A ROVING LOCUS
I first saw Amy Adler’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego many years ago when I was probably still in college. Her “Director” series was being exhibited and the work continues to stick with me over all these years. The pieces are subtle – faint pastel drawings on white canvas – which draw you into them by necessity in order to see them. When I learned that they were images of a filmmaker in the act of directing Amy (who remains an unseen performer in the works) I was intrigued by the complications of what (or who) is actually the subject.
This has been a regular consideration in Adler’s work: alluding to things unseen while complicating singular definitions of her subjects and mediums. She has made drawings, which she then photographs and destroys to leave only the photograph as the final artwork. She has created drawings for a children’s book that was never created. She has drawn herself playing imagined instruments, implying a song that will never be heard. Her latest project, “Location”, which is currently on view at ACME in Los Angeles, includes large scale oil pastel drawings created from photographs she took while scouting for a film, that may or may not ever be made. This being the first work of Adler’s without any figures, I was eager to speak with her to learn more about this project.
Virginia Broersma: I usually talk with artists in their studios, but since we are at your exhibition that is currently on view at ACME, I’m interested to hear how the experience of looking at your work is similar or different when looking at it in the gallery versus in your studio. How do you feel sitting here with the work in the gallery?
Amy Adler: Well, the biggest answer to that (or most significant right now) is that I was thinking about a film making term, which is “picture lock” – when you finish editing a film and that’s it; no one is going to touch it again. I’ve never really thought about that term with drawings before. I think somehow seeing them here they become locked in a way. In my studio I feel like they’re living and breathing and I can still change things. Here they’re off limits. That’s a huge adjustment for me. That’s the number one thing I’d say: that they’re no longer interactive with me as an artist. They’re in their own removed state.
Looking at them here in the gallery, do you have any impulse to keep working on them?
No, I don’t actually. The way I worked on them was that I had these five pictures and they were installed around the room. Every time I did something to one of them, I’d continue around the room and do the same thing to all of them. I went around the room probably four or five times over three years, because when I say doing “one thing”, it sometimes takes three months. So by the time I made the last trip around, everything I was doing was the last time.
These pieces are drawn from places you photographed while scouting locations for a film, which is where the title of the exhibition, “Locations” comes from. Were you scouting for a film you will be making?
I started making films just within the past few years, and I think that I’ve been asking myself (and other people have been asking me) am I a filmmaker now? Or an artist? And it’s not a straightforward answer. I think this project is a really good example of how those aren’t hard definitions.
The thing is that I actually was writing a short script and there was a scene that took place on a play set. So I’ve been photographing them for a while. After looking at them over a period of time in my archive that I was building, I started thinking about them more as abstract sculptures in the landscape. I actually started thinking of them as drawings in space, because their colors and lines and shapes and composition…. I thought, well OK, this is a drawing, this is not a film, actually. I feel like the script fed into the drawings, and it is really complicated how I now think about making the film.
All the pieces in this show are of play sets – how did you choose that particular subject?
For me, when I land on a subject, it usually is because there are a few different reasons. There isn’t one reason, but a few going on at the same time. For example, I’ve never done a show of just landscapes. I’ve always had people in my work and I’ve actually done very little landscape at all in the work. Also, because I’ve been thinking so much about drawing as sort of outside of the realm of art, and where it potentially exists in nature – that these are actually drawings in space; how drawing exists outside the context of just what we think of as art, but in the landscape.
Also, in a lot of my work I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this idea of what you don’t see. Even though there aren’t figures in this work I feel like they’re incredibly present, you can hear them and sense them and practically feel like they’re going to go running into this any minute.
Well, you almost become more aware of them because of their absence. These are spaces that are meant to be activated by people or children, and because they’re not there, you are almost more aware of them and wonder why you don’t see them. It becomes a point of focus.
There’s a piece I did called “Phantom Instrument” and it’s this performance where I’m playing all these instruments that you don’t see. The focus is this thing that isn’t there. I really love that idea. I think it’s really interesting if you can create that with drawing.
Yeah, this stuff is really my driving force. I’m always thinking on these levels, but on the other hand, I’m aware that the drawings themselves have to perform free of my intentions.
My experience first seeing them was that the playground was such an unexpected subject. As I continued to look, I became more focused on the formal elements, the almost rudimentary forms – the primary colors and seemingly simple lines. But then you realize how complex the pieces are, like a puzzle. I began to notice the beautiful choices you’ve made with the shadows of the trees or the silhouetted branches and how they become graphic shapes, or the smooth curl of the slide; I find myself quickly losing sense of the identification of it as a playground and being caught up in the attraction of looking at them.
That’s kind of what I was thinking when I described that kind of hallucination. I really went in and out of thinking of them as specific objects. Puzzle is a good word – I like that a lot. All the black space is negative space. That was really exciting to me – the richness and potential of all that black void. It’s in every single drawing and it has a big role – the raw canvas.
There is something very basic about the construction, but at the same time, within each one there’s some really complicated challenges, I have to say. There are a lot of really goofy moments. There are some moments that work really beautifully, but there’s definitely some moments that are… for example, some of the architecture – if you spend a lot of time, you would start to identify things that don’t necessarily connect. Things that have no logic. But it takes a long time to notice them, even for me. Like I never noticed that that pole doesn’t go anywhere, you know? But I love that – that you can make something so colossal and still have these weird spontaneous moments where things don’t make sense, or surprise you.
What is your favorite part of the process?
Well, my favorite part of the process is drawing. In a lot of ways these are big productions and there’s a lot of pieces to them. The way they were made, trying to figure out the backgrounds, and then how to get the imagery up onto the canvas. But it is all occupied by me just going like this [moves hand as if she’s drawing]. That’s where the bulk of the time is. It’s very physical and very intense and delirious, kind of crazy making at some times. But I’m well aware when I’m working that that’s the good part.
So what’s the most challenging part? Or part you dislike the most?
That’s a good question. It’s like a double edged sword, because there’s one thing in each of these drawings that was incredibly painful – the leaves, the bricks, the chain link – because I didn’t have any assistants working on these drawings with me and because of the repetition and the shape is so small that my hand would really cramp up and there would be these moments where I think I can’t make it. I can’t say that it’s my least favorite part but it’s definitely the most difficult part of it.
Before I settled on becoming a visual artist, there was a time when I wanted to be a professional musician. I joined a jazz band led by a true relic of the big band era and was introduced to freewheeling structure of jazz from one of the period’s greats. I learned a lot of things (including that I don’t have what it takes to be a jazz musician) but what has stuck with me are the components that are needed for jazz: understanding of structure (and “the rules”) and gaining the ability/skills to invent and break the rules to come up with something extraordinary.
In a jazz chart, the band begins laying the groundwork – establishing the beat and setting up the basic foundation upon which the soloists float their improvised creations. While this improvisation happens on the fly, its takes years of practice. You need an embedded knowledge of the chord structures, the ability to own the rhythm, and have the confidence to jump without a net. I bring all this up because I see a direct parallel in jazz and Christopher Kuhn’s work. Kuhn’s work involves all the characteristics that you need in jazz – rhythm with experimentation, structure with surprises, and some serious chops.
I’m interested in talking to you about the roles that intuition and intention play in your work. How much of your process is dictated by each step, and how much of it is planned ahead?
They definitely start spontaneously – generally cleaning brushes off and I’ll find some canvases that are prepared and just make marks to not waste paint, basically. I’ll make some moves without thinking about it so much. As that builds up, eventually I respond to it and in the best works there is this balance between the spontaneity and some controlled elements. Sometimes you lose the spontaneity – you employ strategy and it fails so you try something else and that fails, and eventually you’ve lost whatever essence was there in the beginning. But you don’t show people those.
By including spontaneity, does that make the process riskier or easier?
It can be pretty risky. It takes a certain steadfastness, I guess. When I first started this method, because there’s such a risk of failure – sometimes I would get down about it. Sometimes there’d be a work I really liked and I’m really excited with where it’s heading and then suddenly I mess it up and then I get all down. But over time I started to view what (in the moment of making the piece) I would think of as a failure, eventually as a stepping stone towards the resolution. So over time I gained more confidence and more surety to trust myself and not get so worked up in the moment.
As a fellow painter, I’m interested in hearing your perspective on paint as a material and as your medium of choice. What do you think are the capabilities of paint? And what are its limitations?
Well, I definitely came to art through art history. So, I do honor the tradition of painting, and I’m not so concerned with trying to push its boundaries, or fracture the picture plane, or try to make it sculpture, or blur these lines, which a lot of contemporary art does. I do embrace the limitations of the square or rectangle, the fabric support and the material itself. I find what interests me about paint, and I guess the painted space or image, is that you can create spaces that read logically to your mind, and your mind and eye accept them, but when you really look at it, it doesn’t necessarily make sense. The space that you’ve constructed logically in the world we know is impossible, but in a painting it’s fine, and its agreeable and acceptable.
