Studio Visits

Emily Kiacz

Emily Kiacz is a painter and sculptor currently living in Brooklyn New York. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, graduating with a BFA in painting in 2009 and received a MFA in painting from Boston University in 2011. She is a current Fellow at The Corporation of Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Over the last five years she has participated in numerous exhibitions in the New York area, most recently a two-person show with Maria Walker at Cuevas Tilleard Projects.

Emily Kiacz: Compared to my previous constructions, I’ve flattened out a lot. I’ve paired down my materials to paint and wood. It feels good to set parameters, it structured this new body of work. I’ve been working with a shaped format since undergrad. The paintings I applied to grad school with were shaped.

Megan Liu Kincheloe: What do you like about working shaped?

It is part of my process, but also my subject. I sometimes feel claustrophobic working in a square format, by making my own surfaces I feel like I am building my own world.

This reminds me of that installation of smaller wall constructions (Circuit Board, 2014) at Launchpad.

I’m still interested in the space around the works and the shadows they create. With this Prism Installation I’m more engaged with painting than I was with those older constructions. I am hesitant to overwork things, but with the new work, I have been pushing myself to work out of my comfort zone. This form came from sawing a piece in half after I thought it was already finished. I would have never landed in this place had I not, I recreated the process with the others.The forms I have been working with feel visually futuristic. I have an interest in Art Deco and projected ideas of the future, in relationship to abstraction. I try to envision what a common everyday object would look through a future lens. I get caught up in the mystery and ambiguity of it. Creating an unnamable thing in a specific way is not easy. Recently, I have been referencing crop circles and UFO’S. These works are like space ships, but they’re also portholes. Looking at a painting is a type of time travel. I’m interested in abstraction invoking something unnamable, but could be a tangible thing—like a mirror or a void.

My last body of work played with a lot of sci-fi titles. That’s how I titled the show I curated for Spring Break last year—Four Sided Triangle is the name of a movie where two scientists create a duplication machine to clone a woman they are both in love with. Neither of the women ends up being in love.

Prism Installation, 2016, 96x60 inches

Sci-fi and art deco both play with future narratives differently. They’re both heavily stylized visions. Sci-fi has elaborate and specific prop detail and design, but with the same future unknowns as a hole at the center of all that information. And Art Deco seems more optimistic somehow?

I became interested in Art Deco at the same time that I began to focus more on object making. Before I had been painting interior spaces, where I depicted everyday, average life. I began to imagine what these average objects that I was so involved with would be like hundreds of years from now, if they would look the same, or like nothing familiar. I focused on personal items hats, combs, and shoes wanting to develop my own visual language, a kind of a personal iconography.

When I am making, I am immersed in my inner experience. There is a lot of joy in my work, it comes from the mental state I am in when I am the studio. I am hopeful for the future, but my mind goes to mysterious or dark places, like science fiction. Science fiction is something that I have recently been investigating, after some of my forms began to visually go in that direction. I like the campiness of older science fiction; I started watching more movies, and even went to Alien Convention in Roswell.

Interstellar Overdrive, 2016, Acrylic on shaped panel, 48x48 inches

This one looks digital.

Yeah, this one has these little pixels, made from small pieces of wood. I love the idea of very slowly making this digital image—making something virtual out of the analogue. In all of my work my hand is very present, which is really important to me. It’s part of my practice in whatever I’m involved in.

Eightbit 2, 2015, Acrylic on wood collage, 72x12 inches

They’re very modular. 

My work has become more modular I have been trying to make the work relate through negative space. One of the ways I combat this is by adding perspective. This is one of the first ones I made in this process, all of them have a lean to them. I felt they were kind of shifting and tilting through space.

While on a residency in Provincetown I started painting circular paintings to to break away from the angular mode. I never really like to get stuck. I work from body of work to body of work. I’m sensitive to my surroundings and living here in New York—everything around me is geometric. I feel like I’m also responding to the materials I use—dimensional lumber—which is also very structural . It’s baby-steps for me.

There’s so many of them.

Yeah I do a lot of works on paper—that’s how I start everything. I work faster with paper, and I am less precious with it. In Ptown I reacted to the natural setting I was in. Being around trees and the landscape, I was able to start to break away. I also did some plein air painting there, which has also been part of my practice for a while. I never really show landscape painting but I go out and do that as much as I can. It forces me to be affected by my immediate surroundings.

I recently started a collaborative project with my mom. I’ve been sending her drawings and fabric and she’s been turning them into hooked rugs. I took them to the Detroit Art Book fair, they were well received. It’s been cool to collaborate with her—working together matching the colors and sourcing the materials. We are making a whole series.

Studio installation 

That breaks the hard geometry very directly—seeing them in soft pliable forms.

Totally, and they have a completely different surface too. I like the fact that they’re on the floor.

How does the color operate like that? Because with these the painted effect here is very much like radiant light.

They translate well. They have that luminosity too because her and I really painstakingly picked out the colors. And some of the colors are cashmere, which absorbs dye in a special way. We source colors and materials from clothes too. I was just home in Ohio and we went through all the colors and I numbered them like a paint by number.

Blush Blaze, 2016, Acrylic on panel, 24x24 inches

How does she feel about it?

She’s excited about it. I sold some of our first rugs at the book fair. She had never sold one of her rugs before so I think she was really energized by that. I had the idea to collaborate on the residency. I was trying think about what I wanted for the future, I really wanted to connect with my mom creatively.

Recently, I’ve been interested in rainbows and begun doing some research. I just made a rainbow book that I also brought to the fair. This is the prototype.

What research?

A couple months ago I had an epiphany. I was on Instagram and there was a rainbow in Manhattan, and my entire feed was all rainbows. Across the board, everyone I knew—not just artists—were posting the rainbow. There is something magical about them and they are puffy in painting—like it’s taboo to paint them. Then I started looking at rainbow paintings and there are a lot of good rainbow paintings like Balthus, The Mediterranean Cat. I realized that I make rainbows. It’s just this shaped color in space and I feel like that’s what my work really is. They are here and they are gone, ephemerality is something I am drawn to. I am on a new quest.

