Artist Q&A

Q+A with Douglas Degges

untitled (props for pictures)

untitled (props for pictures)

Zeitgeist: Your current Zeitgeist show, Split Ends, represents two bodies of work. Are you still working on both of them? Which came first?

Douglas Degges: I am still working on both bodies of work. The props for pictures work came first, but both projects share overlapping conceptual concerns. Both groups of paintings explore the relationship between the painted image and the painted object. The image, the immaterial thing we can hold in our mind, is both separate from and part of the physical material that contains or supports it. It is this complicated relationship between the skin of a painting and its bones that I am most interested in. The monochrome paintings, the making stuff like pictures works, approach this idea, as well as the nature of depiction in painting, from a more sculptural place. These works attempt to both depict some thing, object, or surface while, at the same time, being that object or surface. With the props for pictures works I’m interested in how the physicality of the support can be set at odds with the painted image. These works are highly textured and the top layers of paint rarely and only incidentally acknowledge the surface they sit on. 

Houghton College (making stuff like pictures)

Houghton College (making stuff like pictures)

Where did the idea to work with gypsum come from? What do you like about it as a medium?

The gypsum material is really just Durham's Water Putty, a water mixable powder that has a number of different applications. Mostly it's used as a casting material and wall patch. I enjoy working with this material because it allows me to build up the surface of my paintings quickly while suggesting the opposite. With the props for pictures paintings in particular, it is my hope that the physicality of the surface is mistakenly read as the accumulation of many layers of paint. I'm interested in how this causes the paintings to look heavily worked, both in terms of time spent and accumulation of material.

What is your process like? What time of day do you work best?

I work best during the day but I don’t really have a schedule. I try to get at least a few hours in every day while there’s plenty of daylight and then I often return to the studio a second time late in the evening. I enjoy having my studio at home because it allows for this to happen. I can work in fits and spurts and pop into the studio at any moment. I can begin something, walk away from it, and return again later in the same day and all without needing to commute from home or work to the studio.

What are the benefits of an arts education? How do you use what you learned in school?

There are so many benefits to an arts education. An arts education helps us find value in things that challenge us or exist outside of our own interests and known conventions. Of course, skills and tools are taught too. These are important and help us learn to give physical form to our ideas and interests with an increasingly aware and complex understanding of the context within which we make. An arts education opens up so many possibilities and connects an active studio practice with a much larger community.

Douglas Degges installation at Zeitgeist

Douglas Degges installation at Zeitgeist

Are there any ways that your students have inspired you?

I am inspired by my students all of the time. So many of them are hardworking, open, and eager to more fully and thoughtfully engage with the world around them. I’ve been teaching Foundations courses for the past year and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with first year college students. It’s so rewarding to guide them into the world of art and art making. I enjoy helping them discern what they want to say about the things they care most about.

Who are your favorite artists? Recent influences?

Amy Sillman

Amy Sillman

I look at a lot of different artists’ work but a few have consistently loomed large. The varied work of Amy Sillman and Michael Krebber have been major influences on my studio practice. I also worked as an artist assistant for Catherine Murphy and Thomas Nozkowski for a short time after finishing school. They have both greatly affected my work and taught me the importance of protecting your studio practice as so much of life conspires to keep you away from it. Recently, I’ve been looking at the work of Jutta Koether, Albert Oehlen, and R. H. Quaytman. I appreciate the way these three artists move seamlessly from figuration to abstraction and back.

Douglas Degges' show Split Ends will be on view at Zeitgeist through June 24. 

Studio Visit with Paul Collins

Paul Collins

Paul Collins' studio is located in the 100 Taylor St artists collective in Germantown. He shares the space with his wife, Alex Blau. When Collins is not teaching at Austin Peay, or off doing a cool residency somewhere, he is painting in his studio. His new show, on display at Zeitgeist this month is called "Soft Bark."

What do the trees in “Soft Bark” mean to you?
The trees are all trees from my neighborhood. they’re all pictured as tree trunks in line with the parade of trees lost over the last few years. Some are pictured as cut, and some are drifting away under their own power.


When did you begin painting trees?
I’ve been painting trees since I’ve been painting (c.a. 1987). Like real trees they are sort of always around but infrequently appear as a focus.


How do you feel about trees?
I’m a tree hugger, but i’m a gardener so I’ve cut my fair share (it was for their own good!). Honestly, I am sincerely reverent and sadly passive for/about trees. The title is self-critical. I can look all day long and paint their forms but there’s a treemageddon going on and I’m just fiddling away.


How does the theme of suburbia tie into this work?
Well it’s where I live, and the setting for these images. I grew up in suburban new jersey and I love the sometimes uneven visual transitions that abound.


Where does all this yellow come from?
My connection started with the sunrise and the yellow world of dawn while walking around the neighborhood. I made my first yellow on yellow piece 3 years back for a show at Dane Carder’s studio and the silliness of it haunted me. Yellow is its own challenge- such a weird complicated color. In these tree paintings yellow comes in as journeyman actor with a lot of changing roles: demonic headlights, a flashbulb, dawn or the apocalypse, the golden background of a gilded icon, urine or tree sap.

How did the elements of collage come into this work?
I wanted to bring trees into the images with great detail but without the weight of a rendered or crafted mark. I wanted them to be entities that could variably participate in the picture or be aloof to my process of picture making. Collaging them in as photos was perfect. It excited my brain to drag the photograph’s reality and its perfect factual alienness into the warm soup of painting’s plastic image manipulation. Another reason collage took hold is that it established a practical link to my everyday iPhone photos and that’s a connection I don’t use enough. Lastly it’s been great because collage has offered a lot of opportunities to explore different ways to paint. In the latest pieces the collage elements are all painted but are still recognizable as composite realities. Those recognizable samples and seams are all from collage.

Peter Saul

Which artists do you see a connection to with this work?
Serial works toward a personal narrative of complicity: HC Westermann, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol and Llyn Faulkes. 

