Francesca Cozzone

“Growing up in science, it is really interesting to see people turn fiction into fact.”

A studio visit with Mary Anne Kluth, a friendly ambassador to ideas of the real and the fake.

Kluth is an Oakland collage and installation artist who constantly questions reality and perception.  She is currently working on a series called Theme Park; she visits amusement parks to gather imagery and constructs her collages based off of American landscape paintings.  She brings her collages to life in her installations.  I just got swept into her worlds.  Her collages made me feel like I was with Mary Poppins and we were going to hop into her landscape with a little bit of magic.

Kluth shares, "I never really experienced landscapes west of Denver, CO until I was an adult.  When I moved out here, it was the first thing that took my breath away.  My parents drove me out here through the very flat and lifeless Great Plains, when we got here I was floored."  Kluth experienced Western landscape on such a different level than I could ever imagine.  Originally from Colorado, Kluth moved to the Bay Area when she was six years old.  Her father was a geologist, a photographer, and a ceramist.  As a geologist, he traveled a lot, and he took her on his excursions.  Kluth’s childhood is at the forefront in her making.  Kluth now researches the land, the older writings, and the American landscape paintings of Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran.  

Although she doesn’t consider herself particularly knowledgeable in geology, she grew up in science.  With her father and his colleagues, she would use her imagination to bring her own narratives into his studies. “I never had any idea what they were talking about; I made up my own explorations and studies... although a little out of context.”  Before her installation, Theme Parks, Kluth created an installation called Visitor Center.  It was her way of finally telling her father’s stories and research.  She used her experiences hanging around Visitor Centers as a starting point.  Self-taught dioramas mesmerized Kluth.  Visitor center dioramas are usually made from employees who are very passionate about the parks, but don’t have the right resources and techniques to construct museum quality dioramas.

“I think growing up in a house that is really obsessed with the truth, reality and facts, there is something about theme parks and fake places, community, and experiences that is so weird to me.”  They were additional part of her trips with her dad as they spent time at Disneyland and California Adventure Park.  She currently works as a restoration artist at Fairyland in Oakland, recreating the fake landscape that is physically real.  As early as she could remember she was asking, "What is representation? What fake experiences do we choose to make for each other?" There are artists designing and creating these amusement parks yet go unrecognized as artists.  It is representational; but as commercial art, it is not seen as conceptual work.  

Science is recorded information from research.  When explorers and scientists went on explorations, they had a different way of documenting their experiences.  They were alone for days or weeks, wrote long detailed notes, and drew beautifully rendered pictures.  Now explorers have different, faster ways to communicate their research. You can follow NASA on Instagram and Twitter; it is a different way of turning your experiences into stories.

“Photoshop is so advanced now; sometimes I let the tools choose for me.”  There is so much of the deliberate hand in Kluth’s making, and the power to let go of controlling the piece and trusting that technology will make an artistic decision is so fascinating to me. I asked her if she ever gets mad at Photoshop for selecting something she never intended to select.  She responded, “No. I really enjoy playing with that.  Sometimes the digital line stays; I like leaving the proof of the digital mark.” It is all connected back to the real place.  How do we construct images?  Kluth wants the constructed image; she enjoys the big reveal when the curtains open.  You can still see how everything was made.  From the street view, The Escape looks like an imaginary place you can walk into. When you walk through it and turn around, you can see how she constructed the pieces.  She lends artistic trust in technology, but she adds subtle reminders that she is the maker.  

Kluth thinks “living in the Bay Area is really interesting as sort of a hobby.”  We talked about how people in San Jose go into work and use their video game skills to bomb drones in other countries, and how people at Google are in the pursuit of extending human lives; those happenings are so real to a very select group of people. Kluth commented on how sad it has been to see friends leave, but believes there are positives and negatives to the situation.  She wished there was a more meaningful tech versus art conversation. “There are still moral and ethical and imaginative questions to be asked that are not being asked because we are still upset about the buses… there is a different story of technology and art that hasn’t been talked about.”

