Jon Chapline visited by Nick Naber

I met Jon a few years back, when I was a graduate student at Pratt. He came to do a studio visit with me for his blog ffffffwalls. I have admired his paintings ever since. Jon and I met at his Bushwick studio on a cold snowy Sunday night. As I was led up the stairs of this warehouse building I couldn’t help but notice the fluorescent glow of the lights that in some ways harken to Jon’s paintings. We had a long and varied conversation about his process and how he divides his time between two-day jobs and his studio practice.

What kind of images are you searching for? What kinds of things are attracting you? The paintings you were doing before were paintings of interior scenes with shades/blinds and lighting.

Those paintings were from cell phone photos. They were not found, other than me taking the image as I was walking past or put in a place and taking a picture, then using that to paint from. In these new works, I am inventing the space and the characters. For the space, I usually Google search when looking for specific objects, like a chair or specific types of things that I want to talk about.  The spaces are coming from domestic magazines likeHouse and Garden, old Sears catalogs, that type of thing. I do look online if I can’t find a physical magazine of it.

The figures for the most part are not found online. They are mainly found from screen captures of television shows or portraits that I take. I use the screen capture as the base composition, then taking multiple pictures and collaging them together. It becomes this disjointed anamorphic image of someone. Different elements are stripped away, retaining  composition, lighting, and the mood of the sources.

The thing I immediately think about, specifically with the portraits is a cinematic feeling, and they also have this feeling of something from 1980’s. Not to say they look like a Nagel painting but they have this kind of flatness. Could you talk about that a little bit more, is it coming out of the collage or is there a real effort to create these flattened forms with paint?

Yeah, it is coming from that digital subject matter that I am painting from. I consciously push it as far as it can go. I’m always trying to find new ways of pointing that out. Obviously, the gradients are a computer-derived thing for the most part and it’s a computer’s way of making space in the most dumbed down way possible.

For instance in Simulation and Mirror the gradients create this space and you can tell that the gradient is describing a back, but it’s not quite right. Where the backbone should be it is shifted off. The gradient on her pants and t-shirt and the overall shape of the swatch, it all snaps together. It’s these three different elements in the simplest of terms creating something but also referencing something completely flat, and not what it’s actually supposed to be describing.

Looking at the landscapes, are these also coming from the digital realm or are they images you are creating yourself?

Emulated Landscape  came from this old 1980’s test landscape of one of the first CGI based simulations. It didn’t look real at all, but at the time everyone thought ‘how is this even possible?’ It’s a beautiful and weird image, and that’s where I took the composition.  There are these two hills coming out of the water. It didn’t even look like hills or water. It referenced it more than anything.  I had already been working with these sort of water droplets as a screen and I thought it was a funny idea to bring together.

From there I’ve started others. In one, the mountains are coming from an old Sega Genesis game called Echo. The video game designers found the easiest subject matter and described it in this digital shorthand. I’m interested in exploiting this idea and and appropriating the subjects that come with it.

The portraits are not so easy to represent and inherently pose different problems. They are the opposite of the landscapes in the lack of simplicity therefore becomes funny or awkward in trying to describe it in this flat language. That hand should never look that way or be described that way if you are trying to describe a hand; they are like these sausage things. The same with the lips, they become these tube shapes. To me that’s what makes it funny.

It creates more of an interest if it is off, because it makes me question more about what is going on.

It’s also one of those things where intentionality is key. Describing the lips in red, and the flesh a certain way. Those choices become more and more apparent. I painted this painting 5 times to get the surface and the colors right. With each time I get closer to arriving at my idea.

By using the colors you are choosing you are creating additional shorthand. If you were using red to describe lips, most people would use that color to describe lips. The skin tone is this peached out white kind of tone which most people don’t have.

Right, but in this character it becomes the most obvious thing.

It becomes identifiable for a viewer, how have people found these paintings?

I don’t know actually. I think people have different reactions to them. Some are opposed to the figures but the landscapes or the interior scenes are ok. Some are more drawn to the figures. My hope is that there is this kind of familiarity that is received. I think for the most part people get that.

I definitely have multiple associations. Is cinema playing a big part in what you are doing?

That’s what I see and that’s what is reverberated. I watch TV constantly. It’s terrible. It’s something innately part of who we are and these kinds of tropes or archetypes are a way to describe the world.

With all of these paintings they are all in the same space or they close to one another. Especially with all the landscapes and interiors they are all part of the same house, you are navigating through this house. If you are playing Mist you see an image and you click and move 20 feet. I am repeating the same plants in various paintings. There is a vocabulary in mark making but also in terms of objects that are repeated.

Growing up as a kid in the late 80’s and early 90’s is this in a way for you to understand your world now through the lens of childhood?

I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say I am painting my childhood, but I definitely think these things and the things we are dealing with now will continue to deal with the rest of our lives come from our childhood. We are still dealing with choices that our parents made in terms of the economy and everything. Those are choices and decision we have grown up with that we will pass on.  Whether it be a potted plant that I am holding onto through multiple paintings or a certain vantage point I think we are all coming from there. Hopefully that is what is coming to the forefront.

With the portraits, do you think of the people doing specific actions, or do you see them as frozen in a specific time?

It depends on the portrait. With the painting of this woman it was very much that she was looking at something. You know she is looking at something and getting some sort of reaction. She is described in this nonhuman idea. In terms of that there is a base narrative.  For the guy smoking, it’s more about describing him.  Specific ideas of masculinity, it’s more of a portrait. I can navigate through those in different ways.  I can let go of a narrative or pull into a narrative, yet they still connect to one another. I like that freedom.

She is much more active than he is. The guy in green is more active in the way he is painted and the light that’s coming into his forehead. There is something that is happening that I am not privy to but I want to know.

