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.


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.”


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:

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.


Katelynn Noel Knick visited by Erin Latham

Katelynn Noel Knick is a painter and installation artist based currently in Norman, OK. Knicks’ work is boldly intuitive and heavily process based. Through her interplay with space, form, and materials, her work creates a sense of fascination and imagination in the viewer, and allows for them to step outside of themselves to consider the spaces around them.

Can you tell me about your process?

I start my process usually with a sketch, usually in my sketchbook. I draw in pencil and then layer in with color and forms that move around the surface. Lately, I’ve been using these sketches to then inspire my larger paintings and spatial works and use them as reference.

I was drawn to painting in school and began taking sculpture classes. My work is very intuitive, reactionary, and autonomous work and based in abstraction that lets the work tell you what it wants to be. The rest of my life is more controlled so when I’m creating work it is easy to have the intuitive conversation and let the work become what it wants to be.

How did you get started making work in this vane?

It started in my undergrad work at the University of Oklahoma. I took my first painting class with Marwin Begaye. He did a project where we weren’t allowed to use representation, instead he would roll die and we would paint and draw different colors and marks based on the number combination. It really clicked with me and that’s when I decided to pursue abstraction. At the same time, I was taking contemporary sculpture classes and was challenged with making objects. I used skills that I already knew, such as sewing and incorporated the subject matter from my paintings into three-dimensional forms. Through continuing sculpture classes, I explored more with other materials and was introduced to other techniques like metal and wood fabrication, 3D modeling and printing, and started to explore spatial works.

Have any other experiences outside of school affected your current body of work?

I went to Anderson Ranch Art center for a workshop with Holly Hughes who teaches painting at RISD, and is an amazing relief painter. The course was called “Not Flat” and was about turning 2D work into something more sculptural. I planned to go and create a bunch of studies using different materials, foam and paper and just make as much as I could while I was there. Breaking down the painting and adding three-dimensional forms has begun to elevate the work to the processes I’m now working with.

Are you creating your installations like paintings, in the same thought process or creation process? How do your paintings turn into installation?

I take the space I’m doing the installation in and imagine it as a blank canvas. Using the nooks and crannies and the big open spaces and try to imagine my work filling it in and inhabiting the space. I incorporate the movement and forms used in my paintings to guide and inspire how I will be laying out the installation and go from there. Sort of like a map. I use painting techniques and ideas like blending, layering, line quality, negative space, and color combinations when creating the spatial work. This is a fun challenge I’ve given myself to create this same effect but with materials. How do I recreate this big yellow blob with pink spots using layered paper, thread, and chicken wire? Or how do I convey this white blended texture using plastic trash bags?

Are movement and direction important to your work?

Movement is important because it creates space, taking a flat space and being able to create directional space with it becomes interesting to me. Even though you aren’t able to physically move through a painting, you can still move throughout them visually. I am considering transitioning this idea to my larger installation work in order to create the same feelings the painting evokes. I want the installations to have the same juxtaposition of stillness and energy.

How do your materials affect the content of the work? Is it important the materials have had a previous life?

The type of materials is not as important to me as their function or potentiality of function. I use a materials that have a previous life or ones that don’t, ones that have specific intentions and ones that don’t, it’s really a mixture. I always alter them to make them my own, through dying, cutting, melting, painting, whatever the material will allow and whatever the piece calls for.

How is wonder conveyed in the work? What is important for you in creating this sensibility in the viewer?

The idea of wonder really comes from the process of creating and the process of asking questions. I’m not really trying to create a sense of wonder through spectacle, but instead I really enjoy how my work creates a sense of wonder through association and curiosity. When people walk into their favorite coffee shop and utter “Oh!” because there is a floating sculpture, which wasn’t there the day before. The moment when all of a sudden everyone’s looking at the ceiling they never really considered before. That’s my favorite moment. My paintings also create this moment in a different way, when people see specific forms in my paintings and say “This reminds me of…” and share with me what they think the painting is or looks like to them. I think that’s the powerful thing about the style I’m doing, people can have a connection with it that’s fun and surprising and not exactly what they were expecting.

You talk about altering what art can be, but are you also interested in elevating materials from everyday experience?

A lot of that comes from the practice of using raw and altered materials. For example, I enjoy using plastic trash bags because I can get them in large amounts; for a low cost, and they work well for the purpose I’m using them. Trash bags are something, which is recognizable, but after I alter and repurpose them, people have a difficult time identifying the material even though they use it everyday. I love the idea of using “non-art” materials to make fine art, and asking the audience and art institutions, why are we not using everyday materials to create high art?  Someone told me during a critique they thought this was very political, but in a subtle way. I never thought of myself as a political artist but I do believe that encouraging people to question things is important.