The more familiar I become with your work, I am able to see that you address a wide range of formal propositions, which I assume is to both challenge yourself and to keep it interesting. Do you attempt to work within a consistent set of elements? Or do you actively try to work out something different with each piece?
Before I was doing abstract painting, I was doing representational work. I enjoyed the finished product, but I didn’t really enjoy making them so much. When I was in Boston, there was a show at theMuseum of Fine Arts of Cecily Brown, and I saw those paintings and they looked like so much fun to make. And maybe she tortures herself while making them, but for me, seeing them, it looked like wow! that looks like so much fun! I’m not having fun painting; I want to try something else. I slowly headed towards abstraction, and once I finally went for it, what I liked was the unpredictability of it. Since I didn’t know what I was making, it was always challenging and always kept me on my toes.
When I find myself falling into formulas, that’s when I try to change things up. Since I’m experimenting in a lot of the work, I learn new things, new tools, new strategies, and over time I’ve learned how to employ specific strategies to their strongest impact. It’s honing your skills, and finding these tools and knowing when to use the tool. You’re not going to use the hammer for the screw, you use the screwdriver.
What’s you’re favorite part of the process?
Hmm. I really don’t know, I kind of like it all: being in the studio; looking at the work; making the work. I suppose when I’m really in a painting, some of the larger ones they can take six hour sessions over multiple days, I know what I’m doing in that case – it’s just filling in all these areas, so it becomes very repetitive work that’s almost meditative, in a way too, when you’re not thinking about what you’re doing. My mind really wanders then and sometimes I think of old memories…it’s very unconnected to where I am in the studio. I think why the hell am I thinking of that right now? That does happen a lot in making work, and I do enjoy that because it takes me to places I don’t go otherwise.
So what’s the most unlikeable part of the process (if there is one)? Or maybe the most challenging?
What do I want to have for lunch? That’s the great question: what do I feel like eating?
How do you think about other people’s relationship to your work? Do you consider them? Or is the value in the satisfaction you get in making the work?
There are certain times while making work when I start to see where the work is headed and that it’s starting to encroach on other artists’ turf, in a way. I’m conscious of that – so that’s an idea of other artists or other people. But I don’t let that stop me necessarily, because I don’t know where that trajectory is going to take me, so maybe I’ll just step a few steps in somebody else’s area, but in order to get to a different place that’s mine again.
Otherwise, I don’t necessarily think of the viewer so much. I am the viewer myself so I’m trying to make something that pleases me, and then hope that it will please other people in that process.
Tell me about your show coming up here in LA – what’s the title for the show?
Material Witness. It’s a legal term, I have this list in both my phone and here in the studio for when I hear things on the radio, or while watching TV, and think: painting title! and sometimes I think it could be a show title. Material Witness was one of them; it has no relation to art, really, it’s a legal thing that means a witness that can have the potential to change the outcome of a case. But I like it as a poetic metaphor, meaning the material obviously- the paint, the canvas – and the idea of the witness testifying, like the paint and the canvas testify to (in this case) the creation of the work itself. Hopefully in certain paintings you can read how the painting was constructed. In this case the material is speaking for itself.
Christopher Kuhn’s solo show “Material Witness” opens at Sonce Alexander in Los Angeles on November 1st, 6-8pm and will run through December 6, 2014. Kuhn also has a solo exhibition on view at FIELD Contemporary in Vancouver, BC on view through November 22, 2014. His work can also be seen on his website.
Busting It Out
Bettina Hubby is an interdisciplinary artist with an impulse towards collaboration and integrating daily life into her art (and vice versa), all with large doses of humor. From cheeky collages of magazine cutouts, to dinner parties with construction workers beneath the twinkle of a disco ball hanging from a bulldozer, her work invites participation and engagement. Hubby has also created a temporary store based in Eagle Rock, selling only rocks and eagle items, and animated the desert with her over-sized “Googly Eyes for Giant Rock”. Needless to say, the breadth of her work is impressive and keeps you guessing what she’ll be up to next. I visited Hubby’s studio in Silver Lake and talked with her about her process and current projects.
VB: My first introduction to your work was your show “Pretty Limber”at Klowden Mann last year, which exhibited some of your collage work and the vinyl cutouts placed on the walls, so mainly your studio based work. I loved the show so much that I wanted to see more and found that you do quite a bit of other things as well – site specific installation, public engagement activities, ongoing collaborative projects with friends and artists. Could you tell me how you see the difference between your studio practice and your more public or collaborative projects? Do they fulfill different interests for you? Or maybe they function in the same way?
BH: Studio practice is a way to get away from the other, and the other is a way to get away from the other. So, it is a bit of a “hide that canvas and go into another space” kind of thing for my brain. The more collaborative projects obviously have to do with wanting more stimulation from the outside world and more conversation based on certain topics that I bring up in that work. I love seeing what comes up that is absolutely impossible to predict based on what other people do. For instance, throwing out this idea and then having people respond to it and then collaborating with them and making something that none of you could have expected. And then in the studio, reverting to a quieter place. It’s very important, and I have to get better at it, honestly, I have to get A LOT better at it.
What do you mean by that?
Well, the silent practice. Really getting away from that compulsion to involve a lot of people with everything that I do. For instance, right now I am involved in this bigger project, which leaves me almost no time for the quiet practice. And I need to get better at balance.
Do you think it’s about allowing yourself the time for yourself?
I think it’s about saying “no.” and scaling back and editing.
You’ve talked about using humor as a coping mechanism, and something I picked up on in some of your projects is this making the best of a situation mentality. So are those two things – humor and making the best of something – the method or the goal in your work?
I think it’s a bit of both. I don’t really like to spend a lot of time, you know, wallowing; and I don’t enjoying when other people do, so I’m trying to fill my life more with positive experiences as much as possible in this world that is very chaotic, and there’s lots of feedback and white noise, and information. Whatever positive experience we can give to the other is really vital. I have a sense of humor and I enjoy others’ senses of humor, and I figure if I can incorporate that as a medium it can be powerful.
What is your favorite part of your process?
It certainly isn’t the beginning, because it’s too nerve wracking not to know if it’s going to work! I think it’s around that 78th percentile, when you’ve got the ball rolling and the train is moving and everything is coming together and you’re seeing all the images. That goes for the quiet solo practice as well as the collaborative one, where you see the end in sight and you’re pumped and excited, and so are other people as well.
What’s the most challenging part?
The beginning, the blank canvas. There’s a great book by Thomas Bernhard called Correction and it’s about that crumpling up of that piece of paper with all your lists on it, and not knowing whether you’re failing, just throwing it away and filling up that garbage can.
So it’s about the attempt?
Yeah, it’s about the attempt and that self doubt; this process of grappling with an idea whether it’s important enough to follow through with, whether anyone else will care. I don’t want to work in a vacuum; I do want to affect others in a positive way.
If one were to go check out your Facebook page right now, they would find that it’s covered in breasts….images of boobs, stories involving boobs, boob jokes….tell me what’s going on with that?
(Laughs) Well, that was, I guess, The Ultimate in testing out that theory that humor is good medicine. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January, I had to, sort of, decide rapidly what to do. It became a major crossroads as to whether to hide out and to be a little nugget by myself (with my family and friends of course) but not to be public about it, because of the shame and the fear and all those confusing emotions. Then I just kind of wiped that and made a decision to be public because that is a part of my nature and I felt like I’d be cheating myself and my nature if I didn’t incorporate it into my world and my art.
So I announced it ON Facebook, which was funny to me, but also startling; using the medium in a different way, with a health issue, but also using humor and just saying: look, I don’t want any pity party here, I just want boobs. Send me boobs: pictures, poems, songs, whatever you can come up with to make me laugh. Because really I don’t need anything else. It just became this free for all, and it was so energetic and exciting to open up that Facebook every day to find new images… from the most unlikely people that had been in my life for years and they were all sending me images of boobs, and all these multifarious and unexpected ways and it was just THE BEST thing I have ever done.
I’m so proud of my bravery, and also really thankful for people’s acceptance and their willingness to participate in this way. And what I hear from others, it was a great way for them to cope and help.
I thought it was special to be asked – even though you didn’t ask me personally, per se, but that you would be so forthright with your community and even as far as it extends on Facebook….I think it’s great to see what people, if given the opportunity, will do.
I’m actually going to make a full scale reproduction on silk of the Facebook feed. So it includes every post that I got from the day of the announcement to yesterday. I’m still getting things, but I have to cut it off somewhere! (laughs).
It could go on forever!
So that will be up at the show that I’m putting together.
Yes – tell me about that show, “Thanks for the Mammaries,” coming up at ForYourArt here in Los Angeles.
It just seemed a natural progression because I got all these images and I wanted to share them beyond the digital realm. I’m very tactile. I started to look for a space – I really wanted For Your Art from the beginning, so I sent them a proposal and we found a slot that worked and they said “yes” which was just dreamy. I made the open call, I did not curate this, I just said “yes” to everyone, which may not be the best thing for my health, seeing as how I have 112 artists in the show! But in the end, it’s a huge testament to the community and also it will raise some money for breast cancer research, and it’s a nice kind of end point to this particular phase of my life.
