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!


52 Weeks

A studio visit with Paolo Arao by Nick Naber

Paolo and I met at SPRING BREAK ART SHOW in 2015. He was visiting a booth where I had work up, and we chatted for the first time. We had been friends on Instagram before that point, and it was nice to put a face and personality to the paintings that I’d seen. The first time I’d visited Paolo was in the summer of 2016, a few days after I moved back to Brooklyn. His studio was by the Navy Yard, and he was working on a yearlong painting series called Yearbook in which he painted one painting a day for the entire year. And each 12 x 9 inch painting was completed in one hour.  A few months passed and he visited me in my studio, and then I went back and visited him again, this time in a new studio in Crown Heights where he had started a different yearlong painting series. Paolo is now in Bed Stuy and is approaching the end of the same series that I had seen in Crown Heights, but the paintings have changed quite a bit from what I had seen over the summer.

Visiting Paolo’s studio is always something new, not just because he’s moved spaces frequently but because he’s so prolific. When I visited him this time, I was taken by the twelve paintings that he had on his wall. It reminded me so much of the Yearbook paintings that I had seen on my first visit to him in the summer of 2016. There was something different from the works I had seen over the summer too. Paolo’s interest in textiles and sewing is now more evident in his newer work. As I look at the paintings I start to notice the seams on the support. They are imperfect and in spots the linen is left bare. These new paintings are vulnerable and open in a different way than his earlier Yearbook works.

This past year he’s been working on a series of 52 paintings in conjunction with making longer-term work. These 52 paintings are compelling for many reasons. Similar to his Yearbook series, Paolo has set up a specific set of rules to create them. He makes one painting per week; the painting is completed in one day; and they’re each done on an 18 x 15 inch support. In discussing how this affects his results we looked at some of the earlier works from this series. I discovered that the works from the early part of this year looked more like larger versions of his Yearbook paintings.  Over the course of the year they have become something else. And there appear to be multiple groups of series that have developed within the overall project. In most recent works, he has begun to stitch together pieces of linen to reinforce a grid, albeit a soft-edged and not quite perfect grid. With the slight change in his surface support came a change in the way the work was carried out, the color palettes, the painted lines, the edges, and the movement on the surface.

I begin to wonder about the way he’s applying the paint to these surfaces. And I‘m curious about why he’d go through the trouble of sewing these supports and then in many ways completely disregarding the physical lines he’s created. For him, it becomes a play between the paint and the physical nature of the support. He’s resisting the grid, and pushing his abstractions outside the physical limitations of their supports.

Paolo uses an intentionally uncomfortable yet playful combination of color; they’re odd, pretty, high key, muted, and at times, off-putting. On the raw linen the typically bright or garish colors become muted. He doesn’t aim for his canvases to be pretty, in that he doesn’t want his work to only be about pleasing and harmonious colors. He is continually obfuscating what one would say is a beautiful color by pairing it with a color that may be perceived as ugly. His use of color in combination with the geometric forms he employs leads you deeper into these works because they are in many instances queer and disorienting.

In a majority of these paintings there is a specific intention not to cover the entire support with paint. It was originally uncomfortable for him to leave so much of the linen bare. In some instances you can feel that struggle. He works on a new painting with 12 weeks of previous paintings behind him on the wall, allowing him to work through the different tensions and idiosyncrasies inherent in each work. This allows him to riff on older work, or to improve things that he didn’t like in previous iterations.  The variation between the works is subtle, but evident.

We talked about knowing when a painting is finished. His self-imposed time constraints force him to be completed in one day, however, he doesn’t stop thinking about the completed painting after it’s done. The canvases that he makes on a weekly basis have an influence on each other, but also allow Paolo the opportunity to "fix" things that he didn’t like in the previous painting without overcomplicating it.