Kluth sees the difference between real and fake as a political statement. What are the implications of representing things.  How has technology changed our perception of landscape?  She does not claim “her work to be overly political, but it would be nice if it was a friendly ambassador for ideas of the real and the fake. She believes “the American landscape and how we see our national identity can be one of the defining moments of our generation. How is this American landscape seen across the country?”  She voiced her concern as to whether or not she was the right person for this conversation, but she believes it is the responsibility of being a cultural maker to be a part of the conversation. However small, you still have some part in the conversation.

 

Check out more of her works at maryannekluth.com.








empathy was not in the dictionary

a  studio visit with Joanne Easton 

by Francesca Cozzone

 

I’d like to say I met Joanne Easton while we were both growing up around Chicago and later had reunited in San Francisco, but that would be a lie.  Jo has a powerful grace about her that would make you wish the same.  She is constructive and thoughtful. Her work speaks loudly and align themselves perfectly with her aura.

“People expect one answer when they ask you where you are from.”

Jo always has difficulty sharing where she is from. She is uncomfortable defining it as only one place. As she got older, she realized everyone comes from many places. After a couple minutes of catching up, the concept of place (or many places) was the first thing we discussed. Jo has become more comfortable with it, especially since it is clear that place influences her work as a way to spend time in it.  Jo was born in and now resides in Oakland, CA.  Her first five years were in Chicago and later Australia. For 10 years as a child, she spent 9 months of the year in Sydney, Australia, and the other three months in Chicago.  Like a true Chicagoan, she spent those three months always in the dead of winter. Although she calls many places home, she still needs that one space to call home base--“a place for people to find me.”  She loves the freedom of leaving and returning, but she says it is like going on holiday: you itch to return to your making.  

Her studio base is currently located in the Dogpatch, an industrial section of San Francisco. The window looking out of her studio faces the Bay through the beautifully deteriorating brick buildings that line the coast. Joanne always seems so calm to me; and when I entered her studio, her space emitted that same assurance.  Her work space was organized by her current projects. Bookshelves are filled with materials and books, the floor with piles of branches from her current work, wrapped covered marked(armature). There were notecards of lists hung in the corner or piled together in envelopes on her work desk. My favorite find: a metronome sitting peacefully next to two projects. Every agenda, every task was important, but the lists don’t overwhelm her. Some lists are hidden because she is still thinking through the ideas. Her lists are a way to continue on to the next small thing. One step at a time, she accomplishes what she wants, what she enjoys, her process

 

met up with her a couple weeks prior to our studio visit when she was a part of the Big Clay Show at San Francisco Art Institute. She made ceramic bells and attached them to balloons, using the deflation of the balloons to trigger the sound. She described the work as making a moment. She created each bell by pressing her thumb into the clay and closing her other palm around it. As she described this moment, she made the motion with her hands, sharing her strength and intention in making them.  handbells (100 conversations) was inspired by David Ireland’s Dumb Balls. For Ireland, it was passing the concrete back and forth to round it and keep the shape.  The moment, the motion, the creative process. Now weeks later, the bells are haunting her. They are incomplete. She wants to continue to share the moment. After she updates them to her liking, she intends on gifting them, turning the work into a remnant of the moment.

 

 

With the metronome staring me in the face, I was surprised to hear Jo say she isn’t musical. Like any normal child, she hated her piano lessons; but now as an adult she is teaching herself to play the ukulele. In her artwork, it isn’t about playing an instrument or even making music. It is about listening. One of her main drives in making is to admit to not knowing. Listening (to figure out a place or to make sense of knowing) is one of her tools. It’s listening beyond everything you’ve already learned; it’s to listen to everything before really hearing it. The etymology of “to listen” means physically offering your ear. To reconnect with her drawing, she attached a pencil to the metronome and drew against the rhythm.  Having a ribbon connecting the two object, the ribbon illustrates the tick tock of the metronome. Jo said it was a bit of a performance, recording and drawing it. The metronome sits just below a heartbeat tempo, which causes anxiety for some viewers. Sometimes it can have a soothing effect; but Jo recognizes that in stepping to a rhythm, we are trying to make sense of things, to organize them, to categorize things.  The performance of the drawing (though faint in graphite) stops the viewer from articulating their rhythm. Something gets lost.  