I remember you telling me that you took a trip to Las Vegas especially to look at the neon lights.

I went all over Vegas to see neon lights. I visited a neon graveyard there. It was all old lights from the strip piled together. Some of them still work and they turn them all on for you just for a second. I love neon— a radiant object, it hypnotizes me. And that’s effect I try to achieve with color—to achieve luminosity or a glow. It’s how I know a piece is finished. I am able to achieve it with these pieces specifically by not priming them—I let the wood shine through. But if for some reason I do overwork it, I paint it black and am able to achieve the same effect. You can’t tell that the works were black at one time, but I start from a black ground. It’s a strange way of working.

Spaceways, 2015, Acrylic on shaped panel, 33x24 inches

Yeah I would think the opposite: a white ground to achieve that sense of light.

I gesso it black and build the structure of the painting in white, the color comes last.

You tend to assert a lot of energy to the edges—creating borders and subdividing the complex shapes into more basic shapes.

That was something I was interested in: painting on every plane, making the viewer walk around the work. I want the divisions to wrap all the way around and have them be even more segmented.

The linear segments cutting the tall works bring totems to mind.

Yeah, people call them columns or refer to them as pillars. I like that they reference a lot of things. Sometimes I think of them as walking sticks.

Leaning pieces are a form I’ve stuck to for awhile. I think the first ones I made were for the winter rooftop show you curated a couple years ago. I was trying to work out how to make my work more sculptural, I didn’t know where to start. I settled on an in-between by having them lean against the wall—but my first thought was that they should have legs. My first leaning works were roughly the same height as me. I still think of them as anthropomorphic or self-portraits, they are more figurative than my other work.

Shifting Sands 1&2, 2016, Acrylic on shaped panel, 96x40 inches

They conduct the wall space between. Or relating them together makes them even more anthropomorphic somehow—have a dynamic together.

I’m am currently at Yaddo working on two foot square panels, I made before coming. There is so much space and light in my studio it is nice so see all of the shapes relating to each other. This body of work feels more personal than other that I have worked on previously. I have been trying to focus in on ideas of transience and rainbows, I’ll see where I land. 


For more information about Emily check out her website or instagram

Additional Images:

Nicholas Shindell

Nicholas Shindell received his MFA in painting from Boston University in 2011. Nick creates odd, lush paintings loosely derived from a collection of wooden folk dolls he uses as models. Between marks that construct the painted faces framing expanses of pooling painted grounds, the work takes a close attention to surface and a curiosity to the physical properties of paint to their logical end.

Some people have of a lot anxiety about seeing figuration in painting. I think these are tough to deal with, but they should be. That’s a bigger challenge. I never knew how to use figuration to develop anything new. Since people don’t think figuration is fresh, people would say things like that to me. I always thought that was a lot to ask, but finally found what I want to be doing with it, which is to just let it be a lot more mysterious than having to find ideas about it.

You start each painting with these grounds built in layers of transparent paints. They have this mysterious sense of deep space, but also exist right on the surface. Or you do things to reassert the surface like with this one with the paint splatters.

Yeah, I dripped into it—both layers wet. This was dry. I have a background making stuff like this. I could’ve developed it into a form I appreciate, but now I just think of it as an amateur, affected way of making like a splatter painting. It’s canned abstraction like something you’d see on the wall in a TV show.

In the last Steven Seagal movie my roommate and I watched, I’m think there was a Wolf Kahn, and also there was definitely a Frank Stella in it. I think the coolest movie that featured art was in Batman 1: The Joker (1989). He goes around smashing art in the museum—Do you remember that? But when he sees a Francis Bacon, he says, “I kinda like this one,” and so he leaves it alone.

What do you like about starting with this kind of place—with ‘amateur painting’ or that sort of pose?

I don’t know what has to happen next, but something will eventually come to mind. I guess what it does is throw a wrench into it, and keep there from being a preassigned process. It can end with something that is a formula, but was never like a recipe.

You said that you also look at a lot of film stills? 

Yeah and I take a lot of screenshots as sort of notes for painting. I’ll see things, and wonder how the painting can incorporate it without being too literal about recording the beautiful thing that is the film or the still. 

Like the folds of that sweatshirt, the shadow of that red into the blue?

I think it was mostly this color relationship. I take a lot of these shots and I throw a lot of them away. It will give me an idea—and whatever thought triggered it might have something to do with that painting, but it doesn’t always work that way. This one was a window. There was a specific color underneath that before it got really dark. I was trying to understand what to pair with that, and I didn’t know if I was going to try and carve out another image.

The way you create these two color relationships in many of the grounds—with the fluorescent or bright color underneath and the over-layers of transparent paint—that creates a quality of light in a similar way to how an illuminated screen feels.

I don’t know what they do in these films to make this beautiful color unity. But yeah, it seems like this whole image could have started with this single color all over, and then proceeded to get darker transparencies over it in these areas. You can tell that this was shot on film. You realize that you can start from light and get darker, but the film insists that you have to have the right amount of light and dark for it to read as such.

Sometimes I use a projector wanting to get that sense of light—those blue and orange color hazes or halos at the edges—but I’m never able to capture it.

With through mixing you can never get that sense of light. But look at this one. Here’s a neon sign: if this sense of light is able to read digitally on my screen then what would be the right way to express that in paint—in a system, which isn’t totally opaque like pixels?

Do your paintings feel like screens to you?

I think now they do more, but these older paintings, like this one, used to be more like a wall. I would do some rubbing through on those, but, for the most part, I wanted it to look like you could put your hand on it in any area and there wasn’t a perceived depth more than what that physical expanse would be.