Where is the work going next?

Since I’ve graduated I’ve done several installations but recently have been on a break to focus on painting, which inspires the installations. I’m excited to do a large-scale installation this summer for my solo project at IAO Gallery inspired by this new body of paintings. My first solo show will be comprised of an immersive installation. It opens July 14th and the Individual Artist’s of Oklahoma gallery space. I am influenced by artists like Judy Pfaff and using negative space in the paintings and create this work as installation in the space. Right now I’m still working on painting in this style and exploring how that can become spatial work and how I can refine this process. Also considering applying for graduate school to begin an MFA program.

For more information about Katelynn please visit her website.

Mandy Messina visited by Erin Latham

The best part about studio visits is having a conversation with someone you have conversed with many times, and coming away with a completely different view about their life, work, and ideas. This month, I visited Mandy Messina, friend, artist, and #nextdoorstudiosOKC member. Mandy is a thoughtful, kind, idea driven, individual who creates work that challenges societal norms and asks viewers to be better than what they have been. I can attest personally that every time I sit down to chat with Mandy, I leave the conversation ready to change the world for the positive. Her work is considerate of individuals in society, while it seeks to understand how we got here and how we can change the given structure. Mandy is an interdisciplinary artist from South Africa, living in Oklahoma. Her work deals with mimetic systems and access points into a given structure.

How did you find yourself here, in Oklahoma?

I came to here because my partner Aaron is from Oklahoma, we didn’t necessarily think about where we were going to be based we ended up here. There were some situations that made it appealing to stay near Aaron’s family. We met in South Korea and were both teaching English. I began a job with the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and it was a hard and fast introduction to the Oklahoma art scene. The small size of the staff at OVAC allowed me to learn a lot about artists in the state and opportunities. It heightened my confidence because I had access to see the submissions of other artists’ imagery and information and I could see the quality across the state. Having access to other artists enhanced my conviction in making work.

Has relocating here affected the work you are making?

Yes, I felt more comfortable making art here after college, because I felt a sort of trauma with my art during the last two years at school. During the last period at school I was trying new media/content. What was expected of me was to create work that centered on themes of being a person of color and what my professors imagined what that experience was like. It frustrated me that I was not allowed to pursue purely conceptual work. It may have been the way I read the situation, but it wasn’t a positive experience towards the end of my coursework. The consideration of art here in Oklahoma is broader than what I was exposed to in school. Moving here has altered the context of what I understood art to be. The stakes aren’t as high in the creation of art, and artists are establishing factions of different media, so that there is a place for everyone.

I appreciate Oklahoma, I’m grateful for it, but there’s also just enough of a conservative restriction to the state that keeps me making and wanting to push certain elements in my work. Sometimes I am ready to leave because of the conservative lilt, and other times I am able to channel that, and use it as something to create a disruption. It’s enough pressure to push out an idea that challenges the accepted norm.

Is the work driven from content in this way then?

Totally content. A lot of my work tries to stay in an experiential range- like writing a story, the best stories you write are ones that come from experience. It’s disingenuous to try to speak on behalf of someone else’s experience, which is a trap I fall into often. I come up with theory-based ideas frequently, and then realize that it’s not fair for me to speak on behalf of other people. I’m aware of that in my work, it’s a process because of the subject matter I am dealing with, and wanting to get my ideas across without putting words into others mouths. I tend to create politically informed work because that’s the lens I prefer. I’m interested in materials, but I think that the aesthetically pleasing nature of materials is less interesting, than the connotations attached to the materials themselves. For example embroidery- there was a certain time in history when only a specific group of women had access to it, and becoming refined in the art of needlework was an upper class activity.  In that time craft was something they spent time with, materials like needlepoint and applique. These materials have a specific connotation to them, and as a woman making embroidery that’s something I consider.  I’m also concerned in the subversive nature of needlework in art. Lately, more people are altering the context of craft based and needle based work, specifically men who are using the media of cross stitching and embroidery  to create a dialogue about the materials.

How and why did you begin using fiber art?