What else are you working on in the studio?
I’m going to work on a whole series of collages about relaxation. (laughs)
Yeah, it’s really funny and apropos.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up where we can see your work?
I am doing a show in November of a series of bronzes that will be slightly sexual in nature, but not obviously. For example, I have a slab of cheese and some Q-tips, a washing up sponge and some Vienna sausages…and I’ll do some lithographs with it. That will be at 5th Floor Gallery, so looking forward to that and another year of adventure.
Bettina Hubby is represented by Klowden Mann in Culver City and her work can also be seen on her website. The show which she initiated and worked to organize in partnership with Klowden Mann, “Thanks for the Mammaries,” will be on display at ForYourArt in Los Angeles, CA from July 31 – August 17, 2014. Works by over 100 artists will be on display, most of which are for sale. Funds raised at the exhibition will go towards breast cancer research. Opening reception will be Thursday, July 31st from 7-9pm.
Kiki Seror’s work vibrates actively between concepts of seduction, sexuality, privacy and voyeurism, engaging herself and the viewer in moments of intimacy and surprise. She taps into the use of surveillance and technology and enters the world of online sexual platforms from chat rooms to porn sites, all with the eye of a painter and with the inquisitive nature of a pioneer. As an actual trailblazer in the realm of digital art, Kiki is relentlessly curious in her exploration of material, method and experience as seen in the breadth of her work from Chatroulette performances to stereolithography. I recently visited Kiki in her studio to talk about her work and our conversation ended up encompassing ideas of forming identity, being surprised and being seduced.
Virginia Broersma: So…easy question: what are you working on right now?
Kiki Seror: As you’ve witnessed, I’m in the middle of stretching some canvases. So in my next pieces I’ll be going back to painting. I think my move to Los Angeles has made me want to be physical and work with my hands. L.A. is a physical and material city. Greatest joy is to work out unique techiques to image making. I feel that truly sets my work apart. I really want to question whether or not the image I am making is still going to be a painting. Or even if I use a photographic means, is it a photograph? Is it just an image? So really trying to go between these scenarios. Somewhere between action painting and documentary photography.
VB: So that describes some of the technical aspects of your work. In regard to subject matter, I wanted to talk with you about two oppositional or perhaps complementary ideas I see in your work: intimacy and detachment. One of the first pieces of your work that I saw in person was “Modus Operandi” – a video piece that is a close-up of a woman applying makeup (so it’s very intimate) and you feel very close and connected to the person. Then in some of your other work, you create more distance between the viewer and the image through blurring and layering to distort the image. Do you think of your work in those terms – intimacy and detachment?
KS: I do – it’s ironic, for instance in “Modus Operandi,” I’m working with imagery of the woman and her toiletry, or a ritual of putting on makeup that can be so intimate. However, the actual production of it is a video camera on top of the makeup brush…the models did not know how they were going to look, so there’s a realism, and maybe that is the intimacy. Even though it’s a very personal moment when you’re putting on the makeup, it is this unknown mirror – surveillance – and that they have no idea how they were going to be seen, even though they are doing everything to be seen.
VB: I also find it interesting and somewhat surprising that the pieces that feel more detached (in some ways) are the pieces that are more sexual in nature. Is a sense of detachment something you are aiming for?
KS: It’s the uncertainty. There’s this duality that exists online; is it going to be porn or is it going to be romance? It just happens to be about sexuality because when you’re interacting online, there is possible exposure to unfiltered/uncensored user-generated content, what happens in a group setting is that it debases to the lowest common denominator, and fortunately or not, it’s been about sexuality. So when does sexuality become pornography? It’s not that I’m detached; it’s that I think I am going back and forth. The motion of entering and exiting the online social space is what’s creating a blur. Am I being seduced? Or is this just a part of being objectified online? The subject is the medium, and not an object.
VB: Another blurring that happens in your work is the between the distinction between public and private. You talk about surveillance, and obviously you work with intimate themes… my question is twofold – how do you think about incorporating others, specifically in the pieces that are online that involve another person – and then also how you think about incorporating yourself and allowing for yourself to be publicly visible in private things?
KS: What I was known for or first got attention for doing was adult sex chat lines, we were all anonymous in the chat rooms back in the beginning, the original social media . That was almost a call and answer to words without a face- like a jazz musician. I put out a tune – like, “(whatever my url name was) enters the room,waves hi, with dildo in hand, waiting for instructions”. In a way I am teasing but I’m looking to be teased as well.
Years later, I entered Chatroulette. I learned how to in a way bypass a flash input signal, and I then I had running in the background on my desktop a software which acted as a broadcast blue screen, and then have that person see themselves come through me, as they were looking at me. It’s heavy: allegory. They were surprised. You think you’re safe, you’re in your home, but you want to be seen. You think that being seen is vulnerable enough, but wait ‘til you see your image manipulated by somebody else – that’s vulnerability! And that was the piece.
VB: One of the problems I’ve seen with work that incorporates women in any exchange regarding sex/sexuality/gender is that it ends up as exploitation, despite its best intentions. Do you think about exploitation in your work?
KS: I do – that’s one of the reasons I first worked with language. I felt that language itself, in a way, was more personal than the representation of my body would have been. My heroes – the feminist performers of the 70’s like Hannah Wilke – their critique was they were so beautiful and, in a way, they kind of exploited themselves, or they weren’t taken seriously. I just didn’t even want that to be an issue.
VB: What’s the most challenging or disliked part of your process?
KS: Oh! That’s probably the exhibit! (laughs) because to me, the work is so dead by that point! No, it’s not that it’s the most disappointing, it’s the saddest part. It’s hard for me to repeat myself. In a way I’m against signature style. One of my heroes is Martin Kippenberger and why? Because he never bores me and I know that guy was never bored in the studio himself.
VB: What’s your favorite part of your process?
KS: My favorite part is when I set out to do something technically, and it does something else and I’m surprised by it. Or I had no idea the medium could handle it. It’s the unknowing that I’m happy with, and striving for, what I need in order to create. To witness, at that moment the outcome is magic. The second time I repeat a result, I know I own the method, but to keep repeating a style is tragic. I guess I get bored easily with the familiar.
VB: Where can we see your work?
KS: I am pleased to be included in a book called Artists Talks, a collection of interviews conducted by Gerald Malt from the Vienna Kunsthalle, published by Moderne Kunst Nürnberg. That’s coming out this June and it’s funny because that’s an interview that was conducted around 2007-2008 and it’s just being published! I think looking back at those words and at that time will be interesting.
Then I’m in a two group shows. First one is curated by Tucker Neel called “May Contain Explicit Imagery” will be CB1 Gallery, Los Angeles in the summer. And the second show called “Itch, Scratch, Scar,” will open in September and be held atThe Fellows of Contemporary Art (FOCA), Los Angeles.
Twisted Myths: A Studio Visit With Laura Krifka
Interview by Virginia Broersma
With only a quick glance at Laura Krifka’s paintings you could easily miss the deviance of her characters and the surprisingly naughty to sinister innuendos that she concocts. With art historical allusions and adept technique, her work lures you in and then reveals its surprises that further complicate what you think you’re looking at. I had seen a few of her paintings in group shows around Los Angeles including the most recent one, Rogue Wave ’13 at LA Louver, during which Krifka gave an artist talk. Hearing her talk about her work sealed the deal for me to be totally impressed with her as a painter, artist and all-around engaging person to talk with, so I was very excited to have her all to myself during a recent visit to her studio.
Virginia Broersma: Can you talk a little about what you’re working on right now? What are you most excited about?
Laura Krifka: Right now I’m working on a painting called “Kiss Off”. It’s a female nude, upside-down, half submerged in water with nothing showing but her open, gaping mouth and its reflection in the water. It will be shown at the BravinLee Program’s booth at the Untitled Art Fair in Miami, December 4-8, 2013.
VB: I’m curious about the specific male and female roles in your pieces. You play around with who is the victim, who is the object, who is the perpetrator. This new one is a good example of that – it looks like a (probably) dead woman – could you talk about how you think about gender roles, how you choose between male and female for your subjects and how you see that decision as being important in your work?
LK: I think when you see a victim that’s male, it feels different than a victim that’s female. In some ways male violence seems…I don’t know…more surprising than female violence. We’re so used to seeing females victimized opposed to male figures because of the things that we fetishize in our culture.
Why did I do this one female? One reason was that I just really liked the idea of the disorienting view of upside down giant breasts, (and not like boltons) like fleshy breasts sliding down a body. It feels it could be sexual but could also be like decay – the way that flesh starts to slide off the bone.