This idea to make both the Yearbook series and his current 52 week series arose out of a desire to not overthink and overwork a painting. He devised the idea to work quickly on a painting to help him loosen up, but also to experiment with and focus on his own painting language and technique. In many ways both of these series have seeped into his overall practice. He is able to reference and re-appropriate from an encyclopedic volume of past work when concentrating on other paintings that take a few weeks to complete.

In our visit we talked about the benefits to making a lot of work. The fact that there is always another painting waiting to be made the following week frees Paolo from the constraints or difficulties of any one work. And the amount of failed paintings are equally as important as successful paintings, because it gives him the motivation and desire to keep coming back to the studio, to keep pushing his process and to keep making.  

Paolo will be going to the Vermont Studio Center for a 4-week residency in January. He intends to make a lot of works on paper in addition to experimenting further with sewn textiles and painting. He will have a forthcoming two-person show opening at the end of March 2018 at c2c project space in San Francisco.

For more information about Paolo check out his website, or see him on Instagram

Additional Images:


The Hazy Identity of Objects

A conversation with Meg Franklin by Jen Shepard

 

When walking into Meg Franklin's studio I'm not immediately struck by any one thing. It's a small space in a cozy Greenpoint building with a collection of art related detritus and personal items littering nearly every corner. In the center of the room is a large easel with a faded royal blue stretched velvet piece sitting on it. The piece appears to be in the very early stages of completion with merely a light tracing of maybe pencil or some linear tool having sketched a series of circles. There are a handful of small pieces to my right, smattered on the wall in a haphazard fashion; beneath them a stack of paintings leaning against the wall with a few out-turned.

The immediate sense I get from Meg is that she's not trying to show off. She expressed excitement about this visit but simultaneously did not overdo any kind of preparation. Of course, she tidied up and all, but it’s obvious she isn’t trying to make the space seem like anything more grandiose that it is. It is what it is. And being that I am a southerner and I know that Meg is as well, this kind of makes sense to me.

Meg has an easy demeanor that is both generous and retiring. She has that off-hand "oh I don't know" kind of attitude that comes off as both nonchalant and could be misconstrued as unsure. But in speaking to her for just a few minutes, you realize that she has a breadth of depth and intelligence that is cradled in this softened demure, not unlike many of the strong, capable southern women I have known in my life. She welcomes you in, with an unassuming posture, but beneath the surface she is whip-smart and witty.

Similarly, her paintings in many ways are the opposite of unassuming. Bold, garish, and odd– they stare out of their frames as some sort of twisted windows to other worlds. I sense a darkness and perhaps some humor, a deep sense of the uncanny, and a mysteriousness that is almost creepy.

In beginning my interview with Meg, I almost jump the gun and immediately start questioning her. I met Meg at Greenpoint Open Studios a few months back, then later got to know her more at a "Lady Painter's Party,” and I like her. We've had some fun moments drinking Rosé and shooting the shit, so I am happy to see her. But that is slightly eclipsed by the fact that I'm excited about this work, and maybe a little too eager start chatting about it.

Below is a rough transcription of our conversation with a few omissions and embellishments for clarity.

–––––––––––––––

Thanks again for having me. So right away I guess I should ask you a little bit about your background.

I'm from Northeast Georgia. My parents were professors in a small town there in the mountains. I grew up there and then went to college in Virginia where I studied English, and I got an MFA in creative writing. My MFA in painting came later.

I saw that as I was looking through your website. I thought that was really interesting actually. Do you feel like, are you still a practicing writer?

I wasn’t for a long time, but now I'm working on a novel. I was working on it more heavily a few months ago but have just shifted the focus to painting. It does have some parallels with my work which were unintentional. My work is focused on objects and sort of– the hazy identity of some of them.

The novel is about a world where prototypes of various objects play a really important role.

But that idea came to me totally separate from anything involving painting or objects. I don't have any conscious awareness of some sort of fixation on nick-naks or anything. [laughing]

It's interesting that there are parallels there. I feel like no matter what your practice is, I think most people have more than one thing that they do or are interested in and I feel like they always fold into each other somewhere.