The needlework was a circumstantial thing. I’ve always been drawn to textile-based works but became captivated after our third year of University in South Africa.  We were expected to write a monograph about a South African artist, and I was lucky enough to interview Billie Zangewa.  I loved her work; she creates applique pieces using silk remnants to illustrate the mundane experiences along with poignant moments in her life.  Aesthetically it appealed to me, and was in the back of my head for a while. When I came over to the US I had the idea of the “Visa” series and I tried to create it in the same manner as Zangewa, but I didn’t have the finesse, material-wise it just looked like a mess. I knew I had to find a different avenue.

When I first moved to the United States, I wasn’t allowed to work because I didn’t have work authorization yet, I was able to use a lot of my time creating. Eventually we moved to Oklahoma and I didn’t have access to a studio space.  My partner and I were living in a situation that I am grateful for, but one that didn’t afford me space to create large works. I had to work out of a small handbag, I had all my embroidery thread and supplies in there. It was a combination of no studio space, and having to create work in small bits of time around my job and my living situation. Aaron and I were also sharing a car and I began to utilize the time during the commute to work and the time spent waiting for him to get off of work, to create needlework. 

How does the role of the system play a part in your work? Do the systems of aesthetics and the systems of bureaucracy relate to each other? Do they formulate something specific in your work?

System and structure, I’m not sure where it started. In university I made a recurring theme of mimetic objects for example the images of tiny people who make up a larger person. I was interested in the works of Do Ho Suh and impacted by his use of the mimetic. I continue to use that idea in the works today; the “Visas” piece has tiny stitches, which build up to create the final work. I even consider the use of small amounts of time and energy, used to create the larger whole as part of the mimetic process. The other structure in my work is the governmental processes, and civil engagements, that make up everyone’s experience. I am curious about how an individual is meant to fit into a particular society, community, or system. More specifically, how I, as an immigrant fit into Oklahoman society/community and how I function in the US and global structure as an individual. I’m also engaged in points of access in government and how each place has the same basic structure of documents, but are all slightly different based on their aesthetic. The distinctions between the bureaucracies are curious with how we are all taught in a specific structure but come out differently. For example how we all learn the same alphabet and writing structure but each of our handwriting is slightly different. The idea that at what point in the structure does the uniqueness of the individual fit into the rigidity of the system.

Recently you were involved in a project with local students and artists, what was the project?

Jarica Walsh and Katie Pendley two local artists, put together an exhibition entitled “Symbiotic” that paired local artists with students at the University of Oklahoma. Pairs were chosen by the curators of artist who had likeminded practices, or styles. I was paired with Bella Blaze, a student artist who is working on interdisciplinary and mixed media work that centers on consistent narratives. Bella and I had several ideas throughout this process, but we focused on one idea that came to fruition through game structure. We created a chainmail game, and we simultaneously sent each other packages with associated challenges to one another, and returned them back and forth. Bella developed a consistent narrative with their mailed pieces, but I had room to play, so I sent them things like, bad IKEA instructions for a sculpture, or instructions of making a game within a game. Each time I was able to look at what I did before and change it, if it didn’t “work”. Through this back and forth a few ideas came about, that I am excited to see come into creation.

Symbiotic, Detail

Symbiotic, Detail

Symbiotic, Detail

Symbiotic, Detail

Your ideas for this show seemed to branch away from traditional fiber works, did this exhibition help to create other ideas you’d like to explore?

Yes. Through the back and forth a few ideas came about, that I am excited to see come into creation. The first idea was focused on the unresolved colonial history of Oklahoma and the treatment of Indigenous people. The University of Oklahoma has a long history with Indigenous people, and their treatment. Being an outsider to this history but seeing it reflected in South African student protests right now, I am interested in colonial legacies and how Indigenous people function within the state, and country. Bella and I planned to utilize the space we were given to help a specific population. We wanted to create a space wherein we could work with a specific group, Indigenize OU, on what they need to continue day to day operations. This is something I am planning to explore in the future, possible with other groups of people. The second idea we focused on was (LARP) live action role-playing and meshing the boundaries of art/life into a game scene or art piece. 

Did working with a student artist give you any insights? Has it factored into how you are thinking about the future of art?

I have realized that there is so much potential in Oklahoma and people don’t necessarily see it because progressive individuals in university settings are making it. I have so much confidence and excitement for the next generation of artists that are coming up in Oklahoma.

How has working/living in several other countries had an effect on the work you are creating?

I have lived and worked in several places but I would recommend Teaching in South Korea to anyone who is interested, it was two of the best years. Obviously, there are a lot of small issues foreigners might have in South Korea, that can make it difficult, but it’s a wonderful experience. Korea was the one time that the bureaucratic nature of moving to another place was really easy for me. I became interested in the aesthetics of how the lay out their documents, and the process you have to go through.

Has this played a role in works you’ve created since being there?

Actually, I think more so, that I was influenced by the aesthetics of the documentation I needed in several countries I visited. Specifically the way in which self mediated imagery is employed in official documentation, or how image conscious some of the countries I lived in are.  For example I have a Japanese visa photo that looks almost nothing like me, because the photographer edited it so much. He insisted that instead of taking an everyday photo that there needed to be some consideration of this photo, he insisted on styling my hair, and later when I received the image it looked as though he had lightened my skin tone and faded things. It was almost as if he had put a soft filter on my photo. It’s fantastic but it doesn’t look much like me. It was an interesting experience, but it totally fit into one of the East Asian aesthetic ideas that are applied to images there. Similar to that is the image conscious nature of Korea. In the girls’ high schools, there are generally mirrors, when you walk in the front entrance, so that you can adjust your appearance in order to present your best self. In one of the school’s I worked at there was a scale next to the mirror. I’m not sure what that says to the girls or about the image consciousness of the society exactly.  These image conscious ideas have influenced the work I’m making.

Your artistic practice and exhibition record have been super prolific lately. Can you tell us about some of your recent and upcoming projects?

Recently I’ve been adding performative aspects into my work. I created my first performance based piece at the AHA Festival of Progressive Arts in Santa Fe, entitled “SHIFT ALT DELETE” I toyed with the idea of turning myself into a Foreign Service Officer and forcing people to fill out forms of an imagined country. People could then come and create their own fake IDs, either using a false identity or their own. I reimagined a speculative history based on the idea of a three-tiered process. The documentation was either based on: what if a country was run as a corporation, what would have happened if all colonization was flipped and African countries had colonized European, or the idea of sovereign states but independent countries and existing next to each other.  The work was the recreation of documentation for each of these ideas. People could dress up in costumes pertaining to the ideas and then have their id printed on the spot.





What are some of the other projects you’re working on?

I’ve been asked to create a project for “Inclusion in the Art”. They asked me to do a lecture series or a workshop. I am excited for this, because I love teaching in the respect of taking in information and processing it to benefit the audience. What they are trying to do in the black community in OKC is to expose people to different ranges of art making. You can create an experiences for people to take in. I’m lining up artists to help drive this point home.

I also have a six-week residency coming up in Northwest Oklahoma, in Alva at a University, in a rural, conservative, small town in which the only international people are the ones on the campus. I proposed an idea in which I want to link the emergence of Science Fiction and Colonialism. I’ve been reading and thinking about in 19th century when there was a scramble for the colonization of certain parts of Africa and Asia, at that same point you began seeing Sci-Fi in literature. I read an article that spoke about questioning the idea that white Sci-Fi authors always seem to imagine the subjugation of themselves in science fiction. It’s always some other “alien” race that comes and causes harm to the normal society. Which is opposite to the reality of what has happened throughout history. I haven’t decided exactly how to create this work but would like to use some sort of textile/fiber art context. I am also likening the idea of current society and the images we are presented that exclude people of color to the Sci-Fi/Colonization project.

I love this idea of addressing the issue of how we create the “other” in literature, society, and life. Is this something that pervades the work you are making?

Yes. I am interested in how we alienate each other outside of what is the societal/social norm.  I’m influenced by artists who deal with issues of the invisibility of whiteness, or how the idea of whiteness has become what is normal or regular and this becomes invisible through the language we use, and the conditioning of society. I recently purchased a magazine with a person of color on the cover and was frustrated at the lack of representation of other people of color within the pages. I want to create a piece that addresses this idea alongside the Sci-Fi project in order to link the two and to exhibit my frustration at not being represented.

I’ve also been recently introduced to the idea of Kai Zen. Each day you begin to try to become 1% better at something. So eventually you become so much more efficient. I began thinking about it on a larger scale with my life, and the overall society as a whole. There are a lot of things in society that are moving at a warp speed right now, which is good because it’s making up for lost time. Ideas like Black Lives Matter and the improvements within the LGBTQ community, for example.  Certain people in society, especially here in the South, are finding these things to be moving too quickly, and threatening their way of life, but in reality society seems to finally be slowly improving, we are Kai Zening. All this lost time is exponentially getting faster and faster. I’m finding that my own growth is happening in trying to find gentle explanations about this, for people I meet in my life, and my job, that aren’t comfortable with all ofit. It seems like sometimes this is amplified here in Oklahoma, and it makes it a great place to have these conversations.