I like that, I want to starve the viewer of that action. It’s these in between moments, if you were to play an action film but then pause it at a standstill right before something is to happen.

Something else I am conscious of is the objecthood of these paintings. I am referencing backlit screens; with this green one I wanted to describe the idea of looking through this technology like a screen. That’s where this glow is coming from, that one is more like he is looking at a screen and that’s why there is that reflection. It’s describing a screen but it is also a screen at the same time.

There is always this kind of play, because they are collages that are coming from a computer. There are multiple layers of this digital realm.

Yea, also when the wood comes back up. It becomes obvious that I am just painting on a piece of wood.

It seems deliberate that you are painting on these floating panels. They become something in our space more than a typical stretched canvas.

That’s important, to have them be these floating images but also tangible things. That is the overall message these opposite, polar opposite ideas being in the same object.

I find it compelling that you start digitally, then you go to something that is so completely analogue which is painting. Can you talk about that switch from digital to painting?

These are sketches for the landscapes, I will start there to get a composition and then I will use different photographs of sunsets to get colors. I already have the concept and overarching image. This sketch I will scan it in then I’ll start working with colors in Photoshop. I know how to make these gradients with paint and the textures change. It gives me a basis or a starting point for it. There are decisions I can make in the computer that I could never make just drawing or painting. A mouse click or a vector tool or pen tool in Photoshop gives me certain lines or line quality. Those things give me this vocabulary that I can start using in the painting. It gives me this separation or other vocabulary.  That’s the integral thing for using Photoshop; it gives me a vocabulary that is innate to that program that I can then use in the painting.  

It goes from analogue to digital, from digital to analogue.

Yes exactly, It goes full circle.

Is that important to the object that you are making? That it goes through all of these stages?

Definitely, I know I couldn’t get to the same place otherwise. At a certain point, once I get everything that I can get out of the Photoshop file I’ll put that away. That’s the worst part in the painting is when I am using Photoshop then working back into the painting because sometimes I can’t make the decisions because they have already been made in Photoshop. I am repurposing those decisions. The most exciting part is letting go of those digital decisions and responding to the painting.

I’m going to be making more of these portraits. I’ve been getting a little sick of making these interior scenes. I want to start doing  portraits that have spaces behind them, but making it more about the portrait. I want to intertwine those two things. The portraits came out of the idea of how would these people look in this world. That was something I had to get through in order to start creating this overarching world.  I had to figure out what these things would look like.  

Do you think these characters will come back, when you start creating these new paintings?  

Maybe not the specific characters, I like the idea of switching it up a little bit and creating new identities and troupes that I can deal with. Maybe it’s the same sort of archetype but it gets handled differently. The characters I create are not going to stick throughout, I’m not going to create 5 characters like a Sims environment and try to play out their lives. I’m not interested in doing that. I am interested in placing certain ideas together creating the different characters that way.

When you see them from far away they look like this pristine flat surface, but when you get closer it’s visible that it’s painting and that it’s made of wood.  Are those multiple readings important to you?

Yeah, that’s always a struggle. How much do I need it to be intentional or how much do I want to let paint be paint?  It’s something I’ve always dealt with. At a certain point you need to let things exist. That’s an exciting decisions you can only make with paint. You can’t do that with an inkjet print, or with airbrush. With paint there are these imperfections and these variables that are things you need to push against or embrace. That’s something I am always working through or trying to figure out.  

What is a typical day in the studio for you? How are you arranging your time here?

I work two different jobs. They take most of my time, unfortunately.  I have had to get strategic, “Ok, I have 3 hours, what can I do in 3 hours?” It used to be that I would sit here half of that time just trying to figure out what to do.  That’s where working it all out in Photoshop or sketches and collages help when I get into the studio. It allowed me to do exactly what I needed to do when I got here.  I have 5 or 6 paintings going and I know 3 of them I can touch today, and 3 I can touch tomorrow. It becomes this way of pushing through ideas and letting them go and revisiting them in a quick succession. The decisions have to be made relatively quick. I kind of have to roll with it in a certain way, which allows for that immediacy without going through too much hesitation.  It’s something I’ve had to learn the hard way. If I am going to make these precise things how can I do it without being too controlled? It’s all about setting up time in the way that I can prop myself up to create these images in an efficient way. 



Additional Images:

Desirèe Holman visited by Micah Wood

I met Desirèe Holman on a rainy morning in early December at her studio in Oakland. Her studio was located behind her house with a very nice garden/backyard in between the two. My visit with Desirèe was great, our conversation flowed like a meandering river through familiar and unfamiliar canyons. We talked about a range of topics including indigo children, learning to speak Chinese, breatharians, cats, CCA, and how my mom and her would probably be friends because of their mutual interests. Desirèe is an extremely talented artist, and the research she does in preparation for each project is long and very thorough, but the work is on another level because of it. It was really fun getting to know this very talented artist who has a lot going for her right now and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Desirèe Holman.

How long have you lived in California? What brought you to Oakland?

I moved to California 17 years ago from the American South for the culture and because I had family here. After bouncing back and forth between Oakland and San Francisco for about 10 years, I have really put roots down in Oakland.  

What are things in the world that drive your work? Or what things do you think about when you go into the studio?

Before getting to the heart of your question, allow me to preface that I am a project-based artist making an interconnected oeuvre consisting of unique chapters.  Each chapter is a project that consists of several years of focused research, followed by production.  That said, on the surface, the subject matter of said projects vary but all circle around the themes of identity, social transgression, and alternative realities.  These are the topics that drive my work.

Before I go into active production of my work, I’m thinking about a particular cultural bay or niche, for example:  reborn doll makers; occultists or role-playing gamers to name a few.  I’m wrestling with why they believe what they believe and what their belief structures reveal about the broader culture and human nature at large.  

While my work is very much driven by research and my thoughts, by the time I begin production, I am less interested in what I have been thinking about and learning.  Quite honestly, if I get too hung up on the thoughts, it’s a hinderance.  While in production, I am striving to “think” with my hands and with the images in my head.  Come to think of it, it’s a kind of “anti-think,” which should not be confused with anti-intellectual.  Rather, hands-on-thinking is just a different way of engaging with ideas.  

How much does science fiction, as a genre influence you? Humor?

I’m interested in fantasy and fiction at large, including, but not specifically, SciFi and humor. 

How do things change when you are working on paper vs. working with sculptures/ costumes or performance? 

Those processes are fully interconnected for me.  The drawings, paintings, sculptures and props like costumes are all my intensive think/anti-think time.  Again, I’m thinking with my hands while I make these objet d’arts.  The objects are, in part, my story board.  They help me to prepare for the work with people and cameras.  Making a video or performance is the fullest, most complete expression of the project.  The objects are very important freeze frames, highlighting moments and the “thought” process.  

What’s on your reading/listening list lately?

Culture Class by Martha Rosler

The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley

Ghosts:  Death’s Double and the Phenomena of Theatre by Alice Rayner

Outside of art, what are a few good things you’ve found lately?

I am learning to read, write and speak Mandarin Chinese.  One outcome is a fledgling focus on Mandarin language films.  Recently, I’ve revisited a couple of very well-know ones: Farewell My Concubine by Chen Kaige and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee.  Both are extraordinary.  

What’s coming up in the near future for your work?

This upcoming Spring 2015, I will begin shooting for a live action video as part of my current body of work, Sophont.  The end result will be a multi-channel video installation with potential for a concurrent live performance component. 

You can find more of Desirèe’s work at http://www.desireeholman.com/ .

Below is a list of other upcoming exhibitions and events.

Solo Exhibition, “Sophont,” Aspect Ratio, Chicago, IL. 1/30/15-3/1/15  

Group Exhibition, “Artadia Awardees,” The Battery, San Francisco, CA. 

12/16/14 - 2/20/15

Group Exhibition, ”40th Anniversary Exhibition,” Kala Art Institute & Gallery, Berkeley, CA. 1/15/15 – 3/21/15

Group Exhibition, “The Vastness is Bearable,” Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara Satellite @ Hotel Indigo Santa Barbara, January 25, 2014 to Sunday, February 15, 2015

Residency & Award, New Alumni Award, Headlands Center for the Arts, March 2015

Rachel Sanders visited by Jenna Wilson

Rachel Sanders is a visual artist living and working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She graduated from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) with a BFA in Drawing in 2012. She is an instructor at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and the Milwaukee Art Museum. She has an energetic and playful spirit that shines through her work and illuminates her role as an avid local arts supporter. Unpretentious and unrelenting, Rachel’s adventurous nature is the catalyst to the creation of a bevy of evolving drawings and paintings.

Rachel shares a studio space with her father in an industrial district of Milwaukee’s Walkers Point neighborhood. Situated across from the Kinnickinnic River, the large unassuming-looking warehouse affords views of the boat marinas and Horny Goat Brewery. It’s a cavernous labyrinth of huge doors and wide hallways housing everything from glassblowers to recording studios, web start-ups to small batch food and beverage, and just about every other creative venture you can think of. After sliding across the black ice of the parking lot I was greeted by Rachel, and we promptly ascended to her 3rd floor studio. 


Jenna Wilson: Is there a standout piece in here that you are proud of right now? And if there is one could you explain how it exemplifies you as an artist?

Rachel Sanders: Yes. Actually, I know what I will show you. I biked to Madison in the fall. I’ve done it before but this time I did it alone and I remembered seeing these cows along the way - you are going through farmland the whole time. I wanted to make so many drawings on this trip and I only made two or three, but this was one of them. 

I had been riding all day. I was picturing a certain place in my mind, but I couldn’t remember where along it was. Then I saw all of [the cows]. They were back at the barn and there was just one standing right there. I said to myself all right, this is it, this is it! I got out my shit - I think maybe this guy was the first one and then all of them started coming by. It was wonderful. It felt good and I got a little teary eyed. [Gesturing at cows] …What was the question? [Laughing]

JW: Getting out and doing [drawings] in an outdoor space, is that something you would say that you do?

RS: I’m always drawing. I was thinking about that. I always have to be [drawing], and I love to be outside. Adventures like that feel good and I like the challenge. 

JW: Do you work in a series? Along with the adventures - do you just work as ideas come to you? Is it random?

RS: That’s a good question. If you keep making things you end up with a pile, and if you keep going you get into a good rhythm. That’s how a series can happen. With these drawings, if I felt stuck I’d say - if I just keep drawing something good is going to come out of it. 

JW: What intrigues you about interior spaces? The skewed perspective you have in those drawings is visually interesting. 

RS: For me, it is nice to draw what is in front of you. I’m surrounded by this shit all the time and the possibilities are kind of endless. I enjoy seeing that if I make a squiggle it ends up being that bottle there. Observation – that’s my biggest thing, observational drawings. I  think I have a bad imagination sometimes. If you said draw a dinosaur it would be terrible unless there’s a dinosaur in front of me. [Laughing] Does that make sense? Which is funny, too, because these [drawings] aren’t photo-realistic. 

in progress

in progress

JW: How do you know when a piece is finished?

RS: It just kind of feels right. It may not be. Some of these paintings I didn’t work on for about a year and then I went back to them. I just get in a rhythm and then when that stops, it’s done. 

JW: The interior spaces paintings with the faces imposed on top, it seems like they are extensions of the drawings you were doing. How did that come about? What is the progression that happened there?

RS: They were really playful. Those have a lot of variations of marks. The faces were an interesting addition because each of them is so different. I used a bunch of different colors and different materials and eventually it kind of happened. 

JW: Do you do sculptures? I saw the chess sets that you had made. That’s a cool project. 

RS: Thanks. Well, I have all this clay over here that I need to recycle if you know somebody that is into that. I do. I like clay but I don’t have the means right now to do it. I did in college, with figure sculptures, which was fun. But right now it’s Sculpey and the oven. [Laughing]

JW: Did the idea for chess pieces come from figural work you had done in college? They are little torsos, little people. 

RS: I wish I had it here but I made this little guy out of clay that looks like the pawns, just bigger. After that I started to make these types of little things. I was making weird jewelry stuff and then they kind of developed into – I don’t know if you saw the pins or necklaces I made but they look like that, that’s a painting of all of them.

JW: The falling, chaotic people.

RS: Yes and now I make chess sets. 

JW: Nice. In my research of your work and other projects I discovered a fundraising event called “The Fastest Painter in Milwaukee”. What was that all about?

RS: Yeah. [Laughing] Do you know Waldek Dynerman? He was one of my teachers at MIAD [Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design], and he posted something on Facebook - he was being a little shit, being cocky but on purpose. He posted a picture of all these paintings he made and he’s like, “I must be the fastest painter in the world, I just made all these in like a half an hour” or something.  I was like, “Oh yeah? Let’s bet on that”. Then somehow that turned into us actually having a battle and dueling to be the fastest painter in Milwaukee. The space [for the event] was next to his studio in Bay View, and the girl running it at the time, Jenie Gao, she let us use her space, which doubled as a gallery – a gallery and living spot. Then we raised money for the Pancreatic Cancer [Action Network], and we made five hundred or six hundred dollars. It was cool because at the end we just auctioned off the pieces starting at two dollars. It was totally fun. [Laughing]

JW: On top of volunteering you are an instructor at several art institutions - Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design [MIAD], Milwaukee Art Museum, and also the Charles Allis Museum. 

RS: Yes and the Villa Terrace, they’re connected. 

JW: Can you describe your roles at those jobs?

RS: CAVT – Charles Allis Villa Terrace, there I’m visitor service staff so I open and close the museum and it’s pretty boring - but I get to be around art, so that’s good. At the Art Museum I do the Kohl’s Color Wheels. We go around Wisconsin to different schools and events and make art with kids, and teach them about the museum. Then at MIAD I teach continuing education classes. 

JW: How does being an instructor to what I assume is a wide range of ages and kinds of students inform your work?

RS: It is fun; I love it. I keep saying that’s the best job, at MIAD, because it’s what I’m most excited about – to work with people and get them excited about working, too. It feels good. 

JW: What courses do you teach?

RS: Drawing. Observational drawing. The one right now is called Improvisational Drawing.

JW: Is that music-influenced?

RS: That’s where it stems from, yes. Actually, I always tell my class that the way a read artwork is kind of how you would read sheet music. But I guess that’s because I play music.

JW: What do you play?

RS: I play the saxophone. That’s the main thing.

JW: Do you play with any bands or ensembles?

RS: Sometimes. [Laughing] Sat. Night Duets had me play with them. 

JW: With all this stuff going on how do you make time to paint?

RS: I’m not that busy. It sounds like it but I’m here [in the studio] everyday, or I try to be. And you have to make time. It feels good, and I like to do it so I just do. 

JW: Are there any particular experiences that you’ve done that stand out as motivating or energizing to you? 

RS: School was helpful. I was thinking of [when I] started college. I thought I was bad at drawing and I would always get embarrassed to show my stuff because it didn’t look like anybody else’s. I cried a lot. [Laughing]

JW: I did too sometimes. [Laughing]

RS: Oh God, I always think about this time we had to draw a self-portrait. I don’t know – mine was like Mr. Potato Head meets… it was really fucking ugly. I don’t know where I’m going with this. But school was helpful. [Laughing]

JW: You got past the crying. 

RS: Yes. Because I was like, well, I want to be good at this. I came here to learn so I have to learn as much as I can - and be good at drawing and like what I make. Now, teaching is fun and it’s nice to see what people are capable of doing and making. It’s amazing actually. 

JW: Throwing around ideas and doing projects with the students probably generates a lot of energy. 

RS: I look at a lot of different artists, a lot of different stuff. I think it’s helpful to see tricks other people are using. That happens when teaching too.  I just went to that space Art is for Lovers. That was refreshing, it wasn’t stuffy, sometimes you go somewhere and it feels awkward. But it was cool in there. Everyone should get over there and check it out! It was great. People were excited about it, and that’s important. You’ve got to be like “Yeah, I made this!” If you aren’t excited about it, I don’t know how the hell you’re going to get somebody else to be. 

JW: You mentioned bike riding to Madison earlier. Traveling outside of the city, that’s refreshing to you, or traveling to other places.

RS: Even just exploring weird little pockets in Milwaukee is fun, places that my pals and I would go on weird hikes all the time. Kind of on the outskirts where the hobos have their camps. People are fishing. [Laughing] 

JW: [Laughing] Since you mentioned fishing let’s talk about the boat paintings. 

RS: That came about when I got [into this studio]. We were trying to pick, because we could have been on the other side [of the building], but that view is of the interstate. Maybe I would have made better paintings. [Laughing] It’s good because it’s right there for me. That’s what I’m going to do, I love to make and you can just make something – make a drawing right now, you know?

JW: How long does it typically take you to work a progression of the boat paintings?

RS: Usually I will have about three at a time; for me I have to take a step back. I don’t like to be working on one piece. Sometimes it happens fast, like the one in the window – that was just a day. That was fast. That was with acrylic and these [others] have been with oil mostly, so these are taking a little bit longer, and they are not done yet. 

I work with whatever I can find. That’s the improvisational part, and it’s gratifying. That’s where the challenge is. You have this bag of tricks and you have to throw them out there, and make little ditties with them. I work with house paint a lot. It’s great – I get the “oops” paint, the colors that some dummies don’t want anymore. 

in progress

in progress

JW: What other hobbies do you have? I know you like to DJ parties sometimes. 

RS: Yeah, Anna Deisinger and myself are the hottest DJs in town. [Laughing] No. I like music a lot. We both, all of a sudden, had a lot of vinyl and we thought, “Hey, let’s play this for our pals, we can make money and drink for free!” I also like to go camping and ride my bike. A couple weeks ago my pals and I went down past Sheridan Park and snuck into the woods and set up some tents above Lake Michigan. Stuff like that. We made a fire and it was freezing. Oh, and I just got into football! All my life I hated football. I just ugh - I don’t like it. One day I was in New Orleans and my pals are like, “We have to watch the Packers play, we can’t miss it”, and I said, “Fine, I’ll just drink some whiskey and watch the game”. We ended up at a Packers bar in New Orleans and the Packers won in the last 3 seconds of the game. It was so good. The whole bar went crazy and we were hugging strangers and it felt like we were lifted up into the air. Seriously, and that moment I was like whoa. [Laughing] My friends think it’s so funny because two months ago I’m like, “I’m not watching football with you”. I do love sports – I love basketball so much. That’s a good hobby.

JW: To play?

RS: Yeah it’s fun. And going to Bucks games. It’s cheap too, nobody’s going to those games. 


Rachel Sanders is an enthusiastic maker that strives to let creativity run into the full structure of her life.  Her jokey buoyancy when speaking perfectly mirrors the demeanor of her work. Her drawings laugh at the sky while her paintings are spin a record at the bar.  It’s evident from the presence of a basketball in her studio that one must periodically remember  - underneath all the passion is a person who is “always wanting to shoot hoops but her pals never want to play”. Perhaps they are too busy enjoying her paintings. 

Additional Images:

Jarrod Beck visited by Nick Naber

I met with Jarrod on a rainy windy Wednesday, right before Thanksgiving. We headed to Governors Island together on a small ferry, taking in the views of Lower Manhattan and the approaching Island. Jarrod is in residency on the island through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) Process Space 2014 Residency.  His space is littered with work, text, and small sculptures. In a lot of ways his studio is a complete installation in itself. You can feel the artists’ presence there, working intensely day and night.


Tell me a bit about this Lower Manhattan Cultural Council space here on Governors Island.

When you go to these residencies you go with a project in mind, but the reality of a residency is that you’re not alone, you’re going to go to make this project in the context of other people making things, in a place you may or may not be familiar with. I’ve been living in New York City since 2000 but in the last 5 years I have been traveling intensively–to make installations, participate in residencies and to collaborate–around the US and around the world. I came back to New York in a big way this summer, with 30,000 lbs. rubber that became Uplift, a public installation on view through next summer in Sara Roosevelt Park in the Lower East side. It’s been great to grow roots here again with the LMCC, an organization that has supported me since 2008, and to do it in this particular space, Building 110 on Governors Island, because of the other artists I’m in residence with, because of this view of downtown. I see this place as both part of New York and not part of it. It was its protector, but now it sits under its immense shadow. It’s an island swimming, against the current, on its way to the big island.

My neighbors (here at LMCC) are Will Rawls–a choreographer and performance artist, Brendan Fernandes–a dancer, making video works, Jean-Marie Casbarian makes these haunting photographic pieces rooted in her emotions, Leah Raintree traces of the environment of the forces at play with and against us, there are playwrights, architects, painters here. All of these ways of making are represented and they each are a part of my larger practice. The diversity of the ways of making here have helped me develop my project, Falls. This is a safe nest to take risks in. The version of Falls I’m working on here is called Fallt, the fall that comes after Falls alphabetically and a fall with an end to it, Falltstarted with three stories, and one of those stories is about watching the Twin towers fall. It’s been humbling to make work in the face of my view of that area of downtown.

You make work as a solo artist but you also work collaboratively. Do you think your collaborative nature comes from your architecture background?

I think that my education as an architect was training me to be a genius, a Frank Lloyd Wright, a singular director who has a vision that a lot of other people are expected to construct. Not all of students of architecture are going to be starchitects. My experiences of making architecture and working as an exhibition designer have been beautifully collaborative. The projects I’ve built, especially those with the Guggenheim Museum, were amazing because everyone I worked with was inclusive, open with their research and expertise and they all were artists or loved artists. We were all on the same side trying to make a curatorial vision into a space that could be entered. And doing that in a genius building that Wright designed at 1071 5th Avenue. We were always saying,“Let’s try it.”

The collaborative side of my practice also stems from my desire to teach, because education should be a kind of collaboration. I need the time in my studio alone, to sit in the dirty pit I’ve built for myself and to draw and build myself out of it. But sometimes you have to go out into the light, right? I began searching out ways to make installations at universities so that I could work large, work without commercial pressures but mostly to get and give some of that university energy. I love building installations with students participating. And I think they get a lot out of seeing someone juxtapose different ways of making, like take etched copper plates prepared for printmaking, and casting plaster into them. With Balance, created at Universidad de Venezuela, I came in with an idea to build drawings of existing murals on campus, which were under siege. Each of those drawings was the first push–the students or people from the community took ownership and made the project relevant to their place. In that Caracas the participants had to show me (and did, so generously) the ways they understood their city at that moment. We all see things differently and if you can have a voice and express that, it can inspire a reason to make something.

The Falls project is a different kind of collaboration. Players come and go, but each of them is an equal partner while we are making the work. I made a version of Falls in Provincetown last winter with Mark Louque. I am more of a builder and Mark’s brain thinks through sound. I have always wanted to work with a sound artist and the project came at a time for Mark when he was trying all of these different ways to expand from his life. We are both very hands on, good producers and ready to be spontaneous. We were both ready to fall in to something. Regardless of who comes up with the ideas, I feel that in these projects everyone is an author.

You did a project at the Rauschenberg Residency in Captiva where you allowed people to walk on a work, and then the project was changed. Can you talk about that collaboration a bit more?

 That island is incredibly special because you are occupying the spaces in which Rauschenberg lived and worked. My studio was where he chose to die–these are spiritual spaces–and I was definitely affected by the energy he left in that space. I was with an amazing group there and the staff are so generous with their time and materials. We were given open access to all things Bob. I made prints with the last rolls of paper that Rauschenberg didn’t get to. I can’t express how much that meant to me. There’s a desire to be respectful of the place, but it’s not a museum, it’s a studio. He made like a motherfucker, and you can feel it, the energy was palpable.

There’s a building on the campus called the Fish house–it feels like a satellite because it sits out on the water.  It’s not used during the residency for someone to live in, it’s an open-to-everyone space. You can go there anytime, take a nap or go have a conversation with someone, or be there to see the sunrise. It is this temple and sanctuary for everyone.  I was working on a project with all of the left over plexiglass on campus, all the old plexi from framed works, and the plexi he used as hurricane windows. I needed a dimension to adhere to give all of these different sized pieces a format. I had become especially attuned to the planks on the pier on the way out to the Fish House and one day I just leaped into the decision to cut the plexi to this dimension. Josh and Matt from the residency cut it and I screen printed it made this big plexiglass piece called Unprotected that I showed at the Bemis Center later that summer. At first I thought I would install the piece on the pier, but that would mean a lot of screwing into the pier, and I didn’t like the idea of that. The other part of that was we were a pilot year and they were in the process of renovating. There was this slight polishing that needed to happen and that’s why there was all this plexiglass, and paper around, and why the pier walk was wonky. The pier walk was going to be lost; it’s probably already been taken out, they will probably put in that plastic wood stuff to replace it. This piece could only have existed in that moment, and I wanted to capture that. I was doing way too many things there, I just couldn’t stop, I’m sure everyone that goes there has this experience, you want to be a printmaker, a poet and you want to make paintings. You want to dance, and swim and eat and drive around in golf cart hunting coconuts. Art is life out there. Towards the end of the residency I began planning one last gesture to our time at Captiva. Some kind of grand erasure. But I wasn’t sure when I was going to be able to do the project.

Unprotected, 2013

Unprotected, 2013

I think collaboration is a beautiful thing, but I don’t do it all the time. When I get into certain rhythms, I need to follow those and be by myself to process the work. But one of the last mornings I got up early and decided to put my own projects aside for a moment and make this event happen. I wanted to do some sort of performance. I felt this need to collaborate with the group, but I needed to do it in a quiet and private way. I had not been collaborating as much during my time there, even though that is the idea of the residency, and that has always been the focus of the place. I was focused on my own work.  I wanted to make this gesture and give something to the other ten people that were there.  I got up really early; I stapled paper to the pier. Jim Hodges watched me, but also in his poetic way knew to let me do it in my own space, even though the paper kept flying up and out of my hands and into the ocean. It was the last day and we were having a meeting in the Fish house and basically to get there, everyone had to walk on this white paper.  People did different things when they approached, they noticed if they got their feet wet they could make more of a mark, some people ran up and down it, others rode their bikes on it, it was beautiful––so Rauschenberg to make a tire print. It was solemn, it was white paper, everything at the residency is white (almost too much white). They painted the house I was staying in grey and it was this huge upset, because everything has to be white. In a lot of ways it was a gesture toward that. It had this ridiculousness to it, which is important to my work, there is always something that looks a little funny or a little frail or shouldn’t be there.  With this work the wind would take the paper and I would have to go swimming into the bay to retrieve it. I kept that paper, I kept those prints, I don’t know why. I don’t know what I will do with them.  That piece is about that moment, but looking back on it, the zone of time when people aren’t sure what is going on, I love that moment. That’s the moment I make for.

Can you talk about the role of story, or mystery that happens in your work? Could you talk about that moment more?

In Caracas I was showing them a drawing, and I told them we were going to make a project with all of this discarded furniture that had enclosed part of the architectural school, this kind of slowly aggregating barricade in a UNESCO-protected building.  And there is this moment where they don’t believe you, they think you’re crazy or they don’t really understand you.  At Rauschenberg I was dealing with people in the arts and they know the artist life, they are more comfortable not knowing the intent of the project, looking closely for clues, trusting that they are in the supportive hands of an artist.  And they make a story from that. I want all of my work to have that. I have a huge story behind all of these things. I am constantly talking to myself, that’s what all this text is (points out his studio), I don’t usually show this in a gallery situation but it’s a big part of my sketchbooks and studio space. It’s out a lot more then usual in this space on the island.  The story is not so obvious when you look at my work but I offer it freely when asked, but my first desire is to present materials and situations that grab you, that link up to some memory that you have, or some relationship you have with a material. A deep emotion that sits with you but doesn’t isn’t always visually and materially manifested for you. I want the viewer to start there, there is very little magic in my work, it’s pretty straightforward. I don’t think it works with everyone, but I know it works with some people and that’s great. I realized this when I built an installation for the LMCC Swing Space program 6 years ago, there were hundreds of people that came through that space, and some of them were looking for the Bodies exhibit, because it was at South Street Seaport at the time. A lot of people didn’t get it but ten people out of all those people got the installation, I mean, they connected to it. They had an experience, and we had an experience together in it. It was a huge space, 3,000 sq ft. It was like being inside my head, it was insanity.  The ten people came in over the few months and we connected and they connected with something in the work and told me about it. It was important because it made me realize that’s the kind of artist I want to be, I’m not sure I want to make experiences for only ten people, but I definitely care more that ten people connect with it then a quantity of people seeing it. I want that kind of engagement with the work, I want to make opportunities for that kind of engagement to happen. It may not be a gallery, sometimes it is, and I love to show in a gallery, its great to have that focus. Its in performance, its in plays, the collaborative performance stuff I started to call processions, because they have this sort of walk that goes with them, and if you walk long enough together, something is going to happen. I have been setting up these walks with people, and sometimes we build things, and other times we are just walking and talking. And not talking.


We should be walking now! As humans we evolved as we walked, and we talk while we walk, there is this essential thing in that locomotion even more than drawing (which I think is essential too). It’s so beautiful when people walk together. There is something about your energy, your blood is pumping you’re in motion and there are different things coming out of you. I just had this walk in Italy with the Siena Art Institute, two weeks ago it was a 9-hour walk from Siena to where a symposium called Territori was happening in Colle di Val d’Elsa. These three students said, “Yea, we’ll get up at 5 am and walk with you,” I didn’t expect anyone to participate; I thought it was going to just be me and I was ready for that. I thought, “Ok, we’re not going to have this big discussion,” but then it just happens. With each person, I had this moment where we had this deep connection, where intimate things were shared. One was about the end of a relationship; the other about being an architect.  It was incredible. I would never have gotten that experience if I were standing in front of a drawing in a gallery. I like to stand in front of drawings in galleries, and I do have great experiences there but the walk kind of speeds things up, it’s also a reason to spend 9 hours with somebody.

Walking is an architectural thing, moving through space and how space affects people.

I think about that a lot, who I am, who I started as. I am still an architect in a way. I’m an architect in the way that I make work and approach the world. I’m not capturing a story, not telling you the story. I am putting you in this environment and asking you to give something too.  That’s the kind of architecture I wanted to make, I realized that if I called myself an artist and operated as an artist I would have more opportunities to do that on more intimate scales, that I could build myself. My ideas weren’t ready for a million dollars; they would have been thrown out if they were for a lobby of a skyscraper. I need to approach my work this way.  I think of the work I make now as architecture, its not always habitable but I see myself making habitable space in the future. And also making a drawing or something that doesn’t have a use. There is freedom in that.

 Is space/place the impetus for most of your work?

 Before I left for Provincetown, the first time, in 2011, I had been making drawings in New York that were about New York, the streets of New York and the broken pieces of the city everywhere. I was collecting stuff off the street like broken glass and plexiglass, and I would take it to the studio and trace the breaks over and over again. They were super laborious drawings but they created this time for me to contemplate that break, the break in the glass and all that a break references. I would wear the break down and I would change the line, it was a slow way to change the resultant forms that the lines built up to.

I took that process to Provincetown. It was a 7-month residency and within 24 hours of arriving I had my worktable set up and I just drew like crazy. I would get up early (5 or 6am) and I would draw, draw, draw and at 4 in the afternoon I would say, “I should probably go outside because it’s this beautiful day.” Before arriving I didn’t know that Provincetown was more than a small port town. It’s mostly the Cape Cod National seashore. I began going on runs and walks and experiencing the landscape. I had been drawing all day and I’d get out there and I’d be searching for lines and tracing things with my eyes.  Noticing the landscape I thought, “my drawings need to get bigger,” they were already around 8 foot long, but they didn’t have bigness to them, I wanted more expanse. I started paying more attention to where I was. There is this amazing thing called the breakwater, which is this stacked boulder dike that connects the west end of town to the beach. I was amazed, it was 100 years old the year I was there.  It’s not nature, it’s so completely manmade, but it’s unquestionably of the environment. I wanted to make work like that. Someone took all these boulders and put them in the sea. Fit them together. And so many people and I could walk on them, to get somewhere, to experience the place. I learned later that during the height of the HIV epidemic so many people asked for their ashes to be scattered there. I mean, who need the Spiral Jetty? I tried many ways to make work about it, or with it. I ended up doing one of the first walks as part of that. I’d be on the breakwater, or on the beach, staring at the ocean and into the horizon and then eventually those experiences began coming into the work. I had figured something out with those lines in those drawings, and I remember thinking––it was Thanksgiving, and I had made more drawings in 2 months then I’d made in the previous 3 years. And while I’m obsessed with quantity–the ways thousands of line can bundle to make a form, or slices of mining conveyor belts can stack to make a cross section of the earth–my work is about an experience, about an experience of some essential quality of a place. The light in Provincetown was incredible. I knew that I could take the next 5 months and make more drawings, more drawings then anyone has ever made, or I could want shift it a bit, and let this place come in a little more rather than sticking with this path that I knew and was really about New York. The broken things were so much bigger, and slower on the cape. I just started to make these huge drawings and every other thing would fail, at one point I was mixing plaster in bags and throwing them into the ocean. Doing these dumb things in order to figure out what man’s place is in this landscape and Provincetown is a great place to test it because it’s pretty small, you can run most of it. I made this huge drawing calledTerminal Moraine (2012), which is over 20 feet long, made of dusted charcoal and a plaster horizon that was this big breakthrough because it was a drawing but it was also an installation. It was spiritual and emotional; people stood in front of it and started crying. They got it. The audience in Provincetown is so special, artists, poets, playwrights, and lovers. Maybe I’m a junkie for this emotional outlay but I want to make that, I want to make those types of experiences. Because, I am an architect and I look at site and program I try to find a story I am interested in and go from there. The Provincetown project was a moment that I was reminded to be humble and let this big powerful thing come into the work.