“It’s a great attempt to open up to listening. I’m finding this beautiful and absurd, and I want to highlight that.”

 

 

Jo was hesitant to talk about empathy--so much so that she removed the word from her artist statement. It was hard not to talk about empathy.  Empathy is both powerful and subtle. While browsing through a dictionary from the 1960’s, she discovered that empathy was not included. It was only in the supplemental part. She went on saying it was “a new word, an old word coming back into dialogue. It has its own definition, but its broader understanding is very misunderstood.” Empathy is hard, uncomfortable; just like it is hard and uncomfortable to learn something new or different. That’s where empathy’s real strength comes in. To be empathetic you really have to let go of what you thought was correct.

“It takes a lot of confidence to stand with something you don’t know. People see it as giving in to something, but it is actually standing with it. It’s a real interaction. It’s not one way or another.”

Next to the metronome are two projects. One part of the project, pseudonyms, is a handmade book of calligrapher’s ink and newsprint. It sits on top of a hidden project wrapped in thick black cloth. I quickly asked to unwrap the hidden project, while trying to remain sensitive to what the artist wanted to share with me. walking towards the sun is Joanne’s most recent project.


She titled her project a tale of the sunset (pushing 93 million barrels 93 million miles to the nearest star), saying “it’s really walking to the nearest star, which is the sun.”  In 2015, we will be using 93 million barrels of petroleum as a global economy, and Jo thought it was quite coincidental that a trip to the sun is also 93 million miles away.  Wanting to draw some light on this devastating fact, she has been creating sun prints. The prints were hidden so the sun wouldn’t continue to stain the newsprint. She observes, “They change really quickly. I’ve been thinking a lot about how they are changing with the sun.” Jo lays out the newsprint sheets in a circular direction, one on top of the other, leaving a quarter corner piece for the sun to shine upon.

 

So much of Joanne’s work is about creating moments and listening in order to rearticulate the things she already knows. The idea of not knowing is what drives her practice. What can she see in a new direction? How can she make chaos out of order? “In a lot of my work, I like order. I try to count things, value things. I’m interested in when that order falls away.” When things fall away, she hears the music, discovers the moments she wants to share.

a tale of the sunset (pushing 93 million barrels 93 million miles to the nearest star) will be a part of her MFA show from May 15 to 18, 2015 http://www.sfai.edu/events-calendar/detail/mfa-exhibition-edge-effect-opening

You can find more of Joanne's work at http://www.jeaston.com/ 

Making a mark and loving that mark

Francesca Cozzone visits Devon McKnight

I met Devon at the beginning of summer 2014. We were introduced to each other a couple times before, but it was when we were both invited to a nice little gathering of artists, I got to know her better.  She is a collector, a curator, and without a doubt, a painter. She continuously moves through her work. Never forgetting about her past pieces and ideas, but always striving for a new direction.  It is her own never-ending story.

Devon’s studio is located at San Jose State University where she is finishing her third and final year in the Masters program.  It is a large enclosed room off to the side with a divider separating her studio in two spaces.  There were prints of blue, almost swatch like, all over one side of the room.  After completing them a year ago, she pulled them out to process through them again, possibly cut them up and pair them with new companions.  

You can see she is attracted to this very blue, appearing all over both rooms.  Small and large boxes of paints lay around her studio. As for the rest of her color palette, she takes a little more playful and productive, not blocking from the exploration of her work.  I pointed out some work with color you wouldn’t normally associate with her work.  I was excited to see the bright colors being introduced, but she explained it quite differently, “I really hate all those colors. I try to put up things I don’t like, to see what happens.”   She continued saying they were too magical. Devon finds comfort in everyday colors, colors she finds on her walk to school.  She gravitates to blue, yellow, green, to found surfaces and wood.

“It is bright without being loud.  It’s more my personality.”