So for me there was an interesting correlation between sexual flesh moving and the scariness of your flesh decaying. I like the idea of how female sexuality is rooted in its transience and its linked with death – the breast will only be perky for so long – and so it seems to me that those two things are really linked culturally: female sexuality and the fleetingness of it leading to our own death. And so for me the painting is about that – the sort of inner turmoil of feeling my own mortality….but that makes me sexy….cuz I’m gonna die! (laughs).
VB: You also have some pieces, for example I’m thinking of “Mine Eternal”, where you have a man who is on display – he’s the object of our gaze. Are you thinking of that as a power play reversal?
LK: The painting “Mine Eternal” is based off of the mythological story the Sleep of Endymion, which is a story about a moon goddess named Selene who falls in love with a shepherd. She thinks he is so beautiful so she asks Zeus to have him; she wants him to be hers. So Zeus puts him to sleep for a thousand years and he never ages and she comes down as a moonbeam and sleeps with him every night and produces fifty daughters.
Basically it’s a rape fantasy; it’s this eternal rape that happens of this sleeping youth for a thousand years. So yeah, it’s a role reversal. I guess one of the reasons why I love mythology and I come back to a lot in my work is because it seems like it’s always rooted in things that we’re all terrified of but also interested in; it’s just really rich territory to explore visually.
VB: And still relevant.
LK: Yeah, completely relevant.
VB: What is the most exciting part of the process for you – what do you have the most fun with?
LK: It’s all fun. There are so many steps to me making the pieces and each step has its own particular pleasure. I love brainstorming – that’s really fun, where my brain’s going a million miles a minute. Building the models is fun, because there’s this moment where it’s completely from my imagination. It’s completely here in my head and then it’s suddenly there and I can show it to somebody.
And when I start the painting – painting is just so pleasurable. I love that there’s something that I can do that involves craft still. It’s so fun to engage in that craft. I know craft used to be a dirty word, but I think it’s a really good word now.
VB: Then what would you say is the most challenging or difficult part? Is there one?
LK: Actually making the painting. Even though I love it, it’s challenging and difficult. I have skill but I am always doing something that I don’t know how to do so I stay interested. But painting is really hard! It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, and having to be honest with yourself the whole time. Having guts to do things you don’t know how to do and to just go for it and actually being honest with whether or not you like it. That’s really hard.
VB: You live in Ventura and teach in Santa Barbara, so have some distance from LA, even though you are represented by a gallery there and you exhibit there. I’m interested to know if you like being on the outskirts? Or if you feel disconnected to the nearby LA art community? I’m curious if it’s difficult? If it’s intentional?
LK: It’s intentional. I really like having an easy life so I can have a difficult studio. I can be challenged here. Other reasons – I just really, really like nature. I like being able to see trees and see mountains and the ocean. I feel more connected to the things I actually care about. I love looking at art, I love talking about art but my art isn’t about art. And so I need to be surrounded by things that let me think about the things I actually care about.
I love going to Los Angeles, and I love seeing things. I can go and get inspired, or furious…and then I can come home and put it in a box and pull it out when I want to think about it. I feel very autonomous here.
Laura Krifka is represented by CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles and BravinLee Programs in New York. Her work will be shown at the Untitled Fair in Miami at the BravinLee Programs booth on December 4-8, 2013 with a private preview on December 2, 2013 and can also be seen on her website.
Wham! A Studio Visit with Emily Silver
Interview by Virginia Broersma
Emily Silver makes work that is as visually calm as an air horn. Objects, drawings and videos that may have literally been involved in some kind of explosion or had their glitter-and-ribbon brains bashed out with a bat fill her studio, which upon entering happens to look like you’ve arrived just a little too late for the party. With closer inspection you see that her work has many components assembled in layers – carefully crafted, manipulated, destroyed and rebuilt into something completely unordinary, fun and a little bit dark. I have the advantage of being Silver’s neighbor and get to see the “behind the scenes” of her process on a regular basis, but with her work currently included in the Sur Biennial, I thought it would be great to sit down and talk more in depth.
Virginia Broersma: Your work often looks like you found the remains of a birthday party gone overboard and used the detritus to build your objects. Glitter, ribbon, faux-flowers, balloons and frosting-like paint all make recurring appearances in both your drawings and sculptures. Could you talk about your interest in parties and the Celebration?
Emily Silver: I think the celebration in our lives becomes a time stamp as we grow older, and through memory we remember things that happen in our lives by reflecting back on the celebration. I’m interested in this quick rise of an event and how quickly it turns bad; its something that’s so treasured and cherished, and then immediately becomes garbage and it’s left over and we want to get rid of it as soon as possible.
So I’m interested in using these materials to elevate them – to give them another life: a new life that’s much more precious than the moment that they live in. I’m also interested in that there’s a bit of the ridiculous and tragic in these events. When you are going to a party, the idea of it is so much better than actually being there. Because its over – once the day comes its already over, things are already 50% off. I’m interested in that – how fleeting these moments really are.
VB: In preparing to do this work, you’ve taken jobs related to these situations – you’ve worked at flower arranging, which is usually involved in weddings and other typically positive celebrations, and then you’ve worked in a funeral home with the same purpose.
ES: Yeah – that’s come in quite a bit. I worked in a mortuary for a while doing flowers for funerals. That was one of my favorite jobs. When I moved to LA it was the first job that I got here and it didn’t help me make any friends at all – I’d eat my lunch in the cemetery – but I purposely did it because I feel like sometimes to research you need to be fully immersed in these things. So moving 3000 miles away and then working with the dead was a great experience for me.
VB: Your work makes me think about the emotional arc of these events- the anticipation, excitement, the delirium that happens at these festive events and then the let-down at the end of them – the psychological comedown. Your pieces have a very celebratory look,- they’re colorful and bright – and then the titles might allude to that tragedy that you mentioned. So are you thinking about the psychology of the experience of these things?
ES: Absolutely. I absolutely think that there’s something in the moment -whenever you’re caught in any moment –for example, you get in a fight with somebody, and have had too many drinks at a party, you tend to act or do things that you wouldn’t normally do, and I’m super interested in that emotional curve like you were talking about. I will often put text in or these titles that have a bit of a sting on purpose so that there’s an attraction and a repulsion.
The neon comes in a lot with that because neon is supposed to be a warning. We use them on road cones and when somebody is working on the street – its like a “beware” but we have a rat-shiny problem and we want to go towards the light. I like that kind of attraction and then repulsion; the pleasure and then the sting that happens.
VB: I’ve gotten to see you work in the studio quite a bit and I know you have a lot of fun in the studio. You constantly play with materials and amuse yourself with the sometimes silly and comical possibilities of your work. What role do you think humor plays in your work?
ES: I think humor is important for everybody to have. I know sometimes it’s not something that people think or want to take seriously in art work. I’m not saying you should come and laugh a lot at the work, by any means, but I think having a sense of humor in tough times and having a sense of humor when things aren’t going right, has been for me the best way to deal and to cope with things.
I also think it’s a great way to communicate to people. If I could be something else it would be a comedian, but I guess both jobs would be failures at the bank. Either way I feel like I’m talking about the everyday and sometimes the mundane in material or in subject matter, sometimes the celebratory, but every time I’m trying to find that space where it IS funny. Right before or right after it was tragic, after I put the baseball bat in.
The moment of bashing something with a baseball bat is really hard to do in your own work, its taking a big risk, it could fail, but then at the same time its very funny afterwards and I think that’s what true comedy is. Post-tragedy, post-accident, or not taking one’s self too seriously. I do want people to have a good time, but I also want people to have a moment, at least once, that they have with the work that they go someplace a bit dark. And then maybe they bounce back.
Dangerous Games: A Studio Visit With Molly Jo Shea
Interview by Virginia Broersma
Molly Jo Shea is an artist with a highly developed sense of humor which is clearly at play in her work. Her art straddles the boundary between satire and an admiring embrace of those things she may or may not be critiquing and invites the viewer to laugh affectionately and be disgusted right along with her. She and I met while working at LACMA in the James Turrell retrospective where we operate one of the installations. While passing time at “the cell” we end up chatting quite a bit. Topics tend to revolve around security guards, museum visitors and food trucks, so I was eager for a chance to talk more about her work. Recently I visited her studio inside RAID Projects (which also doubles as a performance space she calls Dutch Door) and got to talk more in depth with her about her work and process as she prepared for her solo show, now on display at WEEKEND.
Virginia Broersma: What are you working on right now?
Molly Jo Shea: Right now I’m preparing for my first solo show in Los Angeles… and first solo show ever, now that I think about it. It’s called “Please Release Me” and will be at Weekend Gallery in October. Basically all of the work that I’ve compiled for the show has been based off of research on trappers and a lot of masculine endeavors that relate to trapping. So setting traps, going to Marine Night at the Adventurers Club, researching pick-up artists – it’s all been a very manly couple of months for me! (laughs)
VB: Do you think your work needs to be more masculine?
