not random. It’s not like, ‘This might be cool as a brooch’ or ‘This might be cool as a necklace.’ It has more to do with the intent of the specific work. There’s a lot of content you can push through that imagery, which is obvious, but I don’t think people become aware of that until they master techniques to make that imagery, as opposed to just hitting print on a black and white printer.

It seems that a lot of your work emphasizes form over function. Maybe that isn’t the case because you say you think about wearability. Could you discuss your attitude towards form and function?

Images courtesy of Arthur Hash

Jim Dunn

(Right) Arthur Hash, Enlarged Clasp series 2012 ABS plastic, stainless steel, 3d Print 28”x24”x2”


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Absolutely. There was a certain point in my career where I didn’t care. It was a dangerous time, because I could have gone in some crazy direction, but I didn’t. Form, wearable form, certain forms that I wanted to see, I didn’t quite have the ability to make them wearable. At that time, I tended to make things without caring: just heavy, big, crazy things. Yet, they worked very well in the form of a photograph. I often compare jewelry to a mirror or a reflector; if the piece can be successful, if the viewer can see themselves wearing the piece without actually wearing the piece, then maybe that doesn’t matter so much. Maybe it’s all about form. The work is more successful when it is wearable. It becomes something that I focus on in newer work, in the last ten years, where I really want it to be very wearable and very practical. I have recently, over the last ten years, learned techniques to make that happen. It is specific to certain work. If it’s about being heavy, it should be heavy. Sometimes I just want to see stuff. I want to see what would it look like if you wore this shape. By moving it around the body quickly, it becomes a bracelet, versus a ring, versus a necklace. Sometimes it requires ignoring function, just to see what it will do, how it can change. Same thing with having an object with a hole in it: you give it to someone that wears jewelry and they’re just instantly going to say, “Hole: bracelet,” or “Hole: ring.” Moving that hole around and moving stuff around that hole: again, it’s like giving the baby the chew toy; they just put it in their mouth. Someone’s just going to stick their finger in it, or put their hand in it, put it over their head, or I don’t know. It can be a way to experiment with wearing forms on the body. I like to think that all of my work is very wearable. Especially the newer stuff, the stuff I’ve made in the last ten years. I really want people to wear the work. It’s not the number one goal, but the close second, I guess.

Contemporary jewelry is transformed when it’s shown in galleries and the reference to the body is often lost, obscuring the original intent of the artist. How do you deal with that when exhibiting your work in a gallery?

Images courtesy of Arthur Hash

Showing work in a gallery is an opportunity to frame the work in a different way. It’s an opportunity to display it in a way that you wouldn’t have the luxury of displaying if it was just being worn. People can see themselves wearing it and still get the intent of the work, or it’s a horrible display and doesn’t do the work justice. You have the

(Previous Page & Above) Arthur Hash, Silhouette Brooches 2004 Steel, Nickel Silver, Automotive paint

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opportunity to flex a little with the display, in order to improve the intent of the work. The more you do that, the better you’ll be at understanding how the work can exist in that environment. You can push content pretty quickly, or it could disappear among a number of works.

You created an installation with numerous silhouetted human forms attached to the wall, as seen on your website. How does that work relate to your wearable work? Are those brooches? What process led you from wearable to the installation?

They’re all brooches, they all have pin backs, they’re all very wearable, and they all retain a certain photographic scale a little larger than how we consume photographs now on the smartphones. It was based on photographic prints at the time. I’ve made different versions of it, probably six or seven times. The original collection was about 150 brooches, and now the biggest it’s been has probably been 800 brooches. The whole concept of the piece was to have this rotating collection of silhouettes that you could install in your house, and then be very selective about what piece you wanted to wear for that day. The silhouette will reflect your attitude as you’re walking out the door. When I was making the work, there was a big fear that it wouldn’t be as approachable, or it was very personal because I was using all of my personal photographs. Because they were silhouetted and a lot of stereotypical poses could be seen, people were super into them. There was a flasher, a person pouring beer out of a pitcher, and it was just an amazing piece to give people access to, and to see the results of it. All the silhouettes were waterjet cut from steel. I still make new brooches and expand the installation. In a weird way, there was a time in my youth that really shaped who I am, that is missing. There’s no recorded data of that time when I was a young punk and running around, looking crazy; doing crazy things, but no one had a camera. In college, I took a lot of photographs because I didn’t want to lose the experience. Now everyone consumes through their phone. In that way, the piece becomes very relevant.