These relationships she discovers on her walks have become a large part of her process. She has found ten different ways to get to her studio, and changes up her routine as frequently as possible. She brings these observations back to the studio to build new relationships and non relationships. Moving towards a more narrative approach, she is developing a story of ongoingness, a seamless connection between each piece.  The narrative is connected to her walks and has found ties to growing up in the South.  Originally from North Carolina, she recalls mostly learning from her parents and grandparents through the telling of stories over supper. Her newest source has been Rebecca Solnit’s writing.  McKnight enjoys how Solnit writes memoirs and connects them with historical and contemporary information.

With her solo thesis show in April, she is figuring out how to balance out all her interests.  McKnight came back to school to reconnect with her painting and was really interested in learning more about the Casualist movement.  These investigations of painting spawned more sculptural work and shed light on her curatorial background.  In her time off away from school she was curating shows in alternative spaces, going on site-specific residencies,Raygun in Australia, and participating in art conferences like Open Engagement in Portland and Conflux in New York City. Space has always been influential to her work, from working off the pipes and outlets to a previous owner’s yellow spots on the floor.  The work has gone from paintings to monumental pieces back to paintings.  Her balance is to keep working, to keep processing through the work.  Like other artists that deal with a sense of casualness, she is discovering “what is the difference between studio space and showing space and what showing means because people think it is full of intent, and a final thing, but nothing here feels so final.”

This would come full circle, now she is spearheading her group MFA show, the student run show usually located at Art Ark Gallery. This year’s graduates are taking a different direction and looking towards alternative spaces to have their show.  With galleries all over San Francisco closing or relocating due to rising rent costs, alternative spaces (bars, stores, pop-up galleries) are a current outlet for artists and curators. McKnight’s class has taken full advantage  and decided to work with multiple venues including South First Billiards,Pho 69 which is part of Phantom Galleries, San Jose City Hall, a projection screen on 1st street (run by San Jose Arts Commission and Zero1) and potentially the Zero1 Garage and Cafe Stritch.

“This fell…it was big but it fell and I liked how it fell.”

Her studio perfectly shows paintings. Paintings on paintings, paintings as sculptures, and paintings as installations.  As we combed through the tubes of paint, I casually asked if she identified as a painter or as an installation artist.

“Oh yes, everyone wants to say I was moving into spatial work. but I still see it as painting.  I never learned sculpture. This is basically form, color and composition, which can go with many art forms.”   


For more of Devon’s work visit devonmcknight.com.

Nick Naber visited by Francesca Cozzone

I’ll never forget the day I met Nick Naber.  It was my second semester after transferring from Marquette University to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  It was after a terrible snowstorm and awfully cold out.  On the first day of Figure Drawing, I showed up in three layers of clothes and two coats, one happened to be a floor length sweater.  Nick was the only student in the classroom. As I looked around picking my drawing horse for the year (so important socially and academically), Nick called to me and said, “Sit here.”  So I walked over, put my things down, quickly taking off all my layers. We were instant friends.  He is a constant source of inspiration and drive.

When he approached me with the idea of starting the Coastal Post, I could not turn him down. 

Studio Visit done on 3/24/14

What inspired you to create The Coastal Post? 

The impetus to create The Coastal Post is that there are so many people that are considered emerging artists, but the coverage of these people is so light. Other blogs or publications are focused on emerging artists or curators, yet their work isn’t there.  Contributors end up reviewing shows at the MET, MoMA, or at the Whitney.  I wouldn’t really say that level is considered emerging. I would say once you’ve hit institutions of this level, you’ve kind of made it, you know? 

Here on The East Coast, there is a lot of work happening in small galleries on the Lower East Side, in Chelsea project spaces, or in Bushwick that is exciting — things that need to be talked and thought about.  There is sometimes not a lot of conversation between emerging artists in New York, especially if they are from different graduate programs.  It becomes really cliquish which is awful because in actuality we are all in the same boat. It is important for artists to talk to other artists and find out what they are doing in their studios or find out what projects they are working on.  It is imperative for people on the East Coast to know what is going on in the West Coast and vice versa.  That was my initial idea of why I wanted to start something like this.