Polyvocal paintings contributing to a narrative of complicity: Kippenberger, Polke, David Humphrey, and Nicole Eisenman

Love of energetic picturemaking emerging from personal experience: Robert Colescott, Peter Saul and Momma Anderson Ardent

Nature lovers: Charles Ray, Jay Defeo, Charles Long, Charles Burchfield, Lynda Benglis, Roy Deforrest, Forrest Bess and Naomi Fisher

Color fairy light lovers: Maxfield Parrish and Alex Katz.

Soft Bark by Paul Collins is on display at Zeitgeist March 5 - April 30, 2016

Studio Corner - a Visit with Brady Haston

Brady Haston

We had a chance to visit with artist, Brady Haston at his home studio in East Nashville this October, and see the new paintings and drawings he's working on.

Haston's studio mate approaches the chicken coop visible from his studio (upper left)

Where is your studio, and what do you like about it?

My studio is behind our house on the western edge of East Nashville just off Dickerson Pike. The studio feels like a creative space whenever I enter. The paintings and drawings are scattered around and it becomes easy to pick up where I left off during the last work session. Having a studio so close to the house compliments my teaching career and makes for easy access during the work week when time is limited. 

How do you find the time to work on your art while also being a teacher at Watkins?

Teaching allows me to have large blocks of time during the summer and other times of the year to spend focusing on my painting. During the work week, the studio's close proximity allows for time to make drawings and keep up with my ideas in the sketchbook and on paper.

Is there anything about being a teacher that influences your work?

Teaching is rewarding because I am exposed to young artists and the energy they bring to their work. 

How did you start making work about Nashville?

Local narrative/images/flavor have influenced my work for many years and when I moved to Nashville, it seemed only natural to let the place and history settle into my paintings and drawings. 

Station, 2015

How does your newest work differ from your last show at Zeitgeist?

Dickerson, 2013

In many ways, the recent work is a continuation of the content being explored in my last show,"A Brief History of Nashville". However, the recent work is beginning to go beyond the Nashville area and the painting,"Plateau" is inspired by a panorama of the Cumberland Plateau east of Nashville. "Traveler" also references the idea of a person walking through time and was inspired by stories of early immigrants walking from North Carolina westward. Both groups of work jump back and forth on the time line and play with the idea of sampling history. "Dickerson" from 2013 and "Station" from 2015 are references to architectural structures I pass in my East Nashville neighborhood. I would feel comfortable combing any of the paintings from the last show in with this recent body of work.

New work featuring black box imagery

Where did the symbolism of the black box come from?

New work featuring Bigfoot Spencer's tree

On one of our hikes by the Tennessee River I saw an abandoned duck blind and did drawings based on its simple box like construction. A few days later, I read an article by Marc Scala in the "Nashville Arts" magazine describing the Kaaba in Mecca and decided to combine both of these primitive cube like  structures. This seemed like an interesting way to incorporate the local into a painting.

Where did the symbolism of the tree come from?

The tree form entered my work several times over the past few years and for me it symbolizes nature fighting to coexist in an environment overwhelmed by the Anthropocene. Now, I am researching the legend of an early Tennessee explorer, Bigfoot Spencer, who lived in a large hollow tree and am curious to see where this will lead.

What books and experiences have inspired you recently?

My wife and I recently completed a 27 mile canoe and camp trip to the Big South Fork and just got back from a long weekend in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. The float trip helped to think about the temporal aspect of travel and history while the Chicago trip provided a chance to experience the dynamics of contemporary art making. 

Paul Clement's book "The Chronicles of the Cumberland" still has a few stories that I am considering basing paintings on.

Detail from work in progress

How long before you feel like a piece is done? Do you have to force yourself to quit?

Typically, my paintings evolve over several months and at times, I can spend a couple years fighting to discover the image and then turning that into a finished piece.Usually, a painting begins to feel finished when I come up with a title and start to rationalize that with the evolving image.

What was the most important thing you learned in art school?

The importance of a strong work ethic and studio practice is essential .

What resource does Nashville need for artists?

Nashville seems to have a good number of places for artist to show now and I wish there was regular biennial or other type of strong curated show that could be inclusive and show the best of what is happening now. This might help develop a stronger critical dialogue between the artist and public which currently seems to be lacking.

Studio Corner - a Visit with Megan Lightell

Megan Lightell in her studio

Megan Lightell's studio is nestled in the attic of her East Nashville home. Downstairs is decorated with beautiful antique furniture and gorgeous art, while upstairs is packed with everything a painter might need (including some skulls and curiosities pictured below.) Zeitgeist's Anna Zeitlin  dropped by recently for a studio visit and got the lowdown on what it's like to be a full-time artist and how to keep artists in Nashville.

What is your daily routine? Do you spend a lot of time painting?

Since I have a school-age daughter, most of my painting time is during school hours. I walk her to school in the morning and work in the studio until about 3 pm.  Sometimes if I'm not quite finished working, she joins me in the studio after school. She has her own easel and work area in the studio, so it can be fun for us to work together. 

How do you balance work and family?

This is an issue that every parent struggles with, but it is especially challenging for artists, I think. Since my family relies a great deal on income from sales of my work, it has always been a family priority to protect my studio time. I've always been grateful for that and known how much more difficult it would be to prioritize it otherwise. I took off three weeks after the birth of my daughter, but started painting again as soon as possible. My studio has been at my house since before she was born, allowing me to be at home with her in her infancy and early years, and she attended some half-day preschool programs starting at age two, which gave me some larger blocks of time to work.

I was certainly apprehensive about juggling studio time and motherhood, but a mentor told me that in her experience many people become even more disciplined in their creative lives after becoming parents because time management skills are a necessity, and looking at it through that lens helped. She was right-- you have so little time for yourself in the early years that you must make the most of the time you do have and learn to adapt. I have always been very disciplined about showing up in the studio whether I felt like painting or not, so it was a fairly easy transition. The biggest difference now is that I have more balance in my life. In my twenties I would easily spend 12-15 hour days in the studio, which in retrospect is not the most healthy way to live. It is a great thing to have more of a rhythm in my day that includes taking a break in the evening to cook or spend time outside with my family.