Terminal Moraine   (2012)

Terminal Moraine (2012)

Can you tell me more about the project you are working on here?

 It’s like throwing bags of plaster into the ocean; I’m kind of at that stage with it right now.Falls, now Fallt, started with three stories. I used to work with and had an intimate relationship with a sculptor named Glen Seator who fell off his house in Vinegar Hill and died in 2002. In 2003 I had another friend Patrick who attempted to kill his wife and jumped to his death from his fire escape. This was in the East Village, and he died from injuries from the fall. Finally, thinking about 9/11 and the people who decided to jump out of the windows of the twin towers. I’m replaying the moment of watching the towers fall from a spot on Second Avenue, actually, not far from the current site of Uplift. It takes those three falls and tries to make sense of them.

I think about Glen and Patrick specifically, because they were important to me in my life and I lost them in ways that are hard for me to comprehend. Glen was an artist, who had a design element to his work, and I left my job as an architect to be a manager for one of his public art projects. I never went back to architecture. He showed me what you could do as an artist through public projects. I met Patrick at the Art Students League and we were printmakers together. In addition to our weekly etching class with Sylvie Covey, we only had a few moments with one another, but one of them was when he asked to draw my portrait. It’s such an intimate connection [having your portrait drawn] to have with someone, a totally sweet guy and something bad happened to him in his head. The third experience that Fallt touches on is the events of 9/11. I was living here, had been for just over a year, and I was supposed to fly on the 12th to go work for Glen but I didn’t end up leaving. Trying to process that day, a lot of people lost people that they knew, I didn’t but I feel the need to process it. Sometimes this project has been specifically about these stories. I did a project at the Institute Cervantes in 2011 where I wrote a play that was mostly about Patrick’s story and built an installation for it to be performed in. The play had six scenes; it was directed by Bill Oliver, that were based on moments from Patrick’s last month alive. In Provincetown with Mark Louque, Falls became more abstract and more about the idea of a body falling from great heights, about falling in love—what that means, a power dynamic between two people.  I want to figure out a way to express gravity. I’m thinking about how you could architecturalize the feeling of your stomach dropping. Falls, as we showed it at the Hudson Walker gallery at the Fine Arts Work Center consisted of a series of drawings in space with many layers that we moved through and acted on, we made marks on them and that became the artwork, the thing people saw when they entered the gallery later in the evening.

On Governors Island I am trying to bring Fallt into more of a walk. What happened in Provincetown was intimate. It was between Mark and I. It was a project for one another and less so for the people that live there. I want to bring the project back to a larger group and into a larger public. To do that I’m writing as much as I can and printing it and putting it on the floor. I’m pacing the studio. I’ve created a landscape that I walk over and on everyday, and from time to time excavate from it. I recently made a project for the Time Equities Art In Buildings program on West 10th street. It is this small window showroom space; you can see it 24 hours a day but you cannot get into the space. On the two windows I placed text that was pulled from this (pointing to the floor) that was kind of the first time that the text was shown so prominently in my work. I chose two portions that dealt with unraveling, a scene of two people taking apart their furniture thread by thread and the second window, facing the street was about two people standing at a fence looking into the horizon.

 This text has strayed from those specific stories; I think it might be recited during a walk. I’ve learned from this installation that people will act as they will act and sometimes they will see the text, just like I have these days where I have to do something else, I can’t look at these words and at what they mean for one more second. Sometimes it’s the last 5 minutes before the ferry and I write and then I go home and write all night and print it out and put it in here. The text is driving me crazy, I’ve also started to–because I was homeless for most of the fall–make little models of studios and apartments.

I’ve been living out of hotels for a lot of the fall, and at one point when I was not in NY I was going crazy without a workspace. I just started drawing and these forms kept coming out that are slick and monolithic, I don’t know where they are coming from and I don’t know what they mean. They are these kind of shields, they have nothing to do with the heavy layered, laden, works I’ve been making these past few years. I started making tons of folded paper forms, out of the note pads and stationery they shove in the drawers of your room at a business hotel. When I came back to the island in the morning it spurred these things that you’re seeing around, hovering over the floor. They are macquettes for sculpture but they have become their own thing, pieces in their own right. I like that they hover over the text pieces. This is kind of a city, my city, I feel very placed, in all of this dirty chaos. I don’t think I’ll ever have text on the ground in a project because its too direct a translation for me. I can’t describe the relationship between the museum board pieces and the text yet. They are so opposite of one another but I have a feeling that eventually they will come together and I’ll see what was happening at the same time. The tension between them is perfect. In times of stress it’s good to go back to things you know. I know dry pigment and how to cut and score cardboard. So that’s what I do when the text is too tangled. I’m also getting ready for a residency at Dieu Donné Papermill and these paper sculptures have been great for thinking about that because I want to make mammoth pieces of paper that are a piece, not paper to draw on but paper that is the piece. I want them to be huge, I want to build breaks into them so that they have a performative moment in them and then they dry and exist forever. I’ve been putting this museum board through the wringer, soaking it with ink and solutions of pigment and acrylic. I’m also scoring it, they aren’t in plane anymore and they are bending. They have a crispness but they also look like they’ve been in a flood. And maybe that’s a way I think a great fall would be like. I moment you decided to step into the air, the feel of that decision and the air against your skin and the wet and overwhelming sensation, the push on your organs when you realize what you’ve done. When you are about to hit the thing that finally stops you.


Additional Studio Images:

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.