What do you plan for its future? 

I want to keep a tight monthly schedule of having two studio visits, one from the West Coast and one from the East Coast. I hope over time our contributors will be more comfortable with each other, and they will do studio visits with each other either via Skype or in person.  In addition, our contributors are going to shows that they love or hate and should tell our readers about it.  I want to create a forum for artists to express themselves.  I would love to have people from New York or California seeing the reviews, and go “I should really go see what is happening in the Mission or what’s happening in Bushwick.”

What challenges have you faced post graduating from Pratt’s graduate program?

One of the biggest things after graduate school is a lack of funding, which eventually leads to a lack of space. That is a difficult thing to deal with especially when you are coming from a graduate program where your studio can be pretty large.  There you have a lot of space to store stuff and are able to work in any medium.  I think that was one of the hardest things for me.  Currently, I work in a studio in my home.  I work in what would be my dining room.  It is wonderful because I can work at any time but it is also kind of a hindrance because sometimes its like “Oh, I should really do the dishes.” 

The other thing that is really difficult when getting out of graduate school is you don’t have same amount of critical voices.  For the first year, its kind of amazing because you are really just free to do whatever you want. After that, say a year or a year and half into it, you are like “I want somebody here. I want to talk to somebody.  I just want somebody to look at this piece.” That’s something that’s not afforded to you when you are not in a program or in a studio building.

Has New York City been helpful or unhelpful in your artistic path?

I was lucky because I ended up meeting a lot of people from other programs because I worked for Sue Scott Gallery with Pat Steir on an installation.  There were people from other schools working on that with us.  This gave me a little bit of an edge in regards to knowing people outside of my program.  So its nice for me.  I go to openings, and I know one or two people because I have been active in that way. 

I was fortunate that I was picked by a small project space/gallery in Chelsea while I was in school.  So the pressure to find a space to show my work isn’t really there. It is still very difficult getting group shows. You want to show, but it is very difficult to break in, break through, and just get that break to do something.  As an artist, I think it is also difficult to do something because it is super expensive in New York.  It is hard to justify buying ten sheets of paper when you have not done laundry in a month.

A lot of people think you need to be in New York or in LA to ‘make it’. Do you agree with this?

This is bullshit. It really depends on what you want out of your career, what you want it to be like.  I have a friend that is from Boston and was living in New York for grad school. He had hard time deciding whether or not he should move back to Boston, and I told him what I just said. Outside of New York or LA/SF you can be a big fish in a small pond, and eventually, if you want to show in New York, you can do that after you prove yourself where you are located.  If that is your ultimate goal, it is possible to show in New York or LA/SF without living there.  People’s goals are different.

How would you describe your work and practice?

I would describe my work as grounded in architecture. I have a deep interest in the places we inhabit and the places we use to live. My work tends to lean toward the abstract.  It starts with a real place, but over time, it is combined or colored in a way that isn’t naturalistic. The work tends to be both methodical and precise, which comes from my control freak attitude. 

As for my practice, I work a lot on the weekends. I work better in the mornings, so I try to do a lot of the detailed work then, and in the afternoons, work on things that are less strenuous like mixing color and applying paint. I have been trying to work for two hours a night after work. Typically, this doesn’t happen though. (Laughter.)

I want you to explain your use of watercolors. Watercolors, as a medium, are really interesting for your work since your work is about architecture and about being repetitive and severe.  Watercolors are so uncontrolled.  I enjoy seeing how you use the medium because you can see still see the lines in your drawings, but the watercolor is that fluidity between the buildings.  How is watercolor influencing your practice?

For me, watercolor is a new medium. I used to use watercolor a lot more when I was a little bit younger. When I first moved into my apartment/studio it drove me crazy to not be able to paint in acrylic or oil. Watercolor became the best medium for me. 

