Waves, Particles, and the Refusal of the Totalitarian:

A Conversation with Theresa Daddezio about her painting and curatorial work, quantum physics, and the politics of abstraction

Walking into Theresa's studio, I am immediately struck by the large windows, the quality of the afternoon light streaming in, and the cacophonic sound of car engines revving and honking that assaults my ears through a casually ajar window. The room is sparse and fairly large. It is adorned with a grouping of paintings that are neatly and thoughtfully installed, while a smattering of unselected works casually lean beneath. There is a torn, ratty studio couch in the corner next to a table that is strewn with various cups and utensils. Theresa offers me a glass of water with crimson hibiscus petals, as I survey a slumping snake-shaped cactus that perches at the center of a long window sill surrounded by a tousel of loosely arranged postcards.

I have known Theresa for a couple of years. I know that I met her at an opening originally, but I am not sure which one. Our acquaintance and friendship has just sort of budded naturally, as we always have a great time chatting whenever we bump into each other. Theresa is friendly, vivacious, and funny. And she is also very bright. And part of why I like talking to her is that she is always ready with a critical lens and a thoughtful point-of-view. I've also always been a fan of her work and am excited to see the new stuff and chat. I start by asking her a few questions about herself, and then our conversation proceeds to unfurl in a meandering way.

The following is a partial transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity.

Where are you from, and how long have you been in the City?

I'm from upstate New York, near Binghamton, but originally the small town Hancock, New York at the base of the Catskills. It was a railroad town with a stone quarry. For a period of time, my mom was a principal of a K-12 school. Then my family moved closer to Binghamton, NY. Where I went to high school.

I feel like that makes you a New Yorker, or someone who was already a New Yorker before they came here.

A little. I definitely knew that this is where I wanted to move. I went to SUNY Purchase for undergrad, which is only a half an hour outside of the City, which is really great because it gives you this space to create without all the distractions.

Theresa starts telling me about how she went to undergrad at SUNY and became friends with our mutual friend, Jen Hitchings who is also her curatorial partner. I was always curious about their curatorial projects, which I am not super familiar with so decided to ask her some questions about that. The group is called Associated.

So tell me about your curatorial project, Associated. Did you guys ever have a brick and mortar?

Yes, it was off the Jefferson L stop in the Active Space building. It was a studio space that was attached to a gallery, and sometimes when the Active Space didn't have anything going on we would branch out in there.. we did a few partner shows. It gave us more room to host.

I definitely remember going to the Active Space but usually for Bushwick Open Studios.

Yeah they definitely had the BOS space..

The Seeking Space space? Right.

[laughter]

Did you and Jen [Hitchings] start curating in undergrad or just when you moved here?

We started here. We curated once or twice together in the Bogart building when it was just starting and some other space on Meadows St, and then Jen started talking to Julian [Jimarez-Howard]. It happened very organically. We were just friends that decided to do things together.

Do you guys still do it? Oh yeah you curated something at Brethren recently right?

Yeah, it's hard since we don't have a physical space now, but we do proposals. We've only done two in the past few years because we are all involved in our individual projects right now.

Do you feel like curating has influenced your work at all or is it more of a separate thing that you do?

I think that exposure to different artists who I might not have otherwise known of has been influential in opening myself to different practices. A lot of the shows are thematically separate from what I'm interested in. 

Right. I remember the show at Brethren felt more conceptual or political.

To me that's helpful, because that's a side of me that I can compartmentalize. I don't need to put my politics into my paintings. I think that there is a politic in any painting, but I don't make my practice out of it directly. Curating shows that have a critical lens is helpful. It's a good way to explore what other artists are doing without investing myself in the practice.

Do you ever feel weird about making abstract work, because this political climate is so fucked up? What do you feel is abstract art's role in that?

No, I think it's as much a form of resistance as any kind of peaceful resistance could be. And I also definitely participate in activism outside of my studio. But just to carve out a space for yourself for humanity, for poetry is so important. And I think finding or creating beauty is a way to resist oppression. 

I like what you said– that carving out that space for poetry is political, because it's a form of saying "no we are still here, and we still care about humanity and what makes us human."

You are not going to emotionally repress me through your terrible policies. It's a way of resisting. [...]And there's something I have always liked about abstraction– that it refuses one interpretation. So in a way, it refuses totalitarianism. 