Yeah, I wasn’t writing for a while. but it’s coming back. But [the parallels] would make more sense to me if I thought I had a conscious object obsession. Sometimes I don't even know why I'm driven to paint these things.

Looking at these I know that they are constructed scapes or still lifes from previous talks and visits. But when I look at them I can feel that too, because they feel like such unusual spaces. But they also feel sort of ritualistic or something like that and I start to think of Vanitas or memento mori.

That was not an intentional starting point in any way. But I do sort of kind of think of them as possibly sacred objects in another world. But there is no intentional desire to put them into a historical sense of still life painting.

Though you know it’s inadvertent, but I think my work is pretty similar actually to the 16th Century European still lifes that depicted exotic objects and curiosities from what were then faraway lands -- things dahlias from Mexico, tulips from Turkey, and porcelain from China. Even the fruit that shows up in Dutch paintings -- that was exotic. The objects I am painting just come from a far more distant world. 

Mostly, though, I'll try to go back and consult the still life masters and read about it and. My eyes close…

Set-up

You find it boring.

[laughter]

Yes.

Yeah, I hear you. I feel like I know a little bit about certain things like certain philosophy or ancient artistry, but I just kind of have the idea of it or the snippet of it. You could get too academic about it and…

And it could [curtail] my natural impulse.

Right! So, you feel like you work more impulsively, intuitively?

Yeah, it’s been changing. But usually with the work the more intuitive part of the process is actually setting up the objects, because I photograph them. Then I do the lighting, and then I work from the photographs.

I have all of these objects that I use, real objects that I find, or I find other things that are not quite recognizable, and I just kind of play with them. Lately, though I haven't been throwing ever color of the rainbow in my set-ups.

So maybe you are just getting more intentional about it?

Yes. And yeah so that. [affects] the process lately. The color, more than it did.

And it’s kind of impulsive the way that I set them up. And I take sooo many photos but I know nothing about proper photography. It’s all kind of intuitive.

So, I grew up catholic. I wonder if that has some sort of role in it. You know like church every Sunday and, all the sacraments and all that. I wonder if that has something to do with the way I've arranged them, and they kind of have this ritualistic quality like you mentioned.

There's a reverence about them even though they are definitely non-sensical in a way. And as you said– You think of them as sacred objects. They feel that way.

Yep and I think partially it's because I put candles in them. [laughing] But I think also it's symmetry and almost everything I do– there are some objects that are metallic, and I feel like in church in the Eucharist there are always gold objects.

What about working on velvet?

That's another thing. I can't think of a specific example where there is definitely velvet in the church. But it is an austere fabric in a way. I can see a priest’s garments being made out of that. Or I can see the tablecloth on the alter [..] It all seems to have a formality and reverence about it. In some ways I think it’s really technical, because I don’t care much about what’s going on behind the objects. But somehow for me with the velvet the texture kinds of adds that [..] it adds a little bit of interest.

Sometimes I use it in a more technical way, because I don't have much of an interest in the background, so the velvet adds a little interest.

Pink Still Life, oil on velvet, 36 x 36 inches

There again it does something to the objects that gives them more importance. They feel like something more like symbols something that would be on a priest’s robe or something.

Or even just like an old theater. the curtains [..] or an old funeral parlor, like the inside of a casket or something. [both of us laugh] I always think of velvet as a very serious fabric even though I don’t consider my work that serious, because the color is playful or the objects are often playful there is just an austere sense that it contributes to the works.

If I investigated or thought more deeply about the symbolism of the objects, yes maybe it would begin to appear a little funny or something but because of the way they are treated they feel like realistic ritualistic objects. Maybe it’s because things aren’t recognizable at all I get this occult vibe or magic vibe.

I don’t think of them in that way necessarily. But I do just think of them as being on a far distant planet somewhere [..] That is its own world of stuff, but the fact that you would compare with a fringe element of our world makes sense to me. they do look like they could be in like a witch’s laboratory or something sometimes.