What is your background as an artist?

I studied at the School of Visual Arts in NYC (BFA 2000). 

What inspired you in high school? In college?

I wasn't one of those kids who knew from early childhood what they wanted to do. I was always vaguely interested in drawing and painting, but I wouldn't say I was especially talented. Around age sixteen I had a series of experiences that led me in the direction of applying to art school, and I began to seek out teachers and mentors to help me build a portfolio. I studied with Christine Misencik-Bunn, who was a legendary art mentor in the region where I grew up, and she is responsible for many art careers today, including mine, as I never would have received a scholarship without her advice. At art school, it was clear that since I was from a rural area with fewer arts resources than my peers from bigger cities who had arts magnet options and many more years of immersion in their work, I had a great deal of catching up to do in technique. I spent 6-8 hours a day painting from life, more hours in the evenings, and Saturdays taking extra classes at the Art Students League. Living in New York, you can breathe art all day long. I think I really did live on paintings, both making them all day and into the night, and spending all of my spare time going to museums. I had so little money the whole time I lived there, and I existed on cheap carbs and coffee and spent most of my money on the best paint and materials I could buy. I was obsessed with learning to paint from the masters, current and past, and didn't care about much else.

What was it like the first time you visited The Met?

Arques-la-Bataille by John Henry Twachtman

My first trip to the Met was also the first time I learned to use the subway-- my art school buddy Michael Panicello, who was a native of Queens, realized I was a country girl from Ohio and took me under his wing to show me how to navigate it. From then on, I was at the Met at least every week or two. It was like a second home. Eventually I would find myself visiting the same few pieces every time, like Vermeer's A Maid Asleep, Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage, and the piece that probably most influenced my current work, Arques-la-Bataille by Twachtman. One of my teachers, Sal Catalano, used to say that you could tell the art students at the Met because they were the ones with their noses almost touching the canvases. That was me. My favorite game was to try to guess the pigments that the painters had used and try to bring back some trick or technique to my own work each time. There is just no substitute for looking at masterful paintings with your own eyes, and it's the thing I miss most about New York, being able to see such a huge variety of work in person anytime.

How did your experience after college shape your work today?

As wonderful as it was to be immersed in learning to paint in New York, there was a huge part of me that felt disconnected there. I had grown up among rolling hills, fields, forests, and rivers in a foothills farming community, and had no idea how much I would miss that landscape when I was surrounded by manmade structures and concrete. The community artist Anne Cornell had just taken the director position at the Pomerene Center for the Arts at the time I was graduating, and she offered me a show and long-term residency there, which afforded me the time and space to let my work develop beyond the school environment. It was a key turning point for me, being able to return to a rural landscape with new eyes, and also having my first experience of working in community and teaching as an artist. Having time and space to work was so important in the beginning. The first landscapes came out of that time, since I was still searching for a direction, and a group of artists in that community had formed, and we were doing figure drawing together and working out in the landscape on site every week. We were all working with different media and different approaches, but we enjoyed the way that each of us could take the same experience and come away with completely different work. Before I knew it, my studio was filled with large-scale landscapes. I started realizing that there were similarities in the sites I was choosing, and there was something I couldn't quite describe that was drawing me to a certain kind of image. Anne and I would take turns choosing sites, and we talked quite a bit about why we each liked certain things that the other didn't.

Because I didn't know what to do with all of the canvases I was painting, I entered some into a juried exhibit and was picked up for representation by Michael Orr at his gallery in Columbus, which was the beginning of my path as a gallery artist. He was so supportive and great to work with, and helped me navigate the process of doing exhibits and working with other galleries.

How do you discover new landscapes to paint?

It still feels more like they discover me. It's very intuitive, and I know an image when I see it. The time of day and the season are important, and I often find myself revisiting a spot many times if it's especially compelling. Some places are close by, and others we discover while driving out in the country. Sometimes my husband will drive, and I will just look, and over the years, he has come to just know when a place feels right and he will pull over without me asking. We love to take long drives, and that was one of our favorite things to do when we first met, but in the beginning he couldn't understand why some landscapes would require turning around on a country road and going back, and others we would pass right by. I don't understand it completely either, but somehow now we both often have the same gut reaction to a place.

What personal ties do you have to different landscapes?

Since I spent over half of my life in Ohio, the foothills landscape there is most intimate and familiar, and I will probably always be painting it. I have lived in Tennessee for almost a decade and a half, though, and it feels like home too. Painting the familiar brings a certain power and connection that only comes with knowing a place for a long time. When I did a series a few years ago from a trip out west, those images were all from unfamiliar places that were brand new to me. Those images can have a freshness and a new set of problems, so I've come to prefer working back and forth between familiar and unfamiliar places.

What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were starting?

I asked for advice constantly when I was younger, and still do. The thing I've learned the hard way is to manage the studio objectively as a business. I'm not the worst businessperson/artist, but I have a great deal to learn in that area. Choose your business partners very carefully and listen to your intuition. Expect to be paid, on time, and don't be afraid to walk away from people who are taking advantage of you. Be assertive and be professional. Preserve your best energy for the studio.

The best advice I got as a student was from the illustrator Stephen Kroninger, who told me to just keep doing the work, so matter what. He said that eventually, everyone else would drop away and you would still be left working...it sounds so simple but it really is the hardest thing to do when family, bills, and life are calling you away. 

What resources do you wish Nashville had for artists?

Aside from wishing for a great visual arts MFA option here, my biggest concerns for the visual arts community are affordable housing and studio space. When I first moved here, it was a very reasonable cost of living and possible to live simply and have space to develop work. I've had some creative and cheap or free studio spaces in the past, but I fear that our rising cost of housing will prevent the next generation of young artists from relocating here. Continued investment in affordable housing for artists would be great public policy to keep the vibrant nature of the community from disappearing.