MS: You know, I think it’s funny, because my work has mostly been kind of mystical and fun; I haven’t’ ever been told my work needs to be more masculine or feminine. But now that I’ve gone off in this masculine route, I’ve found myself actually being more involved in feminist art making and researching ventures. I don’t know why that really happened, it might be sort of to balance the masculinity, but I think what it is is that these hyper-masculine aesthetics actually just really appeal to me, like, I’m really into wood paneling and lounge bachelor pads, and I think part of me is actually jealous that I can’t seduce men using masculine ventures. So (laughing) it’s turned into my art practice!
VB: Seduce viewers instead…..
MS: …because you know, as a woman I feel like I can’t light a bunch of candles and play a creepy Barry White record and wear a velvet robe. I mean, it might work for the right kind of guy… maybe that’s the issue, just not the right bait. But yeah, basically I’ve always been drawn to this 70s sleaze and for some reason hunting stuff has come into my aesthetic range. I don’t really get it.
VB: You work in a lot of mediums – you do performance, installation, sculpture, painting– and you pull from a lot of difference cultural references and situations. Could you talk about moving around between these things and whether or not you see yourself exploring them for an extended period?
MS: I’m not really sure, I feel like these subjects that I kind of bounce off of – I need to be learning how to do something to keep my interest. I think that’s why I jump around with a lot of mediums. Because I like this new adventure – I’ll be like, “oh printmaking, how exciting!” and then I’ll be like “printmaking, how fucking boring!” and then I’ll have to move somewhere else. I think that’s why I refresh my topics or I try and find complex topics for me to really dig through.
What’s interesting is that even though I branch off in multiple directions there are things that I always do over and over again that bring my body of work back together again. There is always this deadpan humor, or a time frame in pop-culture that I get stuck in. I think I just try to keep my brain going.
VB: One of the other continuities I see in your work is this sort of putting yourself into another identity, or speaking out of the voice of somebody else – I think that’s one of your strengths. I’m curious if that’s something you set out to do intentionally, or does it happen naturally?
MS: Everything I do ends up being a sort of self-portrait of myself, but maybe it’s an element of my personality that’s downplayed. I feel like I have a lot of conflicting opinions and viewpoints on things and so if I’m able to portray someone who has very strong convictions that it’s a little easier to figure out what I actually think about things because I’ll look at it through somebody else. I don’t know if that makes any sense…
VB: Yeah, well it’s also hard to tell if you’re making fun of these people or criticizing them, or embracing them…
MS: I think that’s a good question, because I don’t even know a lot of the time. I feel like I’m never really saying “I am being this person”, it’s always just like a mutated facet of myself.
VB: I’m thinking about other of your videos, and then also in your writing/text pieces – specifically the redneck in the tunnel of love (laughs)!
MS: Oh yeah, well….I think it comes out in writing more than any other medium. I get frustrated with people and I find people to be somewhat predictable at times, and so by writing what I think their perspective is I can grow empathy for people, and kind of see what their role is in a greater way, rather than if I’m just “oh that’s just a dumb hick”, well maybe they’re a dumb hick who’s actually a post-feminist.
VB: So what is the part of your art making process that you enjoy the most?
MS: I think what I enjoy the most, and I touched on this earlier, is learning something and being able to drop entirely into a scenario or way of thinking. Usually I like investigating a different lifestyle that I’m not really familiar with. For this body of work I went to a Marine Corp adventure night at the Los Angeles Adventurer Club which was the most amazing thing ever. I gained so much respect for stereotypical old manly men, but also such fear…so I don’t really want to say anything about them because they are like my secret love…and I don’t want anyone to know what actually happens there!
VB: What’s the most challenging part of the process for you?
MS: The most challenging is self-editing. I will jump around too much, so knowing when enough is enough and trying to maintain some sort of level of cleanliness in the work.
VB: Just out of curiosity since the type of work you do is so foreign to me as a painter – getting up in front of people and performing – does it feel very normal for you? Is it fun? Embarrassing? Is it ever uncomfortable?
MS: It’s always terrifying and that’s probably why I like doing it. Because it’s one of the few things that still freaks me the fuck out. I never trust myself with performance – and I think that’s what’s good – it keeps me on my toes. But I’ve gotten to a point where I’ll plan for about 75-80 percent of my performance and with the rest, I’ll be like you’re on your own, kid!” And that part is the fun part!
Molly Jo Shea’s work can be seen at http://www.mollyjoshea.com and her upcoming solo show will be at WEEKEND with an opening reception on October 11th 2013, 7-10pm and performance at 8:45pm. Traps will be involved….
Interview by Virginia Broersma
I recently visited the studio of Chris Trueman in Upland, CA. His studio was piled deep with paintings wrapped and ready to bring down to his upcoming solo show “Lineage” at White Box Contemporary in San Diego, which opens June 22, 2013. I was lucky to be able to see the paintings while still in the context of his studio with that palpable sense of being freshly finished and the residue of “making”. Chris and I had recently learned we both are oenophiles so we sat down to chat over a couple bottles of pinot noir and some cheese while we discussed his work.
Virginia Broersma: I usually like to start by talking about what you’re working on right now. You’ve got a solo show coming up at White Box Contemporary in San Diego that you’re sending work off to; are you also painting at the same time?
Chris Trueman: Yeah, well I literally just finished the last piece for the show last week. Now it’s just a matter of wrapping them up, getting them down there, and dealing with the practical side of things.
VB: You also have a two-person show up right now in Los Angeles at Art Merge Lab titled Gestural Geometry– I was curious if you’ve heard that phrase anywhere else? It’s such a fitting description for the type of work you do, which I’ve also seen in other artists’ work – this sort of hybrid or pairing of gestural painting with geometric and hard edge forms. Do other people use that term?
CT: That was the first time that I heard that term, but what is also interesting is that term has also been used in a description of a show that I have upcoming that Carl Berg curated at AndrewShire Gallery. That particular description was also there. I think it makes a lot of sense although I don’t know if it implies that it makes gesture out of geometry or if it talks about the combination of these two things at once.
VB: Have you heard of other ways artists working in this vein describe it?
CT: I think that what is interesting is that “Op Art” had been sort of written off for a long time, and that a lot of artists are exploring these Op and moiré patterns. Anoka Faruqee has some interesting moiré patterns in her work, and Garth Weiser is another artist that is working in that vein.
VB: I’m glad you brought up “Op Art” because I haven’t even thought of your work in relation to it. Definitely you have some kinds of optical effects happening, but when I look at your work, what comes to my mind is our current connection to technology and the digital (and I associate the more geometric and non-organic forms with that) and then combining those with something that is very human and body oriented like gesture, and so I wonder if it’s a combination of wanting to reconcile those two things a little bit?
CT: Yeah sure, I think a lot of this work has a screen-like appearance, where the gesture has been sort of mediated by the stripes or bands, so in that sense there is that connection to the digital. What I am also interested in is this sort of nebulous space that you can get into, where op art is essentially a reflection of how you see things- it reflects back at the body, and you realize that its making your eyes do funny things, or it’s making you dizzy or feel this or that. Gestural painting or abstract expressionist painting historically has always been meant as some sort of a transmission, whether it was an idea or a feeling – non-verbal communication.
VB: What’s the most enjoyable part of the process for you?
CT: Sometimes when I have to mask almost the whole painting, I mask it and the underlying layers are covered up. I have a game plan of how I’m going to approach the next layer but I don’t really know what that’s going to look like. It’s either going to destroy or make the piece. And I’ve had both! So when I pull it off and it more or less did what I thought it would do (or sometimes there are some surprises that I’m really fascinated by) then that’s really fulfilling.
VB: There’s risk involved-
CT: Yeah for sure. I’ve destroyed a painting that was 80% done.
VB: What’s the most difficult part of the process for you?
CT: Well, this might sound cliché, but I do subscribe to that idea that each painting is a problem. I have these “ingredients” and these tools, and then I have these ideas about how the piece should turn out and what it should do and what it should act like. Then I have to reconcile my own ambitions with what is actually happening in the piece. To get it to a point where I think there are some interesting tensions happening, where I haven’t overworked it or beat it to death – I think that’s where the challenge is.
VB: But you enjoy that challenge?
VB: Your work clearly addresses a lot of formal concerns; I’m wondering if emotion and psychology are things you consider?
CT: Oh, for sure. The emotive qualities are there. I tend to not talk about them a lot or discuss them because I’m really cautious about the language surrounding my work interfering with the process of experiencing it. So even with the titles… I’ve almost completely eliminated titles.
VB: Yes – that was something else I was interested in– could you talk about that more?
CT: They were originally working titles, and what ended up happening was I came up with a coding system, sometimes based on the colors, or what I think it looks like early on in the painting, and it becomes a series of initials. What I’m doing is denying a certain access to language as a way of describing the work.
CT: I have speculations. I have ideas about what I think people will do, or think or how they’ll act. But beyond that, it is out of my control.
VB: Could you give an example?