Maybe it’s also the fact that we can’t place the objects. It not only feels otherworldly…a lot of the fear of the unknown occult literally means hidden…so, I think a lot of the fear of it is the fact that you don’t know what it is. A friend of mine on Facebook, randomly found some objects on her roof, and one of them was a tiny jar of mercury with a lock in it, and it was sealed in this jar. And there were these weird little statuettes. And she was super freaked out, and so she posted it online, and people were like “THAT is Santeria. You don’t touch it!”

[laughing]

Yeah, I would have been really excited to find that.

[laughing]

Meg and I’s conversation took a lot of twists and turns. When I asked her to describe more about how she creates the “scapes” that she photographs and paints from she started pointing out each item and where it came from. Every object is either constructed or taken out of context in such a way that it’s hard to tell what the objects are. She described a few.

Meg: A candle, a plastic shot glass from the sixties, a foil thing that I pulled off of some tea bags, an eye dropper, a candle holder, this. (she points to an object) was actually a holster on a vodka bottle shaped like a gun. you see them around Greenpoint. I don’t know if it’s a Russian or Polish thing, I think it is. If that all was recognizable as that stuff it wouldn’t be as interesting.

I think I already asked you about Vanitas or memento mori. Is there any inherent intended symbolism in most of these or are they just open to interpretation?

No. For me it’s about creating a sense of mystery, an appealing color sense… I really love being baffled by something. I love mystery novels. I would have been so excited to come across those objects that your friend found. I find that as you grow older it’s harder to kind of have a sense of wonder sometimes, but when I confront something that I totally don’t know what it is then I have that. So, I think that that’s why I work this way.

I also asked Meg about how she titles things and how she arrives at her titles. Being that she comes from a writing background, I was curious about whether or not her writing affects her titles. She said that she really doesn’t like complex titles, because she feels that they can be too pretentious at times. She laughed and said that she would almost rather name everything Untitled 1, 2, 3 etc. However, she said that is beginning to change a little.

Peggy’sCurtains in Purple; Peggy’s Curtains in Gold; Peggy’s Curtains in Teal; Each: oil on velvet, Each: 9 x 12 inches

Meg: Recently I named something “My Mom’s Seaside Dress.” I’m starting to incorporate biographical moments into these pieces, and it feels like I’ve arrived at something with this.

Have you ever had the experience like that you look in the mirror, and you don’t recognize the person in the mirror? Not like, your hair looks bad that day or something but on a stranger stronger level than that? It’s happened to me a few times. I know it’s me. I’m aware that this is the person that does all of these day to day things. [..] But I feel like that face that I see is only one tiny sliver of a much, much larger consciousness that I’m tied to somehow.

And I think that’s what I’m trying to get at with including these biographical elements. Because the only part of this that relates to my Mom’s dress is the color scheme. It’s a dress that my Mom wore in a painting or a photograph that I’ve seen many, many times, so it feels very, very rooted in my biography. So, I want to start including more of those snippets. With the recognition that the rest of these things are sort of the endless possibilities of all of those other things that I feel are present when I look at me and only barely see me. Here are some of these possible worlds that I am feeling exist but I don’t know.

I’ve been reading about this thing, [when you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror] and it’s called depersonalization, which can go along with dissociative personality disorder. But it isn’t that.

Mom’s Seaside Dress, oil on velvet, 36 x 24 inches

Maybe it’s a brain blip like déjá vu?

Yeah, maybe, But It brings up this really fruitful idea for work. It’s just an endless possibility of things that in your experience are buried possibilities.

I know it’s me, but that’s just like the very surface you. But there are worlds.

Entire worlds. I love that.

For some people depersonalization is a problem, but for me it’s really intense and really cool in a stoner kind of way to look at things.

[laughter]

That makes me think of things like aura photography and other new age stuff. Are you interested in occult things?

I don’t have a strong interest. I don’t really know about objects that might be used that way. I like the mysterious feeling that those things bring along, but I don’t have specific knowledge of these things.

Are you into scary movies?

Yes! I love scary movies. And I think a lot of it is about the mystery. There is a Stephen King that goes something like “The scariest monster is the one behind the door,” so it’s the mystery that really draws us in.

And that brings me to how they ruined the remake of the movie “It.”

[laughter] Meg and I devolve into a conversation about “It” before getting back on track.

You do have to have a sense of wonder to be interested in scary movies I think, but you do also have to have a sense of humor too. Because you at some point have to laugh about things that scare the shit out of you, because it’s like a coping mechanism.

Right! Right. that’s true

What are your favorite scary movies?

Umm all-time favorite is “The Shining.” I really loved “Get Out.” I really love the “Sleepaway Camp” series.

Omg those are amazing! They are so awful and so good.

[laughter]

It reminds me that sometimes I look at your work, and it feels like it has this seventies vibe. And I don’t think it’s just the velvet. So, I’m getting these 70’s horror vibes from some of the paintings.

[laughing] A man once told me that my work reminded him of Spencer’s Gifts. you know the cheesy store in the mall? I think he said 70’s Spencer’s on psychedelic drugs. I’m really into the design of the 70’s.

Red and Green Still Life in Box, oil on velvet, 18 x 18 inches

[laughing] Ok... I can see that. And I can almost see the aesthetic of “The Shining” here because of the crazy wide-angle shots of the building and the interior design in the movie.

Yeah, I am influenced by 70’s interiors. I really like the work of Verner Panton and Paul Rudolph.

Are there any other artists that influence you? I know we have talked in the past about Alex de Corte.

Oh yes, I love that work. If money wasn’t a factor I’d love to make whole room experiences, and I think that comes along with a love of 70’s interiors. Verner Panton has these absolutely beautiful rooms in this house that he had in Basil. [It’s] just like its own world. It wasn’t just in its own world in a flat canvas though. It was like you walk in from this bustling street outside into this crazy other world... intense, strange furniture, intense color combinations. It reminds me of rides like “It’s a Small World” or “Figment” at Disney World or Epcot. When you go it’s this experience. It takes you somewhere else. Of course, a painting can do that, but to be encapsulated... I’d love to recreate something like that.

I eventually really want a house with a fully carpeted room - floor, walls, possibly ceiling. Plush carpet. I'd also love to show my work in a fully-carpeted gallery space. 

We end our visit by looking more at Meg’s paintings. We joke about how we somehow ended on the topic of horror movies, but looking at Meg’s work it makes perfect sense. In one painting a floating, disembodied hand curls into the frame from below, in another an odd boob-like shape floats above the scene, and in yet another a cartoony frog-like creature surveys the scene. Each of her paintings are their own worlds. They are simultaneously horrifying and hysterical, in the same way a really good horror movie can be. There is also something about her use of color and the subtle glow of it all that specifically reminds me of a Dario Argento movie like “Suspiria” or “Inferno.” Overall, she has this mastery of the kitschy and the uncanny that never fails to draw you in. I’m looking forward to walking into a fully carpeted life-sized one in the future.

For more info on Meg please check out her website, or follow her on instagram @gabooldra

Additional Images:


Eric Piper visted by Erin Latham

Upon entering Resonator, a collaborative artspace in Norman, Oklahoma I am struck by the size of the giant warehouse. Everything from concerts, to experimental performance art, to dance parties has materialized in this space. Eric Piper, a founding member of Resonator, is an avid printmaker, philosophical thinker, placemaker, and community builder. I stopped by the space to take a tour and to hear about Eric’s interesting way of utilizing artist community building as his own art practice.

Your work seems to include an engagement with the greater community of artists. How does place-making and building artist community drive your practice?

The focus I have here is control over context. Often the artist is prostituted out by their owner or whomever is paying them. They are show ponies for a gallery or corporate manager. To change the world you cannot just make artwork in solitude, it must be shared with others. I’ve found the context of how the artwork is shared can affect what message comes from the work. The work being sacred is only a small picture of it’s capabilities. The way objects are placed in glass cases in museums, the way a zine is offered to be touched and folded by the audience. It is the MC that announces and introduces artists to speak or lecture; the context of a cathedral or a labyrinth of tabling humans.

The whole art-world is the real medium with which I work. I found that these events can be abstracted and experimented with as well. Composing events and spaces, curating the work and artists, the impact that these events and shows make can be addicting. The artist is usually trained to think they are at the mercy of some larger other, that there is some divine theory of art or council that says yes and no. The truth is that the world is a beautiful chaos. Every collective, university, museum, music scene, every group of humans creates these unspoken rules and theories of aesthetics and integrity. First maybe you feel insulted and try to teach them the right way of seeing. Then, if you are able, you might look at it through the groups eyes and see their ideas are sacred. It doesn’t lessen my experience to allow them the value in their experience. Sometimes to share these stranger ideas, it takes special consideration in the exhibition process. Every human has these divine ideas and concepts.

Why is printmaking an important medium for your work? Does it drive the content forward?

Printmaking introduced me to a world of art I never knew existed. It was years before I realized that printmaking was intended to replicate a piece which has already been made. My mentors taught me to work directly with the matrix to create original editions that themselves are the original work. Prints allow a greater ability to connect and collaborate as well. Having multiples invites experimentation and trading. Working with a medium designed for mass production gives you a knife to explore the innards of your economic environment. Survival based on selling objects and items that are not food or shelter.

How does the multiple play a part in your work?

With an exhibition of prints it’s possible to book a tour across country and open exhibitions in multiple galleries in one gesture. My life has always been connected with whatever music scene I am around. Printmaking and music goes way back as well. Printmaking is a tool for production. Product creation, to replicate a thing and then distribute it. It’s as if it is the first iteration of social sharing. Old school Internet. It gives the ability to share ideas, concepts and knowledge.There is no need for a sacred object locked away, printmaking allows editions to be made and spread internationally. Symbols to be interpreted by different cultures, a common ground to draw parallels and differences on.

It Only Works By Breaking Down, 2017

How did collaboration with other artists and community start?

There was this time within the music scene in Norman where people were coming up with the idea for shows and then figuring out how to throw it together in order to make it happen. I got to know a lot of people within this scene and eventually through a Wild sort of team management and collaboration we were doing because we wanted to make things happen for each other. Those were the roots of the stuff. Which led me to Dope Chapel through an interaction with Andy Beard who had a space in downtown [Norman]. He gave me permission to create a show and do whatever I wanted with it. It changed how I looked at curation of art work, I started letting artists figure out how to put their exhibitions together themselves. After working with people and letting them really figure things out for themselves, I started seeing the collaboration as an art practice itself.

 Can you elaborate on the idea of social practice and performance in your work? How does performance manifest?

I love performance art, I love the idea of this sacred action, or language that is experience. To think of how to share experience with an audience. Life becomes performance, this is probably what lead me to begin organizing shows.  Everything is installation and performance. Action in life is the most effective piece of art.

Conceptually, what resources are you drawing from? Are there readings or processes which lead you to your next idea?

I journal compulsively and keep track of interactions I have with other people throughout the day, free write on any odd sparks that go off in the brain, my dreams, use words like tea leaves and explore connections between concepts.  I enjoy reading, or listening to books. ‘The Writing of the Disaster’ explores how written word could possibly capture disaster. It is written by Maurice Blanchot after he survived WWII. In Watermelon Sugar and Anti-Oedipus created a ton of energy in my mind as well. The writing of the disaster becomes the disaster of the writing.

The glory of the disaster becomes the disaster of the glory.

The answer of the question becomes the question of the answer.

It’s a simple game to play with words. The reflection that one puts into it can generate interesting narratives to understand the world.

Can you talk about the narratives that lead you to the creation of the work? How do they unfold?

Very much like tarot cards. There are scenes that seem to draw up different relationships to the people viewing them. Depending on your situation in life, looking at these images or thinking of these concepts can bring insight to the situation.Through the abstracted human experience, how we connect to other humans through language.

Language, simply speaking to one another or sending messages…

Culture has already taught each person how to interpret these experiences.

To hack the social scripts everyone is accustom too opens people up to translate and experience things they’ve never encountered.  It forces people to come up with a new way to process experience.

Bereft of Certitude, One Cannot Doubt

How does this manifest in the work or in your social practice?

I believe I began thinking I wanted my drawings to change the world or show some kind of secret, now I think the most important thing for an artist to do is to be traveling and interacting with different humans.  We have to work together to build a scene and a culture we want to participate in. Art is often (simply) hijacked for other groups agendas. I think artists should have their own philosophy and build a system to share that philosophy with the big picture. While there is a sad poetic beauty maybe in the human that works for something they hate 5 days a week and make art against that entity 2 days, it is not the way to change this system. And it is extremely dangerous to build solidarity in this complacency.  If we want to see real change it takes organizing people creating connections and telling people to take control of their lives. Everyone has access to different resources. 

The series you created entitled “We, A lens to the Eternal” which presents the viewer with imagery which situates them in an almost haunting landscape. The way in which the formalistic aspects of the work merge create an unsettling picture of humanity, can you talk about your views of human experience today and how it reflects in the work?

I believe this work shows a transformative oscillation in individual identity. The individual that is separated from all cultures, human activity and consequence. The individual identifying with a group/culture. The individual identifies as the entirety of humanity, all the good and bad, and then has to reconcile these actions with their self image.  Self image maybe being their individual self and tied to their group-identity.  

Death Vacation II

You play a big role in your community space Resonator, can you speak about what you are doing here and what Resonator is doing for the community?

Resonator is a collaborative project. Af friend told me to consider Resonator and my previous space Dope Chapel as art pieces themselves. I think of Resonator as a huge part of my practice. The group is incredible and I’m considering pushing towards curriculum building and how to possibly start a school. I’m thinking about If I were going to make an alternative art school what things would we be able to, workshops, classes, etc. and what would be the limitations of that.

Do you have a lot of students coming from the University who use the space?

Yeah, we try to give access to the space as much as we can. When I talk to artists, regardless if they’re at OU or if they’re making work outside of school I try to ask them if they’ve thought about showing their work. I mostly ask just to see what their ideas of an art show should be or how they would do it. I want to try to activate everyone if possible.

Making maps and tracing maps, how we process the world and environment around us. Trying to take control of the other, you are projecting on yourself. I’d like to pass it on to other artists and give them  the ability to break out of the normal. 

The phrase “imagery from a globalized subconscious linking themes of identity, value, and finding your place in a foreign environment” is in your artist statement, can you elaborate on this idea?

This is a context for the viewer, I feel pairs with the artwork. While this kind of state of mind can be applied to viewing any work, I was journaling and playing with my relationship to these concepts while producing in 2014, 2015.

The idea of your familiar environment being foreign. Trying to shed the programmed way society teaches us of relating to the wilderness of society.

What different cultures find value in and why.  How an individual can: trade different types of work for shelter, food, general well-being; assume responsibility for how their employer gathers the resources distributed to them; and keep personal ethics in tact.

 

Additional Information:

After touring the facilities and speaking with Eric about his work I was able to see first hand how community building through different practices engages both Eric and Resonator. Through engagement with students and the larger artist community the Oklahoma art scene is connected to the world. Eric and the space work to build community through social practice and engagement with the broader international community.  You can check out what’s happening with Eric and Resonator.