That changes how the faces read so much—this sort of amorphous, expansive space versus having solidity.

I like for them to have form, but not to feel totally palpable. I like the work of this artist who was in Greater New York and I think he teaches at Cooper Union too. He’s making something that reads like a face, but it’s like a system. It’s a basic paired down sign of the face. It ends up looking like glasses frames and a nose looking through a fence, but he repeats that set of forms all the time and it becomes legs.

You’re interested more in the system or those simplest forms that can be read representationally?

I want that back and forth. The fact that it’s from a real thing. I want the face to be understood more as surface instead of wanting to read too much into the exterior subject matter. I want you to be able to experience the paint—and the marks, mark to mark—and sometimes that doesn’t happen in full capacity if it’s a well-defined figure or narrative.

The face is also something people think of as amateur or outdated. Like art doesn’t need to deal with faces unless they’re described in a really crude or cynical manner. Think of Yuskavege or Currin. When figuration came back it was really backhanded.

Yours are more sincere.

Yeah, I hope they have that quality, because I got sick of looking at that.

How do you relate the faces back to the ground? You seem to deal with them separately in different points in the process.

Well, with them together, I think it lets the ground speak more. Your eye wants to do things with the materials to build through your own psyche an image of a face or relate it to that. And that gives a variance in the ground—like a potential voice, but nothing too defined. 

I think the trouble with having a painting of something like grass is—you’re like, “okay, grass.” And you go from element to element and put together the narrative.

You’re avoiding the sort of recognition that stops the looking—

Yeah, when you see a painting of a guy on a horse, sometimes it just stops your eye from exploring the surfaces—unless you’re an artist like Rembrandt who makes the surface so intriguing that you can read it texture to texture, with bits of light versus big sharp shapes of light that would make it read more like a composition—or like a composition composition. Staying in the realm of mystery is important. I want to be able to move through it, or around it, but have the option to do both. I guess the antithesis of what I want would be a silhouette against a stark white background. I would like the flatness that takes place inside the silhouette. [Laughs.] But you know, it’s too much of what I’ve already done with portraiture in the past and with my training—so that’s what makes this new territory for me.

But yeah, I’ve also found out that I like having a horizontal format, because your eye immediately wants to read that as a landscape. A vertical format is a very traditional format for a reason, because the way that we read bodies is top to bottom. It’s been a way to confuse the figurative element, and it is also kind of like a movie screen.

Using the dolls as painting models plays into this sensibility?

The doll is made to be this totally understandable thing that you physically animate, and you can look at and sort of conceptually animate through your imagination or try to figure out how it moves. I guess why I’m painting these is so that every opportunity I take I can make a surface that animates them in a less physically literal sense. I don’t want the viewer to think of them as blinking objects, but objects that have texture within them and outside of them that move and breathe—as paint, and less so as eyebrows or cheekbones.

When you’re playing as a child looking at a doll, the simple marks on the face become so significant and expansive. They read and you read into them—

Yeah, when you’re a kid, it’s like they are really looking back at you. When you do that when you’re a kid, your emotions are a lot stronger and you’re able to project that onto objects like that and see yourself. And I think it’s the same when you’re painting whether you are conscious of it or not. You’re always putting life into something whether you like what you’re working on or not, or if it is something you’re passionate about or not.  

Are you thinking about certain people when you’re painting? I can almost recognize a few faces.

Sometimes that manifests after. Usually I don’t think about a person, real or imagined. But sometimes, after the fact, I kind of see things I have to own up to— the fact that I probably was making decisions based on the memory of someone. I don’t care when that happens but it’s not my intention. Stuff is burned into our brain, and you’d like to think that your hands don’t know it, but they do.

And you show up.

In the paintings, yeah. Especially in the beginning when I was working from the original doll—Elvira. [Laughs.] I mean she too has pointy eyebrows and little nose and mouth close together so I think a lot of them ended up having similar features to me.

Only Elvira has a name?

One is Delia. I think another one of them might have a name. But one of them has reddish blonde hair and one of them has blonde hair, but you usually only find them with this dark pelo.

They come with the names?

Elvira is written on her chest. But you’d think, buying these in person, they probably refer to them as, “Oh yeah, okay. You want an Esmeralda?” just to avoid calling it this one versus that one. I would like to meet the people who make these instead of buying them from some third party on eBay. I mean the first one I bought was from an antique shop, but it would be nice to meet someone who paints these or makes the papier maché. My grandmother made these— 

Really, these animal dolls? They fit right in. 

Yeah, she made everything. She made all kinds of stuff. She made like three a week. That one was supposed to be a snowbird, because she lived in Phoenix and people would come in in the winter.

They’re great, bizarre. This one’s part paper roll and egg carton or something, but the combination of shapes—that huge heart shape of the head and what’s that piece of leather on its chest?

Yeah, it’s weird. I’m not sure what that is. I think it’s a fanny pack. She had all kinds of weird little stuff she would recycle into pieces, and she would make these really cool needlepoints.

Is that why you were originally attracted to collecting this type of material?

To trinket-y stuff, yeah.

Do you collect other trinkets?

In Phoenix maybe, but nothing great. I like this stuff a lot more. The things I have in Phoenix is probably a lot more polished whereas with these they’re distressed and wonky from the beginning. I wish the lion wasn’t falling apart, but that has some nice qualities too.

I mean they are all painted objects, but the way they are distressed makes them look more like painting.

Exactly, they’re dealing with this form that really doesn’t look like a head, and then they hake a painting the on the head. But there’s something in the way that you look at it that you could imagine the head in profile. If you look at it, the way it’s framed by the shape of the hair. Starting with something that already looks like a painting, you get that painting within a painting quality without it being so literal.

There’s such a huge divide between your source material—The silky digital images and the rough wooden folk dolls.

[Opens Screenshot] Well, I like this one. It’s crazy because without them there you would think it’s just a close up of distressed metal.

They’re barely articulated as people like the dolls’ faces are—only two little legs on the right of the frame.

Yeah, that was a bad movie, but it was made by Rick Alverson who did The Comedy (2012). Do you know that?


I constantly watch stuff. With the screenshots, I like a lot of these things taken out of context. And I like the bits of text and things you see in subtitles that are disjointed, especially when it relates to images.

I think that’s going to somehow translate to a painting. I used to take screenshots and think I’d have to make paintings that involve the actual printed-paper in a still life setting. I was at a loss about how to use these. I wanted to add imagery to the painting that was from a screenshot. I knew I liked them, but I thought it was my direction to print that out and be literal about the reference and about putting that into a still life. I was against what I started doing later on. I would put the printout against a bowl or something and painted the screenshot.

Did you make some paintings like that?

Yeah, they weren’t very good, but I’ll find the image and you can look at it. There was a good still in it—it was a shot of Peewee Herman and a lion.

I like picture in picture.

Yeah, I like stuff like that. Fairfield Porter is really good at that.

This (digital painting) I made with the eye dropper tool—actually pulling those colors from a screenshot—color that isn’t found from the subject matter I’m working with. I do a lot less mixing now. I used to mix, mix, then over-mix.

But in using transparency, a sort of color mixing is happening between layers instead.

I’m glad for that. I was taught in this macho alla prima opaque painting. I was always thought transparencies sounded like too much of a time investment. But in art school there’s still a macho connection to opaque painting so I feel like now it’s helped me get away from that and be somewhat more lighthearted in subject matter and the way I’m painting it.

They’re not lighthearted.

No, I don’t look at the paintings as lighthearted, but I look at lighthearted intentions as a good way to approach—rather than trying to be a slash-and-burn painter or something. It’s better having it end up as a moody piece through that confusion rather than starting out with that subject matter.

I feel like procedures between layers get a lot more complicated when you’re using transparencies. It requires more thinking and strategy between layers—more like of what a lot of printmaking requires.

Yeah, and I don’t really like that. I like the surprise. I don’t like actually thinking two layers from now. I like to have a problem occur that I have to deal with, because otherwise it’s tedious. I only like direct printmaking like woodblock and monotype. Are you into printmaking?

No, it’s too procedural for me too. But I like that way of thinking and building surfaces between layers in multiple steps and sorts of applications that work on each other.

I don’t know. Some people who get involved with that are such technique dorks.

Yeah, but I think you like technique too, but in a different and more open way. I mean these are accomplished in that way—

Yeah, technique is one of those difficult things where post-1950 it’s frowned upon and seen as institutional. But then you have to understand that everything—no matter how crude or refined it is—is going to have technique. I’ve come to the conclusion that I like paint so much that I’m going to have to think about it as a material that has properties that I want to understand. That’s the fun part.

For more information about Nicholas and his work please check out his webiste

Studio Visit with Brion Nuda Rosch

Micah Wood visits with Brion Nuda Rosch 

I first met Brion while I was working at Canyon Market in San Francisco. He was shopping for whatever, a delicious deli sandwich perhaps. I sensed an aura immediately. Brion's work resonates with me as one of pure intentions unbound by cultural ties and acknowledging the helping hand that Picasso has given us, but uniquely his own. Our conversation started from the Embarcadero station and ended at the Glen Park station, so to speak. Is Miley Cyrus an artist genius? Does Gumby hold all the answers we are looking for? Can Britney Spears save our souls with her painting?

(MW): I haven't seen your work in person which is unfortunate.

(BNR): I haven’t shown in San Francisco in the last five years, that makes sense. LA and New York, yes. Here, no.

(MW): Maybe we can start off along those lines. Is there a reason for that?

(BNR): Galleries closing. I was showing at Eli Ridgway. He (and Kent) really built my career. I started working with them in 2009. When he closed the gallery in 2013 all my attention shifted towards my gallery in New York and my gallery in LA.

(MW): What is the gallery in New York you were working with?

(BNR): DCKT, which closed last year. They had locations in Chelsea and then later in LES for well over a decade. I’m working with Halsey Mckay in East Hampton. I had a solo show with them over the summer. That was the first time I had shown just paintings, seven in total. I hadn't shown paintings in quite some time. I've always been painting on objects, but never really identified with being a painter. The first paintings I did were outside; I didn’t have a studio, so I painted on walls and did murals when given the opportunity. 

When I first started making art, I insisted “I'm going to be a painter.” I did it all wrong, and I painted with recycled house paint on crappy materials and everything fell apart. Looking around the studio, the objects in the studio began to inspire sculpture and more painting [on objects]. For quite some time the work I exhibited consisted primarily of collages and altered objects, no paintings. About two years ago I began working with pigments and rabbit skin glue. Then mixing paint with different materials, calcium carbonate, to mull hues down, and make everything matte, and I rubbed it into the canvas. When it is rubbed into the the raw canvas it saturates in different ways, a rewarding result. I’m now working with acrylics, pigments, mud, on canvas and / or fired ceramics.

(MW): You mentioned mural work, earlier, is that something that informs your practice?

(BNR): I had a desire [when I was younger] - an ambition, to be up on walls and having work in public space held much of my attention. I was interested in the landscape of the neighborhood and marks that could be made, small or large. Sometime I would just scribble or doodle nonsense or place blank cut pieces of adhesive vinyl over surfaces. The scope and scale allowed for mistakes and I explored a lot when working in this manner.

(MW): That was somewhat of a beginning for you in painting?

(BNR): I was making paintings, and I mean, they were all awful. I was making bad paintings, it was important to start there, with mistakes. I was working on large canvases and rolls of paper, and I would just paint, take a picture, and then keep painting over them. I was just pushing paint around, I mean, I never went to school. So I was just figuring it out. Then going out, having a wall, having 20 by 30 feet - for some reason when I went bigger it made more sense. I feel like I had more successes there. At the time the imagery was naïve. Now its much more calculated, and thought out, after twenty years of doodling. Drawings are easy to understand, and when working on canvas I hope to make the work just as direct and simple. Accessibility is something that is important, while also knowing the work can also be crude, ridiculous and unrecognizable, so maybe I’m way off.

(MW): There is an article on “caricature” that talks about the ways Robert Smithson and Mike Kelley use caricature in their work, and it goes into accessibility, but also having more intellectually charged work as well, catered toward less accessible things.

(BNR): I think it's important to do, or else, it's not that interesting. You do not need an academic background to enjoy the work, however any history the viewer carries will inform or provide the punchline to the joke. 

(MW): When did you get to the Bay Area?

(BNR): I moved here in 1999. It doesn't seem like it has been that long. I came here in my early twenties, and now I have a family, a house in Glen Park, and a job.

(MW): Where are you from originally?

(BNR): Before the Bay Area, I was living in Arizona, I was there for few years. As a kid [before high school] I lived in Chicago and Denver, and then high school in Hamden, I lived off State Street near New Haven. Every couple of years we moved. 

(MW): You said you haven't gone to school for art, which I gathered from a press release of a group show you were recently a part of in Seattle, which included other artists that didn't take a traditional art school route. 

(BNR): It was a survey of self taught artists, a substantial point of reference with some historical context. Honored to take part in it. Some of my heroes were in that show. Self taught vibe. 

(MW): That self taught, how to say, style…

(BNR): It's something I don't identify with, I've been around a fair amount of academic structure, and talk, and language. When I started college, I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I dropped out and the opportunity to go to school passed. 

(MW): Let's talk about the work, you mentioned the word "parameters", there’s a really great lack of parameters that I seem to see in the work here in the studio. 

(BNR): There is actually nothing but rules around us. There’s a balance of total chaos. I can work on these canvases all day long, and never finish them. If I just stop myself, and say, okay, make a figure, two arms, breasts, leg. Now I can get my head around that, and I can go in, and get into that a little bit more. Or make a face with three marks, eyes, nose, mouth. Another painting [here], I'm just isolating forms, and portraiture, simply in a practical and formal way. 

(MW): With the sculpture, things seem to open up, you're not like, saying, I have to use this material.

(BNR): Yeah, I think at that point it’s just about the object or manipulating an object.

(MW): What kinds of materials do you use in your sculpture?

(BNR): These are all ceramics [points to the table] or a combination of ceramic and wood, some just wood. I'm making objects with a bit more control, because I'm actually making them. Before now, I was working with found objects. There was a point where I was visiting various schools to get access to dumpsters at the end of semester, and began using found plaster molds or unfinished sculpture, then I would manipulate them in some way. 

"The Possible" exhibit at BAMFA gave me access to clay and a kiln. There, I could simply explore the material. After I had the ceramics fired, I began rubbing pigments into the fired clay. It was important to duplicate my process of painting on raw canvas. With ceramics, I simply wanted to create surfaces to paint on to. 

 (MW): How much value do you put into a picture of a sculpture over the "objecthood" of the sculpture? Are they two different pieces of work? Are they in the same body of work?

(BNR): Do you mean the collages?

(MW): Yeah

(BNR): The collages are sculpture. Using the image on the book page as armature for building a sculpture – a sculpture I do not have the space or materials to build in my studio. These here [sitting on the desk] - I consider them objects, book pages torn from the binding. Framed, they have an end point, they’re done. Otherwise they are catalogue pages on a table. 

I remove enough of the found image to make the source unclear. Some are very direct, like a Picasso on a Picasso. There is an image over an image. A Picasso over a Picasso, titled 'Infinite Picasso', a clock, hands turning. The framed collage mounted with motor to wall, spinning.

 (MW): Yeah, there does seem to be an element of some kind of humor in the work, could you talk more about that?

(BNR): Yes, there is art humor involved, or the first line to a joke - “so and so walked into a bar,” but there is no punch line. 

(MW): In your work, there seems to be an undeniable relationship with collage, assemblage, found imagery and with color. Do you think you have a color palette that you identify with?

(BNR): Yes, natural pigments, red oxide, burnt sienna, etc… it is limited, I put green into a painting, but then I thought, it was too soon. My palette is another limitation I set for myself. I’ve never had navy blue in my work, or primary yellow, and the two together is pure anxiety, to respond I feel I should make a body of work with noting but the colors. 

When color exists, it can pop out in very small moments, I’ve installed paintings [brown, and white] in a gallery covered floor to ceiling with mustard yellow, or I have painted a hallway bright teal, as a refreshing cleanse for the viewer when coming and going from the exhibition. 

The work first exists in this environment, in the studio, with paint all over the walls, floors, and this water pipe above us, then there’s the gallery desk, the exit sign, the break in the wall, that beam, somewhat inconsistent gallery to gallery, but the same kind of pattern, those are the thoughts that I have while considering how to install work. 

(MW): To paraphrase Martin Kippenberger, "everything must be considered in the exhibition; the posters, the floor, the ceiling, etc.."

(BNR): Walking into an exhibition space, I say to myself, okay, what am I contending with here. All those little small elements, every moment should be considered.

(MW): Outside of art, what are a few good things you've found recently?

(BNR): For me, having a family and being an artist grounded my perception of being an artist and ego. With family you're dealing with something real, that has consequences, and your artwork doesn't have any consequences. Maybe a few horrible paintings. Parenting is amazing and messy all at once. There's nothing about art that can come close to any type of work that you're going to do with your family. I mean, that's it, it makes you work harder, it puts things in perspective. I hope my son recalls "Yeah, my dad had this space where he made these weird things in and there was music, and we would dance and make a mess and sometimes I would hang from his shoulders upside down and paint upside down on a big canvas". 

(MW): Is that what happens?

(BNR): Yes. That is what happens. I have a canvas rolled up, that we have been working on, and I feel like I want to take it out again when he's a little older so we can finish it together. Once you have a child there is no rush, so if him and I work a few things over the next ten years they can only get better.

(MW): Are there are specific people you are looking on at?

(BNR): I've always had my hands in other things, in addition to my practice, if it wasn't a pre-Tumblr blog, or doing exhibits in my house, or doing exhibits elsewhere, there's always been relationships with other artists. I'm seeing a lot of exciting painting, and you can observe all of that in such a direct and immediate way, which I don't know how healthy that is, and I think that there are some things that have been occurring in recent years that might not be that productive in terms of content, but content is so accessible, and I use that as a litmus test sometimes, and I let that play out. And I fuck with it a bit, and manipulate it, if I’m on social media I might as well manipulate it. Blatant exaggerations. I’m a blogspot dropout now on the Instagram…

(MW): It's appropriation, but it is appropriating your own imagery. 

(BNR): Yeah, which is also found imagery, so it goes, in an infinite loop.

(MW): Last question is about Miley Cyrus. On Instagram you had a post where you said you hugged Miley Cyrus, but that never happened, and her lawyers contacted you saying that you can't say that..

(BNR): Yeah, that never happened. I'm not sure exactly how the post went, I delete a lot of them, but it was something along those lines. I saw something that was so ridiculous; I manipulated a version of it, and then probably deleted it. It's funny, I'm giving a talk at CCA where I'm going to begin with: 

“So, that’s how I started making art. I had a bunch of fucking junk and shit, and so instead of letting it be junk and shit, I turned it into something that made me happy. I just sit around and smoke weed anyway, so I might as well sit around, smoke weed, and do something. And this is me doing something. I love it. I mean, I’m up until seven in the morning doing this stuff all the time. They say money can’t buy happiness and it’s totally true. Money can buy you a bunch of shit to glue to a bunch of other shit that will make you happy, but besides that, there’s no more happiness.”

On another note…

I found a Gumby episode. The premise is basically Prickle opens an art crating business, but quickly angers his customers by painting faces on their vases. Things look grim until the local art critic turns up and declares Prickle’s creations a work of genius. Gumby, Prickle turns artist - if there's a cartoon that could be my artist statement that would be it. 

We Embody What We Make: The Age of Resistance

An Interview with Grace Rosario Perkins

by José Luis Íñiguez

14 December 2015

Jose- I’m on my way. 7:44 PM (via text)

Grace- Perfect -- just made some hot ginger tea for us. 7:45 PM (via text)

Jose- I’m here at your door. 7:51 PM (via text)

Doors opened and I was encircled by Grace. As we made way to her living space, we caught up for a moment. We shared with each other what was happening in our lives and like always; we both recognized how busy we had been. That brief minute of sharing myself with her helped me ground myself in that moment. Her empathetic way of existing has always helped me balance myself. Grace has inspired me to protract what bring joy to my life and has been a great motivator in the acts of resistance.

(Ginger tea was served and we submerged ourselves in a beautiful and inspiring dialogue)

Jose- We can start by you sharing a little about where you come from and how that has informed your artistic practice from the beginning to what you are doing now. I know that you are in constant conversation with your culture and where you come from. I would like to know a little more about those influences.

Grace- When I started making art, I was in a very particular head space. When I was sixteen, I was kicked out of high school and was asked to leave the house. So, I was sent to my dad’s house in a small little town called Coolidge.  It was a bizarre farm town on the edge of the O’odham reservation of five thousand people, where I lived on and off for the next 4 to 5 years of my life. I think that was one of the first places that I went deep. I started drawing a lot and it became a very inward way of recording my day to day. I began taking in the things around me, because I was around really desolate farmland, desertscapes and a weird rural town. My drawings substantiated my existence in a way. So, I think that was one of the first things that really started bringing me to make work about where I was from, the physical space I inhabited, and my culture.

Jose- In the past, we’ve talked about journaling in your youth, and I am curious if drawings were ever embedded in your process of documenting your thoughts? Or was it something completely different?

Grace- It’s interesting because, I don’t journal to that extent today. I used to be very meticulous. I would utilize photos and would draw and that is kinda where the faces started happening. I was sent to this GED program when I was younger that was next door to a comic book shop. When I would get dropped off by my mom, I would go next door and I would buy comic books. I would look at them and read them in my GED class. And so, I started drawing these cartoony things. It was like I was trying to learn how to draw through comics. I’ve never even really studied drawing, but I read lots of comics. The drawings eventually started becoming very systemic. I still start every drawing with the same four lines and then, I just build out. They change through time on how detailed they become.

Jose- You know now that you explain this, it makes complete sense that your drawings carry the comic book aesthetic. The imagery that your drawings carry with the repetition of the eyes, mouth, and their tense faces capsulate what comics provide to build an experience for their viewers. The language that is used in your drawing also serves as captions giving it that comic book illustration structure.

Before I moved to the Bay, I recall having an experience with one of your drawings. I was introduced to your work by a transplant of Bakersfield. It might have been a punk show flyer from my recollection. I bring it up because as I was commuting from San Francisco to Oakland, I began thinking about the drawings and how they morphed into actual objects. You have made a set of masks that you’ve painted what you’ve been drawing for a while and so my question is what do you think these objects are informing? what is their function? 

Grace- Yeah, I use language as an anchor and a way to guide someone. I don’t think of it as being aggressive. In particular, using the native language of my family, I view that as a path of resistance. I think it is really important for me to use what is perceived as lost languages in a way where people are confronted with the discomfort of not being able to read it. That is one thing that I really like working with. My grandma is the last native Diné speaker, so it is hard to work with definitive sources. I work with a dictionary and various online resources because that is all that is available. The way I think about it is that information has been broken down so much in the language and it’s an act of empowerment to work with it, to take the scraps found in these dictionaries and use it. I’ve had people call some of these works “intense,” but that to me is also a way a person may distance themselves from the experience of indigenous peoples… so I try to use these words that are really commonplace like “drink” or “able” and contextualize them in sentences that are often really resonant to the experience of survival. In the Navajo dictionary I use, the example sentence for the word “drink” was “the drunk drinks a lot.” I read it and had to use it… it’s really a fragment that shows the impact of these struggles, these things we unpack through the breakdown of our culture.


Jose- I constantly think and reflect on the Thin Leather project you worked in collaboration with your father. It struck like a moving experience that brought multiple emotions to rise up the surface. I am interested in hearing you talk about the dialogues that happened through this collaboration. Since you touch on language and communication, what was it like having a conversation through the medium of painting?

Grace- A little back story about my dad, he was an activist when I was growing up. So, I grew up in this very particular way. My father was a professor at a university (the University of Illinois) that had an extremely racist mascot. It still exists unsanctioned where people to this day dress up like an Indian and dance around in buckskin and a headdress. After time, that experience and the system really pushed on my dad. We have talks about it and a lot of our conversations now are about… when you start to make work about identity it gets to the point where it’s going to hurt and then you are like, “Oh god, this is hard.” But, I think with that you have to decide whether you are going to go in or not. He stopped making such radically charged work but that history is still there. Now, his paintings are super meditative.

I went home for Christmas one year and he had a giant stack of paintings. I had never been invited to make art with him and he finally said, “Oh yeah, let's paint together.” It was interesting because it was healing, and it illuminated the dynamics of our relationship. I painted something and he painted over it. I pitched doing a show of these paintings over the phone and he said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.”  To me it was probably more big than it was to him, but it was really important. I think during the whole process, when we were doing the painting back and forth, I tried to make it about language and about sifting through familial dynamics. I wanted to do this with my dad and sift through this thing, uncover history, and we can work back with these images or symbols. We kinda got there, but what was most interesting were the frustrating aspects where there was erasure happening.  I would paint something in Pima or O’odham; he would paint over it. My father is someone that doesn’t like text in his work, and I’m all about text, but I think he phrased it like, “our language is erased and that is why I am doing that.” It made sense when he said it. It was very sad and harsh, but I think that’s was why I wanted to do this work together… to even push those conversations between us.

When we first started to paint, we did these two giant pieces together. Those were the first we did and he kinda told me about his family. My great great grandfather was named Crouse Perkins and he was trilingual; he spoke O’odham, Spanish, and English. He was very religious; he would prophesize and walk around preaching to people door to door. He got his name because his shoes were worn thin, so he had thin soles, “thin leather…” There was something there… an urgency in language and perseverance .That was what the collaboration was about to me. It was about the same cycle. We may not be going door to door, but we are still trying to use language to prove our existence, prove our resilience in a way. Here we are, family, doing that together. I think we did eighteen maybe twenty pieces and I only showed twelve or so and they were all done through this process of adding and subtracting elements without really communicating about it, only sending parcels in the mail and having a short phone call here and there. They’ve become some of my favorite paintings because they genuinely reflect the depth of our relationship.

Jose- You recently had a beautiful window installation called The Sun Is Hot at Shadow Office in Downtown, Oakland, and I was mesmerized by the use of color, form, and texture.  How was the process like creating that installation in that specific space? Was this in conversation with the idea of home?

Grace- The desert to me is super formative. It’s really isolating, and it's heavy, and I think living there for so long you feel it as soon as you go outside.  You just feel the energy. Now that I live in a more urban place, it’s obviously very different because it’s so concentrated in a different way, and I find myself less connected to nature than I was there. So, I revisit it a lot as a place of grounding. Even if I can’t be there it helps just to think about it as an influence; even if it’s a color palette or something that I experience there.  The show, The Sun Is Hot, I guess it was kinda like a… way of talking about surrendering to the desert, using it as perspective, and putting things into place. An elder said “The sun is hot” to me in conversation earlier this year when we were talking about checks and balances. I recorded the whole conversation, but that phrase just burned into my brain.

It is weird because I just realized something about my work in the last year, that I reuse a lot of my stuff. This installation had a lot of that. I make prints of my masks, I make these structures, I repaint over them or rebuild them over time. It’s like I’m changing the meaning and flipping it. It’s also almost a cultural thing, the idea of using something, exhausting it, not just discarding something because I’ve used it… I really believe it working with what I have, like I made the masks as objects and then eventually they were performative and then one thing that I realized in the last few months is that instead of being live and performative, I realized “Oh god, I want to start documenting them and use them as vessels to portray something,” so I haven’t done that yet, but that is my next plan. They’re supposed to be vessels and they are emotive.

Jose- But they have been used. They have been used in certain projects right? I’ve seen images where Black Salt Collective members use them in the desert.

Grace- Oh yeah!

Jose- This is a perfect segue to talk about the collective you are part of and the intention for its existence.  Black Salt Collective is an empowering group of women of color that has motivated me and I’m sure other to continue to resist and demand the importance of marginalized voices in the art world.

Grace- Yeah, we started in 2012, Adee (Roberson) moved into my house. We would talk about art and what does it mean to be making. Also be so frustrated and alienated in it, because of who we are. Sylvia (Fanciulla Gentile) was also living there and she also joined our discussions. One night, we went outside and shot photographs, made a logo, and wrote a quick bio, which is still what we use today. It came together. Basically, we embody what we make and what we make embodies us. We had our first show the following spring and over these past three years, we have grown a lot. The more I look at what we’re doing, it is evident about how the work co-exists, and converses from these four separate sources-- the convergence of our identities and how they can work together to create a more vibrant existence and future.

We’ve traveled together, performed, done site specific collaboration through the desert and on my family land. We all really care about one another and that’s maybe where the power is really grounded.

In our last collaboration, we had a performance on the corner of 16th and Mission where we played the drums for about thirteen minutes. There were projections with these pointed questions behind us invoking people to reflect on land and the spatial politics that affect us all as women of color and how that reverberates through our individual and collective experiences. We asked “How did your people come here? Whose land are you on? What did you leave behind?” I think that is something we are trying to push through. We are also trying to break labels a bit. We’ve talked about how do we get shows where we say, we just make stuff in this intentioned space, but also leave less room to be so didactic. I think that is a problem with white institutions. They are so quick to label anything… So with this show we are curating, Visions into Infinite Archives, is where we want to have a little more room to expand on this work and bring more people into the fold.

Jose- How did Visions into Infinite Archives come about for Black Salt Collective and what are the intentions for the residency at SOMArts?

Grace- We were invited to apply. Through that process, from the first day we talked about it, I was like “Oh, we are going to have this installation where it’s going to be overwhelming.” I kept on using the word overwhelming. I imagined it being so many objects, so many voices, so many stories. We wanted to be very intentional about who we invited. In the show; we have elders, emerging artists, we got everyone there. With the title, Visions Into Infinite Archives, it’s more about abandoning the linear framework that is used to categorize the work from artists of color. Timelines give room for this really anthropological way of breaking down the work and compartmentalizing it. We have been doing this stuff forever and we are still doing it and people are still going to do it. That was the whole idea, presenting these people in conversation —something that felt inclusive, big, and also pulling so many artists we know on various levels... artists we admire, artists who are friends, artists who are mentors, but all work from this departure point of identity, people who want to be heard. I believe things need to be more visible, more open, and more honest; that is what is, what I feel is the strength of this massive show. We have 30 artists and performers total, all people of color who in the art world are often told they’re marginalized voices, but instead of giving them this space that is very literal, very bogged down, we just want it to be presented as an archive, a working breathing space, a map of this work, and the many dimensions it takes. It really is an intersection of so many people I am inspired by.

Opening reception featuring performances from Chochenyo activist and poet Vince Medina, Hermano Milagroso and jeepneys + SOME TIMES in direct dialogue with the exhibition and its themes, Thursday, January 14, 6–9pm (Free)

Film screening of short films and Bontoc Eulogy by Marlon E. Fuentes on Saturday, January 30, 12-4pm (Free)

Closing reception featuring  live sets by special guest musician Ryan Dennison (Deadrezkids, Fort Wingate, NM), as well as Tropic Green (Adee Roberson), plus an all-vinyl DJ set by Bay Area favorite Brown Amy (Hard French, Natural High) Thursday, February 4, 6–9pm (Free)

A sad Clown?

Erin Hael visited by Ryan Turley

I met Erin Hael back in November of 2012.  She had been brought on to assist with an art-handling/installing gig I was involved in.  I won’t go into any details other than to say we became fast friends and before we knew it she was moving to NYC and out of Minnesota!

I have been following her work ever since and was excited to visit with her at her current studio in Bushwick/Williamsburg (or whatever they call it) and see what she has been up to lately.

Erin Hael at her Studio in Brooklyn, NY

Erin Hael at her Studio in Brooklyn, NY

Upon entering her studio I was struck with the pungent odor of bananas.  This was the not so good smell of fruit that has gone off.  I immediately remembered her mentioning that she had been wanting to work on a new performance piece that involved her dancing classical ballet choreography on a stage of fresh banana peels.  The conversation went from there.

“Banana Republic” Performance still, 2015

“Banana Republic” Performance still, 2015

Erin is part performance artist, part painter and part all around funny gal.  You only have to spend a few minutes with her to experience her humor and boisterous, contagious laughter.  The girl likes to laugh, and she IS funny.

Her more performative work can involve her getting hit in the face with a cream pie, having a rug pulled out from beneath her or practicing to hock a loogie (spitting).   

These performances are recorded and result in the form of video pieces.  They are amusing with a definite darker side to them.  There is a tension in all of her work that grapples with amusing her audience at her own expense.   My mind usually conjures a type of modern day sad clown when I experience a lot of her work.  A modern day Pagliacci perhaps?

This type of physical comedy or as she informed me is sometimes referred to as pratfalls.  Buster Keaton, Benny Hill, Lucille Ball all come up in the conversation as influences she gleans from.

“Practice Makes Perfect” 2015, Performance for video

“Practice Makes Perfect” 2015, Performance for video

I ask Erin where this desire comes from to make people laugh or why is there such a large humor element to much of her work and she pinpoints some of it back to her move to New York from Minnesota.  She describes feeling a bit lacklustre with “The Big Apple.”  There may have been some depression, stress and anxiety about moving to this city and she said that she coped with a lot of that by watching “funny” or “prank” videos online.  This turned into “Jackass” type self-inflicted pain vids to make people laugh into videos of people “puking.”

“A Myriad of Successes” 2014, Media Collage

“A Myriad of Successes” 2014, Media Collage

“Videos of people puking helped me laugh, laugh until the point of crying, you know a real belly laugh” Erin stated.  She went on to say that she was interested in how vulnerable we were when we were in a state of being sick/puking.  Lets remember she is not laughing at real people being sick, these are for the most part actors and comedians.  There is a comedy of the grotesque at work somewhere here.  She embraced this investigation and went on to make numerous and quite stunning paintings about these images.  

  “Catch up II” 2014, Mixed media, collage, acrylic

  “Catch up II” 2014, Mixed media, collage, acrylic

There is also the common thread throughout her work that involves an action and a reaction.  A push and a pull but then she throws in a fall or blunder, perhaps involving a banana peel.  

Whether Erin is dancing on a stage of slippery yellow banana peels or having the rug literally pulled out beneath her, we should all keep an eye on where she will land next.  

“Pulling the Rug Out” 2015, Performance for Video

“Pulling the Rug Out” 2015, Performance for Video

To see more of Erin’s work please visit her website.