East Coast

Allison Reimus visited by Paolo Arao

I have followed Allison Reimus on social media for quite some time. Allison and I were in a group show called Western Decoy at No Place Gallery in Columbus, Ohio a couple years ago. But I had never seen her work in person until just recently. I visited Allison’s studio in the NARS Foundation building in Sunset Park where we talked about her process, the recent massive painting in her studio, utilizing text, the role labor plays in her work, and finding a work/life balance as a mother of two - and a third on the way. Don’t let the playfulness of her paintings fool you, because they’re hefty and pack a huge punch. I’m drawn to her use of color, text and materials. Most of all, I love how unapologetic and physical her paintings are. I’m forever a fan and I hope that you will be too (if you're not already.)

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? Where did you go to school?

 Hi! Sure. I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. A blue collar, rust-belt city that miraculously had a gifted and talented public school, Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy. There, I studied visual art for half of every school day from 6th until the 12th grade. My “calling” to become an artist was cemented sometime in those early years. After high school I attended community college for a year and then headed to Michigan State University where I received my BFA in Studio Art. Soon thereafter, I received a fellowship to work for, at the time, the nation’s only traveling art museum on a train, aptly named Artrain USA, and had a wonderful time seeing the country and exposing underserved communities to contemporary art. After that, I moved to Washington, D.C. and received my MFA from American University. I moved to Chicago in 2010 and lived there for almost eight years.

How long have you lived in New York and what brought you here?

 This past Mother’s Day was my one year anniversary of moving to Brooklyn. It’s been a year full of surprises, good and bad, but I’m so grateful for this experience. My family and I (husband, two kids and a dog), moved here for my husband’s work. Clearly, he didn’t have to twist my arm too hard because living in New York is a great experience for an artist.

 Do you have a studio routine that you follow? What is a typical studio day like for you? Do you work early/late?

 With kids, you have to keep a strict routine. Or, at least, I do anyway. My studio time occurs when both of my kids are in school. Right now, that is three days a week. I get to the studio at 9:45am and stay until 2:50pm. My studio days are also the only days I have to myself. If I indulge in any type of self-care, I have to forgo a studio day, and that brings a lot of guilt. If I have to do something terrible, like visit the dentist or go to the DMV, I also have to give up a studio day. When life tends to get in the way, as it often does, I will work weekends to make up for any perceived lost time.

 There’s an obvious influence of quilt making in your work – this is most evident in the larger canvases you have up in the studio. How long have you incorporated sewing into your process?

 I started sewing my paintings in 2015. I remember the exact day. I had read an article in the New York Times about an art space that had moved to Detroit from Brooklyn, citing the rising cost of NYC as a deterrent to creativity. That made sense. But it went on to say, and I’m paraphrasing here, that “no good art was made at a kitchen table.” I had a huge problem with that. My kids were very young at the time, and I had been looking for ways to supplement my art making without having to have a regular schedule of dedicated studio time (something that was impossible during that time of my life). After I calmed down, I brought my shitty old sewing machine to the kitchen table and started experimenting, all while tending to the kids needs. I’m not good at sewing, nor do I have any interest in creating actual quilts, but I love thinking about the many generations of women before me who created them in and for domestic spaces. I’m also quite fond of the idea of piecing fabrics together (in my case, canvas and linen), and making something special out of scraps.

Please tell me more about the series of work(s) that are in progress in your studio. You’ve got a pretty massive painting in progress in your studio at the moment. Has this shift in scale had an effect on your work?

The massive painting is a result of having, for once in my life, a huge studio ceiling and a freight elevator. For a long time, I was restricted to making paintings that would fit up my basement steps. There is something inherently bold about working on a large scale, which is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. I find myself staring and thinking about this one more than my smaller works. It’s teaching me something, though I’m not sure what yet. It feels pivotal, like there will be Allison before the big painting, and another Allison after. It says MOTHER, which will also be the title. Obviously, it’s a label I identify with, having two kids and being pregnant with my third. I love the idea of creating a huge, unapologetic, take-up-space painting about being a MOTHER, which, depending on who is in your art-world circle, is either empowering or taboo. I guess it’s something I feel I needed to contend with at this time in my life, in a big way. In a dramatic shift, I’m also working on a series of very small works, about 5” x 7”, that utilize remnants of old artwork and floor scraps. The decision making process for the little ones is a lot quicker. I’m probably seeking balance, or a respite from the difficult “MOTHER” painting. I tend to think of the small ones as evidence of my procrastination on the large painting, but they’re good in their own right, and I’m trying to give myself more credit. 

What are the main questions/ ideas that you’re trying to answer/ develop in the studio?

Who am I? What do I care about? And how can this translate into something visual that looks like it could only belong to me and nobody else? Only three questions, I know, but with answers constantly changing, it’s enough for a lifetime. 