You’re pretty prolific on social media. Even your website layout is reminiscent of common social media platforms. How do you think social media influences the craft world? Is this platform for sharing art images changing the metals field?

It’s so much easier to be involved now. When I was coming up you had to make slide duplicates and label the slides. It was a pain. You really had to be intentional about what opportunities you wanted to go after because it was time-consuming. Now, social media has made it so easy to do those things that it’s becoming a flood of photos. While there are more opportunities, they become kind of washed-out. For example, applying to the Craft Form show was always a big deal. It had a reputation built upon people that participated, and it was a limited venue. Now there are a million venues; there are a million opportunities and there’s no point of reference of what would be good for you as an artist. Arthur Hash’s work can be viewed at arthurhash.com

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An Interview with Peter Pincus

Peter Pincus is a ceramics artist in Rochester, New York. Pincus earned his BFA and MFA degrees at

Alfred University in New York. Between degrees, he was a resident artist at the Mendocino Art Center

in California, worked on Wayne Higby’s Earth Cloud project in Alfred, and as a studio assistant for Marc Gaiger Steel Fabrication in Fairborn, New York. Since

earning his MFA from Alfred University, Pincus has been affiliated with Genesee Pottery in Rochester.

Pincus has been a visiting artist and lecturer at over a dozen schools, including Genesee Pottery and Roberts Wesleyan College in North Chili, New York. He is currently a Visiting Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Pincus is known for his brilliant use of color on his slip-cast pottery. He works very

meticulously to piece his elaborate molds

together. Each mold can contain between four

to 100 or more pieces. He applies colored slips

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Peter Pincus, Studio Shot of Pincus


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to the insides of his molds, then pieces his molds together and pours in the casting slip. Pincus works

sculpturally, sometimes using adhesive to piece together multiple cast parts.

Pincus employs some of the most distinct processes in the ceramics field, resulting in a very fresh style of work. Pincus’ work has graced the cover of Ceramics Monthly and has been featured in Pottery Making

Illustrated. His works have been exhibited across

the nation, in group and solo shows, including the NCECA Biennial in Providence, Rhode Island, Sofa Chicago, Strictly Functional Clay National in Petersburg, Pennsylvania, Plinth Gallery in Denver, and AKAR Gallery in Iowa City.

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Royce Hilderband

RH: At what point in time did you start making molds? PP: It was back in 2010. If you’d asked me if I was going to make molds from 1998 to 2010, I would have said you’re crazy. For all of the prejudice the mold represents, all the things that are awful about it, I’d have said ‘never’. At that time, late 1990’s to 2006, molds were not a thing. They were the opposite of the thing in this ceramic world we’re part of. Then, overnight, they became a thing. It still remains interesting because people attach conversations about art, craft and design to molds, specifically. If you work with molds, you’re a designer, with a capital D. There’s a difference between the two. There’s a lot of conversations still wrapped up in trying to understand what they are and how they work.

When did you really feel like you were going to be able to make a career out of ceramics?

I’d had these fears that I was going to be a pathetic loser. I never really cared about trying to prove myself. I never wanted to make a career in ceramics; I wanted to keep doing it. I’d happened upon jobs after my residency, like working for Wayne Higby on New York’s Cloud project, or the steel fabricator, and others. I happened upon day jobs that would give me enough money to keep making pottery. People were really pushing me to try to sell my work and I was really reluctant to. I would have a show or two. I didn’t really sell any of my work until a couple of years later. I really wanted to see if I could make work that would land in an exhibition. So I did the call for entries and all that, and never did all that well. I didn’t go to grad school with the intention of becoming a teacher or full-time artist. I only went because I had lost track of the goals for my work. It felt like I never knew them in the first place. I had missed so much time in learning the wheel. I got pretty good at it but it was going nowhere, and the work was getting less and less interesting. I was working through one premise, so I just needed someone else to get in my head.

You worked as a steel fabricator. Did that change the way you had been working in clay?

The guy I worked for, Marc Gaiger, was a kind of mad scientist. He opened my eyes to a new way of working. The wheel is something you can fixate on tremendously, and the rest of the world turns very dark and you only see light in this one area. Working for Marc was the first time I got to work for someone where the wheel was just one small part of the bigger picture. He used wheels in his studio. He took pottery wheels and ripped (the) guts out and used them for something else.

For a while, I was a much better steel fabricator than a potter because I wasn’t inhibited by the style or the voice. I was only able to look at the studio as a place where I needed to achieve something. I had all these tools at my disposal. What tool would be the best tool to get the job done?

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Peter Pincus’ work can be viewed at peterpincus.com

Peter Pincus If you look at the way I work now, I have sandblasted glass and I’m hand-lapping. That’s a glass technique, not a clay technique. There’s no way to sand this unless you did it this way, because it’s using woodworking principles, not clay principles. It’s thinking about the plaster as compound mitres, which is crown molding, not pottery. I think about plaster the way Marc thinks about metal and its ability to be a tool. Then I discard all the things that are irrelevant to getting the job done, like stoneware. Stoneware doesn’t hold color as brilliantly as porcelain, but it does throw really well. I can clearly articulate forms on a wheel with stoneware that I wouldn’t be able to do with porcelain. So I sidestep the issues of porcelain by using stoneware, then sidestep the issues of stoneware by using porcelain for pouring my molds, and use plaster to join them, because that’s the best way to achieve the results I’m looking for. You can branch out. You can consider the wheel as one part of a larger equation. Of course, it took years for that to sink in, and for me to be able to expand on it.

What came first: your interest in the color theory or your interest in slip casting? Did one thing lead to another?

The mold making was a conduit for color, but color and color theory are two different things. Color theory—as being an important part of my work—didn’t really arrive until late 2012. When I started teaching color theory, that’s when it started to make its way into the work in more cognizant and potent ways.

In the beginning, I was just working from images: fashion imagery, and some color imagery, and the way color was used in our culture and our place and time, without any desire to investigate it as a full pursuit, in and of itself. If you were to find an artist statement from 2011, I was really hot to find a type of color that didn’t just relate to potters. I approached color for the twelve preceding years as though the only color that was valid was the color that came through glazes. I was only able to make connections to people who knew something about that world, or people who were interested in accepting what I thought was valid, from my perspective as a potter.

Your ceramic vessels appropriate classical forms, yet have a very contemporary surface. What is your reason for using these forms?

The contemporary surface is a little bit more difficult to answer. The key to that is seemingly different from the history of pottery itself. It’s not that I have something that would be technically contemporary, or not. It’s that it’s different from the foundation of the forms that it represents, and thus contemporary. (My) forms themselves are very disparate. They’re from a point in history. There are some pots, 18th century, 17th century: they’re very easily definable. (My) pot forms are very narrow. I’m not really branching out. I’m not making pots that too closely reference any studio pottery. I’m not making pots that too closely reference any 5th century Japanese work.

Peter Pincus, Small Urn 2016 slip-cast porcelain


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Those 17th century and 18th century urns, perfume bottle, vases, decanters, and bottles were gorgeous and they were subtle. Subtle variations on those forms can do incredible things, by taking something with such a belly and weight at the top of that form, then shrinking in the pedestal foot ever so slightly. You’re starting to defy perceptions in space and/or gravity, because the thing no longer feels like it properly holds itself up architecturally. It might be a word to consider: architecture, and what those brought to the world of pottery, in terms of architecture, that other forms do necessarily.

is a whole lot more simple than that. People identify red as red and blue as blue. Very complex discussions tend to happen when you put fifteen reds on a table and tell someone to pick the most red red.

If you look at most artist statements of potters or vessel makers, they say something about how the culture has let us go, no one cares anymore. They’re right: people don’t really care about what we do, because it’s inaccessible to them and because there are cheaper alternatives to it. The only differentiation is subtlety. What we do is incredibly subtle. Hopefully, at the best of times, it can be incredibly subtle.