CT: Well, I know for a fact that certain striped patterns will activate visually at a certain amount of feet away. And I know that the viewer is going to need to go through that space in order to get close enough to see some of the details that I planted there that are much smaller. So I can fairly well expect that they will experience this movement or this shift that happens in the painting at that amount of space. Then I can also predict what will happen at say, 2 or 3 feet of distance, because it changes; the scale changes things a lot. I’ve come to start to anticipate that and set up scenarios where viewers will want to change the distance and angle in order to get these things to work. At least I hope.
VB: There’s an element of surprise, and discovery….
CT: Yeah, different elements are revealed. I really don’t want these to sit still.
VB: Where can we see your work?
CT: I have several upcoming shows and art fairs that open in the next few months in San Diego, Los Angeles, Aspen and Houston, with ongoing shows also in Los Angeles and Washington DC. I will be having a solo exhibition entitled Lineage at White Box Contemporary in downtown San Diego. The exhibition will run through July 20th with an opening reception on June 22nd. I’m also in a two-artist exhibition with Joe Lloyd called Gestural Geometry at Art Merge Lab which runs through August 29, 2013. Then in August I will be a part of a two-person exhibition at AndrewShire Gallery with Mira Schnedler curated by Carl Berg.
Amir H. Fallah
Around the time Amir H. Fallah and I were discussing sitting down for an interview, I saw several other interviews posted on various blogs and websites about him and his work, so be sure to check them out for further conversations, pictures and information here, here and here. Then on a lovely SoCal day, I visited his Highland Park studio to talk with him in person about his work.
Virginia Broersma: Could you talk about what you’re working on right now?
Amir H. Fallah: I have one show that I just shipped off which is opening in June- the paintings are all based on Dutch and Flemish Golden Age paintings. What I did was take reproductions of these famous and iconic paintings from that era, scanned them, cut out specific flowers within those paintings, and then printed them out archivally and used them as collage elements. They’re paintings of paintings, and reproductions of reproductions. The show is called “Arrangement”. It’s a word play on flower arranging, or the arrangement of a painting, or the history of appropriation of Master works by contemporary painters.
Right now I’m working on these two figurative paintings – are part of a commissioned series that are all based on photographs and are portraits of art collectors in their homes. The paintings are all pre-bought before I started making them. The whole project is talking about the history or portraiture, specifically commissioned portraiture, and then trying to deconstruct that process and reverse the power structure between the artist and the sitter. Historically the person commissioning the work was in power – they were the one calling the shots and dictating what the work would look like. I wanted to figure out a way to do these portraits without compromising my artistic process. I wanted to give myself the freedom to change things, manipulate colors, edit things out, add things without having the sitter dictate what the image needed to look like. I don’t want to be a slave to the collector; I want to be a slave to the image.
VB: You talked about the floral pieces that have a link to the Dutch and Flemish flower paintings and still lives, and you then you have this project dealing with the patronage and collectors through art history- do you think having the link to something art historical is what is important to you in your work? Or is it a secondary consideration?
AF: I was never interested in artwork that was about artwork. I actually hate artwork that is about other artwork, I really don’t like it, and I don’t like floral paintings, and I don’t like portraits, so I’m trying to tackle all these things that I don’t like in art, and try to (at least for myself) make them interesting, or to figure out a way of working within them.
VB: So you like the challenge of working with something that is not necessarily what you are drawn to?
AF: It’s not even that, no – just somehow I ended up here. My older work was dealing with abstraction, and then I just allowed the work to go wherever it wanted to go and somehow I ended up making this work that’s taking on these historical traditions. They’re taking on more significant types of imagery in art, like the still life and the portrait – two of (probably) the most cliché forms of painting ever. You walk into the Levitz Furniture store and they probably have these shitty paintings of floral still lives and shitty portraits, they’re art world clichés, and I kind of like that. I like the idea of taking these things that are tired and old and not interesting, and trying to have a different take on them, to breathe new life into them. I don’t know if I’m doing it or not, but that’s what I’m trying to do: to make it interesting for myself.
VB: What’s the most difficult part of the process for you?
AF: I’ve always disliked painting the figure; I’ve actually avoided it until the last couple of years. All throughout college and grad school I never painted the figure, primarily because I didn’t think I was good at it. I had a fear of it, and it was like one of those things where I thought I don’t think I can do this, it’s not in me. So it was kind of exciting- stressful and exciting – to take on this thing that I wasn’t proficient at.
VB: So would you say that’s the most enjoyable part of the process for you? Working through a challenge and feeling accomplishment?
AF: No, No, I don’t think that’s where my interest lies in the paintings, My interest lies in taking something representational and for lack of a better term, taking a creative approach to it, or an out of the box approach. Trying to figure out ways to make an image that reads as a painting, but that still has a lot of collage elements – for me, that’s really exciting. Also translating a fabric into this kind of stippled effect is very interesting for me.
There are a lot of formal concerns that interest me because they’re inventive ways of making marks. I’m really trying, with all my work, to straddle this line between something that has a lot of pure beauty in it, like beauty in line, form, color, shape. But I also want there to be an element of tension, or an element of mystery or the unknown.
I want to make a painting that’s beautiful, but I don’t want to make a painting that’s just beautiful.
VB: When I’m working in the middle of a project, there’s a point where I start to see the next step. The next things I’m going to work on. So you’re working on these right now, do you know what’s coming next for you?
AF: I have some ideas, nothing really to speak about, they’re still in their infancy, but one of the things that’s rewarding with the figurative work is this element of surprise of me walking into somebody’s home and then having to make a painting out of their stuff. If you’re painting from your imagination, you’re drawn to the same things, over and over again, but when I’m walking into somebody’s home, I’m a slave to the things they have. So I have to figure out how to make a plush toy with a furry mustache work in one of my paintings. I would NEVER put that in one of my paintings! You know, this cliché, pop culture object, like a rubber duck. I’m not drawn to those elements, so there’s this element of the unknown and I like that because it becomes this challenge of how to make this foreign object fit into your world.
And so because of that there’s a lot of room for experimenting and different types of painting. There’s all this inventiveness and technique that comes out in having to paint these objects that I wouldn’t normally paint.
Right now I’m really interested in what I’m doing, and I’ve recently realized that; before I was thinking that these floral pieces were a completely different body of work, but now in my mind, they’re really melding conceptually with the figurative paintings and there’s a dialogue between the two worlds. For me that’s really interesting, because that’s not what I set out to do but now I think there’s potential for even further dialogue between the two.
VB: I recently saw your work at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, as part of the exhibition “SuperCallaFragileMysticEcstasyDioecious” – where else can we see your work?
AF: This summer I have several upcoming shows. I have a solo show in Dubai in June at The Third Line Gallery. I’m in a group show in July at Zic Zerp Gallery in Rotterdam, curated by the Los Angeles artist Danni Tull, called “Archaic Revival”. I’m also in a show at the end of this month at Gallery Ernst Hilger in Vienna, and then in July I’m in two group shows in Los Angeles- one is at Kopeiken Gallery and the other one is at Koplin del Rio.
Amir H. Fallah is represented by Gallery Wendi Norris in New York and The Third Line in Dubai. His work can also be seen at www.amirhfallah.com. Images courtesy of Gallery Wendi Norris and The Third Line.
Lisa C Soto
Interview by Virginia Broersma
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the studio of Lisa C Soto at the Beacon Arts Building. She is preparing for her upcoming solo show at the Reginald Ingraham Gallery in Los Angeles and I spoke with her about her work and thoughts behind what she refers to as “drawings in space”.
Virginia Broersma: You’ve used words such as interstellar, constellation, cartography and topography in the titles of your pieces…
Lisa C Soto: …and “Beyond the 11th Dimension” …
VB: ….yes – and you also dip into physics when talking about your work. Could you talk about how science fits into your work and process?
LS: All the work from the past four to five years has been dealing with, like you said, cartography, map making and now it’s going into a more galactic, visual landscape. The theme behind the work is referencing science in the sense that I am trying to have a conversation about the idea that everything is connected. I think about Superstring Theory and the Theory of Everything – the idea that Einstein was trying to come to, a very simple scientific equation that would equal everything; the answer to everything that exists and how and why it’s connected.
VB: In dealing with cartography some of your works are more literal than others, like you have some actual types of maps such as the stick charts.
LS: Yes, I have the one series, “Beyond the 11th Dimension,” which comes from creating abstracted versions of stick charts, which were ancient Polynesian maps. Then I’ve used them as stencils to create these “spray paint drawings”. I refer to these finished works as “Beyond the 11th Dimension” because I see them as maps to the dimensions beyond the eleven that scientists have theories on. There’s also a theory that there are twenty-four dimensions, and another theory that there are infinity of dimensions, and so it’s referencing and having a conversation about this.
VB: Many of your pieces require labor intensive, detailed handiwork on individual units that will then combine to form a larger configuration, which may vary depending on where it is located. How do you see the process of making the individual units, then the act of combining those units into the installation and then the final presentation of the piece relating to one another? Is one part of the process more significant than the others?