I’m curious about your use of color. How do you think of color? Do you know what the palette of a painting is going to be before you begin or is it more intuitive and improvisational?

I don’t plan anything before I get started. Even if I have a certain color or mood in mind, I will often reconsider my choices the very next day. I’d say my use of color is intuitive. Once I’m deep into the flow and having a real conversation with a work, it’s almost like it tells me what color to use and where. Sometimes I catch myself using the same colors over and over again and I’ll have a drastic reaction to that in subsequent works. For example, if I feel the work is looking too happy or bright, my next painting will likely use a lot black.

Can you elaborate on the recurring motifs (triangles, tear drops, circles) and the “crafty” material used in your work?

My work has always used a lot of repetitious, geometry-based shapes and also decorative motifs. I think I’m drawn to the idea of mixing “sensible”, historically male dominated themes like geometry, order, the grid, etc, with materials, textures and motifs most often associated with femininity and domesticity. I’ve painted on pillowcases and have incorporated tablecloths and towels into my work. I’ve used yarn, pom poms, glitter, lace, and oddly enough, dryer lint as well. I’d like to elevate these benign materials in a non-gimmicky way, and have them be taken just as seriously as traditional painting materials. My tendencies towards repetition run deep. I suppose I’m reacting to growing up in assembly line culture, which dominated the area of Michigan where I grew up. Labor was defined by doing the same thing minute after minute, day by day, year by year. It didn’t have to be enjoyed but it was necessary for providing for a family. It was honorable work. Even though I’m far removed from that time of my life, repetition has taken on new meaning thanks to the monotonous nature of caring for young children. The newest motif, the teardrop, or the drip, isn’t really new at all. I just recently discovered work from grad school that used them, though I totally forgot about it. Anyway, I think of them as equal parts absurd renditions of drops of paint, and tears.

It took me a minute to realize that there’s text in your work. There appears to be an equal weight between text and image. How did you come to incorporating text in your paintings? Does it occur in all of your paintings?

I’m glad that it took you a moment. I’ve never been a fan of paintings with a quick read, and a lot of text paintings can be didactic or realized too quickly for my liking. The text doesn’t occur in every painting I make, but it has been my main focus for larger works for the past two+ years.  I get certain words stuck in my head and I obsess over them until I can get them onto a surface. They’re not always legible, and sometimes hidden on purpose. The text tends to weave in and out of the composition, sometimes hiding, sometimes blatant, but I always title these works with exactly what the painting says. I’m very transparent about the fact that it’s there. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with language and feeling like I’m being listened to, which is probably why I became an artist in the first place. I can’t think of any other explanation as to why I feel the urgency to make these paintings. I do try to paint them in a manner that is relevant to the word; a simultaneous reading of the composition and the reading of the word, intertwined. I’ve tried incorporating words into my paintings at various points in my past but with disastrous results. A lot of my tendencies are circular and it just so happened that I felt the urge to revisit text at the same time I started sewing my canvas. Exposing the seam side outward created complicated line work and texture, perfect for creating abstracted shapes and letters. Serendipitous.

Do you make preparatory studies for the larger finished pieces?

No. I realized years ago that any plans I made just ended up being sad, aborted relics of paintings that never came to be. I skip that step entirely and I embrace the fact that I have no clue as to how these things are going to turn out. Everything else in my life is so scheduled, so controlled, so monotonous, that I get high off of trusting my decisions in the moment and not having a plan. My text pieces do have a framework of sorts, though. Meaning that after I make the initial decision as to where each letter should be, I have to work within its bounds because you can’t erase sewn seams, which is how the letters are created. I like that the letters/ seams create these compositional puzzles for me to figure out. I do enjoy my freedom, but paradoxically, I find that I have the most of it when I have some kind of rule, or thing, that limits me.

Do you listen to anything (music, podcasts, etc.) when you work?

I can’t listen to music in the studio for some reason. It’s weird but I find it distracting. I love listening to podcasts. I’ve been binging on docuseries like The Dream, Heaven’s Gate, Serial and Slow Burn. I love listening to interviews with inspiring people and artists too. Shout out to the I Like Your Work and Artist/Mother podcasts, because they’re both fantastic and I happen to have been a recent guest on both of them. I also really like Deep Color and Sound & Vision.

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Who are some of your artistic influences?

I can’t say that there are any artists who I look to regarding “copying” a particular aesthetic or style, but I’m most often blown away by a handful of females dedicated to abstraction-- Rebecca Morris, Charline von Heyl, Amy Sillman, Judy Ledgerwood and Betty Woodman. My first ever favorite artist, and still a favorite today, is Patricia Treib. Patricia was a few years ahead of me while students at the school I mentioned earlier, Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy. Everyone looked up to her and her work. Everyone tried to copy her essence and failed terribly, including me. I can’t think of her and not feel nostalgic about my schoolgirl crush. She will always hold hero status to me.

Knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give to your younger artist self?

I’d tell younger Allison that the fire in her belly isn’t all for nothing, that ambition does not belong only to men. I’d tell her it’s okay to make bad paintings because fucking up teaches you more than the good ones do anyway. I’d tell her to be proud of attending community college and a state school, because eventually she’ll be in the same shows as people who went to fancy art schools. The chip on her shoulder is actually fuel. I’d tell her not to listen, not even for a second, to anyone who says female artists can’t also be mothers. Have a hundred kids if you want, those jerks can go to hell. Most importantly, I’d tell her that her ruthlessly stubborn demeanor may be a deterrent to others but it is an asset to being an artist and not giving up when life gets hard and unfortunately, it will only get harder.

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Do you have any upcoming projects and/or shows where people can see your work?

Yes! I will have a painting in Crocodile Tears, curated by YNGSPC (June 8 – 9) during Greenpoint Open Studios. Also in Lobster Dinner, curated by Will Hutnick at Trestle Gallery, opening on June 20. And I have two forthcoming three person shows: one in September at Left Field Gallery (Los Osos, CA) and another in December at Massey Klein (New York, NY.)

For more information about Allison please visit her website.


Angela Heisch visited by Nick Naber

I saw Angela’s work at SPRING BREAK Art Show this year. It was the first time I’d seen her work in person, which is crazy because Angela has been in New York and showing for numerous years. What can I say, I like to hermit. It was after seeing this older work by Angela, that I reached out to her to meet up and chat. Funny enough, Angela lives a short walk from me in BedStuy. The world is small in so many ways.

We met up in the late afternoon on a rainy spring Sunday, always the best way to see someone’s studio! Angela offers me some water, and we chit chat a bit about how we’ve never met, yet we have countless friends in common, and of course that we live so near to one another. Angela is easy to talk to and has a relaxed demeanor, which in many ways relates to her work.

Angela leads us down the stairs to a brick lined basement hallway. We go through an arched door into her studio. The ceilings are low, I’d say 6’7” because I’m 6’5” and I nearly hit my head on the lights! Besides the low ceiling, Angela has a spacious studio with a couple of work zones. It feels homey in there as we take a seat on a sofa allowing us to take in the work and the space.

Heisch is a few weeks out from her solo exhibition at Davidson Gallery in Chelsea. She tells me that what I’m seeing in the studio is from the last month. She’s prolific! In some ways we start at the beginning, the work that I had seen at SPRING BREAK was older, its indicative of work she had shown previously at 106 Green too. These are gouache paintings on muslin. Angela tells me more about the gouache process, which is quite involved. Gouache, gave her the matte and flat surface she wanted but was lacking in the luster and depth that she sought.

Pig in A Pen, 2018, gouache on muslin over panel, 16x16 inches

These earlier paintings were influenced by her observation of her surroundings. Specifically, what she’d see on the train, surrounding architecture, and other visual elements from her day-to-day life. These paintings have a more shallow and sturdy composition. With elements arranged in a sort of grid or architecture. We as a the viewer catch onto the architectural reference, but in various ways are unmoored from a physical reality. These works are of a medium scale, that relates directly to the viewers’ head, a concept Angela goes into more as we talk about the work she’s making currently.

The paintings in the studio are square, besides two small rectangular paintings. I remarked to Angela how you don’t see many people making square work, that it seems like people are afraid of that format. She agrees, and says that it seems natural to her to work on a square format, that her play with symmetry works better that way. We discuss vertical and horizontal formats of painting too, and how immediately it’s either a landscape or a portrait. Nothing new in that jabber, but it’s a good one to have especially when you’ve found another artist who loves a square support!

Angela sees her paintings as psychological space. That is space that is both occupied physically and conceptually. The moves on the canvas have a sense of motion, not too unlike many of her earlier works. These paintings feel more playful, something that Heisch throws out in our conversation. Not playful as in whimsical but playful as in the elements of her vocabulary are interacting more obviously. The ‘eyes’ from her previous work appear in these paintings. The new paintings have a circular composition, where the elements interact and spread themselves throughout the access. The ‘eyes’ appear in front and behind elements in the work suggesting that they are in motion and that they’re relating to one another on various planes within the work.

This work is in some ways a transition for Heisch into a new visual language. She tells me that she has her vocabulary from years of working and that elements appear, reappear, and get confused in her new work. The oil paint is serving the work well, it’s allowing her to create more color depth than she was able to achieve with the gouache. The colors are richer as she adds layers of paint over and over, the luminosity of oil paint is a real thing!