That question implies that the value of your time is relative to artistic inquiry. If I sell a piece for $10,000 through a gallery, and it took 100 hours to make, the gallery takes half, so I’m down to $5,000. Self-employed taxes and stuff: forty-five percent, so I’m down to $2,500. A hundred hours of work before materials is $25 an hour.

When I made the shift from wheel-thrown to slip-cast pots I was only trying to communicate to a broader audience. I was very concerned with reaching out, creating work that was approachable by the world as a whole, but very subtly distinct, in ways that brought people closer to this focus of pottery or vessel, or something that had become so valuable to me. It just felt like the only way I had to communicate.

So you’ve been incorporating color theory into your work for about five years?

I started working with color in 2010. I started working with color theory spring 2012. I taught the first class fall 2011, and it only started to arrive in my work in 2012.

When you first started working with color theory, did you have thoughts about what color would do for the way the viewer would react to your work? Have those ideas changed and morphed into bigger ideas? It changes all day, every day. The reason I started thinking about color theory was that I taught this class and I would do my best to articulate what I thought was happening in paintings. I’m not a painter and I’ve always had a great insecurity about the fact I’m not a drawer or painter. I’m giving these slide presentations and doing my best to (explain) why something would be good within the context of 2D design. I would look at (color) in my work and I would say, “This is something I’m talking about, but it’s not something I’m trying to participate in. How can I talk about it? I don’t know anything about it.” So I went to the Albers book, The Interaction of Color, and I tried to figure out how it worked. Okay, I have black slip and white slip. What if I created values and grey? And what if I tried to do these gradient studies on the surface of the form? How would that change the work? How would that, perhaps, make me look at different things, research different things that would then help me understand how to tell someone why a color interaction works? In fact, the way the visual world works

Peter Pincus, Cups 2015 slip-cast porcelain

In an interview from 2012 you said you aren’t making work for the aristocracy, but about it. There are price tags on your work that seems opposite to that. Could you further explain your comments? Do those two things contradict one another?

I’m nowhere near making art for the aristocracy. The prices of my work are not very expensive. Any galleries (where) I’m selling, I’m the cheapest work you can buy there. The only difference is I was the most expensive work in pottery. A $300 cup is not selling to the aristocracy. A $15,000 cup by Tom Sacks is getting closer. A $500,000 Edmund de Waal is getting a lot closer.

But the work still needs to be made to ask questions. You invest in the work and then it has to sell for the investment of time. If I was more invested in the concept of the aristocratic pot, I’d probably be more interested in the conversation we had about selling pieces for $10,000, (than) making work about the aristocratic pot.

It’s not even comparing the price of your work to other potters. A lot of potters compare themselves to each other, and not to the whole world of arts and crafts and everything else. There are quilts out there that are selling for $10,000.

Whenever we start to talk about money, people get really upset. If something ever sells for a lot of money, they get upset. Not a lot of money, they get upset. People are always personally offended because, every time we talk about money, it relates not only to you and your investment of time, but me and my relevant investment of time. The bigger questions never get asked, which are, how do you start a business as a potter when you get out of grad school? Is it feasible for you to sell that cup for less than $150? Can you do it? No one has those conversations because they say, “$150 cup, that’s not fair. You didn’t work as long as Warren McKenzie, and his are $30.” It’s like you only deserve the amount of time you put into something. There are subtleties. I have a cup that sells for $150 and a set of vessels that sold for $12,000-$11,000 two days ago. There’s a big discrepancy there. The question is, what was more worth it for the time I put into it? That question will always be clouded by the things that were mentioned before. It’s a different conversation for a different interview, when we’re talking about business in the marketplace.

Peter Pincus’ work can be viewed at peterpincus.com

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Peter Pincus’ work can be viewed at peterpincus.com

Peter Pincus

Peter Pincus, Vases 2016 slip-cast porcelain


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We can look at something and kind of know how much time it may take someone. Looking at one of your cups in your show, I can tell it’s totally worth the money. It’s expensive for me, but it’s totally worth the money. Not a lot of people have that mindset, especially the older generation. People feel there’s a pecking order and you need to get in line when, in fact, that’s not how the world works. The bottom line is that I have two kids, a wife and a house, not that I’m making work that respects the amount of time Warren McKenzie put into his pot. They’re not the same thing.

