Sunday, March 22, 2009

In Between Mediums: Karen Doten

Sketch Pages navigates through the atmospheres of Karen Doten.

Who and what philosophies and/or artists are your influences?
I am influenced by landscape painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, as well as pieces from the Nocturne series by James Whistler. But I'm also influenced by contemporary artists such as the painter Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, video artist Graham Gussin, and site specific artist Robert Irwin. These artists are connected philosophically and visually by an interest in how we change the landscape and how the landscape changes us. Their images make me want to express the landscape in a way that I've never been seen before.

How does your process inform your content? What is revealed to you along the way of making a peice?
For me and like many artists the process is essential. Sometimes this process is interrupted by an artists lifestyle such as constrains on studio space or an artists time. In my case the constrains are on my time. When you are a mother of a young child or toddler as is my case, your "own" time becomes non existent and so that "own" time is fought for. When that time has been won it is used with purpose and necessity. This process has created a sense of necessity in my work that I think would never have been there otherwise. It also has made me think more about a piece before I enter the studio - to plan my process. I am starting to love the idea of lingering, and having ideas and images 'linger' in my mind over a very long period of time. Maybe this will come into play someday in the work also.

Can you talk more about the philosophical implications of the white space that surround your "landscapes"?
The white space is a space that forces constraint and condensing of the visual space. I'm interested in created areas within a piece that read as an interpreted notion of space. In previous works this space was solid black, in these pieces they are white.

Why are you drawing the "landscapes", as opposed to painting or photography.
I work in all mediums, I am currently also working in painting and photography. But at the moment the drawings are the more interesting. To me its also a matter of my process and drawing is the easiest and fastest way at the moment. Although, I have always felt that there is something very democratic about drawing. In drawing you don't need any video equipment, software, expensive printers or a press, anyone can do it with limited means.

How important is the tension between illusionist image and abstraction in your work. Can you expand on this?
Very important, the work I am most interested in is work that plays between being something specific and becoming something visual. The shape of a form or the layering of forms can determine the visual depth within a space. This creates a location for the viewer which impacts everything about how a work is read.

What are your goals from one work to another?
I've been out of graduate school for more than ten years now. Its very hard for me to see or find work that really gets inside of my head and soul. But I do try and find that excitement in my work but its always a struggle.

What is in the works now?
I've been interested in old military camouflage patterns from around the world. I would like to somehow incorporated these patterns into the ridgeline forms that have been in my drawings for the past three years. I've also been invited to go with a group of students from Calvin College to visit The Lightning Fields, a site specific work by Walter De Maria. I'm really looking forward to seeing this piece in the flesh and hearing the students perspective on these kinds of works and their role or influence on contemporary art.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Spacial Drawings of Renee Vander Stelt

About the Artist
Renee Van der Stelt lives and works in Baltimore, MD. She is currently an artist in residence at Roswell in New Mexico. More on her work can be on and the following links:

Sketch Pages talks to Renee about how spaces influence her drawing.

What is the relationship between creating a drawing and time in your work?
Well, I want to put in the studio time and avoid a life of distraction as much as possible. My practice really changed when my daughter was born because it was necessary to be able to pick up and let go of the work quickly without much mental engagement.
Since quitting a day job and being on the RIAR residency, the problem of finding time has deceased so the drawings have changed.
Going slowly from one piece and idea to the next is important because when the work is made at a different pace, it looks radically different. This is an obvious statement but it is important because new ideas arrive while a drawing is in it’s rather labor-intensive progress of being made. I listen to the radio and podcasts when working, and the news has an insidious way of seeping into the work. Helen Molesworth once asked in a studio visit what is contemporary about my work and her question has stuck with me.

Taking the time to understand what is going on in the practice of making the drawing while also analyzing the ideas inherent in the drawing is important to me. This analytic impulse seems normal after growing up in a Dutch immigrant, Calvinist home. Questioning assumptions is what we were taught to do in all areas of life. We were also taught to be civically engaged, and mindful of community, not only of individual rights. The way I was raised seems evident in the work somehow. There is also evident in this tradition, a very strong work ethic, and I have annoyingly found at times a rather high tolerance for mundane work. This is seen in the rather obsessive, repetitive actions behind the current work of pin pricked drawings. There is a meditative aspect in making these recent drawings. In contrast, some of the drawings made in New Mexico – such as the grass drawings created by grass tips moving in the wind took no longer than ten minutes. The quick drawings are just as interesting as the labor-intensive pieces which take over a month to complete. Both practices are engaging in different ways because in the end it helps to keep a balance.

What is a drawing to you?
Drawing is the exploration of line in space. That space can be a sheet of paper if considered in the traditional sense, but what else can that may mean? How does line move into space? This is the central question to the work. It allows the work to appear radically different at times, and yet I feel the connection of all my pieces through this question. I have a goal to keep this question wide open and to persist in looking anew at the question throughout life. There is a clear desire to take this question apart, and look for new avenues of thought through the work whether they are drawings or sculptures. Perhaps this is why the work is so white at the moment – I see it as a stripping down to the basics of paper and line and light and what these elements can do. Sometimes the work is pictorial but this is only a vehicle for a larger theme, which is the way space, line and light work together.

Can you talk about your interest in drawing and space?
Is space the area around us, or local geography, or global space, or outer space, or microscopic or universal space? All these ways to engage the question of space can seem overwhelming. How does line move into a selected/focused space in a way that will create meaning for us? What kind of line is made, and what is the quality of that line? What and how does it describe, or what does it determine as it sits in that space. How does it affect the way we think about the space we inhabit? These are all very interesting questions, and are only a few and rather generalized in nature. They propel the work in a way – and are the backdrop for the drawings or sculptures.

How does a drawing get shaped by a space (and visa versa)?
This is a complex question because it changes with each work. We’d need to see the piece to start with a vantage point. You can talk about this conceptually, in terms of the inherent ideas within the work, or you can talk about how the drawing (or sculpture) literally sits in the space.

How does working in different spaces change your perceptions of drawing?
This is interesting because new spaces raise new questions about how to draw within that particular space. Understanding how space affects the work comes after several months and sometimes years of being in that place. For example, the space in SW New Mexico this year is vast and spare – it allows for more sky and a larger sense of place. It is much like the landscape in NW Iowa where I grew up. Both NM and IA are radically different from Baltimore’s urban space. Living in New Mexico has caused a greater awareness of how space (and quality of light) directly affects thought and this has allowed me to ask rather obvious questions concerning the size of the drawings and how they interact with area as well as the quality of light they emit. But to counter that rather romantic notion of living in this vast space for those people living in urban centers, I was also equally affected by the university campus space while working eight years at UMBC. The campus is very ordered and more intimate in comparison to NM’s deserts. Watching the science faculty work diligently in their labs, and on their research projects, I altered the practice of thinking about how to research and build the drawings. I began to use the library and other resources such as the NASA images. Important friendships were formed so that conversations with instructors in the sciences were used as resources behind the work. Being around science professors, and in a technology driven environment, I became more aware of the weight of the ideas behind the work.

You mentioned that the process of creating a drawing is more important than the final result. Can you expand upon that?
The final result is important, but what I was trying to say is the process of making something is incredibly satisfying because of the research needed before the pieces are begun and as they are made. Expanding the mind in such a way makes me realize how much there is to learn in life, and it is healthy or humbling. Then there is also the great pleasure of working with my hands, and building things. The pieces start to talk back and then adjustments are made, and further research is made, and the whole process is fascinating – over a lifetime – this is more important in the end than the final result (the drawing) shared with others. The development of the mind and an openess to the world is the greater goal.

Can you discuss you interest in topography, mapping, and NASA and how they relate to your work?
About five years ago I decided to return to some of the same questions I had asked years ago about drawing and space, and the process by which drawings are made. Over the course of the summer, I read a book on Eva Hesse, and another on Richard Serra, then finally a book called “What is Drawing” published by Cambridge Press. That fall, Gary Katchadourian asked some Baltimore artists to make 10 copies of handmade books for a book exchange at the Contemporary Museum. I made a rather abstract book with a set of action drawings that included these verbs: fold, hold rolled, prick, lick stick, smoke, stroke, poke. I decided to examine one action – prick (or poke) - carefully to see what would happen. When pricking a paper, a black hole was created. I started reading about black holes and thinking about vast concepts of space, and then slowly the work moved from thinking about outer space to more global and now local space. And the drawings moved into looking at maps because it seemed like such a logical next step. Since that time, the use of the maps has changed, and transformed. I am a bit wary of using them so literally, because so many other artists are working with this topic recently. I suspect it is because of GoogleEarth and new mapping technologies. Still, since I got myself into this, I must work some way out of it step by visual step.

What are you working on for your residency?
Recently, I have been thinking about the maps that show human interaction with land. They examine particular ways in which we think about space, revealing biases and assumptions. They are inherently fictional, so I take liberties in telling the truth. Since being at RAIR, I have worked on layering maps to encourage different perceptions of space. One of the pieces portrays oil and gas pipelines in SW New Mexico and NE Texas from 1987. When driving through this area, the landscape appears to be a vast desert, but when looking at the drawing of pipelines the area appears to be an urban center revealing a great amount of human activity. It leaves the viewer with the thought that there is no space untouched by humans. This map or drawing is juxtaposed with another of the waterways and rivers in New Mexico. Another drawing shows the major electric lines spread throughout the state. All show natural resources with heavy human demand. The news of rising and falling oil prices prompted consideration of these topics with the goal of understanding how local space related to the larger earth. It seemed important to make works that directly relate to people in Roswell.

A solo show of the work just opened at the Roswell Museum. The work moved in three distinct directions. Several of the map-like drawings focused on resources available in the geographic region as outlines above. The desire to understand complex systems of local and global human interaction with natural resources is what lies behind the abstracted drawings. A second direction for the work included a group of large drawings that explore abstracted forms inherent in global projections developed by cartographers. These drawings suggest the globe and use lights to extend their forms into space. Finally, a group of ink drawings reflect a more intimate response to the immediate landscape by ‘mapping’ the overlooked movement of varied grasses in the wind. The grasses, when dipped into ink create the drawings themselves through idiosyncratic movements.

There is a nature preserve outside of Roswell called Bitter Lake and it is the winter home for Sandhill Cranes. The cranes basically make drawings in the sky soI am working with bird migration patterns from the sky. If time permits, I will work with clouds images and think more about perception – a topic I was thinking about a year ago, and left alone as New Mexico took over in my mind. I hope to take lots of pictures before leaving in the summer of ’09. Space has a way of staying in the mind for a while.

Checklist of works:

1 - Installation View (from left to right):
-Longitude/Latitude & Global Continent Lines, 2008, graphite on paper, 64 x 24 x 13”
-Longitude/Latitude & Northern Continent Lines, 2008, graphite on paper, 51 x 42 x 10”
-Moon Craters with Northern/Southern Sky, 2008, ink on hand cut paper, 25 x 27”

2 - Rolled Globe: North of Equator, 2008, paper & halogen light, 7 x 53 x 7”

3 - Black Hole / Iceberg, 2007, Paper, light, shelf, 52 x 62 x 13”

4 – Installation View (from left to right)
-Untitled, 2008, paper, 62 x 82”
-The New Oil: New Mexico Water, 2008, paper, 59 x 50”
-Desert City: New Mexico/Texas Natural Gas & Liquids Pipelines in 1987, 2008, paper, 52 x 45”

5 – The New Oil: New Mexico Water, 2008, paper, 59 x 50”

6 - Hidden Globe, 2008, paper, vellum and graphite, 49 x 57 x 16”