The paintings no longer rely on the architecture she sees around her. Heisch tells me that the new work is grounded in reality, but in some ways a more subconscious one. Angela never wants to make work that is totally shut off from reality. She feels that her work would suffer if it was only based on her interior life and artistic vocabulary. I agree, it becomes a sort of cul-de-sac when you’re not in touch with the world around you. In a way, Angela was being a bit cagey about where her ideas are coming from with this work, but that is understandable as it’s fresh for her. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

 I notice three drawings tacked up next to a painting that is in progress. Again, we have the old painter conversation about, “are these prepatory?” A resounding, “No,” is uttered. The drawings do influence the paintings and vice versa but Angela sees them as separate. She does, however, start both the drawings and the paintings with a few thumbnail sketches in her sketchbook. Those thumbnails are a guide more than a blueprint for what will be made. Angela relies on her intuition to allow her paintings and drawings to happen as she makes them.

 As we wind down our conversation I’m reminded about how important it is to be in the studio. Angela is a studio maniac, it helps that the studio is in her house. It’s a great setup to have in so many ways. We talk about how you can roll into the studio in your slippers, make some tea, take a nap, have good snacks, and really inhabit the studio. It was energizing to be in Heisch’s studio because she is going full bore into new work, seeking a direction forward in a media she hasn’t used in some time, and a new visual language. I for one am looking forward to seeing what she makes next!

For more information about Angela check out her website or Instagram.


Cool and Curious Wind

Dana James: A Profile

By Kelly McCafferty

Dana James is the perfect person to meet at a cocktail party. And that’s exactly where we crossed paths. It was the sort of party where you are expected and encouraged to walk up to strangers and start a conversation.

Dana comes across as clear and aware—her presence is strong. She’s assertive but also receptive. Dana feels like wind—cool and curious.

I’m almost positive Dana approached me first and we started a conversation where we discovered that we both had studios in Bushwick and we should probably be pals. Dana felt easy to talk to and we discussed the art world, New York with an emphasis on Brooklyn/Bushwick, mutual friends and her paintings.

I like to play an internal guessing game when I first meet a new artist. What sign are they? And what do I think their art looks and feels like?

Now I know the answers to both of those questions having interviewed Dana, been in the presence of her paintings and asked her flat out about her zodiac chart.

Does Dana feel like her paintings? I would say, absolutely yes.

Dana has recently moved, but when I visited in 2018, she had a live/work space in the part of Bushwick where the train runs above the street. I love seeing studios as much as I love seeing apartments, so live/work spaces fascinate me. There is a vulnerability in a live/work studio visit, both for the artist and the visitor. An artist is opening up the fullness of their life and one can see and imagine how their days and nights fill the space. The aesthetics of their life are on display.

Dana’s space is a beautiful newly renovated apartment with two front street facing rooms and a large kitchen/living space at the back. Dana has compartmentalized her art/life in the arrangement of the space. The left front room serves as painting storage and the front right room serves as active studio space. Moving towards the back of the apartment, there is a hall with closets and a bathroom and then it opens up into a sleek kitchen and combination living room/bedroom.


Dana lives there with her rescue greyhound, Veronica. I recognized Veronica from Instagram and meeting her felt like meeting a model/actress in the flesh—her beauty is otherworldly. Veronica greeted me as soon as I entered the space and stayed present in our conversation.

Is everything in Dana’s world beautiful? Dana, Veronica, the apartment, the paintings—they are all stunning.

Dana’s paintings are big. They are definitely bigger than Veronica. And they are as big as they could be in the space she inhabits.

We settled into the studio to begin our conversation. I noticed immediately that the train runs parallel to the studio window. There are constantly people on the train looking right in. It must be a strange experience to work and feel watched in that way and it must change the work somehow—there is a built in audience and the act of making becomes a performance.

I’ve never lived near the above ground trains in NYC, and staring into the train reminds me of when I lived in Chicago and how so many peoples’ apartments there looked into the train. I would ride the train and daydream as I peeped into peoples’ lives.

Dana is of course immune to the train, as anyone who lives their life looking onto it would be. And when we enter our conversation, I realize later that I’ve forgotten all about it and even stopped noticing the sound of it.

We sit with our backs at the windows. On the left side of the studio, Dana has set up three older pieces that were in her most recent solo show. And on the right side, there is a cluster of new works of various sizes.

Dana begins by telling me that she is in the middle of a transition phase. The big older works in the room with us are from her most recent solo show in October 2017. There were 4 in the show—two are in the room with us and they are all six feet tall. She calls them poured color fields. The top portion of each painting is thin and washy and the lower portions are heavy and thick with texture.

Since then she has moved over to working in the style of the paintings on the right of the studio. These she refers to as crop outs. She makes them by making big paintings and finding sections that are perfect as they are—and then “photoshoping” it in real life by combining fabric pieces. She also has some smaller pieces and collages that were the first ones she made after her show. The flow of the room progresses left to right chronologically.

Dana says that painting again after a show is always weird for her. She describes herself as a contradictory person who after going one way then must go the opposite way.