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

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Marissa Raglin visited by Erin Latham

Excitedly this month I get to do my studio visit with an artist of whom I am very fond. Marissa Raglin is not only an incredible visual artist, creating whimsical ethereal collage works on paper, she is also one of my studiomates at #nextdoorstudiosokc. Raglin’s work fuses together dynamic imagery from the past, to create comedic, dramatic, and sometimes frightening narratives that envelop the viewer in the process and content. I got the opportunity to hang out with her, in our shared studio space while she was coming up with titles for her upcoming exhibition at Hojas Artspace. You can find her current works at mgralinart.com

How did your process develop into what it is today?

I finished my BFA and an emphasis in painting from Oklahoma Baptist University in 2012, where I was drawn to acrylic because of the quick fluid movement of the medium. I found myself drawn to paper just as much, I would tear sheets out of magazines, and books, and try to paint over them or incorporate them in the paintings I was making in some way.

I inherited a book my Great Grandmother was drawn to, the John James Audubon book of Illustrations. The idea of found imagery came from cutting up this book and using parts of it.  

Was there anything besides the Audubon book that influenced you?

More recently, I’ve been drawn to collage after reading “Creative Block” by Daniel Krysa. I was following her blog called the ‘Jealous Curator’.  I’m not sure how I stumbled upon her, but I got the book quickly off of amazon and read through it because I was in such a block with the abstract painting I was doing at the time. There was a lull in my art-making after school.. The book encouraged me to practice exercises from several different artists that are interviewed, I decided to pick up some different utensils and create. Funnily enough, she wrote another book called ‘Collage’ and I won a signed copy of it. After hearing about it, I knew I had to have to have a copy, I left a comment on her blog, saying something to the effect of ‘I’m a collage novice, and I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m excited about it!” and I was chosen as the one person out of hundreds, to receive the free copy. It felt like a sign, something saying ‘Keep Going!’

You have a specific aesthetic and set of imagery, can you tell me about them and where they come from?

I use found imagery from vintage magazines, postcards, and books that I purchase from thrift shops and half price bookstores. I’m drawn to natural elements and nature based imagery, as well as the different forms and shapes.  I love that I can collect other people’s postcards. I love to travel, and I feel like I’m getting their memory book when I purchase these items. I am getting their appreciation for where and what they’ve experienced and wanted to share with others.

Quite a bit of the imagery comes from old publications that depict women defined in certain roles, are you interested in those ideas?

I often feature women in my work, because I’m drawn to the imagery.  Elements like contours, or facial expressions, that when put together help bring your eye into the piece. I enjoy finding the humor and the absurdity of the women in these images because of the roles they are cast in, that’s why I further feature them in unexpected locations or surroundings. It is absurd to have a woman in a specific outfit and pearls at the washing machine for example. I recognize the absurdity and that is what adds to the ease of being able to manipulate the images into having her do something just as ridiculous, like embracing a mountain.

Part of your process is looking for and creating humor?

I definitely look for the humor in the work even if it’s just through the title.  I’m drawn more to the illustrative imagery. I had a lot of fun recently in finding romance novel covers and cutting them out.  It’s comedic to see a loving embrace between two people and then cut him out and make her hug something totally bizarre like a mountain.

Are you aware of the content you’re creating when you’re making, and do you try to push those ideas if/when you realize it?

Yes, and no. Certain pieces come to mind in which I try to create a dialogue or narrative around a specific theme. Recently, my husband lost his grandfather, and I created a piece entitled “Void” which featured a woman in an intense embrace from the point of view of the back of the man’s head. I knew I wanted to encapsulate the idea of a huge loss, I removed his image but left his figure there and blacked him out using gouache.  I knew I wanted that feeling of loss or emptiness.

Specifically in one of my earlier works entitled “Mother’s Pill” it was representative of my Mother through a flower, a woman and child, and an alligator. That brute force of her and creating imagery that spoke about her. I knew I wanted to create a pill shape, or something to suggest a dietary supplement that someone could take to become like my mother.  I utilized the cut shapes and forms in order to get that to happen. Often, when I’m creating I have a specific characteristic or individual in mind that I’m trying to classify through the imagery. Sometimes there are certain concepts or ideas I want to create in removing or keeping or clustering, but I am interested in happy accidents. It comes with the territory of cutting out so much imagery, that sometimes you happen to put one from next to one another and you like the way shapes and forms interact.