What are some current issues in your work? I’m now working on a project for a gallery in Chelsea. If you had asked me ten years ago if I ever wanted to have a show in New York City I’d say, “Yes! But I’m not worthy. I’ll never get the show at this gallery.” Out of the blue, I got a call from a gallery in Chelsea. “We want to have this piece as part of the arts exhibition.” I said, “Before I agree, why do you want to have this piece?” My work doesn’t really fit in the arts. I’m not part of the post-object scene, or not really. They were really interested in the type of thing that would motivate my work, the taste and values that are associated with a potter. I’m someone who is trying to have a very contemporary approach to tradition, a distinctly contemporary approach. There were 3-D printings, but that’s not an approach to tradition, it’s an examination. It’s a reflection on tradition, but in a different approach. So, that becomes really exciting. How the work can convey the values, the truth, or whatever it is you’re really interested in, to the audience in a different context outside (the) ceramics world. To play in that way is incredibly fulfilling. I don’t have to sit in my studio and think about the next big show. I get provided an opportunity like the show in Chelsea. What can I do with this space? How can I be a meaningful part of this conversation?

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You’ve been building your career for a while now. You’re starting to feel more established as a maker. You specify that marketing your work has hurt your ability to feel creative, or be more creative. What are some things you’re currently trying to tap into, that more creative side that you felt like you haven’t been able to do? First, I think it’s important to say why you don’t feel creative. When the career starts to pick up, you get approached by a lot of people to do a lot of projects. If you’re not careful, you can over-commit very quickly, to places that don’t necessarily help the work grow. They’re places that might help the work sell, which is important because you need to make money; or places that seem like career stepping stones, if you could even think about it that way. A major problem I had was that I got overcommitted, then I started teaching at RIT. You don’t really have an ounce of creativity left when you’re done teaching, unless you’re very trained. I’m only starting to get it back now. I probably put in at least forty hours a week outside of school.

Places you show, if you’re not careful, will have requirements: forty pots here, fifty pots there. It has to be $100 -400; it can’t be $600 or above. All these little things inhibit the work dangerously. Last year I was so overbooked. In doing all of it, to get through it, I had to sacrifice the work itself. You don’t slow down and think, “What’s the next logical step?” You think, “Well, I need fifty more cups.” For me, fifty more cups is a whole lot of work. Each cup is not ten minutes: each cup is four hours. In 2016 I found this little nook of time, where everything seems to be spaced out correctly and I can give the work exactly what it needs, and nothing less. That’s kind of exciting.

Do you ever show your work outside of the ceramic world? Are you starting to reach out to more painting or sculpture shows that are outside of the ceramics field?

I do participate in shows that having nothing to do with ceramics. It’s a different world now and that’s pretty exciting. Not that I don’t like the world I’m in, but I think I set out to make work that was universal, and I’m achieving that. I’m able to fit in different places and have it be different things. I’m fully aware of how fortunate I am. The work has been taken significantly forward in the mold I’m making right now. Until we make it, we won’t even know. We can do that, we can take the risk and we’re not going to starve tomorrow. How cool! Peter Pincus, Purple Ewer 2016 slip-cast porcelain

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Funding for this publication was provided by the Graduate Studies area of the Art Department. Printing services: Piper Press Print & Copy Center, Edinboro University.

Sincere thanks to all the participating graduate students for their research, travel, and meticulous transcribing. Special thanks to the artists who generously offered their time and insights. Thanks to numerous gallery staff who assisted the artists and writers by providing images for publication. Thanks to designers Brandon Lovejoy and Laurel Hoachlander, and to Graphic Design Professors Shelle Barron and Brigette Davitt, for their technical and aesthetic advisement. Thanks to Terri Moats of Piper Press Print & Copy Center for technical consultation and printing assistance

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ShopTalk, Volume 7  

A Journal of Artist Interviews by MFA Candidates at Edinboro University