LS: It’s definitely a step by step process. Sometimes I see the whole piece finished already and it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it. Other times I know the process that I want to do and the materials I want to put together, but I’m not quite sure what the final outcome will look like. I generally have a process of taking small objects, little things, and putting them together to create a very large thing. Some of my installations seem to be somewhat chaotic, but there is definitely order in the chaos.
VB: You started to describe making the small components of the work that then become the larger piece, could you talk about the process some more, specifically in relation to the installation you will be creating for your upcoming show at Reginald Ingraham Gallery?
LS: Well this installation will be an interesting a kind of “peek-a-boo”, you will see the installation through a long horizontal slot in the wall; therefore you will not be entering the installation like you normally would with my work. This particular installation is called “Aranea Constellations” and it is made up of small hand-cut pieces of Mylar, that have been sewn onto a long line. The pieces of Mylar can be seen as little bytes of information. I criss-cross these lines between walls, ceilings, floors and they start to cross the space. It looks like there is a network of information intersecting, something like the world wide web, so it has this kind of web-like quality to it. That piece is based on systems of communication.
VB: What is the most difficult part of the process for you?
LS: Patience is one. It really drives me to lose my patience and I have to come back to myself very quickly.
VB: What do you mean come back to yourself?
LS: Well, I just want to walk away from the materials I use, such as wire or thread that easily tangle and seem to have a mind of their own or work on canvas, which is easy to install instead of creating these complicated installations. And I have to come back to myself and say, “OK- I can do this, this is what I do and I am doing it this way for a reason.”
VB: What is your favorite part of the process?
LS: When I’m finished. (laughs)
VB: And you’re completely done?
LS: The first moment when I know that particular piece is finished. But also right in the middle of making a piece, when I am in a groove and there seems to be no end in sight. There is something meditative and hypnotic about my process because it’s very repetitive. Whether it’s taking wire and creating knots, or sewing knots and bits onto a line – it’s like chanting in silence.
Lisa’s work can be seen at www.lisacsoto.com and her exhibition will be on view at the Reginald Ingraham Gallery from April 6,2013 through May 11, 2013.
Interview by Virginia Broersma
Recently I got together with Snezana Petrovic in her studio at the Beacon Arts Building. Snezana is originally from Yugoslavia, but as she says, “Yugoslavia does not exist any anymore, so I’m kind of from nowhere.” She has been living and working in California for almost 22 years, and her studio is filled with paintings, meandering rope constructions, and barely-there paper-like sculptures floating from the ceiling and walls.
Virginia Broersma: It looks like you use a lot of different channels in your work – performance, sculpture, costume, video- could you talk about how you see those things working together? Or do you keep them separate; compartmentalize them and think of them as independent of each other?
Snezana Petrovic: I think they all work together. I have always had a continuous practice, literally non-stop, working in different disciplines, so to speak. Basically I would have an internal dialogue during these processes and summarize it to a few issues that are permeating. One is gender, and the other is displacement. I am constantly in conflict with my training and myself, and trying to break through the experience of a being trained artist through the use of European-dominant white male point of view and literally breaking out of the structure that I was taught is appealing: “this is how you’re supposed to create a painting.” I’m not saying that is bad necessarily, but it’s not reflective of who I am.
I was trained as a traditional painter and at one point when I graduated from the school I was able to replicate any artist and masterpiece. This was my first job actually: to do the paintings of Picasso and Van Gogh – I was a specialist of Van Gogh – in forging their work!
But then I felt I had to break out of it. My exit was to go in the video direction, doing more videos and then installations.
VB: I’m interested in what you were saying about how you had to break free from the things you internalized from your education – are there methods you use? Or certain things that you find help you to do that?
SP: Well, my methodology is basically this: I do it the way I think it needs to be done. Then I move back from it and analyze it. If I recognize that there is a pattern that I was taught of how things need to be done and how they’re appealing, then I say, “OK, I’m going to create disorder” and deconstruct it.
I question myself, “where does this come from?” because it is so ingrained that you don’t even see.
VB: You start to question your authenticity…
SP: Exactly. So I started to go away from it and really try to break through and be brave to do the complete opposite of what I believed was the right way, (if there is a right or wrong way, I don’t know, but I don’t think that there is). And especially at the time when I went there were not that many women recognized as artists and you were not really able to see their work. It’s still hard because its male dominated, somehow, still. Unfortunately. So that’s why my interest for design in theater or movies was part of this exploration – challenging the gender role.
VB: This may or not be related, but one of the things that I find interesting about your work is that you seem so interested in sharing your process in inviting people to participate, or collaborating with other artists, which maybe this is a wrong assessment, but it seems very feminine. It’s sort of masculine to take on the role of everything, and to say, “This is mine”, and there’s something more community based or sharing based in your work which is very feminine. So that seems like another way to me that you are breaking that cycle – you bring people in….
SP: That is exactly it – thank you for bringing that up – because I really get upset when…for example, I was at this panel when there was a discussion about feminism, and there were artists that are feminists that were saying that collaboration is not OK, that they would not work collaboratively. I mean, since the 60’s and into the 70’s this is what women artists were doing: they were creating collaborative projects, because it is so ingrained into who we are and then being supportive of each other as a family, or as sister to sister. So to me that was like, seriously? This is where feminism is now heading? To hate another artist? Male or female? This is a very masculine approach, that kind of competitiveness.
Working in collaboration brings the aspects of who we are in the most exciting and unexpected ways. At the times it might be challenging, but it is always worth an effort.
VB: What are you working on right now?
SP: I’ve been working on trying to reconcile my past and the sense of dislocation. The way that I figure out how to reconcile it is to be in the present, and this is why the whole project is called “YOU ARE HERE”. It started 3 years ago as an exercise for me to not think about the future and not think about the past but to learn how to live in the moment and recognize this is where I’m at. I did this by taking video of the places where I felt like I was present in the moment – I would stand in one spot with my camera phone and take video of a full circle, 360 degrees around me– just the length of one inhale and exhale.
So, it started simultaneously with this video and an exploration of the Enso, or doing the calligraphy with circles – as an exercise in Zen Buddhism and doing it with the breath – the inhale, exhale – and in the same way editing the videos – I’m doing them the same way, the videos are 8 seconds, for inhale and exhale, which is just the bare minimum of time that a person can actually perceive what is going on and have an idea of what is happening. It’s sort of like a blink of the eye, a moment in life, a moment in my life, but also the moment I am sharing with the people around me.
VB: So is that connected to the circle on the stickers you’ve been passing out that say “YOU ARE HERE?”
SP: The sticker happened also as a way of acknowledging the moment and also because I’ve been traveling a lot – you know the sign on the maps that says “you are here”? I think about it like a little joke, I think Oh REALLY?! What does this mean? You’re telling me this?
I actually printed the stickers as a way of connecting the idea of the circle as a breath at a moment, and acknowledging that yes, you are here, but you can have a different interpretation of it. This was a trial at the open studios to see how the work would resonate with the viewer. The people at the studios were placing the stickers everywhere – on their foreheads, on their butts – it was kind of a joke, and I was wondering if it was taking away from something that is a very deep idea, but actually I realized that the playfulness does bring us all in the present moment. There’s a sense of playing and joking, really being in the moment–
VB: Yes, an awareness…
SP: …Yes…awareness and joy.
There are lots of things I have to do, but this is just the first snapshot of where I’m heading. In the meantime I’m painting, because that’s the way that I process ideas.
VB: I’ve been thinking about these pieces in your space that sort of disappear: they’re not really here and they go along with your idea of displacement. I think it’s interesting how you’re trying to affirm your presence with your self and your body in the present moment, but the objects are more ephemeral and….
SP: Everything that I do is floating….because I still feel that I’m floating – I’m not connected to the ground. I feel like I’m this ghost, coming in and out into the present. Art is a healing process for all of us.
Snezana Petrovic’s work can be seen at http://www.snezanapetrovic.com.
Interview by Virginia Broersma
Recently I visited the studio of Jesus Max at the 1019 West studio building in Inglewood. I had only met Jesus a short time before so this was my first visit to his studio and a chance for some more in-depth conversation.
Virginia Broersma: I thought we could start with talking about what you’re working on right now.
Jesus Max: I’m working on this big painting right now – this is the size I want to work with lately – with four pictures of my daughter, with the iPod, in this kind of room, with this very strange light and base. It’s a very symbolic and mysterious painting.
VB: Yes, I’ve noticed that you use a lot of symbolism in your work.
VB: So the details all have symbolic meanings for you? Are the meanings personal, or…
JM: Well some of it is personal, but I try to take a lot from historical painting, and religious painting and symbolist painting form the 19th century, which is the kind of art I like very much. And this narrative and symbolic aspect of art, which is now a little bit lost, because sociology, politics and this sort of stuff is more prominent.
VB: So are you telling stories with your paintings?
JM: Yeah, every painting is pretty much a little story, with its own range of symbols and personal relationships.