We talk about the older work first. She seems undoubtedly sure about it and it feels like the logical place to begin to understand her process and thinking. These paintings are really process minded. Dana’s palette is unusual and includes iridescence. It’s hard to see in the current grey light of the studio, but as she talks about it and I move around the paintings, I can see it. There is an inherent shimmer to the work.

I ask about the making of them and we discuss that the studio floor is covered in taped plastic. She makes her work directly on the floor. In the case of these paintings, the top is water media (ink/dye) and the lower portions are encaustic layers with fabric and collage and paint.

She begins by pouring them on the floor and determines the orientation of the piece, then the lower section is rendered with a brush.

We begin to delve into the content of the paintings and Dana says she wanted a contrast between the top and bottom of them. They are based on memories of water and Americana. She didn’t want to just pour this series—it was important to her that there was a contrast of materials and that there was a primal and child-like energy in the mark making beyond the pours.

Dana describes the paintings as mundane meets metaphysical sci-fi. They are based on swimming pools and the contrast of the air meeting man-made bodies of water. These are the vast dangerous memories of being a child and they look ocean-based and limitless but as an adult these spaces are considerably smaller.

Dana confesses to me that she is a native New Yorker from TriBeCa. These images/memories are from a childhood lost to her. They are how she imagines suburbia to be—the idea of swimming pools and backyards and isolation. She has a desire and a curiosity about these spaces/environments that were not her own. The sense of isolation and what she describes as the sci-fi twist comes from the absence of life in these imagined spaces.

I ask Dana about her astrology birth chart—I’m curious what her attraction to water is—and she tells me that she is an Aries fire sun and a Gemini air moon and a Libra air rising. She tells me that Manhattan is an island and she has always had this sense of being surrounded by water.

She thinks the pouring water element in her work comes from initiating a lack of control. She came from doing figurative work and then progressed to watercolor and then pouring. It is a trained skill, to have a controlled accident from using water media.

Dana has a strong love for materials. She speaks fondly of the poured materials sinking into the canvas. But what exactly are these materials? Is it a secret? Yes, actually. She wants the viewer to feel a sense of mystery. She is using chemistry—the essence of painting—to make surfaces that are all at once glowing, flat, waxy, thick, thin, shiny and matte. These works are about contrast. And the alchemical process that Dana concocts in her studio creates a chain reaction on the surface.

For Dana, the canvas or the paper is a light source—and once she extinguishes it, she can’t get it back. She uses these mysterious materials to bring that light source through.

Her newer work is born of the process of saving the best bits from paintings—these orphans—and sewing them together. As a process oriented artist, she has a lot of remnants and pieces left floating around and this new body of work embodies recycling. These are paintings she could never deliberately make, and that is what she likes about them. She confesses that she is the worst sewer ever and that she hates the actual process of sewing, but it gives her paintings that could never happen without the actual quilting of pieces together. The editing and arranging is what makes them beautiful. The new works are so different. Not only are they much more abstract, but they are an entirely different way of working and thinking than her previous works.

I ask Dana about her awareness of the sexuality and seduction in all of her paintings. And she says that she sees her work as both feminine and dark and dangerous. It is beauty with an edge. She likes things that are obviously beautiful. She is drawn to beauty. And she lets herself be. She describes an attraction to the feminine kind of glow of Mother Nature and her pursuit of replicating it.

I ask Dana about her style of working. She tells me that she works on one piece at a time. She is obsessive and she can’t separate herself from her work while she is in it. There are times when she has to be patient—because there is drying time before the next moves can be made. That is extremely hard for her. I can picture her, moving around the piece, circling as her mind calculates the next move.

I feel like Dana addresses landscape in a way that is inherently from the perspective of a New Yorker. Landscape for her is either man-made or not man-made. And her fascination with landscape comes in part, from growing up in a place that is completely man-made. She has a nostalgic memory of a place—a country house outside the city—that her dad built when she was a kid. On summer and some weekends, it was an otherworldly escape from her childhood. And after her father passed, the space felt heavy with family and objects. That nostalgic feeling of sad/strange/beautiful darkness is heavy in Dana’s work.

Dana has chosen to address absence in her work. There is mood and a sense of place or energy, but there is an omission of the human form. She describes it as Malibu, but weird and dark—this feeling that she is conjuring. Hearing Dana describe her work makes me instantly think of Lana del Rey and the Black Dahlia.

The absence of the human form is notable because she began as an artist focused on figuration. She abandoned the figure when she was 25. She described her early work to me as deathly dark portraits of women rendered in pencil. She says she was always such a New York girl—into fashion, make-up and body painting in her teens and early twenties. That all changed when her father got sick. She remembers seeing the loose sheets of x-rays and making abstract poured drawings based on brain forms in response. That was her first foray into abstraction and she received a lot of encouragement in response. The bleeding of the ink allowed her to be loose and open up in a way that she couldn’t find when working with the figure. I ask her if she misses the human form and she says she still makes smaller representational works and pulls out a portfolio of drawings to show me. She tells me one day she could see herself returning to the figure.