What do you like about being an artist in Nashville?

Nashville has always felt like a small town that just happens to have the perks of a larger city. I've always loved the kindness of people here, the openness of the arts community, the diverse cultures that merge here, and being surrounded by talented, creative people who are following their passions. The Nashville I fell in love with years ago still had a strong connection to the rural, almost as if we were all in a city by accident, but we would go canoeing on the weekends, and play music that sounded like a front porch in the mountains. I hope we will hold on to those roots in the years to come as we grow as a city.                                                    

Studio Corner - a Visit with Richard Feaster

Richard Feaster in his studio

Where is your studio?

I have a studio at the Downtown Presbyterian Church through their artists residency program. It's so generous and I'm lucky to share the space with some really fine artists. 

What are the positives and negatives of having a studio separate from your home?

My working process can be really messy, given the wide array of materials I use - spray paint, pigments, oil paint, adhesives - so I know I wouldn't want to use those things in a shared living space. In general, I think I like the separation of studio-time and home-time, but who knows, I might really enjoy being able to wander into my studio at 3am to ponder something in-progress.

What are your work habits? Do you set hours for yourself or go when inspiration strikes? Do you find it hard to be disciplined? 

Like so many artists, I have a full time job during the weekdays, so my studio time is on off-hours, mostly early mornings, lunch breaks, evenings and sometimes weekends.  I am a big believer in getting the work done whenever you can, even if some days that means only having 1 or 2 hours in the studio. Entire novels have been written this way! Fortunately, the processes I use allow me to work this way. So if I'm doing, say, a big pour of paint early one morning, it might need a day of dry-time before I can continue with it. Sometimes I think I have adapted my work to accommodate this schedule, and I think that's OK.

What’s inspiring you right now?

Right now I'm reading about the events of the late-sixties/early-seventies, and viewing media related to that, so I'm thinking about the popular imagery of that time. This was the period of my childhood, so anything from that time has so many personal connotations and memories, and I enjoy considering how media acts as an anchor or a lens through which we must view historical documentation. Of course I'm obsessed with the music of that period, and I've become especially interested in the sorts of early video effects that were being used to try and appear psychedelic and compliment the music. Think of the video for Black Sabbath's Paranoid.

What is your process for the new art you’re working on?

My newest work is all made on Mylar, which has a surface I value for its near-perfect smoothness. I'm collecting different types of marks, stains, drips, brush strokes, all on Mylar. I make the final work by collaging all of these elements together onto a new sheet. It's a way of controlling and ordering actions that are at their core spontaneous. To me it feels analogous to working with recorded sound, in that you are capturing performative actions and editing them together in a non-linear way. The final product can be deceptive unless you know what clues to look for, which for me is part of the challenge of looking at a painting, particularly if it is abstract. 

What would you change about the Nashville art scene?

It seems like we are in an exciting place where the art-scene is still small enough to know most everybody, but at the same time is starting to feel important in a way that resonates to other places, especially with the rise of social media in the last 10 years. One thing I think everybody would like would like to see is the emergence of a strong collector base within Nashville, and I think we are starting to see a bit more of that.

What resources do you wish there were more of for artists?

I'd like to see more opportunity and assistance for Nashville artists to exhibit their work in other cities and countries. Groups like COOP are taking this on themselves, which is great for everybody, and I think any help that the state or city could provide for traveling exhibitions would be a very welcome development.

What advice do you wish you’d been given when you were starting your career?

I wish that I'd have had more of a chance to visit working artists' studios when I was growing up. Often you aren't given much practical advice as a student and have to figure things out as you go along. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it would have been helpful to have known how to build a decent stretcher when I was just 15 or 16 and really starting to think about being an artist!

Whose art still fills you with awe?

Picasso will always do that for me. Degas. Matisse. Miro. The Post-Impressionists. So many artists of the 20th Century. de Kooning. Michaux. Polke still holds up for me. The Polke retrospective at MoMA was just incredible, and it was a real pleasure seeing it with my son, who was just 8 at the time. In the early 90's I was really inspired the painters Mary Heilmann and Moira Dryer. There are many emerging artists that I follow. There are far too many to name!

Q&A with Paul Collins - June 2015

Where did the imagery in this exhibit come from? Whose cars are these? What made you want to paint them? The trees? The interiors?

The imagery comes from daily life. That’s the way things usually work for me. My viewable daily life through a filter blend of mood, concern, fantasy, space-out and cultivated bias. The images organize themselves into narratives that reflect how I perceive their identities. I am most strongly drawn to images whose identities are not settled and flip-flop between positive and negative, or knowable and unknowable. I am strongly drawn to obvious things whose omnipresence belie the texture of their identity. That apparent obviousness and ubiquity is something shared by the cars, trees, windows, stone animals etc. The MOST ubiquitous element in these works is the scouring yellow light. I have become obsessed with yellow as both the strongest and the most conflicted color in the world.

In your last show at Zeitgeist, the work was on a much larger scale. How did it differ working in this smaller scale?

It’s been interesting and fun. More than the scale the switch in medium from ink and sculptural materials to canvas, oil paint and photographs has been exciting and challenging. I think I have been able to increase the complexity and intensity of the color experience and that was the goal. The process requires more patience but working small I can have SO many more pieces going, there gets to be a chorus of discussion between them and that is providing me with a lot of options. They are continuing to grow in scale in my studio, and I hope to have a ton of them for my show this march.

Your last show dealt with themes of fatherhood and loss of control, are you dealing with any larger themes/feelings with this work?

I think the themes in the work are consistent but wider than the personal experiences that served as a foil for my last show. In both I am interested in the foolishness of man, of ME as a man, of dreams of permanence and conquest and building a forever future. In these works I’m speaking with the egotism and arrogance of a tree hugger and real estate developer rolled up into the same dude. We usually think of the naturalist or the gardener as a sympathetic cultivator of nature, but do you think nature gives a hoot, ha! I am talking about myself here. I really do believe that there are beautiful trees and therefore ugly trees and that's a pile of horsepucky. On one cushy abstract level I’m playing aesthetic games with these symbols to poke fun at uncontested recipes of beauty in my own mind, but at the same time I can look out my window and see this city remade in front of us based on the same phony calculations and romanticisms.