VB: From your titles and looking at your paintings, it looks like you use family members and friends as your models?
JM: Yeah- that’s what I do. In the case of family members, it’s mostly because they are the easiest people to reach, the persons most at hand to work with, but in my daughter’s case, I even pay her whenever she has to, you know, work- sitting for me. So, I want to establish this professional sitter/painter relationship with everybody, even if it’s my family.
VB: I was curious about something I saw on your CV – it said that you were a co-founder of a prestigious art group- what was that?
JM: Yeah, well this was an art group – A UA CRAG – which was working in Spain in this small town in Spain for more than 10 years. But we were working, you know, making shows in France, Paris, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany; it was an interchange with art groups in all these cities. Here I have this… (he points to a substantial book on his desk about the group)…so we started as a group of artists from several parts of the country, working in this small place.
VB: Was the emphasis to discuss or show your work? Or did your work have things in common?
JM: Mostly it was the intercommunication with other groups in other countries. The funny thing was that there was a little bit of this Fluxus kind of spirit, although people like myself were always fighting with all the Fluxus types. You had different kinds of artists in the room, you know, it was like Sigmar Polke/ Joseph Beuys kind of debate.
VB: You talked about using a lot of art history as references in your work, are there specific artists that you look at?
JM: Yeah, well in some paintings I even use fragments or parts of a specific painting, and then crop and manipulate…all kinds of stuff. The one on the left over there (Celia After the Dragons, 2010) the background is a Raphael painting – St. George with the Dragon – but I removed St. George and the maid in distress, and I put my daughter in it. I toned the feeling very differently. And the landscape in the background of the one on the right (Raquel At Dusk, 2010) which is with my wife, is a Poussin landscape.
VB: And those are dragons in the corners?
JM: Well, they look like dragons, but actually they are real animals taken from engravings in old books. But they work as dragons. In Celia After the Dragons I was playing with the story of the maid, who is sitting for the dragon, that is why she has the garland of flowers Hawaiian style–
VB: the lei?
JM: – and the cave -it’s about emptiness, darkness , and this thing about adolescence; in other cases its more paradisiacal kind of painting. The dragon for me does not have a negative meaning every time.
VB: What part of the process do you enjoy the most?
JM: When I finish them! You’re a painter, so you know what I mean!
VB: Yeah, (laughs), although I’ve found that people always have different answers and I find it interesting to see what people have to say.
JM: I don’t know about you, but when they’re almost finished, getting to the last part, I really enjoy the painting, because the big problems are solved, and I know I’m finishing it. It can also be very horrible.
VB: If it didn’t come out right?
JM: Yeah, I always have this crisis in the last few days before I finish, when I feel like I’m doing everything wrong, I just want to get over that feeling!
VB: Yes- doubt creeps in. So is the ending also the most difficult part of the process for you?
JM: The most difficult is probably the beginning. The first part in my work process is I start at my computer and my camera; I shoot a lot of pictures, until I focus the idea. And then I am just cutting things, taking things, looking for something…it’s like in a song: you have on one side the music and one side the lyrics and you have to….
VB: put it together.
VB: Has being in California changed your work?
JM: Yeah I guess so- it’s been a while since I came here, and this kind of painting I’m doing now that I started two or three years ago, I seriously doubt if I stayed in Spain, if I would be doing the same kind of work.
See more of Jesus Max’s work at www.jesusmax.com and in the South Bay Focus group show at the Torrance Art Museum, which will be on exhibit through December 15, 2012. Jesus Max is represented by Evelyn Botella Gallery in Madrid, Spain.
Interview by Virginia Broersma
Last week I joined Martin Durazo in his studio at 1019 West in Inglewood, CA. Martin is one of this year’s recipients of the COLA Fellowship, which recognizes outstanding artists in Los Angeles. The recipients each created work for a recent exhibition at the Barnsdall Art Center. I sat down with Martin and asked him about the work that he created for the exhibition.
Martin Durazo: It’s an ongoing body of work called “Plata O Plomo”, which is a euphemism that drug traffickers use, which translates from Spanish to English as “silver or lead”. It’s the principle of offering somebody a bribe (which would be the silver) or the lead (which would be filling them with bullets, or killing them). I’ve been very interested in this thing called the “aesthetic of the illicit”, or the idea that in our society, all things illicit seem to be coded or identified through a very specific color palette, or by certain colors. Whether it is the colors associated with all things related to the environment of drug trafficking or consumption or things to do with what one would call social subcultures, that is the color palette that I am drawing from for this body of work.
Virginia Broersma: So your interest in it is more abstract versus your personal experience, although you’re probably impacted somewhat by being in Southern California, right?
MD: Yeah, I would say that it has to do with things that I’m drawn to, but again, that aesthetic rather than just the idea of the consumption of things that are necessarily bad for you. It’s more of an interest to me as to why we are attracted to them; what is it that really attracts us to them? Is it just a feeling or is there an aesthetic that creates that feeling? And that’s what I’m interested in finding and exploring in terms of a visual artist.
VB: So how does that translate into your work?
MD: Well the Plata O Plomo is kind of self-explanatory. I did a body of work that the color theme is either this metallic silver or more like a dead color scheme, which then moved into these bright colors that used to be part of, I would say, the Mexican landscape for bars and nightclubs that would rely heavily paint colors that were electrified from black light. And then the idea is to put it all together in either a two-dimensional or three-dimensional situation and see what they look like in the light of day.
So again, it becomes like a third level or a tertiary presentation of what it started out with.
VB: What’s the most exciting part of the process for you? Is it the initial idea or…
MD: Sure, the research, (laughs) you know? It’s fun for me. I like to explore why people are attracted to these things. It doesn’t mean that I participate in all things illicit, but these things are of interest me. And there are ways without being directly involved; it can be through literature, film or journalism that I can learn about them without directly being involved. It isn’t so much an autobiographical situation. As artists I think we’re here to observe and interpret and so that’s where I’m coming from with this work. Although there’s naughty stuff that I do (laughs) that sprinkles a little flavor on it.
VB: What’s the most challenging part of the process for you?
MD: Wow, um… seeing it.
VB: Do you mean once the work is finished?
MD: No. Even from the beginning I started to see it, started to see things that made sense to me and then translated it into the imagery that would then become the artwork. In one way or another I’ve been working on this body of work for almost three years now. In that time I’ve done 2.5 solo shows/ projects that explored this idea and now I see myself becoming more interested in, I hate to use the word, the spiritual side of encountering things that are illicit or are pushing the boundaries of one’s mortality, and what does that then look like? I think that’s the direction of the work. It’s becoming more ethereal, more spacey. I’m gravitating towards imagery that has to do with some kind of spiritual geometry, like images of pyramids or inverted pyramids that look like diamonds. Now I’m getting into a hexagon shape with has to do with this weird kind of mathematical spiritual.
VB: You had something in your installation at Barnsdall that looked like an Aztec or Mayan pyramid? Is that related?
MD: Yeah, again all those pyramids are broken down to something that’s very mathematical like those step style pyramids that pre-Columbian cultures were into. Each level had to do with a certain amount of years that led these different levels of consciousness. I can’t help but be interested in it because I found there’s this connection for me as to why , let’s say, narco-drug traffickers have become increasingly violent insomuch as there is a ceremonial approach to the violence and the horror.
I started to try to build parallels, well, I started off with my interest being in the parallel of how do you survive in the face of that kind of threat, of kind of danger, and still hold onto your humanity? And now I’ve gone over to the other side and say, well, is this a cycle that’s happened before? And in Mayan culture there’s the history of bloodletting and human sacrifice – and in a very gory way – of pulling somebody’s heart out their chest while they’re still alive. And sacrificing virgins and piercing their body, skinning people…so you’re seeing these horrific images show up throughout Mexico. So I started to draw that parallel and that’s why you start to see these images and a little bit more literal in that last show with the COLA fellowship where I had that pyramid.
And to add another level to it, that pyramid was constructed on a reflective insulation panel which represents something that’s supposed to protect you, but is actually very fragile because it’s made out of foam. Its easily punctured or scarred, and it only protects you in a certain way, which if you think of the construct of a social landscape, you have things in place like the police that are supposedly there to protect you, but there’s only so much they can do to protect you, and when they’re not there you’re vulnerable.
And then on top of that surface I places those black handkerchiefs which I pulled from gay leather culture, which signifies rough trade, which is kind of that idea of someone who is sexually aroused through bondage, and basically being tortured – willfully tortured. So this is where I’m bringing together all these illicit signifiers to create one vision.
VB: Where can we see your work? Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
MD: I have a solo exhibition at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, which will take place in January. That show’s going to be called “Points of Entry”. Again the double entendre of sexuality and this inferred… whatever you want to call it…and again this kind of spiritual entry into the next level, the next plane. So the exhibition will consist of a grouping of large scale paintings and a free standing interactive sculpture where you will be welcome to enter this environment….I don’t want to give away too much, but there will be some fun things inside of it.