Dana tells me she was born drawing. She and her sister grew up in a loft in TriBeCa, children of two artists. Her mom is a painter and Dana grew up in her mom’s art studio. Art was “super normal” to her and she thought everyone knew how the art world worked. She was fortunate to grow up understanding the complexities of the gallery world and how it affects one’s personal life. In fact, her mom didn’t want her to become an artist. She knew it was a difficult path and she wanted something more stable for Dana. But Dana was organized, disciplined and hardworking and she chose the life of an artist. Art has been what she has always done.

For more information about Dana, please visit her website.


Kristen Jensen visited by Maria Britton

I came across Kristen’s sculptures roughly five years ago during Bushwick Open Studios. She had a teeny ceramic piece or two on display. My memory is not accurate, but from time to time, they pop up in my mind as tiny porcelain bites glazed with a little gold. During our visit in her sun-filled studio in Bushwick, we talk about her path to ceramics, sewing, collections of ephemeral items, shoulder pads, and more.

Kristen’s studio space has moved between various locations over the years, but for now is located in her apartment. One wall of her studio has shelving for storage and the opposite wall has a table and sewing machine. Kristen collects all kinds of fabrics, but her soft sculptures are mostly made of denim and used clothing. On the windowsill is a remnant of one of her broken sculptures, a ceramic vessel made in the shape of a foot. It broke around the ankle. I imagine most sculptors working in clay have unfortunate stories of pieces shattering from an accidental bump. Kristen shares a few of her stories with me. Kristen’s sculptures most predominantly consist of both fabric and clay, but she works in other materials as well as performance. She sews at this studio and does her ceramic work at a clay studio.


We start the visit looking at some spindly-legged cedar tables that support smaller sculptures. She torched the cedar tables, accentuating the texture of the woodgrain and giving them a charcoal finish. Like the cedar tables, the surfaces of her clay pieces and soft sculptures retain a memory of their histories. Her attraction to clay has to do with its relation with the body and its ability to hold marks. She says, “it remembers how you handle it. It remembers when you fire it.” Kristen takes a slow pace in hand building clay vessels as opposed to throwing pots on a wheel, which is much faster. She says that the atmospheric firing processes she prefers foil the meditative nature of how she builds with clay. Atmospheric firing methods, like pit firing or wood firing, mark the surface of the clay during the actual firing, leaving a smokey image on the clay’s surface.  

The frustrations and failures of working with clay inform her process. Kristen unwraps a large vessel from its packed up storage state, peeling back a moving blanket to reveal this cracked and put back together vessel. It broke in the firing. The shards look like they should fit together perfectly, but they don’t. Kristen says that while firing, this piece broke in dynamic ways. She put the pieces back together to create this fractured vessel. She intentionally uses clay not suitable for making large forms to make large forms, understanding the likelihood of “failure”. Clay is a volatile medium, and Kristen purposefully pushes the limits of clay’s physical properties. 

Thinking about clay’s ability to hold a history makes me think about the memory of the fabric too. The used fabrics in her soft sculptures also contain a recorded history. Kristen collects different kinds of fabrics and chooses to work primarily with denim because it is such a recognizable fabric. For her, denim is a democratic fabric. We get on the topic of the current state of denim and the difficulty of finding actual denim with the rise of fast fashion and stretchy fake jeans. She’s drawn to older items of clothing for her fabric source, including bits of fabric from her and her husband’s clothing. She shows me one patch cut from her beloved silk blouse with a faint floral pattern. The larger soft sculptures are stuffed with bean bag filler, and the smaller soft sculptures, which I see up close in her studio, are stuffed with shredded bills and papers, rocks, and sometimes tea for fragrance.  

I ask Kristen about her background in art. She went to school in Syracuse and studied printmaking and drawing. Between undergrad and grad school, she made art with a specific idea in mind, which usually led her to learning a new process or working with a new material. This is what brought her to clay. Using porcelain, she slip cast old bathing caps in a series of 12. After that piece, she moved to other materials then returned to clay towards the end of grad school. She repeated that previous mold making process, but it wasn’t working. She started pressing the clay into the molds and then moved to hand building.  

She shows me a small ceramic bowl with a leather strap that she will probably wear or include in a future performance although all of the details have not been fully articulated in her head. She opens a jar with little unfired balls of porcelain. She went on a trip with friends to Staten Island to dig up some clay. On that trip she found several different types of clay. One of the clays is too crumbly to build with so she plans on making a slip, a mixture of clay, water, and other materials that can be used in many different ways with clay.  

We shift focus to some nearby works in progress based on her collection of wire hangers. Kristen tells me that she has a real attraction to ephemeral items, garbage, and mundane things. This series of silver hangers are based on bent and misshapen wire hangers Kristen collects. The original wire hangers are bent and shaped by whatever previous forces they met. She sees them as portraits full of personality. They have distinct shapes and curves formed most likely by someone’s hand to fulfill an immediate need. Kristen recreates the wire hangers out of silver. She has some experience working in metal-smithing. She talks about the final presentation and finishing touches they need.

Kristen brings up another collection she has been amassing. 
Somewhere in her studio is a large trash bag full of shoulder pads. Although the bag full of them is tucked away, out of reach -- probably better for the sake of the studio visit -- I am thrilled to meet a fellow shoulder pad enthusiast! There’s something about shoulder pads, whether cheaply manufactured or well-designed, that makes them beautiful objects. Kristen holds onto them for a future costume or who knows what. I have certain shoulder pads that have lived mixed in with my sewing supplies for years.

Recently Kristen invested in a sewing machine intended for making sails, while it was on sale. She has worked with a Janome and an industrial sewing machine in the past. Her machine for sewing sails can handle multiple layers of heavy fabrics. Sewing machines can be so specific in their functions that people who sew a lot seem to rely on a couple machines for different needs, like sewing heavy or delicate fabrics or special stitches. Another part of Kristen’s practice includes sewing bonnets and pinafores for herself, like her own uniform. 

The first few soft sculptures Kristen made were adapted from bean bag chair patterns. Now she makes her own patterns. She says it’s an interesting process and takes some getting used to. “Even if you’ve done sculpture, it’s totally different--like reverse engineering something. This is the idea of the final form I want to make. How do I literally make a two dimensional thing that will add up to that?” Kristen talks about how the nuances of pattern making and sewing can make or break attempts at elegant forms. 

We wrap up the studio visit with Kristen telling me about her work’s relationship to the body. Looking at her work, she speaks about where a body could fit. She points to one piece and says maybe that’s a neck rest. She refers to another vessel, saying it’s roughly the size of a torso. While we don’t talk directly about the performance component of her work, her pointing out where a body could go illuminates the potential development of a performance. Her sculptures look like they are doing what they are supposed to do, and her own body and actions fit right in as a fleeting yet vital component.

For more information about Kristen, please visit her website.


Gyan Shrosbree visited by Paolo Arao 


I first came across Gyan Shrosbree’s work on Instagram. I was intrigued by her bold sense of color and curious about the materials she used to make her work. I visited Gyan this past October during her residency at The Maple Terrace in Brooklyn. During our visit we discovered several things we shared in common: moving to NYC in 2000; being at the Vermont Studio Center in January (though not the same year); working with restrictions (materially and in the rectangular frame of the canvas); and a shared interest in textiles/quilting/sewing.

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? Where did you go to school and where are you currently located?

I live in Fairfield, Iowa where I teach at Maharishi University. I attended Bennington College right out of high school. I was lucky to work with so many amazing professors in the early part of their careers there —  Amy Sillman, Rochelle Feinstein, and Annabeth Rosen were some of my first college professors.  I was heavily influenced and inspired by these powerful women.  I ended up transferring, but those two years at Bennington were never forgotten and were fundamental to my education.   I received my BFA from The Kansas City Art Institute in Painting, and my MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, also in Painting.  I am really grateful for all of the wonderful schools I attended and people I worked with, both peers and faculty, during that time.

How and when did you decide to become an artist? Do you come from an artistic family?

It was never a question.  That is due to my family for sure.  My father is an artist and my mother is a furniture designer and basically an artist.  I was raised being exposed to the life and it was almost like not an option, kind of like I was in training from the time I can remember.  Or maybe more realistically, being an artist was heavily supported in my family, and never something that was questioned.  This was the case, both regarding who I was surrounded by, in terms of family friends, and also in terms of my parents.  I was pushed and challenged, as well as encouraged and nurtured.  I feel really lucky to have had the upbringing and the kind of constant education from the time I can remember.  

I’m intrigued with your bold use of color and materials. Can you please tell me more about how you think about color and the materials used in your process?

I think about color AS a material.  So much of what I do and am inspired by is driven by color—instinctive relationships, intellectual understanding, play, absolute obsession, repulsion, emotion— all of it!  Material is as important to me as color. I use all kinds of materials, but I am always thinking about paint. In my mind I am always painting with these materials.  A new material or color is often the instigator for a new series.  They can function as a refresh button or something in my process.

You’re exploring a variety of gestures with tape. It’s such a direct form of mark-making. The tape is layered, it’s used as color blocking and in some areas the tape appears to function as “stitching.” Is there any significance to the use of this material? 

I don’t know if it is significant that it is tape in terms of a conceptual reason, but I do love the immediacy of the tape. I love the way the marks can build on one another.  I love the residue and smothering and textures that can happen. I love how it can really end up translating as “paint’ or lead you to a conversation about paint.

I’m fascinated with your use of “masculine” hardware store materials. Conceptually are you thinking about these as gendered materials? Can you elaborate?

Yes.  I like that too.  I find it sort of funny.  Like these are typically ‘masculine’ materials for the most part, and then I am kind of ‘feminizing’ them with my color choices and ‘glamorous’ moves (glitter, reflective silver, fringe, etc).  I am also bringing in references to  crafts that have been traditionally thought of as  ‘women’s work’ such as sewing, quilting, and sometimes weaving to further contradict the initial purpose  of the materials.  I am both interested in celebrating these gender moves, and also destroying the ideas that surround them with the hope that we can evolve beyond labels.  

In the works you have hanging up in the studio – you have paintings on canvas in the traditional sense – but they are incised and fragments of the cutouts are collaged onto the edges – breaking the frame of the rectangle. I love this gesture – it’s like you’re nudging at the restriction of the frame. It seems to me like you’re playing with restrictions. Is it important to place restrictions in your process?

YES.  For me restrictions lead to an abundance of work.  They allow me to get into my body and out of my head; to feel grounded in the process of getting the work out.  I love the frame, and playing off of the frame.  It gives me something to come back to in the work, something to work with and against.  I also like the way a frame directs the conversation back to painting.  Rules are made to be broken of course, but they give me the ability to treat the studio like a game and they ground me in the process of getting the job done.  

I see the canvas as a body.  Something to dress up.  With a front and a back.  An interior and an exterior.  For the most part I like hanging them on the wall, and calling them paintings.  Even using the wall to play with shadow and light and color reflectivity and glow.  They walk a line between painting and sculpture and are very much objects to me. 

There’s an obvious influence of textiles and the construction of quilts in your work – this is most evident in the large tarp-pieces. How did you first come to working with the tarp as a material? And what is it about this material that interests you?

Everything!  I like the fact that they are everyday materials.  Like you can just pick one up at any old hardware store. I like the utilitarian nature of a tarp. I like the plasticity of the materials and its relationship to the plastic nature of the acrylic paint that I use.  I like thinking about making these plastic quilts or blankets that are so heavily worked and tended to, and at the same time made with materials that many people would consider temporary or just plain shitty.  I like taking those materials and transforming them into fully worked, bedazzled, vibrant paintings that hopefully transcend the materials that they are made with, but at the same time are still recognizable and MAYBE that makes the work more accessible to a wider range of viewers, and MAYBE it gives an edge of humor to the work that I like to include in the range of emotions that are possible when viewing my work.   

These tarp pieces came from a place of wanting to integrate a more direct drawing practice back into my studio, specifically thinking about drawing with color. I was at a residency and went to the hardware store to find inspiration in a new material. The tape is a perfect partner, marrying to the surface of the tarp, while it is both forgiving and unforgiving. The materials themselves force me to continue to work the surface through the addition of marks. The buildup of the marks adds a physical weight that makes the pieces sag and slump in a tactile way. There is an inability to control the materials to some extent that I find exciting, and adds not only a sense of play to the work, but a sense of process.

You’ve done several residencies. Can you talk about how they have helped/hindered your process? Do you have a favorite residency?

Residencies are awesome!  I never realized how important they were, or how much I could get from having the experiences that they provide. I feel so grateful to have attended every single one of them, and each one was beyond valuable for both me and my work.  Many things can happen depending on timing and what your current needs are.  For me the benefits have been huge in terms of my work and also in terms of friendships.  At each one that I have attended, I have made real, lifelong friendships and made big discoveries in my work that have been lasting and set me onto new territory in the studio.  I don’t have a favorite, but both The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo were unbelievable, once in a lifetime experiences that I will never forget.  I am forever grateful for those places and their generosity.  

Do you listen to anything (music, podcasts, etc. when you work?

It depends.  Sometimes I like complete silence, sometimes music is the right mood.  The music that I listen to varies and seems to be driven by an instinctual connection to the work that I am making at the time.  It needs to be the same music for the entire series usually and then I tend to not want to hear it for a very long time after the series is finished. It is almost like the equivalent of silence because it just becomes a part of the process and is not overpowering in terms of being another element.  I like listening to podcasts, interviews with artists mostly when I am doing things that are more task related—like preparing surfaces and stuff.  

Who are some of your artistic influences?

I am, of course, constantly feeding off of artists and books and shows and films and experiences that I have had in my life. Matisse is one of those influences that has been there from the beginning.  Jessica Stockholder also an early influence.  Elizabeth Murray, Joan Snyder, Cindy Sherman, so many! The Hilma Af Klint show was a mind blower!  My friends and my family are huge in terms of inspiration and influence. 

Knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give to your younger artist self?

I would say hold onto the connections that you have with other artists and the people who know your work well.  Nurture those relationships, and be generous.  We are each other's support systems!  

For more information about Gyan please check out her website or Instagram.