The layering or removing of imagery helps create the narrative?

Yes, if I’m creating and I have a specific family member in mind or I have a specific phrase that I want to say I will be deliberate in what imagery I’m trying to find and how I manipulate it.

A lot of the time the narrative can come from finding the imagery and either removing or adding to complete the story. The found imagery is key to drawing the idea, in this way the idea then comes after. I’m drawn to negative space, because the white exterior allows the imagery room for conversation, there’s more of a dialogue happening in my head and on the page. Questions along the lines of why would these images be next to each other? I utilize the negative space element in order to create the idea that the imagery is becoming unified. Sometimes the placement of shapes or negative space is only whimsical and there is not necessarily a meaning behind it, but it’s more about the shapes and the colors and how they play with each other.

Does that come from your background as an abstract painter?

I believe so, I’ve always simplified, my abstract works were too busy and I needed to simplify to this idea of minimalism. The collage pieces are more thoughtful. I find even if I’m partial to an image, I don’t copy or manipulate any of my images, once I use it it’s gone. A lot of stress goes into the gluing process. When I’m working I’ll take photos and go home and sleep on it until I’m sure, or I’ll glue it down and come in the next day and think ‘that’s not funny or interesting’ why did I do that? 

 It’s a commitment to put those images on paper?

Yeah, the gluing process is probably the most stressful part of the process because if something doesn’t take well to the vintage paper and it rips that’s my one shot. I can’t get these images back. I am usually careful about when I commit to putting the images together permanently.

To that end, how is process important to your work?  How do you feel about failure in art making or time periods when you have to fulfill a need to make-work?

During times of loss I have had an idea that I want to be fluid in my art making.  I wanted to use the repetition of covering something up and sometimes painting with black in order to fulfill a need to create. The evening we found out about my husband’s Grandfather I needed to come to the studio and make something happen. There is some concept of knowing I need to continually be creating when I’m working. I’ve begun exploring the idea of making just to make, now. I was enjoying the path I was on, creating collages, but now I’m getting to the point where I’m willing to try something new again. I have found that in the monotony of just making to make, I’m not as deliberate and precise as I am when I’m cutting and gluing for collage, things are more solidified. With painting, in my mind I continue to think that I can paint over things and fix mistakes, but it’s not the case with gouache. I think the experimentation leads to something better. I’ve made a lot of bad art, and I can say that happily, that it’s led me to a point where I’m much more confident with doing or excited about the outcome of the work I’m making. Failure is frequent; I choose to just take it in stride. To try to keep seeing if that could lead to something else.

How do you think it is different to be an artist in this part of the country? How has it shaped your artist life? 

I think there are groups here that assist and promote the idea of being an artist in Oklahoma and nurture that fact. Things like OVAC, Fringe, Artist Inc, and Oklahoma City Girls Art School all play a role in shaping an artist opportunities.  It has become a worthwhile pursuit, being an artist here. I feel nurtured by being in a smaller pond or a tighter community, but I feel like we stick together, we promote one another's works, and appreciate one another. The quality of life and the ease of living here, family, friends, and the people here are all factors that keep me here, it’s mushy, but it’s true. I’ve been excited that since I’ve been pursuing this work, it has taken off.  There are opportunities if you apply yourself; it is possible to have lots of opportunities here.

I get an awesome opportunity to share my studio space with you and keep updated on your work but can you tell the rest of them what’s next?

In terms of the studio I am incorporating some gouache elements, trying to think about the idea of altering the scene, not with my exacto knife, but minimalistically eliminating or adding something to an image instead of splicing together many pieces. Working larger, 18”x24” for a few shows coming up, and also working some with line work creating a background or a grounding to the works, instead of having them float in space.

What about exhibitions?

I have an opening in April at Hojas Artspace in Goldsby Oklahoma, which I found out about from an Artist Inc fellow, and I’ll be showing works through June there. It will include quite a few new works. I’m featured in the second round of the ‘Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition’s Collector’s Circle’.  I've been commissioned to create a piece for a collector in May. After that I have a show in July called ‘A Hiding Place’, which I’m in with you.  It’s an exhibition wherein the gallery has given each artist a poem to create a piece based on.  I haven’t started the piece yet but I know the size and have the some of the elements I’m going to use.

I haven’t started yet either.

I’ve got some of the natural elements cut out but not together yet, so hopefully that will happen soon!

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