Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Responsive Drawings: Chris Nau's Relief Works

Image Info. from top to bottom: Inhabitat XVI, 2008, 96" x 192", graphite and cuts on drywall; Inhabitat XVI (Detail); Inhabitat XVI (Detail); Inhabitat XVI (Detail); Inhabitat XVI Installation Shot

About the Artist
Born 1973, Elgin, Illinois

Chris Nau will be creating drawings at the Drawing Center and Hunter College in 2009. See more on his work at http://www.chrisnau.com

Cutters is at Hunter College
January 29-March 14 2009
Opening reception: Thursday January 29, 5:30-7:30pm

Apparently Invisible is at The Drawing Center
February 20-March 28, 2009
Opening Reception: Thursday, February 19, 6-8pm

SketchPages talks to Chris Nau about the challenges and discoveries made when drawing (and cutting) on a wall.

Can you describe the origins and your approach to creating relief drawings on a wall?
My Inhabitat wall-cut drawings are drawn directly onto and cut into a gallery’s wall. At the close of the show the piece is torn down. Each piece is built on site over the course of 4-7 days. I have been working on this series since 2001, beginning with the first piece that was built as a part of my graduate thesis exhibition at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Working with ideas of paradox and self-destruction, the pieces are graphite drawings with jigsaw-incised lines that ripple and crumble within the wall.

How much of the work is improvised?
In earlier Inhabitat pieces I would make the work entirely on site beginning with a pencil drawing that was reworked directly on the wall. In more recent versions, like Inhabitat XVI I began with some projections of line drawings that were pulled directly from forms in my paintings. Since my paintings are begun with sculptures that I build and then paint from observation, there is a nice full-circle from 3D to 2D and then back to 3D again in these Inhabitat wall-cut drawings.

Can you be more specific about your interest in merging opposites between 2D and 3D?
In this statement I was referring to the well-known opposition between truth and fiction in painting, or reality and illusion. It’s an issue with most 2D work, from photography to printmaking. I was a painting restorer for a time, and physical damage to paintings causes the overall illusion of space and depth to collapse. A painting of a landscape that has a whole punched through it is read more like an object than a window into a fictional space. I was intrigued by this conflict, and this became a major feature of my work. The Inhabitat series sprang from a question of this 2D/3D contradiction, but from this standpoint of damage and destruction, which immediately sets up an intriguing opposition to what is constructed or built. In a way these drawings are like parasites that paradoxically destroy the host that feeds them. My drawings need the wall for support, but the cutting destroys it as it expands, ultimately weakening it to the point that the drawing can never be moved and must be destroyed after the close of the exhibition. In addition, the cut lines and the tilted and shifting pieces of the drawing are sculptural, and they contradict the illusion of the flat, drawn lines.

How are you led from one mark to the other, and how were you led to relief work?
The drawings evolve according to the space on the wall they occupy. My decisions are formal and intuitive. I also work to make an specific, yet ambiguous form that could be either animal or machine and have its “head” at either or both ends. The relief evolved out of the process of removing and replacing the pieces. I was intrigued by the role of light and shadow in the pieces, and some Inhabitat drawings have more emphasis on this and less emphasis on the drawn lines. This is a departure from the original 2D/3D conflict, but I like how this conveys a more tangible sense of emergence.

References to animals, machines and religious icons?
The animals and machines always influence the forms of my drawings (and paintings). Abstraction allows me to make forms that are not burdened by narrow references, but looking at animal forms and mechanical forms as jumping off points for abstraction helps me avoid too much gesture or decorative vagueness that can weaken the punch of abstract imagery. I need to make forms that look like they can participate in something, affect something, move, attack, float, fly, drive or swim. It’s also important in terms of content because, while I have little interest in overtly referencing concepts or issues by direct representation, it is still very important for those things to be part of the work. So while you see something unknown and maybe even unfamiliar, the work is packed with contemporary references to conflict, contradiction and paradox. The analogy about parasite and host was not just off the cuff. Our need for energy is destroying ecosystems. Animals are being raised, processed and killed by machines. Robots function for humans. Cities are taking over the forest. All of this conflict informs my abstractions, and I seek unfamiliar, improbable mergers of the conflicting elements just as we need to some ingenuity to solve our environmental conflicts. As for the icons- that is more an issue of presentation and adoration. Portraits, symbols, narratives and relics are presented in such a way that even the most banal or unknown objects can be embellished to the point that anyone can comprehend the presence of certain significance. This notion is useful to me since my work is about making unknown forms significant. Damage and time are also a factor imbuing icons and relics with a sense of importance.

Do you consider lighting a material as you draw?
Yes, lighting is very important, especially when the pieces of drywall begin to tilt and pop. When I am drawing with pencil I begin thinking about it, but the final decisions come after the lights are set, during the process of physically constructing the piece in the wall.