Were some of these done at an artist retreat? How was that?

All the cars were made at Gallery Protocol in Gainesville during a 2 week residency. It was awesome. I made 50 drawings in 10 days- a real binge. I drew one 2 years ago from photograph I took driving of a tailgating truck. That truck was going so fast and was so close plowing up route 24 towards Clarksville where I work. My reaction was to take a phone snap (brilliant, right?) But I actually drew it because I thought my then 4 year old son would love it as he does all cars. So there it is again: a simple image that looks one way to one person and another to another. I am an early riser and walk for an hour usually before the sun comes up. I have thought of those cars as middle-aged exercise nightmares. They are not my cars. I just come across them and if I see the face first I try to get real low and close so you’re going to get bumped into.

How do the elements of collage effect the work?

Making things fun. I take photos every day and collage has allowed me to plug that stream of images and image capture into my studio work.

What books and music are you digging right now?

“Going Clear” on scientology, “Chromophobia” by David Batchelor and “6 years” by Lucy Lippard is making my head spin,

My colleague Billy Renkl lent me Sufjan Steven’s Carey and Lowell and I have been listening to it on loop for 6 weeks now. Haunting, transcendental and grounded. I think it’s changing my brain.

Paul Collins' exhibit Studio Profile is on view in the Zeitgeist project space through June 27, 2015

Q&A with Jessica Wohl

Log Cabin Drip Drape

Log Cabin Drip Drape

In your artist statement, you say this is possibly some of the most formal work you have made. Would you consider the formal nature of the work to be in tension with the inherently useful character of fabric and quilting? If so, could you briefly discuss how that tension may speak to the nature of the work?

I actually see the character of the fabric and the quilting as being a significant part of those formal choices. Being that I'm at the end of a body of work that has been exploring the same concepts for the last eight years, by feeling a resolution with those issues, I'm able to let these works be predominately defined by their form: their colors, textures, lines, patterns, etc. Where I see the most tension in the work is between the fabric and the hair. While the fabric may conjure up notions of nostalgia and familiarity, the hair disrupts a sense of comfort often associated with quilts and domestic textiles. 

Blue Bunches

Blue Bunches

Where do you mine the majority of your materials? Are they used and reclaimed from thrift stores or yard sales, carefully selected from fabric stores, or from personal collections?

All of the above. Mostly, the fabrics come from thrift stores or my own home. My old clothes, as well as my finance's clothes, rarely make it to the thrift store anymore; now they either end up on a shelf in my studio or on a gallery wall. 

How do you use the language of varying fabrics (velvet, cotton, lace, knits, rayon, etc.) to create dialogue within the pieces?

I rely on the associations people may have with these fabrics to inform the work. For example, some lace might imply lingerie while others might imply a tablecloth. Polyesters will tend to imply something dated, while a solid cotton shape might feel more timeless. Some fabrics might evoke delicate dresses while others can clearly be recognized as masculine, button-down shirts. Hopefully these contradictions will confuse a viewer, and encourage them to spend time figuring out, or considering, these tensions. 

How do you see your work responding to a history of feminist textile works, such as that of Faith Wilding? 

Red Drippy Droops    

In making this work, I didn't intend to respond to the feminist textile artists who came before me; in fact, I have a hard time calling myself a textile artist, even if that's what I am. I approached these works as a painter who likes to sew, using fabric as my paint. That said, I do rely heavily on associations with domesticity and femininity through the use of textiles and their history. 

The recurring forms in these pieces imply specific verbs: droop, fall, sag, slouch, dip. How does this language inform your concepts?

The concepts I had been exploring for years came to the end of their life in this body of work. I'm tired. The work was tired. In a way, these old ideas are dying. I used the droop, fall, hang and slouch as way of expressing that spent energy. It imbues the work with relaxation, despite its otherwise highly active aesthetic. I want it to feel like it's lost its elasticity, but that there's still something valuable in it's old, nearly-lifeless body. 

Jessica Wohl's latest body of work, Letting Go is on view at Zeitgeist through June 27

Q&A with John Donovan

Beast Head Wear

Your use of ceramics breaks expectations that traditionally label clay as a medium of “craft” and not “fine art”. What tactics do you use to break down these assumptions?

I feel like a lot of time and energy has been sucked into the black hole that is this “craft” and “art” hoo-hah with ceramics. I know where I stand for myself, and I know what I talk about in the classroom. For me, the technique (craft) should always be in the service of a greater idea or concept, the content of the work. If the work digresses into merely technical exercises that initiate no greater dialog going beyond the physical object, then something is missing.

There are a lot of technical masters out there, who invest lots of research capital on getting glazes to do just this or that, then they sit around with a little club of like-minded individuals congratulating each other for achieving this or that glaze affect, all the while neglecting to think about what they are putting that glaze on, or why they are making the object in the first place, the “why” of their work. Technique (how) serves concept (why), that’s my rule in the studio. When I have an idea I am trying to express, that idea is where I look for clues to help me make purposeful decisions about what techniques will best manifest that idea.

Technique always follows, never leads (for the most part.) What do you want to say? Wrestle with that first, then decide how you might best say it.  I also feel like our regional geography is a bit of an impediment to the medium of clay, there are other regions in this Great Nation of ours where this dialog has been put to bed decades ago, West Coast, Northeast, even in places like New Mexico and up in Seattle and the greater Northwestern area, this craft-art stuff has diminished due to the variety of high-quality work being made. Go to the Philadelphia Clay Studio, and you won’t see philosophical rants about craft and art, you’ll just see world-class work.

Chartreuse Bear Warrior

I am a big fan of high-quality functional work, I have learned a lot from world-class potters like James Watkins, Peter Beasecker, who make pottery simply to DIE for. I tell my students to make the best work they possibly can at that instant they are working, and if they can do that, no one will care if it is art or craft, they will care because it is good. Make good work, that’s what is needed right now. I am also a big fan of the intimacy of the pot, how we crave to reach out and touch it, hold it, bring it to our lips. That’s a big part of the allure of the medium for me, we want to explore it not just with our eyes, but our sense of touch as well. Few things make me as happy as watching viewers reach out to touch the work and encounter that odd internal speed-bump of not being allowed to because it’s art, but also having their primitive brain remember that it’s made of clay, and we touch clay, we have been handling it for as long as we have developed civilization. Just go work, work hard, and make sure the work is the best it can be at that particular time.

What contemporary ceramicists and artists influence your work?

I am embarrassed to say as an educator, but I don’t do my homework like I used to, and the most current work is often not on my radar. As a student, I can remember being enamored with the abstraction of Constantin Brancusi, that concept of diluting a subject matter down to its conceptual essence, not even based on the corporeal form any more.

The work ethic of Richard Serra stokes the inner fire and compels me to just go work, even when feeling tired, sick, or not necessarily “moved by the muse”. Any recorded dialog of his is gas in the tank. His buddy Philip Glass moves me to work, too. If I have a big run of pottery to make, that’s the golden ticket. Martin Puryear makes forms that, when I have been lucky enough to see first hand, fuse me to the spot.

I love how work seen in books, magazines or photographs that appear so clean, refined when met in person carry with them a patina and residue of the process, a record of their making, much like a Jackson Polluck is a record of the choreography between canvas and the body of the painter.

The Scottish artist David Mach shows up in my 3-D Design lectures regularly, I like his wit and inventiveness. How he can turn a recognizable subject on its ear and make it new to us. I think that can be some of the best work, something familiar that you meet again in a new way. Yoshitomo Nara is a Japanese artist who I met thanks to a children’s book given to us by family friends many years ago, his sculptural forms are exciting. 

I find it simultaneously inspiring and disheartening when I find work by someone exploring similar themes but doing a much better job of it, Kukuli Velarde is an artist like that working in clay. She weds history and contemporary more beautifully than I could ever hope to. The emotional-narrative-animal based ceramic magic (for lack of a more appropriate word) of Beth Cavener is beyond impressive.

Joe Bova, my undergrad professor’s grad professor at LSU, is someone whose work I regularly look up, my academic “grandfather” in a way. Politial narrative-figurative forms, and masterfully executed. I watched him give many a demo at Loyola as a student, and can remember those events being important moments. I think an implied narrative is something I enjoy. There’s a lot, but I need to be looking more than I do. Sometimes, it gets hard to find the time to keep up.

Many of your pieces feature recurring symbols, such as the luchador mask, and the bunny and cat-eared headpieces. How are these motifs chosen, and how do they function?

Tiny Spotted Tiger Luchador

The luchadors were chosen as contemporary renditions of Pre-Colombian warriors, Jaguar Warriors, which are among my truly favorite historic subjects. In “Mexico Before Cortez”, Ignacio Bernal describes Jaguar Warriors defending Mexico City from the surrounding jungle, these mythic super-warriors who, after killing a jaguar, would assume its traits and powers. They would seize approaching Spanish infantrymen from out of the jungle, leaving soliders behind wondering what the hell that was, that half man-giant cat that just grabbed their buddy and dragged him away screaming. In grad school, I read this book many, many times, which is funny, because my work had not yet moved in this direction. For me, the Luchador is a modern reference to these superheroes from Pre-Colonbian cultures.

Two Black Eyes & a Bloody Nose

Many of the animal forms were based on cartoon characters pulled from my childhood and thankfully returned to my world through my children when they were younger. I can remember my daughter, now 10, asking me about 3 or 4 years ago what I was going to make art about once she grew up. At the time, I was making large-scale “mash-ups” of Kathy the Bunny, loyal sidekick to Hello Kitty, and Q’in Dynasty Chinese Terra Cotta warriors. The animal forms are intended as light-hearted icons, evocative of a simple, pleasure-seeking childhood frame of mind. They function to disarm the viewer a bit, make them comfortable with the work, and hopefully to then create a stark contrast to other ideas present in the work, ideas associated with conflict, combat, warfare, fighting, death. The cute is the counter to the bitter, which I openly admit can be a heavy-handed formula. Is this getting a bit formula?

What aspects of pop culture inform your work?

Tiny BunnyCap

I grew up on comic books, so it would be silly not to admit that is where most of my image-making began. My older brother was much better at drawing, I can remember watching him spend hours drawing large blow-ups of individual panels from Sgt. Rock and X-Men comics, later I would get my ass kicked for sneaking in to his room and dropping in some colors. Exaggerated heroes and villains from comic books, villains always seemed more inventive. I also watched a lot of cartoons; Masters of the Universe, Transformers and G.I. Joe were my after school ritual for a long while. Possibly too long.

I can’t express the joy and excitement that my first trip back into a comic shop with my son brought. He’s 15 now, at the time 4 or 5. After one of the most thoughtful walk-throughs I’ve ever been a part of (lots of “What’s his name? And what can he do?”), he settled on Batman. Oh, the chance to go back through it all again, to revisit familiar stories, to explore those I chose not to when it was my first time, it was great. The door back into this world was unlocked and flung wide with the key called parenting. I certainly have gotten more out of it than I deserve. Now with the movies, my goodness. And there is so much new stuff that is so smart, so well done. The first time I watched an episode of “Adventure Time” with both of my kids about 2 years ago, I think they were scared for me.

What aspects of history inform your work?

Tigre Rojo Luchador

Some of the warrior figures I make are heavily influenced by the style of Moche work, Azec, Mixtec, there is acuity and brevity of image making there that is remarkable. Pre-Colombian clay work is in my work, there is something magical about the balance of detail and abstraction that I enjoy and seek. Japanese Haniwa figures and horses equally inspire me.  Colossal Olmec Heads are great.

Regarding clay, well before we developed the technology for fired ceramic that led to functional work, we were proto-cultural image-makers in the caves of Altamira, Lasceaux and Tuc d'Audobert in the French Pyrenees, sculpting clay bison by firelight. This is the beginning of the story that every ceramic artist is contributing to today. That’s amazing to me, knowing that I am part of that continuous narrative, a human making forms out of clay for my fellow humans to contemplate and enjoy. What is possibly better or a more species-defining practice? Got me. Then we mastered how to fire it, how to make pots, forms that are impervious to rain, to the elements. Bricks. Where would we be without bricks? Fired clay was an evolutionary step for us as a species, it is what the heat-reflective tiles on the nose of the space shuttle are made out of, and what we drink coffee out of.  It’s an exciting material that brings with it a rich history that is imbedded in us on a molecular level.

How do you see these references to contemporary pop culture functioning within the work? Are they critical, analytical, investigative, etc.?

Colima Kitty Head (in foreground)

I’m not entirely sure how these references function. I don’t think it’s critical, I don’t like preachy work, I think it’s more about reminding the viewer that we are not so far from where we began, but not in a bad way. I like the idea that ancient “pop” culture (such as Jaguar Warriors) can easily be compared to contemporary luchadors or superheroes. In that way, I guess it’s analytical, reminding us of who we are, comparing the old and new, creating a time-based hybrid. We are myth builders, storytellers, ranters all. I guess for me it’s investigative, I like seeing how I can concoct a new combination of images or sources to make something new, something I have not seen in the studio before. That’s investigation for me, that moment where the parts are coming together, and I’m not quite sure when it will be done, when it will be complete, that’s the fun.  I have colleagues who talk about the struggle, but I find it extremely fun, The struggle is usually finding the time, but once that is done, it’s just fun. Even the failures are fun, because you build on them.

John Donovan's latest exhibit New Personal Best! is on view at Zeitgeist through June 27, 2015

Interview with artist Ward Schumaker

Books by Ward Schumaker

What goes into making your book editions? What are the steps? Do you make a sample first or do make it up as you produce all of them?

First off, I’m not sure I’ll ever make another edition like these five. I began because I had enjoyed making an edition of small stenciled paintings-on-wood for Dusk Editions in Brooklyn and wanted to know if I could extend editions work into my books. I figured I’d  make one stencil for color for each page and paint ten pages with each stencil. But because I use such gloppy paint  to get the effect I want, each time I use a stencil, I destroy it. So I have to make ten stencils for each color for each page for an edition of ten books: do the math. I enjoyed it, mind you, but it took six months to prepare this group of five titles.

I begin by tearing and folding the paper into folios (8 pages per folio, 5 per book) and numbering them very lightly in pencil. Then I begin to work.

Sometimes I have a shape or color I wish to use, and most often the first few pages suggest a title or theme to follow.

Books in process

The work I need to do then appears fairly obvious to me: I want to tell a story about Golem: these colors, those shapes seem required to me. Want to talk about death: how could you not include overlays done in such-and-such a manner?

I don’t make a sample in advance, I don’t work sequentially (from front to back), I work as some voice inside my head directs.

I love most when that voice seems not my own. In the best of times, I do not feel I am the author of the work.

How does working on paper differ from working on canvas or wood?

Paper is so easily managed: pick it up to send the paint dripping downward; use a sponge to wash off everything you thought so certain of yesterday but today realize is no good; cut out words and paste them down: no big deal.

Canvas finds me more serious; I can’t throw a canvas around the room as easily as a piece of paper.

Wood makes me very serious because I have to sand instead of sponging away mistakes.

How has your experience as a graphic designer influenced your work as an artist?

I use Photoshop to set up my type before I cut them as stencils; the program does very bad letter-spacing and kerning, so that keeps me from being design-y—design is great in a brochure but a consciously designed painting is a short-lived love.

Ward Schumaker

What is it like to be an artist in San Francisco?

My wife and I don’t know many artists, our friendships aren't based on that, so living in San Francisco is most important because of the weather, which can’t be beat. And proximity to family.

Our tastes are not ruled by the taste of San Francisco; we find the work we like all over the world: on the web, or on trips, in museums. Frankly, we find a lot on Facebook.

Spending almost every hour of every day looking and creating has sharpened our likes and dislikes to such a fine point that we end up enjoying very little. Still, what we do enjoy, we enjoy very very much.

What are your main influences?

DeKooning. Kurt Weill. Bruno Schulz. Bach-Beethoven-not Brahms. Leos Janacek. Poulenc, definitely. And above all, Shostakovich. Composers have effected me as much as painters. 

Books in Process

How do ideas of play come to inform or influence your work?

Do my dreams count as ideas?  Because that’s where most of my input come from. I wake at three in the morning with instructions: write down this sentence and add it to the painting you are working on. Write down this dream because it’s to be your next book. You just dreamed you were climbing an escarpment in Mali; go make a wood sculpture that feels like that climb.

Where do the titles come from? The text inside?

Dreams, again. Almost always dreams, for both text and titles. I’ve had dreams in which I’ve taken dictation that when typed out created five pages of continuous text. I love that. I love being used.

The Carpathians work on birch featured in Geography Lessons

How do the books fit in with your larger pieces? Do you see them as potential studies for larger work?

Both feed into and onto each other. One’s not more important, one is not first or last, it’s all a continuum. For example: I make small wood sculptures and then make one the same shape but ten times larger; but the small one’s not a maquette, it’s an individual with all the rights and privileges which pertain to any of us. Know what I mean?

------

You can look through Schumaker's book editions on his blog: Coffin Laughter, Owl Soup, Golem Likes a Pretty Face, G.Lekeu, Libretto

Call or e-mail Zeitgeist for more info.

Interview with artist Lain York

Where does the name Scissor Bell come from?

Lain York in front of Landscape: Thompson Lane and Armory Drive (Crazy Cave)

It came from a conversation about My Little Pony (Sweetie Belle). I liked the idea of a title that alluded to a simple deconstructive process and something suggesting resonance.

How does working in vinyl change the way you express ideas? Does it limit you?

The new work is very abstracted but I still think of it as figurative. I wanted to address the figure in a new way (for me); to move away from silhouette and into a more organic way of drawing. I thought of Alberto Giacometti drawings and the way he moved from the inside out rendering a figure. The web-like imagery was looking at the figure, drawing grids, and connecting dots within the grids. I then used the finished shapes as templates to make several, layered resonating shapes. Weaving strips of color was another fun, very rhythmic process.

Portrait: BobLobertiniJackieFargo

The vinyl is fun and immediate but it is also very particular; there are rules. There are moments to break the rules and some negotiating that goes on. Whether I work with paint, graphite, correct tape or vinyl there is a particular sensitivity that I think has to be respected that’s important for successful finished pieces.  I think that through attentively addressing parameters or limitations, one sees more possibilities. 

What inspired you to make this show about Nashville? What are you trying to say about the city? How does it fit in with other recent shows about Nashville – Brady Haston’s?

The end of the year is always a very inward looking period for me. The city is progressing so quickly and as a native, I of course feel that some things are being lost. I also feel that Creative Industry in Nashville has much to do with this development. Almost all of the references are from things that are now gone but that’s the natural trade-off for moving forward and I am comfortable with it. I like the analogy of being an archaeologist and assessing a progressing landscape from looking down at what has been covered up.

Barging Session (Fairfax and 32nd Avenue), 2014

I thought Brady Haston’s document of Chronicles of the Cumberland by Paul Clemments was a brilliant example of using abstract painting to convey a very particular narrative. I don’t think mine sought to be nearly as articulate or focused. The idea of Narrative, particularly more localized accounts is incredibly timely; I see it everywhere. Story-telling in the digital age seems to be human beings beginning to scratch the surface of making sense of ridiculous amounts of data we gathered. Inevitably, this narrative has deep roots in the past.

How has your work changed since your last show? Is this more personal?

I definitely wanted to move away from anything as content driven as earlier work. Emphasizing the more formal aspects of the new series (color, texture, rhythm, etc.) was very important. The process of making the images has to be engaging and I pulled images/shapes from a lot of fairly unrelated sources. The previous body of work was very focused and it was a bit of chore this go-round to focus. There are many new avenues that I am looking forward to exploring because of this.

Stuart Davis - Report from Rockport, 1940

This latest work was indeed very personal. I am still absorbing it.

Who are your current influences?

Stuart Davis, Matisse, N Dash, 70’s skate board magazines/Glen Friedman photography, Gedi Sibony, George Condo, Jean Michel Alberola, Hurtado Segovia

Scissor Bell is on view at Zeitgeist Gallery through February 28, 2015

Interview with artist Jeremiah Ariaz

How and when did the project that became Once Upon a Time in the West start?

The project started in 2007 after a chance stop in Tucumcari, NM. I became enthralled with the town and for the next four years returned whenever I had the opportunity, usually twice a year for a few days at a time. As the project took shape I became aware of the Sergio Leone films that were made in the Almeria region of Spain, a landscape that looks like the American West. One film in particular, For A Few Dollars More, was partially set in a fictionalized Tucumcari. This provided a perfect link for me to photograph there as a companion project.  

Installation, Once Upon a Time in the West by Jeremiah Ariaz

My work often deals with the tension between reality and artifice. Therefore, the kind of conflict I try to highlight in a photograph, I could think about in a broader context over multiple projects. This opened up creative possibilities for me. 

What is your personal connection to this project?

As a boy growing up in Kansas, I felt a particular draw to the West.  Where “the West” begins has been a shifting, even contested, local. Once, to be west of the Mississippi River was to be in the West. Today, I think most people imagine a Southwestern landscape and the Pacific coast. I guess for me, the West began in Kansas. There is a romance to the West, which admittedly, I never felt, but seemed to intrigue people I met traveling, especially abroad, when they learned I was from Kansas. Maybe the work started trying to understand what they thought of as the West.

Indian on Horse, Western City (Dasing, Germany) 2013 by Jeremiah Ariaz

Where did your travels take you and what surprised you about what you saw there?

In addition to photographing in New Mexico, this project took me to southern Spain and across Germany. It was startling to see people from other cultures reenact stories I’d thought of as distinctly American. 

How has it changed how you think of American history? Of how outsiders view it?

I tend to read American history with a critical eye. Much of my artwork questions assumptions people historically had, such as the idea of Manifest Destiny.  I think by often showcasing facades in my work, one might question the American ideas at their root…. ‘if what I’m looking at isn’t real, what is?’

Who are your artistic influences?

August Sander

There are many. I’m drawn to August Sander and his ambitious attempt to create a collective portrait of German society in the twentieth century. I was thinking about him as I was trying to portray Tucumcari, and how that one place might be a window into America. I appreciate the stark realism of photographers like Dorothea Lange, most known for her images of depression era America, and writers like John Steinbeck. The characters in Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” seemed to populate the New Mexico town where my project started. I’m drawn to the colors and the melancholic sense of isolation in Edward Hopper’s paintings. Richard Prince has long been an influence for me, particularly his “re-photography” of the Marlboro Man and the questions his work raise of authorship and masculinity. When I started working on this project I had a chance to see several Sergio Leone’s films on the big screen, which was a real thrill. I would be amiss not to mention Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, a husband and wife team that also photographed German Indians (specifically the reenactors rather than the theatrical performances most of my images highlight). Alec Soth’s work always excites me; most recently the “Dispatches” he has been doing though his publishing company LBM. As a teacher, I’m influenced by my students that get excited when discovering things for the first time and those that show sincere commitment to their work.

Ariaz's show "Once Upon a Time in the West" is on view at Zeitgeist Gallery through February 28. View available works.