And it refuses the two-party system. You're right I love that. 

[laughter]

And it also asks the viewer to participate. You have to interpret it. And it's not telling you what to think. [...] I like to get people to give a cold read, and it's so fascinating. [...] Not that my work is going necessarily to be about more of those things.

Having grown up upstate, do you feel like nature has a big influence on the work? Because I do get a sort of post-analog vibe but maybe something organic too.

Yeah, the handmade verses mechanical... I think in a way both of those things are really woven into my work in ways that contradict each other. And I'm interested in them pushing up against each other. But nature definitely plays a huge part in my work. And it's not just observable nature but physical phenomenon– the phenomenology of light and how it moves across a surface and how it's broken up in space, even deep space...

Like OUTER SPACE yeah! [Laughter]

How light kind of refracts and you can tell how far away something is based on channels of lights– the redshift and the blueshift. There are aspects you can think about– like physics, but then also you can just look at something in nature or in the world and analyze its physicality.  My work pulls from different modes of orientation of how we find ourselves in the world.

Slide, 2018, Oil on canvas, 32'' x 22'' 

So organic and mechanical...

Organic because it's taken from observable reality, and mechanical, because I do construct these very limited systems in which to apply the paint.

What's an example of one of those systems?

The palette is a big one. It will really only be three colors and then mixing them in so that they become gray where the colors meet each other, creating form. [pointing to the painted lines on a piece] The more distant they are, the closer the relationship. But what seems more bulbous or near you is purer, so it's what happens when you see color relationships. So then one is gray, but then it becomes more saturated when the lines are further apart in the same way that color splits into different wavelengths when it describes form.

But then I started to experiment with more relief. So, there's a game I play where what would appear to be in front and what would appear to be behind are flipped. So, the shadows are thicker, and forms above the shadows are thinner and more transparent. 

They look complex in a photograph but are so much more nuanced in person.

I think the photo obscures the handmade quality. Because I'm not trying to make something perfect.

Branched, 2018, Oil on canvas, 32''x22''

Yes, there is very clearly the mark of your hand... I do get an outer space vibe, which I love. And I think a lot about quantum physics in my own work...

It's difficultly complex and so I mostly discuss them in terms of light. I also think of them as channels. They form energy but also condense the space so they become more of their own system within the canvas. When I first started making these though, I was thinking of a place beyond this earth... I think I have brought them back to more of an earthly quality, as something that may exist in this world. Yet there is something off about them that refuses direct interpretation: It's not quite a flower, it's not quite a plant.

Yeah, I think of tree rings and also maybe an atomic field. I think, are these the rings where electrons jump around?

Because waves can be particles and particles can be waves. It's a paradox of the analyst.

That's one of the things that fascinates me. The idea that an electron can be in two places at once, and what if it changes when we observe it?

Yeah because we are not separate from the equation, so we have atoms and we are made of particles.

View to the Center, 2018, Oil on canvas 44''x 34'' 

How do we objectively observe something we are a part of?

It's all variables.. and how do you make sense of it?

I like to think about that and then relate it back to the political conversation of how nothing is what it seems.

[Laughter]

Around this point we devolve into a sort of convoluted conversation about quantum physics. Convoluted, because we are both very interested in the subject but have limited knowledge and/or a limited vernacular to talk about it. We laugh about our ineptitude fumble back to discussing the paintings.

I feel like we got waaay down a rabbit hole really fast. 

[laughter] 

I'm curious also about this view. You are literally staring at crazy traffic in the middle of Manhattan with these huge windows. Do you feel like that gets into the work at all?

An element of sound or a musicality has found its way into my work. One project I revisited was a science experiment of sorts: finding ways to translate sound vibrations into the visual.

When I look at how the lines are repeated, it's very rhythmic.

They aren't based specifically on that but, do you know Chladni patterning? If something vibrates on a surface, it will snap into these patterns. I set up these experiments where I took sound vibrations from a speaker and used ink on water. It looked like concentric rings on a tree. That's where this structural motif came from initially. And then other elements of the painting– I pulled with other physical elements such as sound. 

Theresa starts to show me a bunch of other work, pulling out older paintings.

And that's funny, because these [older paintings] are when I was still imagining a space outside of earth that could be hospitable to life... but then I thought– Oh! I need to narrow the focus, because that is so vast. And I think what I am doing even in terms of making them is so much more about the mark and about the process of making them, and I think that's how they became more earthy and more muddy.

So that was you moving away from outer space and towards earth. 

Yeah, I feel like they are much more connected to my own physicality and these [gesturing to older paintings] are much more like cerebral imaginings...

And they feel more like off your hand or outside of you..

Oh I'm going far back into the archive. [laughing]

And THAT feels way more planetary too, with circle shapes... [pointing to another painting]

But it still becomes a little like a creature? 

With a cat eye I think...

And this one that is balancing on my radiator... There is definitely a relationship to a mediated landscape with these channels and marks, that are a kind of netting but also a visual element to obstruct what would be behind. It took me a long time to break out of that.

[laughter]

This is what I do.

And I don't know how to do anything else [...] Yes, that is really challenging...[nodding] I had to fuck shit up for a while. What's interesting to me is like looking back– drawing and painting has been recurrent in my practice. They are paintings, but they are definitely also drawings.

Oh! Because you are right. these are like super linear... not much blending etc.

These are blended [gesturing towards the older work] and it really bothered me that I had to blend the colors to get the effect that I wanted. I was like, I don't want this, this isn't the right effect. What if I went back to a pastel palette?

I don't know what it is about that one. It feels super, super different. It feels more retro to me?

Yeah definitely!

Yeah, there is something that reminds me of the color palette of our living room when I was a kid.

[Cracking up]

I think at the time it was good interior design!

[laughter]

I was a TA for a color theory course with the painter Gabrielle Evertz. We largely focused on Johannas Itten, the work of Bridget Riley and Paul Klee. I think that even though I felt a bit resistant to learning, it just happened.

I was a TA and a student at the same time without realizing that I was learning so much from her. She was such as good teacher that I was also learning while assisting. 

So, do you really sit down and think about [...] ahead of time go "I'm going to create this type of palette" and then methodically do it?

Yeah! It's fairly methodical. I do and sometimes I think it's like really obvious. I think that there are always parallel elements in the world that your work relates to that come from your subconscious. Sooo..

Sooo the cactus??

[laughter]

T: Yeah, but like it's head...  

Pointing to the same nodding, phallic looking cactus that I spied when I first entered the room. It is a lonely slumped obelisk in a pot. It is the only plant in the room. Theresa later notes that she's "interested in the ways that the cactus grows from inside itself, repeating it's exterior structure,” which makes sense for her practice. But in the moment I find it comical. It honestly looks like a slouch sock. It occupies a pot that is roughly centered on the elaborately long window sill that perches beneath the window, which frames a scene of spaghettied strands of vehicles that feel very quintessentially New York City. I realize that the phallus that is this lonesome ambassador to the Holland Tunnel has reared it's smooth round head into nearly every one of Theresa's newer paintings. This makes us both laugh really hard.

[laughing]

SHIT. He looks like a cucumber!

Yeah! This is the plant that I keep resuscitating.

Oh my god you are painting him over and over! And you just realized that you are obsessed with this cactus.

I haven't named him, because naming him would take away from his cactus-ness.

Ahh and yeah yet another way that nature is getting into this work...

Yeah, which reminds me that I had someone ask me "in jest" if I meditate when I make these. Because there is that history or genre of painting where you make a meditative object. And I just want to squash that, because I definitely think when I make these. 

But for me I look at these and I think. You must sort of lose yourself while making them...

Well there is definitely like a slowing down of time and kind of getting into certain rhythms.

[And] there is a definite shift in my experience of time while I'm making these. [But if I zone out] I know I'm in the danger zone.

Because you are afraid you are going to make really unconscious choices that aren't correct? Or...

No. I think it will become too balanced. There are a lot of little subtleties that I work with.

And that's what you mean about how you are constantly thinking, because you are thinking "now at this point– it's going to be a heavier line." Ok gotcha. That makes sense, because you do have to be really hyper-aware. It almost feels there could be a texture to the surface, so it could be fabric because there is such nuance??

Momentarily we wrap up and head down the street to check out Theresa's current show at Barney Savage Gallery.* She has two pieces in the show, and it's a smart new space with high ceilings and a frosted sliding glass door that elegantly hides a tiny office where the curator, and proprietor, Julian Lorber, greets us. He chatters and jokes with Theresa briefly and then gives us an informal but generous tour of the space and an explanation about the other artists in the show. It's a good show featuring a mix of elegant and quirky pieces. A few shaped canvases with garish neon colors by Emily Kiacz, a few subtle geometric color explorations by Corydon Cowansage, (whose work I already love), and some expressive Lucy Mink Covello's are in good company with Theresa's complex abstractions. I'm eager to see what more comes out of this space and especially what comes out of the intellect and imagination of Theresa Daddezio. I'm looking forward to future conversations about the convergences of the universe and that slumpy cactus; perhaps a macrocosmic/microcosmic mascot for an uncertain future.

* "Color Wheel," at Barney Savage Gallery closed on March 18th for installation views click here.

For more information on Theresa please visit her website, or check out her instagram

Additional Images:

HIGH VISIBILITY THE WORK OF LAWRENCE NAFF

Oklahoma is endlessly fascinating to me as an artist - the material it offers up is as vast and varied as the terrain itself. That being said, artists of color in the region tend to have an eerily similar experience.

When my friend and fellow artist, Lawrence Naff, first started getting involved in the arts scene in Oklahoma City, he didn’t immediately find a welcome reception.

“I realized I was not only the only black person, but the only person that wasn’t white.” he says about the first arts association meeting he attended. Most jarring was the organizer, a woman who came over, spoke to another member for a while and then abruptly addressed him with, “Who are you?” . The subtext was obvious.

The experience prompted him to instead look for Black arts associations. His experience contacting Inclusion in Art founder, artist Nathan Lee, stood in stark contrast.

He was offered a solo show, a catalyst for the rapid trajectory his art career has taken.

The history of racial segregation in Oklahoma seems to filter into the arts, where a common euphemism used by art gatekeepers is “that’s not the direction we want to go with” or “it’s just not our style.”

This history is one, we Oklahomans, don’t reflect on often enough: Greenwood, now a district of Tulsa, held the moniker, Black Wall Street. This was because black prosperity was concentrated in one community as a result of the prohibitions of Jim Crow laws enforced in Tulsa. Another example is the precursory case to Brown v. Board of Education. Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher delayed her legal education in order to challenge the segregation laws enforced by the University of Oklahoma in the 1940’s. Spoiler: a unanimous vote by the Supreme Court Justices didn’t mean Fishers integration into the class was seamless.

The catch 22 on an integrated art scene in Oklahoma, is that when self-conscious organizations and artist collectives, do need to scramble to diversify (beyond a PR stunt), they run into a double dilemma:

Either they don’t know artists of color, or when they reach out to black and brown folk, the response is (rightfully) apprehensive.

WHITE FLIGHT

Decoden is a very specific style, and one that art audiences in Oklahoma are not always familiar with. “There’s no way to describe it that will give them an (accurate) idea of what it is, so the closest thing I can say is a mosaic with rhinestones, or I cover things with jewels.” Naff offers.

He first learnt about the style at college from a Japanese friend on exchange. She had her MP3 player covered in rhinestones and it piqued his interest.

“Decoden is a Japanese-English fusion word. The word deco is short for decoration, and denwah (...) means phone. Decoden was originally decorating your cellphone with rhinestones and jewels, but people were later doing their laptops, tablets, digital cameras and other electronic accessories.” explains Naff.

The practice is time consuming. He spends hours meticulously gluing thousands of colored crystals or rhinestone onto the surfaces of 2D and 3D forms. Often the crystals surround a central gemstone or piece of costume jewellery, and cover the entire surface. Designs are created by clustering similarly colored crystals together.

One concept he has been developing for a while, came about when he first discovered the term White Flight.

Growing up in the 90’s, Naff had always thought his grandparents’ neighborhood was black.

“I found out that (the neighborhood) used to be white, until blacks started moving in (...) those are the parents or grandparents of people my age, and they thought, we’ve got these brown people moving in, we need to relocate to Edmond.” (a suburb of Oklahoma City) he told me.

Some white homeowners were misled by realtors, who insisted they sell before the value of the property dropped. “They believed it and ran out. Destroying the value.” Naff says, “It didn’t feel like we built it - just that we got someone’s leftovers.”

The designs he has planned for the plastic-dome surface of White Flight, includes cream rhinestones streaming out of the suburbs, while the Capitol building (represented by a cluster of quartz crystals) is enveloped by white rhinestones gentrifying the downtown. Similar colors cluster together in pockets of browns, mustards and black map out districts such as the community of refugees arriving from Vietnam after the war.  

Lighting is crucial when Naff is displaying his work. Even with several, harsh light sources focussed on an already sparkling piece, Naff explains that the final factor is movement.

With his 2D pieces, the viewer is free to move and creates the sparkling. With the 3D works however, he opts for a handsfree, battery operated rotating base which Naff says, “do(es) the work for you and it glimmers even more.”

“It helps it come to life, and it’s very relaxing watching something sparkle. I did research to find out why it’s so mesmerizing. It’s been explained that humans are drawn to sparkling things because it subconsciously reminds us of water - the reflection of light on water. We think of that as a life source.”

DIVERSITY DILEMMAS

Naff accounts for his conceptual shift as a result of the constant barrage of police shootings of unarmed black men and children, as well as the trauma of the recent election.

“The last couple of years have been very stressful for me as a black person to the point where I’ve been preoccupied with racial issues a lot more than I was before.” He explains,

“What was bothering me, was white peoples reactions to seeing (police shootings) - coming up with so many (...) justifications a cop might have for shooting a 12 year old, or a man running away from him.”

Naffs trajectory is evident in his inclusion in a prominent, annual, statewide showcase of the contemporary artists practicing in Oklahoma. The event also happens to be the organizations largest fundraiser.

Recently he was featured in some PR material for the show. 60% of the featured faces on the promotion material for the exhibition opening, were people of color. On the night the photos were taken, they made up less than 10% of the patrons AND volunteers in attendance on the night it was photographed.

I mention this particular incident to Naff. “What that tells you is (...) they know it will be received better if they craft an image of diversity - whether they live up to that or not.” he responds.

At one point, Naff said a previous employer had a billboard up, which presented a grid featuring roughly 50 employees. He found it odd that the image created, was so much more diverse than the environment he experienced everyday.

“Some African employees, the one Korean guy, some white, I’m sure if they had an employee who wasn’t able bodied, they would have tried to get a wheelchair in the shot too.”

He plans on calling the piece either Designed Diversity or The Illusion of Inclusion.

The 2D piece is almost entirely covered in white rhinestones emanating from a large rhinestone. In a small grid representing the company’s mediated image, all the appropriately accounted for colors sparkle in pixelated harmony.

For more information on Lawrence please visit his website or check out his instagram

Additional Images:

Memories of Stories Told: A Studio Visit with Eugenia Barbuc

by Alexis Alicette Bolter

barbuc- studio photo.jpg

There was a moment during my studio visit with Eugenia Barbuc where I thought we might be related.  That is the kind of spell Eugenia casts on her viewers, a familial intimacy that is intoxicating and perplexing.  Her worlds of abstract places are at once foreign and familiar, framed by absurd actions that are sincere attempts at inherently flawed tasks.  And in this tangled web of imagery and looped narrative, you walk away from this undeniably California work and think… yeah, I know what you mean.

I became a superfan of Eugenia when I saw her video then suddenly she is at a critique night held through the Women’s Center of Creative Work in Los Angeles.  At critique night, you go around in a circle and awkwardly introduce yourself and your medium. When you get to Eugenia she’ll say with a charming smile that she does painting, sculpture, video, and installation.  And guess what, she honestly does all of those things.

My article for The Coastal Post gave me a wonderful opportunity to find out more about Eugenia’s process.  Being that this was my first interview, I went into our studio visit with a series of questions and themes I had observed from my previous exposure to her work.  “I find your work to be pretty funny, do you use humor as a tool and to what end?”  “Your videos contains found footage in the form of home movies shot on film, how does this inform your work and what does that medium mean to you?”  Little did I know these questions were silly, canned, and, well, not nearly as interesting as what came up during our discussion.  

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When I enter Eugenia’s studio I found a stack of drawings, paintings hung on the wall, a table covered with maquettes, and Eugenia’s computer ready to screen her newest work volver after volver after volver.  When I asked about her process it was amazing to see how each object and image is an exploration on the way to this final video.  How a conversation led to a drawing that led to a sculpture that led to a drawing that led to a performance that led to a sculpture that led to a video.  Each individual work and the work’s successes and failures inform the next piece.  This type of creative chase results in such a wonderfully eclectic body of work.  Eugenia likes to talk about in between spaces, this unknowable space that isn’t quite foreign and that isn’t quite familiar.  Essentially her studio space exists in a similar dimension.

After watching volver, the creative chase continued as we discussed the exploration of memory in Eugenia’s work.  When Eugenia talks about the abstract places in her video she is referencing the space that exists around her memory of a memory.  The films, objects, and landscapes in this series are connected to a documentary Eugenia did for Para Los Ninos.  For the documentary, she interviewed women from South and Central America about their journey to the States.  Their narratives were strikingly similar to her parents’ narratives and how her parents’ came to America.  As Eugenia describes, “From my standpoint, I was interested in how I access the memories of these places they tell me.  The stories exist as places in my own head but they are not the same places as the places of their memories.  I like that abstraction of place.”    

The abstract places in Eugenia’s video are brought to life by the accompanying soundtrack. The music is haunting and homey and an all-around perfect fit for the mood.  The source of the music came up when we discussed the theme of failure in this body of work.  Eugenia taught herself to play these songs on the guitar and finds the music’s failed performance as an important imperfection.  Failure is such an integral part of Eugenia’s practice and is closely accompanied by the humor associated with that failure.  The failure of the objects is related to what Eugenia describes as the failure of the body.  “I want these objects to exist in the same way I, as a body, exist.  In this constant state of failure.  Not striving for perfection but existing with the frayed edges and the imperfections and embodying an intersectional idea of a thing.”  Not only does this resonate with the music but also, very memorable, with the fleshy carabiner that Eugenia clumsily tried to finagle in front of the canned mountain backdrops.  

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All of these failed and repetitive actions are brought to life by a cowboy.  Eugenia plays the cowboy character in two different iterations.  Eugenia dressed as the cowboy in the classic white t-shirt, jeans, and cowboy hat illuminates a striking comparison of the lone ranger and the artist in the studio.  The struggle of an artist to create in a capitalistic economy leads to an isolated life focused on hard work and constant production.  This structure is also rooted in a patriarchal lineage where the male cowboy is heroic and the male artist is genius as they both reign over their kingdom.  Eugenia describes her attempts to subvert that narrative through her performance of this failed masculinity.   The queerness that Eugenia inhabits in here role as cowboy shines through in the form of a yellow sports bra.  The other cowboy character in this work is the draped landscape topped with a cowboy hat (à la Casper the friendly ghost).  This figure, while accompanied by mystique and dramatic effect, is essentially a body hidden by a western landscape backdrop.  When I first asked about the western subject matter, Eugenia discussed memories of her childhood and growing up in a home decorated by western imagery including paintings of vast western landscapes.  “My parents are not from here so when they decorated their home they decorated with cowboy stuff.  I remember thinking ‘why are they so interested in these western landscapes?’ and it’s because it’s considered the American dream.”  In this work, Eugenia covers herself in the “American dream landscape” as an attempt to embody this memory of her parents’ desires.  The absurdity of such an action and the attempts to blend in with her surroundings creates both a humorous and poignant moment in this video.  

Before I left Eugenia’s studio I asked to grab a few photos and I couldn’t help but request an image with the fleshy carabiner.  I’ve seen this prop in previous iterations and this most recent sculpture, in its silicon material and flesh tone, is by far my favorite.  The inherently flawed object that replicates a tool intended for security and strength becomes limp and impotent in its new form.  As Eugenia very aptly points out, it looks like a dildo.  Eugenia’s repeated attempts to make the object function as intended (both in the video and in our photo exchange) have a charming effect.  Each time the carabiner locks into place and is then released I hear an inaudible “ta-da!” ringing through my head.

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The world of Eugenia Barbuc is familiar for a reason, the way she engages with memory allows the viewer to enter the work and feel like they’re in a familiar abstract place.  Her studio feels the same.  Everything you see looks like something you’ve seen before but not exactly.  It’s the quirky in between.  I left her studio giddy and energized despite the late hour and long day.  If there was a fake sunset background I would have triumphantly walked into the sunset that night.

Studio Visit with Barbara Campbell Thomas

by Maria Britton

On my way to Barbara Campbell Thomas’s studio in Climax, NC, I make a pit stop at a gas station for coffee. This is one of the nicest gas stations I’ve been to recently. Nice as in cozy, and cozy as in there’s a bunch of pickles and nut butters right outside the women’s bathroom. As I’m browsing the pickles, I feel eyes on me. The eyes are cardboard and belong to a cut out of Dale Earnhardt Jr, thoughtfully placed in the corner, perhaps to deter shop lifters. I pay for my coffee and pickled okra and head down the road to Barbara’s.

After a brief introduction to her new kitten, Twig, Barbara and I walk to her backyard studio. It’s a converted garage with the interior painted white. The exposed rafters, also painted white, echo the convergence of painted lines and strips of fabric in Barbara’s paintings. A large table, centered in the studio, is covered with colorful piles of fabric, a pile of blue jeans outgrown by her children, painting supplies, and a collection of sketchbooks full of collages and drawings. Each sketchbook has a funky, embroidered, patchwork cover made by Barbara’s mother, Ellen Herman Campbell, who is an avid quilter. 

A few years ago, Ellen, who lives in Pennsylvania, visited Barbara and insisted on teaching her to quilt. Since then, Barbara has been incorporating blocks of quilted squares machine sewn into her paintings. I ask her if she likes to iron. Yes! But only for art. Neither of us enjoys ironing clothes. Ironing for art is a different, though. Neither of us look forward to sewing functional items outside of the studio. While there’s a deep admiration and satisfaction found in piecing together strips of fabric, strictly following patterns for clothing or quilt blocks brings back that weight of expectation and limitation. 

Barbara’s method of working consists of collage and loose painting organized into flattened, condensed space. Her paintings are full of accumulated stuff. In these recent paintings, it seems as though Barbara is zooming out. The quadrants of her recent paintings function like rooms, each with their own business going on. The perspective seems to be from above, looking down on a structure, a house or a specific room within a house. Thin stripes of paint and neatly cut strips of collaged fabric mostly rest horizontally or vertically and occasionally diagonally. Small circles of fabric and paint call to mind plates on a kitchen countertop and a stove’s burners. Her paintings seem to be about organizing, or loosely arranging color and line and space to make room for being. Barbara describes her own work as “aggregating the colloquial in service of illuminating the transcendent.” It comes as no surprise to learn that Barbara’s first painting class was with Helen O’Leary!

Barbara mixes her paints on a palette, building rich, bold colors as well as subtle variations of earthy tones. She works with both fluid and heavy-body acrylics, which cooperate nicely with fabrics. Fluid acrylics have been a relatively recent addition for me in my own work, so we praise the watercolorish qualities that can be achieved with fluids. She is working on some larger paintings now, and the shift in scale opens up the opportunity to include more variety in paint quality and methods of application. Her larger works have more expansive washes of paint with crisp outer edges that rival the sewn and pressed seams of inset quilt blocks. 

Barbara collects fabric from her family and thrift stores. Old sports jerseys from her kids are cut up and included in some recent paintings. Paintings that teeter on failure have the old scrap pile to look forward to as a place of rebirth. I too work with used fabrics and sewing, and we speak about the experience of learning a passed down skill from our mothers, who in turn most likely learned from their mothers. Several times throughout our visit, we ride a wave of satisfaction in together disrupting notions of patriarchy in painting--that which disregards or devalues what is perceived as feminine, weak, or just wrong in the eyes of the dude. Barbara schedules studio time around her many roles, including that of mother. When thinking about all the roles that artists who are also mothers who also work jobs outside of the studio, I wonder if the quest for balance in life and work is mythical, but maybe that balance can be found in Barbara’s work itself. She does make it all work by building rooms of her own, over and over. 

For additional information on Barbara please check out her website or Instagram.


Leah Guadagnoli visted by Ryan Turley

I “met” Leah Guadagnoli via Instagram.  Better yet I should say that I started stalking her work via Instagram about a year ago.

As with most Instagram acquaintances I liked the images she was posting and so I ‘liked” them again via a small heart shaped button click.  

The images that Leah, or for Instagram following purposes, Lavenderladysupreme (her name on insta) was posting were mainly of her paintings.  I would consider them assemblage but they are not mine so we will call them paintings.  

These pieces were dynamic in alternative shapes, sizes, textures and materials.  The paintings looked slick, wild and exciting.  I felt like I was seeing something really new yet super familiar and nostalgic.  They were calling to mind memorabilia from the 1980’s and 90’s.  The geometric pattern on the paintings were printed onto fabric and looked like something Zach, Kelly, Jessie or Screech from Saved by the Bell would have donned or Jem and the Holograms would have worn whilst working late at the Starlight Foundation.  You don’t need to know these references to feel the nostalgia that I feel and am so attracted to in this work but it couldn’t hurt.  

The Happiest Hour, 2017
acrylic, pumice stone, molding paste, digital print on fabric, found
fabric, insulation board, and polyurethane foam on aluminum panel
24 x 18 x 3 inches

I decided to “reach out” to Lavenderladysupreme so I could get up close and personal with these pieces.

Leah and I corresponded a few times over a few months and finally caught one another in early December.  Leah graciously invited me over to her studio in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn where she lives, works and also operates a small residency program called The Maple Terrace

Leah was just returning from her residency at The Lighthouse Works in Fishers Island NY and will be off to the Wassaic Residency Program in January.  Leah has been on the successful residency circuit for quite some time now having also been at Yaddo, Vermont Studio Center, and Soaring Gardens quite recently as well.

I initially wanted to know about how she made this work and what inspired and fuelled her work but sometimes as two artists can be we ended up talking a lot more of how these works are made.  All great information nonetheless.  We spoke about her Graduate Studies at Rutgers and how she began to experiment with various textiles more haphazardly tossed and placed creating her imagery to now the very architectural almost “tightness” of these polished more structured works.  

Number Two Song In Heaven, 2017
acrylic, pumice stone, molding paste, Plexiglas, PVC, digital print on fabric,
canvas, insulation board, and polyurethane foam on aluminum panel
60 x 38 x 3 inches

Leah uses Illustrator to create her textile patterns.  These patterns could still be inspired by a found piece of fabric, the upholstery on a bus coach, memories of the décor of her childhood home or a found image on the web.  She pointed to one of her newer table top sculptures and mentioned how the patterning that inspired this piece was from the security envelopes that you would send sensitive materials in the post with like bills and checks.  A camouflage envelope to keep your personal and confidential information secure which looks very much like the camouflage used in the military.  We also spoke about how she is attracted to this type of camouflaging which is basically geometric patterning, often bright and colourful and found in public spaces upholstery, carpeting and textiles to hide stains and wear and tear. 

It is important to Leah that the works have a hand-made quality, which from her online imagery I did not see.  Now seeing them up close I definitely can see her hand in the process.  This is not to say they are sloppy by any means.  These pieces are meticulously built but Leah allows her hand to show more in her bringing together the various materials comfortably.  Nothing is forced; it all just lives together quite nicely.  Leah is able to marry pumice stone mixed with her paint, geometric textiles wrapped around foam insulation, acrylic type plexi-glass and regular old paint into these “meant to be” formations.  The paintings command attention in their pastel, day-glow, smooth, bumpy, sharp edged, round, rigid, dizzying yet grounding presence.

It takes a lot of restraint to not reach out and touch this work.  A problem I am sure she and the galleries must run into daily.

After I was finished gushing over the work Leah and I discussed another project that she has been working on for some time now, The Maple Terrace Residency.

Leah opened her home/workspace as a residency space for emerging artists looking to get involved in the New York Art world in some way.  Leah explained how this happened over a period of time that while she would be away at residencies herself she felt that she could probably make a little cash renting her place out but maybe the live/work situation could be better utilized by another artist as this is how she set the place up for herself.  If she was going to be out at another residency why not let another artist in need of this type of exposure and opportunity make use of this wonderful space?

Number Three Song In Heaven, 2017
acrylic, pumice stone, molding paste, Plexiglas, found fabric, canvas,
insulation board, and polyurethane foam on aluminum panel
60 x 38 x 3 inches

Leah now offers artists to apply for spots when available to spend one month long residencies that she organizes herself that include all sorts of really wonderful perks.  Leah organizes studio visits with friends and colleagues to come and visit the residents, which is invaluable.  She also works with local community businesses that will offer things like a couple of slices of pizza from the pizza shop or a bottle of wine from the wine shop.  The list went on.  The amount of detailed organization is a true testament to Leah’s generosity as an artist but also a community builder and leader.  I could not respect this pursuit more.  

In an art world where many claim to be paying it forward (I have known a few) Leah is really, really doing it!  

I commend Leah on this pursuit and cannot wait to see where the work as well as her other admirable pursuits take her.

Leah has a ton of shows currently and coming up so check her website and follow her on Instagram for all the goodies!