Plans for Hunter College and Drawing Center?
Installing these Inhabitat pieces is very challenging, not only because of the work and mess involved, but they are very time consuming and usually I am given a very narrow block of time to accomplish the piece. Experimenting with completely new ideas during this short time slot would be extremely stressful, so I plan to continue with the vein of work that I have been producing so far with these wall-cut drawings. However, I am ready for some new directions with this type of work. I need to bring the Inhabitat series to a close since I recently learned of an artist who already used this title for her work in the 70’s. The piece at Hunter will be a continuation of the Inhabitat series. The Drawing Center piece will also follow this, but there is an architectural interruption (a column) that bisects the wall I am to work on. Dealing with this interruption will be challenging, but the interaction of an element that is not the wall may be just the challenge I need to branch out into some new work. We will see.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Drawing as Process: Barry Assed

Sketch Pages talks to Barry Assed of Pennsylvania about his drawing process and what he discovers about life along the way.

Images from top to bottom: Dance-7 (2007); Dance Collage-7 (2007); Dance-8 (2008); Dance Collage-8 (2008), Demo-1; Demo-2; Demo-3

Artist Statement

It is a funny thing what the brain will do with memories and how it will treasure them and finally bring them into odd juxtapositions with other things, as though it wanted to make a design, or get some meaning out of them, whether you want it to or not, or even see it.
--Loren Eiseley

I am intrigued with making meaning out of the unrelated and chaotic and turning personal experience into a mark, shape or gesture. The shapes and edges I draw are combined with abstract mark making to expand upon the arbitrary. Using pieces of torn paper as stencils I create images that suggest an abstract puzzle whose pieces are overlapped and misplaced. The continuity in these images lays in the repeated shapes which are a metaphor for the mundane or random event and our attempts to instill a kind of meaning to it.

About the Artist
Barry Assed was born in Northampton, Pennsylvania and studied drawing and sculpture at Kutztown University. In addition he studied under Al Erdosy and Howard Greenberg at the Baum School of Art in Allentown. He currently resides in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.

Barry Assed’s work draws from a strong foundation in drawing and sculpture and has been exhibited in solo and group shows in galleries and museums throughout the mid-Atlantic region, including the Allentown Art Museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania and the Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA. One of his drawings is in the permanent collection of the Muscarelle Museum. Also, his work is included the slide registry of The Drawing Center in New York.

The Interview:

Can you talk at a greater length about your work process and how you came to use stencils to create an “abstract puzzle?”
I became intrigued by the stenciled hand prints on the walls of the ancient cave paintings. I wanted to elaborate on these simple, personal gestures in an abstract way.

In the early work I tore a sheet of paper into several pieces and then used the pieces to create a structure of overlapping shapes and edges. Later, I put more limits on myself and decided to tear just one shape from a sheet and repeat it four times using non-relational composition which is suggested by symmetry and repetition.

Which comes first for you as you work, your process or ideas. Does your process inadvertently give you ideas?
Well, initially the idea came first, but when I’m working the process and idea seem to take turns or switch places. A series of drawings are created with the same process. Ideas come in the form of trying different mediums or combinations of mediums.

Can you talk about the role of the image/gesture/mark and how it became important to your work.
I make decisions whether or not the mark or image will be more expressive or more subtle, so my technique will adjust accordingly.

It seems that you work within an open system that involves some control and then losing control. Is this important to your discovery process as you work (having and losing control)?
Yes, the control comes from knowing the compositional structure of the drawing or painting. I know I will have one shape repeated four times, but control is somewhat lost in the process of tearing the paper. As I’m tearing the paper it goes in and out of control. It’s important to the extent that I never know what new ideas a torn shape will give me.

In your work, you discuss how repeated shapes, form and continuity in your work are a “metaphor for the chaotic or random event and our attempts to instill a kind of meaning to it.” How does your process reveal these ideas to you at first when you are working. How do you avoid predictability from one work to another?
The continuity I’m thinking of pertains to the same process I use to construct the drawing. I never know quite what the shapes will look like when I begin tearing the paper, so the shapes are randomly formed. Sometimes the shapes suggest a recognizable image similar to the act of staring at the clouds and seeing a “duck” or “face.” (con't. under image)

It’s in our nature to make meaning out of anything; even randomly torn pieces of paper. It is this dichotomy of the inconsequentially torn paper that means nothing per say and our effort to match it to something we know.
What are you working on now?
I am incorporating grids inside and outside of the shapes.
Demonstration 1, 2, and 3 images:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blurring the Boundaries: Ann Taratino's Works on Paper

Sketch Pages chats with Ann Tarantino on how she blurs the boundaries between drawing and painting in her process driven works.

About the Artist
Ann Tarantino works on paper and on canvas, using ink and other water-based media. She has an MFA from Pennsylvania State University and a BA from Brown University. Her work has been shown in galleries and institutions across the country. Most recently, she has collaborated with Kate McGraw for an exhibition of works at Curator's Office in Washington, DC. In the spring of 2009, she will partner with McGraw again on a large-scale wall drawing and video installation at Flashpoint, also in Washington.and now for the questions...

Image Info. from top to bottom: Brazil (try again), 2008, ink an gouache on paper, 30 x 22;
Brazil (stripes), 2008, ink an gouache on paper, 18 x 24; Brazil (blue explosion), 2008, ink an gouache on paper, 24 x 18

Can you describe your work process in creating your recent works on paper?
Recently my work has become increasingly process-based. I've been using my breath for the past few years as a mark-making tool, using it to blow ink and other water-based media through straws. I've also recently started working with other gestural and performative techniques in the last couple years or so--throwing ink at the paper or canvas, putting the paper on the floor and allowing ink or paint to drip onto it, and so forth. At first this felt really out of control and I kind of liked that I couldn't determine what the outcome would be. But the more I get into the process I realize that there is a technique to it, and that I have more control than it might seem, although the element of chance is always there. There are certain motions or movements that I can repeat to create certain marks or images; they're different each time, but spring from the same place and bear the same imprint. I used to kind of separate things into parts--the gestural, "out of control" part and then they tighter, more controlled part of working back into the images with paint and more ink--but now I sometimes do both simultaneously, or work back into things, such that there are a lot of layers and different stages of the process.

Your work is full of surprising contradictions. Can you discuss how control and noncontrol have become important in carrying out your concepts.
I tend to be a ruthless editor, at least when my own work is concerned, so the experience of working with chance is humbling for me. I've had to force myself to keep things around, just to stick the "reject" pieces in a drawer of my flat file and promise myself not to look at them and come back to them later. I think that when I work back into the images, I am responding to what was made through a chance-based process (even with the small element of control that I describe above), so in a way I feel the image itself is deciding what it needs to become a finished piece. And the drawing/painting line is a fuzzy one for me. I've been engaged in a continual project of trying to make a drawing on canvas, and I'm realizing now that maybe it doesn't really matter. Sometimes I'm tempted to dispense with canvas altogether and just work on paper.

The subjects on paper exist somewhere between pure gestures and images. This also references both drawing and painting. How do you strike that balance as you work?
I've never had an interest in representation, at least in my own work. I'm most interested in images that hover between representation and abstraction, and this is where I hope my work lies. The gestural act of making the images is important, but I hope it references other things, that exist in the world already or that feel familiar somehow, like something a viewer might remember from a dream.

Can you talk about how Western and Eastern influences on your ideas and drawings/paintings?
I have a longtime interest in how the body experiences and interacts with space and that has led to an interest in landscape and landscape painting, both Eastern and Western. From 2004-2006 I lived in Kyoto, Japan, where I experienced not only a completely different culture but also an entirely different way of thinking about space (social, personal, public, etc.), and this had a real influence on my work. In Kyoto we lived in the northeastern hills of the city near Mount Hiei, known for its "marathon monks" and their endurance running through the mountains near our home. I was really struck by this idea of physical sacrifice, repetition, and the attainment of spirituality through physical exertion, and this is when I started to really explore working with my breath as a mark-making tool.

Along with your personal works, you also do collaborative drawing with Kate McGraw. (This will be discussed more indepthly in another interview.) What are the parallels in your drawing/painting process with your personal work and collaborative?
With Kate I've been forced to give up some of the control I cultivate in my individual work, and that's been great for me. She is a wonderful and fearless maker who never second-guesses herself, and I've learned from her. There are a lot of formal and aesthetic links in my own work and the collaboration--I still tend toward small bits of color used economically for maximum impact, and little surprises for the viewer, like small threads of ink underneath Kate's graphite marks, for example. Process-wise, we respond to one another as we go, so this is another change in working style, as there is a whole other audience/editor/artist involved and we go back and forth and share opinions and we don't always agree. But we keep going, and that's what's made the whole project with Kate so great, is that there is always more to do and we are always excited about doing it.

In regards to your personal work are there any new developments? Do you see chance playing greater role or control?
Right now I'm still wrestling with the drawing/painting bit, when I'm on my own, and working toward the Flashpoint project, when I'm with Kate. And I have a new idea for a drawing-based installation project that I've just started thinking about. I suppose I am starting to think more about installation and projects as opposed to individual pieces, so my work might go toward that direction for awhile. As for the chance vs. control question I am as eager as anyone to find out.