What I like about using the watercolor is the freedom. At first, it was infuriating that I would have this hard line and the watercolor would bleed past the edge.  I started to do multiple watercolors. The more I tried to control it, the more uncontrollable it became. This is when it becomes more interesting as a medium because it has this close reading where you can see the details, and it has this distant reading where it has this pristine surface which really doesn’t exist.

I also enjoy that the colors I mix, depending on the order of how I lay them down, different colors can sometimes pop back up.  For example, I was doing watercolors yesterday. I mixed a gray, but it ended up being a more purple gray.  It was a dark gray when I mixed it, but there really is no real way of controlling the color. I don’t typically do color swatches to see what I am getting because I like the surprise. 

Watercolor also brings up the use of color. These new pieces are your only project that has bright colors in them. What is that like for you?

I’m that person who always gets pegged as an artist that hates color and never wants to use it — the guy who just absolutely hates it. But I love color and enjoy using it. A lot of the work, I was doing I really felt like a dark palette or a palette of monochromes was the way that I wanted to convey my message.

I think with the watercolors, I feel a lot freer to use color because they are not as precious to me as maybe the acrylic paintings were or the more meticulous line work I do in the drawings.   It is also a way for me to play with color.  Even though those older paintings were monochromatic, there was a ton of color mixed into the greys.  But I think that the bright colors are great. It does something different. It brings a more naturalistic reading.  Not naturalistic, I know they are abstract, but I think the color choices are more on par with what you might see in the natural world.  

Is there anything exciting you are working on right now, you would like to share with the viewers?

I just started a whole new series of watercolors yesterday.  I think of them as these aerial views of these cities.

Cityscape 4  , 2014, watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper, 8 x 8 inches

Cityscape 4, 2014, watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper, 8 x 8 inches

Cityscape 2  , 2014, watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper, 8 x 8 inches

Cityscape 2, 2014, watercolor and gouache on watercolor paper, 8 x 8 inches

They are not floor plans, but I think how they are kind of like satellite plans.  

Yes, it another way of viewing. They are compelling as abstractions as I’m imagine what a building would look like from an aerial perspective.  They are kind of killing me a little bit. The way they are painted is tight, and it’s hard to get a straight line with watercolor. The colors I’m using are rich, and the work is starting to look nice

What are the new watercolors doing for you?

They are definitely coming out from the earlier watercolors I was doing (Structures). When I make one of the drawings they are never planned. They just happen. That is what I like about the way I work.  It is also like “Oh, I saw this building today, I saw another building, and the other day in New Jersey, I saw that one building.  It would be really weird if these three things got combined in some  way.”  That is the way I think about my pieces. That’s the way I use my sketchbook, I draw my surroundings. Whether it is people, houses, buildings, skyscrapers, or some detail. I’m always looking at all these little things. How can these things be combined, and I combine them.  

With these aerial views. I have been spending a lot of time on Google Earth in the satellite view. I find it intriguing that you can look at people’s homes and their private property from a satellite, and what information is given away from these satellites. It is bizarre for me because I have been reading about the NSA scandal, and it is just you are never really alone. There is no privacy.  I’m also disgusted with the idea that there is this voyeuristic vision through satellites. 

What outside of art and architecture inspires your work and making?

A book I look to a lot is Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote. I’m in love with the way this story is built around this dilapidated home. All these things happen within the vicinity of this house. I’m drawn to these books that have lives being lived in a specific space, and how that space is described. Right now I’m reading the Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. It is incredibly lush in the way that New York City is described.  

Is the an album or an artist you have to listen to in your studio?

I listen to a lot of sad songs. I listen to lots of Rufus Wainwright, Justin Vivian Bond, Gentleman Reg, and early Elton John. Specifically, The Tumbleweed Connectionand Captain Fantastic and Brown Dirty Cowboy.  These albums work as a long narrative instead of individual songs. The albums have a sadness or wanting in them that is alluring to me.  

If you could describe your work or your studio practice in three words, what would they be?

Regimented, driven, careful.

If you could date any artist, dead or alive, who would be?

I would NEVER EVER date an artist. I have way too much crazy in my life, to date another artist.

nicknaber.com

Studio Views: