Saturday, January 24, 2009

Drawing and Illusionism: Hsin-Hsi Chen

Sketch Pages talks to Hsin-Hsi Chen about her many shades of gray:

Explain your interest in illusionism and how/why you use drawing as a tool to allude to it.

My idea of using the most basic tools, pencil on paper, is to see how far one medium can take me to different scales, formats and other possibilities. I am fascinated and experienced by how the broken bits of riddled paths in our lives can link to each other and complete us in some ways. From the reality to the surreal and illusionary world, the untouchable and invisible time and space overlap the unpredictable challenges and growth of us. Illusion annexes and extracts these unspeakable thoughts into the real world. I am devoted to unfold my view of life and seek the balance between the existence and illusion through my artwork.

When did you become interested in creating drawings with tones and shades of gray? How do the shades of gray play into your vision as an artist?

Back in 1993, I wanted to present my philosophy of life in a very basic way without color and brilliant decorations. A certain color will give a specific meaning, but the tone of black and white does not limit imagination and space. In this colorless world, we still can see the color and radiant source of life penetrating through the layers of graphite.

Do you work from sources in reality when shading different tones? Where do the different shades and shapes come from in your work?

No, it comes naturally from my experiences and skills when shading different tones. In order to capture the moment of time in space, I create different shades and shapes to make the abstract vision of light, shadow and space solid by freezing these untouchable and fluid elements. My drawing presents the inner of human when the surreal exterior space transforming into the illusionary interior of architecture. The Shadow within reflects its subject as the soul to the human being.

In your Penumbra Series, has the role of illusionism in your work changed since you started working on three-dimensional surfaces?

Yes. In my earlier 3D work, Limpid and Flowing Pneuma series, I have used illusions to distort the real 3D structures. In addition to the previous concept, I add a new idea to the Penumbra series to create true shadows from designed 3D structures, in combination with illusionary shades to generate real and imaginary shade puzzles.

Do you have any new works in the making?

Yes and always. I am continuing in the progress of a series of pencil drawings on wood in different scales of natural and designed forms. The wood material requires huge amount of time and labor to prepare and refine the rough surfaces before I can really start to apply my drawing onto it. It is a total different aspect comparing to the latest Penumbra and Penumbra II series.

About the Artist
Hsin-Hsi Chen has received her MFA from University of Maryland at College Park in USA and BFA from Tunghai University in Taiwan. Chen was awarded The 2007 Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and selected in The Drawing Center Viewing Program in New York. She was the Art Critic/Judge for George Mason University and the 2007 Regional Scholastic Art Competition in Fairfax, VA. Her work is included in the Permanent Art Collection at National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. Chen was selected in 99’ Critics’ Residency Program, Maryland Art Place and Artsites’ 98, Arlington Art Center, and awarded the 1999 cover of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society in Chicago/Seattle, etc. Her artworks are collected internationally and reviewed by major newspapers and journals including:

The New York Times
The Boston Globe
The Washington Post
The Baltimore Sun
Philadelphia Weekly
The Washington Times
Washington Review
Art & Antiques
Home & Design

Hsin-Hsi Chen's artworks have been exhibited at:

The International Museum of Women, San Francisco, CA
The Octagon Museum, Washington, DC
The Katzen Arts Center Museum, Washington, DC
University of Richmond Museum, Richmond, VA
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
The United Nations, New York, NY
White Columns, New York, NY
Chuck Levitan Gallery, Soho, New York, NY
Pelham Art Center, Pelham, NY
Korean Embassy, Washington, DC
Troyer Fitzpatrick Lassman Gallery, Washington, DC
C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, MD
Peng Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
Osuna Art Gallery, Bethesda, MD
Maryland Art Place, Baltimore, MD
Government House, Annapolis, MD
McLean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA
Arlington Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI
YWCA Women's Art Gallery, Cincinnati, OH
Bedford Gallery, Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, CA
Första Galleriet, Helsingborg

For more detail information about Chen's artwork and new book (2008 edition), please visit

Temporality and Drawing: Alexa Brooks

About the Artist
A longtime resident of Baltimore, Alexa Brooks received a BA from Salve Regina University in Newport, RI and an MFA from the Mount Royal School of Art at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She explores detailed realism through graphite drawings and is also a graphic designer and college art instructor.

Sketch Pages sifts slowly through Alexa's detailed shadows:

How does the act of drawing a subject help you experience the everyday more fully than taking a photo or video?
It’s a way of being present. Today’s world moves so fast and we are constantly connected to technology by phone, computer, or television. It’s not very often that we look around us and notice the details of our surroundings, how the shifting sunlight hits an object, how getting a little closer reveals something new. Photography and video can never capture the full reality of a true experience, the temperature, the sounds, the energy. Drawing is a meditative vehicle for me to escape technology and enjoy what’s tangible.

By creating representational drawings with a high degree of detail, what are you trying to claim from time that making an image technologically cannot?
I’m trying to take advantage of time’s offer. As the time passes I develop a relationship with the subject matter that is personal and influenced by my surroundings. One of my favorite drawings is of a white painted brick wall. I spent many hours staring at that wall and looking at every bump and crevice. I was fascinated with it. I hope that the relationship I had with the bricks is absorbed into the drawing itself and is manifested in what I chose to focus on, what to edit out, how much tonal contrast I used, and so on. That’s completely different from the objectivity and immediacy of technology. (Bricks, 2005, graphite on paper, 28” x 22”)

The gesture is very prevalent in your drawings of everyday subjects, like the bed and the curtains. It seems you are capturing moments in time when you make a drawing. What role does nonpermanance play in your work?

For good or for bad things are always changing. In some of my drawings I’m recording a long, drawn out moment. There’s some risk that that moment will be interrupted, so sometimes my meditative drawing practice can become very tense. It’s worth it to me, however, because although I could easily take a photo, a drawing seems like a better tribute to something that attracts me. One example is Piso 4 which was my friend’s apartment in Madrid. She no longer lives there and it’s too bad because I really liked it. When I was there I always had the feeling that I couldn’t be sure what year it was because of its timelessness. I was really worried the neighbors would be upset with me staring at their doors every afternoon, so I drew very furtively. Ultimately, my visit ended and thus the drawing was finished. (Piso 4, 2008, graphite on paper, 11.25” x 15”)

Can you discuss the relationship of time with your drawing? How does it function as a tool to assist you in conveying your ideas?

I know that for any drawing to be any good whatsoever, I have to be willing to put the time into it. Realism is demanding and I have to be committed. Mediocrity bothers me much more than tedium and for the pieces I’m most happy with I drew with the idea in mind that I would work on the drawing forever. But then, for one reason or another, the drawing was finished due to personal satisfaction, loss of the subject to work from, or something else unavoidable. Even if I’m not sure that I’m going to like the results, I try not to abandon a drawing before I’ve finished it. Among many other attributes, I admire the work ethic of the Spanish artist Antonio López García who takes years to finish a piece. Compared to him, I’m not tenacious at all.

In regards to your work’s relationship to technology, some of your images are cropped, like snapshots. Others are presented centrally. Without reference to their surroundings, they lose their original context and almost become icons. Can you expand upon this?

There’s no denying that I’m influenced by photography and another of my favorite artists is the digital painter Jeremy Blake whose videos I find mesmerizing. I’m also a graphic designer so I’m sure some of that sensibility enters into my fine art. When I place the subject centrally on the page it’s to recognize its symbol or address its metaphor when it’s out of context, such as the Gate. A gate is useful for division or enclosure, but without something to attach to its sides or any sort of space before or after it’s just a relic or refuse. Other pieces, such as Wood, are cropped so much that what they actually are is lost and the subject is only shown for its material and texture. It forces the viewer to let go of the larger picture and to notice the details, yet retains some mystery. Right there is the contrast with the technological world that shows us everything we want to know and more via Google, Facebook, and zoom features on photos. (Gate, 2005, graphite on paper, 30” x 44” / Wood, 2005, graphite on paper, 8.5” x 8.5”)

What leads you from one work to another? Any words on what you are working on now?
I’ve been obsessed with birdcages for a while. I’m going to draw a beautiful vintage birdcage my brother gave to me. A real bird used to live inside and it’s pretty beaten up. I’ll draw it life size and it will probably be reminiscent of the Gate more than the other birdcage drawing I did, the Jaula. (Jaula, 2008, graphite on paper, 13.5” x 17”)

Multi-D Drawing: Steven Stelling

Sketch Pages flips through the pages of Steve Stelling's "sketchbooks" and leaves nothing behind.

About the Artist
Steve Stelling attended Northern Illinois University and the Ohio State University. His paintings and drawings have been included in exhibitions in Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Columbus, Ohio. “Castle Castle” is the name of his collaboration with Jeff Sims. Their works focus on music-based multi-media projects. Their songs and video work have been included on compilation CDs, DVDs and have been screened in San Francisco and Columbus, Ohio. Steve lives with his wife Kate Joranson in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.

His work can be found at the Drawing Center's Viewing Program White Columns Curated Artist Registry

In your artist statement, you write very creatively about what you mentally and physically experience when making marks. After drawing for some time, how do you see/think/feel about what you see after drawing?

In the works made of cut and folded paper (books or otherwise), I have an intuitive-action part and a meditative deliberation part to the process. In both parts of the process I feel like I am a cloud of attention hanging between my eyes and the thing I’m looking at.

I typically begin work by covering a whole bunch of different sheets of paper with color washes, patterns, and gestural attempts at image-making. This is performed more by impulse than plan. It is kind of fast and messy. I feel like the material is carrying me through its time (speed of water as it carries the pigment, speed of light reflecting color back from the surface, speed of air in the drying time); I might be engaged this way for hours and hours but it feels swift. Like traveling by plane all day long into a western time zone and being astonished that it is only 1:30 in the afternoon when you land.

Then comes a time for looking, evaluating, shuffling, and rearranging. Editorial time. Here time feels slow and chunky until something comes together. I try to find combinations where the materials seem to be presenting themselves as just a little more than what they factually are. This can be some-sort of Rorschach-like image gestalt but can also be a buzz of color, or a fortuitous alignment of unrelated images--exquisite corpse-style. In moments when things do come together I’m frozen within the thing that is in front of me, (or maybe I’m abducted from myself?) by what feels like an encounter with stranger who appears vaguely familiar.

Is creative writing important to your process as an artist?

Yes. I’m mostly an image-maker and I feel like images, as general types of things in the world, slide all over the space between pictures and words.

I try and get into that space a lot of different ways. I am taking “writing” to mean anything verbal, including but not limited to making up songs, constant revision of artist statements, explaining myself to imaginary audiences, introducing and playing records to imaginary listeners, etc. All of this verbal concentration becomes its own body of work that is interwoven with all my visual concerns. I recently seemed to reach an understanding with myself after writing an artist statement that sacrificed all attempts at being curator-friendly. This in turn motivated me to write a brief statement for each song on a CDR I recently made for friends. This kind of reflection is not really meant to explain anything. It is, rather, another way of having my attention held a little bit outside myself so I can have a different consciousness to my view.

Among the things I read that could be classified as theory, I am mostly attracted to criticism that does not set out from an objective, expository point of view--where the writing does not describe and build reasons. No thesis, antithesis, synthesis. There are a lot of ways to be responsive without the usual tropes. I like stuff like Charles Olson’s prose, D.H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature, and Richard Meltzer’s Aesthetics’ of Rock, Clark Coolidge’s “Now It’s Jazz.” Gertrude Stein’s essay “Composition.” et al.

What role does a “mistake” play in your drawing process? (Is there such a thing?) :

I don’t really know if I have mistakes for what I’m working on now. Most work that begins with an idea is regularly abandoned before it gets very far. This way I can forget about it and use it for something else later. Maybe everything is a mistake that I correct later?

I see mistakes as instances where intellectual materials (ideas, motives, attitudes) do not get to have their way. In this sense, mistakes are real life savers. You see, my idealistic, brush-loading attitude is: “free jazz! Open mind! Zen painter! Immediacy! Kerouac! It is somewhat embarrassing. There is little I can do about this. I have a very culturally conditioned (sub culturally conditioned?) idea about how “improvised” things should come off. It is fortunate for me that I’m challenged by all the sincere discomforts that don’t really cooperate with what I think spontaneous improv ought to be able to yield.

So then I have to find a way to handle, or at least feel comfortable ignoring, what didn’t come out right. It is at this problem-solving point where the things that have conditioned me feel (at least to me) a lot less emphatic.

In my B.F.A. program we were taught to paint over problems: rub, buff scumble, and so on. That kind of ‘tough surface’ makes me more nervous than excited and it looks, at least when I do it, really mannered.

I get a lot more from getting an exacto knife and literally cutting an entire troubled area out of the picture. This enumerates potentials and makes the belabored mess feel really new. There is the newness of the hole itself, the unending varitiey of “fillings” that can then be laid behind the work so as to show through the hole(s). Then there is the removed-mistake scrap, that since it is not related to anything anymore, seems pretty harmless. The world of the work expands when the surface is literally opened.

Can you talk at greater length of your interest in interior/exterior and its influence on your work? How also it is a frustration as an artist?

It has a direct bearing on the type of imagery I use. A sheet of paper pulls temples and gardens onto its surface the way a magnet collects iron shavings and finishing nails. There is such a strong analog between sheets of paper, landscapes, and buildings. They are all objects and spaces all at once…or are objects made of space? Space as thing. It is hard to say exactly because in these things interior and exterior are interchangeable.

I think that at a very primary level, space is our incessant first image. The first thing we encounter on the other side of our skin is space. We know it without having to think about it. Before we even develop an awareness of other people or objects we have an awareness of space as the thing that is not us and is immediately outside us. I’ve not done any significant research into this kind of stuff but it feels accurate, or at least amplified, every time I take off a stocking cap or sunglasses.

As an artist I don’t find the division of interior/exterior frustrating. Just curious. What is maybe frustrating is that what belongs to our subjective experiences seems to be put at an unfair distance—an internal distance. We say things like “whoa that’s deep,” as though we need special gloves, nets, and work crews to harvest it. Don’t you think imagination, daydream, fantasy, and memory, are all very close by? I am in very intimate proximity to stuff like that and I can’t be the only one who has memories that are undeniably closer than a lot of objectively physical things. I’m sure it is just because our language has developed out of a cultural attitude that does not privilege this stuff, but the products of these faculties feel like they have little choice but to be marginalized to a psychological “elsewhere.” Does this make their credibility suspect or am I just sensitive? It is excellent that art takes all this to task.

When did you begin to create artist books with your unfinished drawings?

It started when I had too many leftover false starts and scraps that I did not want to throw away but also did not want to cement into any single artwork.

I also started to see that what really excites me is the shuffling of layers and the subsequent changing of aspects that occur when layers are veiled, unveiled, and moved around. I’ve exhibited work with variable layers tacked to walls, but the arrangements have had to stay put for the duration of the exhibit. The book format seems like the best way for a viewer to experience the temporal stuff that excites me without having a nervous gallery attendant rearranging the works.

How did these artist books filled with your drawing change your perception of seeing and experiencing a drawing? Of composition?

First, it has given me a license to be really relaxed in how things develop. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to develop respectably-sized, formally unified “bodies” of work. That kind of thinking was directed by the demands of conventional exhibition contexts. You know: maintain a consistent investigation that makes a good portfolio, and when you get a chance, fill up a room. Perhaps because they open and close, maybe because they can be touched--whatever the reason, books are their own, very small exhibition spaces. Now, for a feeling of accomplishment, I don’t need a room full of conceptually tight works. I need only to find a few things that can be brought together from a pile of rough starts on the floor. I can try out bad ideas, or can start without a plan, things can not turn out, etc. and I can easily ‘move on’ with the confidence that, at least a residual fragment of my activity will probably end up folded into a book. I can do anything I want and there is no anxiety about where or when it will fit with a more congenitally ambitious display. From anyone else’s perspective these might not look as erratic as I’m making it sound but the book context allows me to relax and be much more inclusive.

Another thing that I’ve become excited about is realizing that, even in two-dimensional formats, composition is not dependent on adherence to a surface. There is no law saying you can’t just bring things together into common position. This allows me and viewers to play endlessly. Nothing has to remain fixed.

The most exciting head-scratcher is the need to handle both sides of the paper. Because these works don’t have their backs to the wall, I have to work on both sides (and this is, by the way, technically awkward since I use a lot of wet media). It surprised and frustrated me at first when I’d discover a blankish, dirty backside when paging through a book in progress. Now it is becoming one more place to play. I love how impossible it is to see the front and the back at the same time.

Do you consider a viewer a performer in your work when they turn pages back and forth?
How do you see their different actions affecting how they read your artist books full of drawings?

I don’t know. My first impulse is to say no. But I guess it is only because I think there is a difference between a “performer” and a “participant or agent.” I think of my viewers more as participants.

I associate performance with something a lot more public than these books seem to be. These books function on a so-called ‘intimate scale.’ I think of a performer as someone that “brings the work to life.” My hopes are directed the other way around. I’d rather have people light up. I want people to turn the pages because I see it as a way to hold them in the places I love; the places that make my head tingle.’

If that is what you mean by performer then I want viewers to be performers. But not so they can help the work along but so the work can create a bond with them. I know a viewer is “with me” when they begin layering the pages in an order I had not considered. They see the relationships between the parts I’ve compiled and they understand the potentials of play and find their own ways in and amongst it all.

Is drawing a performance for you as well?

I can’t imagine it that way--even if I’m singing as I work I can’t imagine it that way. In the studio I do not have enough of an objective sense of an external me to really feel like I’m performing. In a sense, I’m barely there. Or I come and go depending on what I’m attending to. Because seeing is our way of getting to overlap with what is just outside us, I feel like I’m pulled out of myself and partially absorbed by the things I see. In the case of the studio, a scrap of color, mess of lines, etc. are like a knock at the door—a call that demands a response. Trick or treat? I suppose I feel less like a performer and more like an anxious party host who has to repeatedly go to the threshold to greet the visitors himself. There’d be no bond with what is on the other side if I don’t attend to it myself.

Maybe indulging in the work of others: Books, records, paintings, etc. is like having a butler.

Any new projects in the works?

If you would like to include Castle Castle, feel free!

My wife and I just bought a house and I’m not sure how quickly I’ll get messy studio space set up for full-on painting and drawing. In the meantime I’m working on smaller, cleaner things.

Illustrating my song lyrics with more or less recognizable imagery in a gestural commix/text manner. Probably take the final form of photocopy zine-like booklet.

Another book project I’m working on is a collection observations and reflections in response to structural/architectural peculiarities of buildings I’ve lived in. This is also executed in an image/text commix-like format.

My friend Jeff and I are nearly finished with a collection of songs for our ongoing recording project known as Castle Castle. The thing we’re working on is a 6-song CDR tentatively titled “Gladstone.”

In Between Drawing and Thinking: Marc Dombrosky

About the Artist:
Marc Dombrosky lives in Tacoma, WA. His work is represented by Platform Gallery, Seattle. Collaborative projects with Shannon Eakins are (slowly) being archived and described on their blog
Marc talks about how he threads his thoughts:
In your work, what do your materials (discarded notes, sewing thread, etc.) imply?
Each material in my practice responds to the others, hopefully unfolding and layering the experiences of being with the work. The discarded notes potentially imply an absent or invisible or distanced community, people who are contributing to this project without ever knowing their roles in the experience or outcome. Phantom writers. Simultaneously, the papers also imply (to me) a very visible community, as the process is growing organically; over the past few years, friends and acquaintances have begun frequently and repeatedly giving me notes, drawings, and scraps that they too collect from the street and have, in some cases, coveted for years.

When I go into my files and look at the hundreds of scraps of paper lying in wait, I'm confronted with my own feelings of obligation and responsibility to both people I know and people I've never met. Where are all of these writers and how do they lose all of these things? Because of the nature of my practice--looking and finding things incessantly (in a way that Steve Stelling has described as a "perceptual stutter", which I like for so many reasons)--this community with unknown authors and fastidious collectors (I'm obviously among them, with them now) often dictate how and when I work. Conversation, walking, collecting the mail, all of these spaces in my life, are now deeply charged, with new works arriving constantly, unexpectedly, and unendingly.

Likewise, the thread itself implies many things. Thread becomes an implication or signifier of sewing and the work/time/traits associated with that practice, as well as a means of tracking my own progress, showing me how and where I move through an image. The thread also conceals, amplifies, and repeats the content of the original material, and I spend a good amount of time at
Hancock Fabrics matching thread colors to old notes. While I'm covering the original mark on the paper, I'm very concerned with replicating the color and structure of the lines, as if somehow this validates or secures or accurately projects the intended message.

You do consider your work to be drawing?
I've been reticent to fix the meaning or position of the work in terms of an approach (naming or implicating *drawing* over painting for instance, or writing, sculpture, needlework, or whatever), but yes, for me drawing is a vital starting point and practice that sheds a good amount of light on why, where, and how the works can be navigated and understood. Yes, my work is drawing, among other things. I just can't say how much.

Can you discuss the roles of temporality and permanence in your work? How does it inform your concepts?
My embroidering these scraps of paper, cardboard signs, and torn envelopes are attempts—sad, failing attempts—to preserve these cast-off moments and pieces. In thinking about the longevity of the work, I'm curious now about the action of failure as it is tied to temporality. I rip sheets, spill coffee on notes, and lose things that I myself have salvaged. My process seems both rooted in and destined for failure. Likewise, and like an unmotivated sidekick, slowness is deeply important to me. Looking at the last question (see above), it seems vital to add that the embroidery is a way for me to continue drawing in one of the slowest ways I can imagine. Repeating, redrawing, rewriting, replicating, tracing, reworking, removing. Rewarding repeating?

Although this is a lengthy quote, it seems really nice to add here. In her essay "Notes Towards a History of Scaffolding" Susan Mitchell writes (speaking on/as Canaletto, perhaps?),
Looking at my work, you will think I am in love with solidity and permanence, with space. Well, look again. I am in love with time, with the ephemeral. My paintings are filled with flags and penants, with regalias and parades, with laundry lines strung with wash, with puppet shows that come and go. But mainly, my paintings are hung with scaffolds, my buildings encrusted and scabbed with work in progress. I am in love with everything that comes down—with plinths and stalks, with ropes and rigging, with fragile boats and sails and clouds. If you look long enough at my work, everything becomes a scaffold. Those shadows leaning up against a church, the delicate twigs of a tower and belfry—in an hour or two they will be gone. And that night scene at S. Pietro di Castello—night too is a scaffold, and when it comes down, day goes up. What I'd most love to do is fashion an architecture of impermanence. I'll make a cottage out of a flight of stairs and put in broken fencing, casks, and surplus timbers. I'll turn everything into scaffolding—and sign it Canaletto.

The following is an excerpt from David Antin's "A Sad Story" (from Selected Poems: 1963-1973), which I've cited in the past and can't really put my finger on, but seems to veer really closely to the amount of permanence I'm interested in preserving or releasing from the works.
In this house nothing was ever thrown away. Theyd found a mass of doctors prescriptions pinned together in separate sheafs, some from twenty years before. The familys medical history could have been pieced together with the help of these scraps. There was also in the upstairs bedroom a small white cabinet containing vials of patent medicine, boxes of pills both new and old. They stumbled among old trunks, packing cases, pieces of furniture that had been brought up here because they were no more use. In a corner there was a childs highchair with colored knobs on either side of the tray and a rocking horse without tail or mane.

Art for a cause or just consequential?
I've been fighting with this question for the past few days, and still don't have an answer I can totally get behind. In fact, the question (which is great, by the way) opens significant problems into the nature of the work and for me, the nature of drawing as a social practice. So, here are a few thoughts that in re-reading them seem more fragmentary and questioning that I had originally thought or hoped:
What cause? Is *just consequential* enough of a cause? Is there space for both, or is this situation even oppositional? Just consequential may be the best cause for this type of work, or perhaps the overlooked space I've been searching for all along.
My reading (one version, at least) of this question is that by *just consequential*, the suggestion is that the content of the pieces and of the act of embroidering may be not directly (or immediately) linked, or rather that if they are linked, the consequence of the act of embroidering the piece in turn programs and fixes the meaning of that piece, instead of the piece having a certain intrinsic meaning (or cause) that is then amplified with the embroidery. Is this right?
Embroidery places its own heavy (historical and physical) content onto the pieces; what may be mapped onto the works regardless of what they might say may be different than what they're trying to say on their own. A love letter that's been embroidered by hand means something different than a love letter scrawled in pencil, but maybe one is more flawed, maybe not.
With the newer works (cardboard panhandling signs from Seattle, a city where I also teach a course on cultural landscape studies that looks deeply at everyday practices, the built environment, and homeless communities), the notion of art for a cause has become more pressing, pedagogically and personally; people want to know what is being projected (originating) from me, and what is my stake in the discussion. It's an open question.

How do your decide to display individual works? (On wall/on floor)
This, for me, actually answers the last question better than the answer I wrote for the last question. The display of the works is informed by a number of factors; the content of the pieces involved in the installation display and the environment/context of the work being the most vital (or frontal) concerns. For the exhibition at
Portland Art Museum , I proposed an installation of the cardboard and plastic signs (I want to say there were eleven total) where the signs would be placed directly on the floor underneath vitrines belonging to the museum; vitrines that had other, past lives, that had housed and protected other objects, been a part/apart of something else. In using the vitrines, I wanted to activate receptacles that already had fixed missions in the museum, as institutional critique on one level and security for very delicate work on another level, offered simultaneously. Either/or/and. At the same time, amassing the plexiglass boxes in an arrangement that allowed for people to walk through and around the whole installation was designed to reflect itinerant communities, giving the sense of a city, invisible (sorta) and organic. The placement of the signs on the floor also intended to draw a close connection to the locations that they were found. Most of the pieces came from a few block radius of downtown Seattle, near the Denny Bridge.

Can you talk at greater length about your collaborations and where this is leading your ideas?
Collaboration with my wife,
Shannon Eakins, is becoming a central aspect of my current work. In the last few years, our projects have led us both to odd, foreign territory, and the works we've been developing together have aspects of both our individual practices but become a hybrid, something entirely different and more complex, more involved, more difficult than anything we have taken on independently. It's amazing, and I'm really proud and excited by the directions we're heading. We just finished a three-part project for Tacoma Art Museum earlier this month, and this year we have some new projects on deck.
Fulcrum Gallery in Tacoma, we're developing an exhibition for April 2009 titled Phantasm Chasm that will act as a survey (of sorts) of our production to date. The project will be examining some of the gaps, or unclaimed, tattered histories, of Tacoma and will include new works that respond specifically to our time and perceptions of life in the City of Destiny. I've been reading many of the early essays from Murray Morgan , a historian whose writings mined many of the spaces where we're looking and who spent a good amount of time in Tacoma as the bridge tender on the 11th Street Bridge (now named Murray Morgan Bridge), which we can see from our apartment.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blurring the Boundaries: Beverly Ress

About the Artist
Beverly Ress lives and works in Silver Spring, MD.

Sketch Pages talks to Beverly about seeing through drawing.

In your statement, you write, "I believe in the power of representational drawing. To draw is to see." Can you expand on how how drawing clarifies and/or directs seeing?
Well, representational drawing requires that you look at whatever it is that you're drawing, in a sustained way. You have to do that in order to see how it's put together, how it exists as a form. And the longer I look at something, as I'm drawing it, the more I realize how slippery it is: if I shift my position slightly, or if the object falls and is re-placed, or if the light changes in any way, then many of the relationships within the object change. And I'm very slow at drawing, so I end up spending hours and hours looking at whatever object it is that I'm working on. I find that when someone talks to me about a bird, for example, I have a sort of mental visual rolodex - I can refer back to how the wing folds, or how much the legs and feet look like the feet of lizards, or whatever. I know it much more specifically for having looked at and drawn it.For someone like me, who is clearly not a nature girl, these encounters are eye opening. Understanding another being in that way is a way of honoring it.

What does the act of drawing reveal about subjects that are near death for you?
Everything I've drawn, with the exception of one or two flowers, has already died. It's become an object. That's a very mysterious transformation - to go from a being to a thing. And often I encounter them kind of in reverse. I'll have just finished drawing a stick, say, and then find myself looking at some tree branches - at their shape, bark texture, the way they connect into the tree - and think back to all the details I learned through drawing the dead stick. So, to answer the question, the time of transition - near death - is not something I feel like I know anything about, or understand anything about. I'm the before-and-after person.

Can you talk about how, in the process of seeing/drawing you end up creating another object (the act of drawing). How is does the object function as a new subject?
Several times I've had the experience of people confusing my drawing with the actual object - as if I'd laid the object on a piece of paper, and that's what they're looking at. And I've also had the experience of showing the objects with the drawings, and found that some people are unable to look at the objects, but easily able to look at the drawings. So, that got me thinking about what happens when someone makes a kind of trompe l'oeil drawing: what are people seeing when they look at that drawing? They are clearly not looking at an object, yet they may feel they are having the experience of looking at an object. So what's the difference, then, between looking at an object, and looking at the simulation of an object? Is there a difference? Does something different happen in our brains? For me, the place to play with that is to make a drawing that's as representational, as much a simulation of reality, as I possibly can, and then break that trompe l'oeil contract by making it clear, visually, that the drawing is a simulation.

In your drawings, how does introducing actual objects, or a third dimension change how you see and experience?
We separate the study of 2D work from the study of 3D work. We separate art & science, too. This makes logical sense, because the concepts associated with these things are processed in different parts of the brain. But the world isn't really separated, i.e., we live in a world that is both 2D & 3D, and we are constantly interacting with both art and science. There are several pockets of the art world where people are actively working on the intersection between art and science. Just over a year ago, I was invited to speak at a conference entitled "Confronting Mortality with Art and Science", in Antwerp, Belgium. (

They brought together artists, illustrators, scientists, and museum people to discuss the history and current practice of ways in which artists and scientists interact. And I showed some work in New York, at the Organization of Independent Artists, during a city-wide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA. For that project I spent some time talking with scientists at NIH. So, I really like that boundary-crossing, bringing together ideas that we don't normally think about together, at least not consciously.And I like thinking about the boundary between 2D and 3D work. What's real? Is an object more real than a drawing? If I put a drawing on a wall, and there's a 3D object connected to the drawing that is moving into the space of the room, and the drawing has cut-outs in it, so that you can see through to the wall.

What's real in that situation? What's the origination point? Where do we stand?

What happens to the original subject that begins your whole drawing process, after you draw it, cut it, reassemble it? How do you differently.Is it important anymore as a subject/object or is it considered a springboard into a piece?
A couple of times I have used the original objects with the drawings in creating installations. I'm having a little bird cast in bronze right now, and I'll use it - somehow - with drawings later. I save all the objects I've drawn. I preserve them before I draw them, by soaking them in alcohol, and then I save them until they go completely decrepit - and sometimes I even hang onto them after they've disintegrated quite a bit.When I first preserve an animal, I feel pretty emotional about it - it's hard. Most recently, a friend gave me a pileated woodpecker that had hit her glass door and died. She had kept it in her freezer for quite a while before she had a chance to give it to me. Clearly it was dead as a doornail. Yet, when I went to submerge it in the alcohol bath, I felt scared - like I was killing something. It had a certain weight, and I could see the eyes so clearly I had a similarly strong reaction to a dead rat I found. I was afraid to look at it - I had a real gross-out reaction. So, with the rat, I had to wait a few months, and gradually de-sensitize myself, before I could look at it intensively enough to draw it. But once I've spent hours drawing it, it does completely become an object to me.

Can you discuss how working on paper is important to you process?
Well, I majored in sculpture at a liberal arts college - Earlham College - and got an MFA in sculpture at MICA, and during that time didn't do much drawing at all. I wasn't terribly interested in drawing, and I was focused on making stuff from my imagination. But after I'd been out of grad school for quite a while, I occasionally found myself drawing things that I could see - and that just really began to interest me more and more. I have always liked paper as a material - I've made sculptural paper pieces - and I love the meditative quality of drawing on a sheet of paper. It's a real challenge, and also a real pleasure.What is new in the studio these days?Currently I'm working on finishing up a permanent outdoor public installation - my first. I'm excited about it. It's got bronze and stoneware and aluminum, and the work all has a trompe l'oeil quality, so I'm hoping that it will engage people as they walk down the street.I received a Pollock-Krasner grant in 2008, so I'm using some of that money to make a new print. I've got the drawing done. Now I just have to figure out how I want to manipulate it to come up with some kind of double image.And I've been thinking a lot about using laser-cutting with my drawings. So far, I've been cutting everything by hand, but I've just started thinking about the precision I could get with laser cutting, and wondering how far I could push that to make interesting juxtapositions in my work. And, oh yeah, I'm drawing.

Multi-D Drawing: Linda Price-Sneddon

About the Artist
Linda Price-Sneddon is a 1998 graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Studio Program. She has received grants in support of her installation work from such institutions as the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Berkshire Taconic A.R.T. Fund, the St. Botolph Club, Boston, MA. and Citibank. Linda has shown widely in the New England area and has been artist–in-residence at schools and institutions including MASS MoCA’s Kidspace and The Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, MA. She has worked in collaboration with children, teens, adults and the homeless. Her drawings can be seen in The Drawing Center’s Artist Registry NY, NY and in the Boston Drawing Project at Carroll and Sons Gallery in Boston, MA.
Image Info.: (from top to bottom) Influx II (dimensions variable); SOS, Work in Progress, (dimensions variable); Influx I (dimensions variable); humaNature , 2007, (dimensions variable); Mountain (Stance) 2008 (dimensions variable).

Even though your very vibrant work is multi-dimensional, it seems very rooted in drawing. What is your personal reason for this? How did drawing become an important medium for you?

I am so happy that you see the work as rooted in drawing. It is, in fact, what I consider my work to be. Drawing.
I have always been the most interested in this practice of drawing. Through drawing, we explore what it means to be alive, to be human. Drawing’s immediacy reveals the idiosyncrasies… the distinctions between individuals. The self is manifest in drawing. As Joseph Bueys said “Drawing is Thinking…” and as such, it is one of the most personal of acts.

Can you discuss you interest in drawing and creating your work with 2D and 3D materials? How does this carry out your concepts in your work?

I began this journey as an oil painter, but was always left somewhat irritated that a painting had to resolve to a final statement or “answer”. Why should this be when change is the only constant?!
I began to play around with my palette and the dried paints. In fact, much to my chagrin at the time, I often received more compliments and interest in my palette and the associated detritus than in the painting.

I think that my inclination to create wall drawings with 2D and 3D materials goes back, like most things, to the early childhood years, between ages 3-6 or so. As a kid, I spent hours in a backyard sandbox; altering the terrain and using found materials to create drawings and environments in the sand. The mutability and impermanence of the sandbox were powerful influences on my creative will.
I believe that these early experiences caused me to look for materials that would give me flexibility, materials with which I could quickly respond to the given moment and intention. I sought materials that could be re-used and recycled. I was looking for a cast of characters, if you will, that could accompany me from gig to gig. I began to assemble a toolbox of materials, a kind of” table of elements” that could provide line, form, volume and texture to an ever evolving body of work.

The materials that I’ve chosen, tape, pipe cleaners, twine, pompoms, clay, are tactile elements. I think that this tactile quality, along with their immediacy, feeds the act of improvisation and elevates the sense of “present-ness” in the work and as I work.

I also think that these elements allow for chance to enter into the work. I was interested in reading Ann Tarantino’s comments about the importance of chance in her work, and the dance that unfolds between control and chance. This is where the real stuff happens! A game of catch and release, and catch again, with our intention.

The images you create with your materials relate to the landscape, literally and figuratively. Can you speak more specifically how the landscape became a metaphor in your work? How do your materials relate to it on different levels?

I have always been attached to the landscape. Again, as a child, spending countless hours running in the woods and rolling down hills. Dragging my fingers through the dirt and over the scaly backs of trees…lying on my back in the grass and jumping between the clouds in the sky.
Oh, I am getting dangerously close to stepping up on my soapbox and preaching the scripture of “play.” It is absolutely essential that you let your children play outside as often as possible and using force, if necessary, but I will restrain…

I was trained as a plein air landscape painter at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, CT., and it was there that my eyes opened to similarities of form across orders of magnitude… from the landscape to the microscope. The elegance and economy of the landscape, landscape as measure of time and record of this planet’s elemental forces energize the work in the studio. The landscape as home to that which is other than human and where through attention and observation, we can learn to become more fully human.

The materials that I use are just my way of putting a stick in the dirt and scratching out glyphs. I guess also that the vibrancy and graphic quality of my chosen materials convey my feelings of life’s vibrancy and clarity. Their capacity for change mimics the changing landscape. The impermanence of my wall drawing is metaphor for the impermanence of experience… of moments…of life…of our life.

When you create a site-specific installation, what are your goals when you respond to a space with your materials and concepts?

My work is always designed/adapted to the space(s) where it will be shown.
I seek to find ways to exploit the most interesting features of a given site. My best installations have occurred in spaces that I have chosen because of a strong response to the site. I have done several installations that I consider to be “infestations” of the space, that look for opportunistic synergies of materials with the gallery environment.

My other objective is to be very conscious of the “footprint” made on the gallery space. Part of this may just be a kind of pragmatism, but I enjoy working with materials that are easily reversible, that can be recycled and re-employed in new projects and that don’t require the space to conform to me and my needs. It’s part of the overall ethics of my work.

Can you talk about your interest in using modular materials and in creating site-specific installations? How do your materials and arrangements change when they move from one space to another?

I’m pretty sure that I have never shown the same piece twice. My husband sometimes teases me for this, and legitimately so… it’s a lot of work to always feel the need to move forward and on to the next. This is not to say that my themes do not repeat, and yes, I reuse images and constructions from past installations. But the notion of re-doing a piece does not even seem possible to me. Each incarnation is a new iteration, a new evolution of the work. And, again, because I am interested in site-specificity, each site calls out for a new response. The events that occur in the installation process generate a unique outcome.

In what ways do your concepts and ideas of how to “draw” shift and evolve when you work in different gallery spaces?

With each new exhibition opportunity, I spend about an hour or so at the site exploring, crawling over the space, and looking for features that I might utilize or exploit. I then take measurements of all features of the site and begin introducing ideas into scaled drawings of the space. By the time I get into the space, I know it pretty well, and there is usually no need to refer to the drawings again. The actual space now dictates the final response. And, not only the space, but also the interactions that occur with gallery personnel, students, custodians, and visitors impact my response as I work.

These factors coupled with the modularity of my materials lead to a kind of organic improvisation. At it’s best, the experience can be likened to the magic that occurs between a jazz combo and an attentive audience in an intimate club setting. The musicians arrive on the stage with their instruments and a repertoire of jazz standards, but where the music goes from there on any particular night is a product of the moment.

Can you discuss your use of color and why it is important to your work?
Well, first is the visceral response…. I just love color. Always have. My earliest memories, one in particular as early as the age of 1-½ yrs., are of color, pure color.
Second, is the contrarians response. I am compelled to take a stand against western culture’s equation of color with low culture… vulgarity…that somehow a black-white-gray aesthetic is pure and of a higher plane.
I use color in celebration of the colors of life, and of death, for that matter. I also really like to remind people that in other cultures, different colors have very different meanings from those in western culture. For example, in India, white is the color of mourning.

What is happening in your work currently?
I have been integrating video projection into my wall drawing. This comes with some new challenges, but very much satisfies my desire to have a work that evolves in front of the viewer. The biggest challenges are the transition between the moving image and the static wall drawing and managing the content of the projection so that too many images do not pull the viewer in too many different directions. That said I am really psyched to be working this out. It has been an objective of mine for some time.

Also, I have finally found the combination of materials that brings painting and drawing closer together for me so that I achieve the kind of immediacy and control that I have long desired. I am working primarily with Flashe, a heavily pigmented matte vinyl paint, and dip pen and ink. In addition to the lush black of India ink, there is a wide palette of acrylic inks to satisfy my penchant for chroma. There are even seductive pearlescents!

Wish me luck on this journey and thanks for the opportunity to talk about my work!
To contact Linda:
Linda Price-Sneddon
535 Albany St., #3D
Boston, MA 02118

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Drawing Systems: Steven Wise's Process Works

About the Artist
Steven Wise lives and works in Arkansas.

Image Info(from top to bottom): P25-Isabot11, Acrylic and pen on illustration board, 14 x 14 inches, 2005; P51-untitled,ink, acrylic, colored pencil on paper, 14 x 14 inches, 2007; P62-Angry Zeus, Collage with gouache on paper, 11 1/2 x 9 inches, 2008; P63-Cloudy, Gouache, ink on paper, 11 1/2 x 9 inches, 2008

Sketch Pages talks to Steven about his process and keeping it real.
It is very interesting how your prescribed process leads the way in your work. Who and what (philosophies) are your influences?
I choose to avoid theories of meaning because I believe art should not be controlled by ideological concerns. I emphasize process as a strategy of making art in order to channel my artistic energy towards making art (the work) as opposed to critiquing art (theory). The artists and thinkers who have most shaped my way of thinking would be Jasper Johns, Richard Tuttle, Marcel Duchamp, and Gerhard Richter.

Can you describe a work process for a suite of alphabet categorized images that you create.
I have created many works on paper and ten large scale paintings that I have called Isabot. The paintings are a suite of paintings that are named by the letter, I, and a sequential number. I01, I02... The Isabots on paper are labeled P## - Isabot #. P indicates any work on paper, and Isabot indicates its relationship to the painted suite. The process of making an Isabot is related to watching my daughter Isabelle draw when she was a toddler. She seemed to produce drawings like a machine, like a robot. She knew how to create two movements. A dot and a straight line. The simplicity of the designs seemed liberating to me. So , I created my own working method that begins by drawing in a sketch pad. I make many small shapes by connecting dots to lines. The shapes are most often 3 or 5 sided shapes. Each smaller shape is connected to several small shapes that create a new form. In some cases, these forms remind of something in the real world, and I allow the form to look more like this shape through revisions. The sketches are redrawn. Colors are created by making a palette of colors usually 4 or 5 that I premix and harmonize according to value and intensity. When I am satisfied with my color choices and new sketches, I begin the painting. Changes to the design and color often occur during the process of painting.

The images in your work are results of controlled conditions. Does working this way, in which your ideas and biases are eliminated, help you see and experience art making more truthfully?
By eliminating non-pictorial concerns such as narrative or ideological messages, I believe that I am able to respond more skillfully to texture, form, shape, and color.

By being a consequence of your drawing process, your images become arbitrary and in and of themselves, almost meaningless. How important is the physical work to you. Do you see pieces as temporary or permanent work to keep?
The paintings are created to last because photographs do not adequately reveal the process of their creation. Art work is meant to be seen in person. For this reason, I see my works as permanent constructions.

Does one image ever become a favorite. If this happens how do you separate from it and stay true to your systems of working?
All of my images have more meaning when they are seen in groups of related works. The work seems to create a dialogue between pictures. For this reason, I don't believe that one work is better than another. My colleagues, collectors, and friends certainly have favorites. Most often their opinions are very different which confirms my belief that a suite of images is my final product as opposed to individual works.

How do (or can) parameters of control end up changing as you keep creating your works until age 56?
Parameters for the paintings change as I complete individual pictures. In some cases, I will change the rules of my process in midstream as long as the rules are consistent with past and future works. I avoid assigning a final letter until the suite of images is complete.

How does it feel to leave your preconceptions of art and your ego aside and work continuously under a system. Do you ever want to rebel against your own art?
My goal is to avoid making decisions based on desires to create meaning related to my personal politics and feelings.

How has your process driven way of working caused you look at images. Does some art just feel to biased form the artist?
Most of the time, I am completely unaffected by political art. I may appreciate the beauty of works that support ideological messages, but I am not convinced that these artists are making art. The last great political painter was Manet. The last great political work of art was Guernica. I think that Chris Burden makes fascinating work. Even though his work is created to stir political emotions, his art work is very process oriented. His work may be the best example of process art that creates social meaning.

What letter are you working with now?
I am making paintings that create a contrast in scale and pattern. The most often used color is yellow, and the most often used shape is a square. I have not yet determined the final rules. I am probably assigning these works the letter Y for yellow.
Contact Steven Wise by email:
Personal website: