My drawing series "Props" is currently being exhibited on Buy Some Damn Art. Kate Singleton's sister blog Art Hound features a new interview. Check it out!
Your paintings play off of architecture and the interior. Why these themes?
My personal living space has always been a site for creativity. Since I was a child, I have been a collector - of rocks, shells, keys, coins, and other trinkets. Over time I developed a ritual of rearranging various objects around my home into piles, stacks, and lines, based on formal relationships rather than symbolic narratives. In doing so, I inadvertently spend a lot of time studying the architectural forms of my surroundings. In many ways, the continual augmentation of my own personal space-- whether that is my home or studio-- has become my primary drawing practice. I have never been one of those artists who can fill page after page in my sketchbook when I am not in the studio.
After my mother passed away in 2008, I became obsessed with my memory of her and the changing perceptions of my childhood home. The work I started making at the time referenced specific interiors from my childhood. The images were conceived of through a mix of memory, observation, and invention. I wanted both the process and outcome of painting to represent the imprecisions that result from trying to pin down the past. Embedded within the larger expanses of flat color are smaller regions of specificity, intended to slowly draw one’s attention, similar to the way our brain seems to fixate on specific details and completely abandon others. I was using the domestic interior to represent the ideologies we create when confronted with loss.
Some believe that spaces (i.e. house, room, church) have certain impregnable moods or energy. Others would say this is purely a result of memory and association. What do you think?
I think domestic and sacred spaces have the ability to conjure emotion through memory and association, not due to an inherent soul that they possess. However, I don't think this makes these places any less meaningful. This relationship between environments and inhabitants is what I am most interested in addressing in my work. The associations, relationships, and memories of places affect how we construct our surroundings and in return, our surroundings can generate very powerful emotional currents in our daily lives.
Earlier this year I completed a project, Roses and Rue, which was an opportunity for me to install a show in an historic landmark, the Old Brick Church in Iowa City. It is one of the few surviving pre-Civil War structures in the city, built in 1856. I made a series of 6 altar-shaped paintings that lined the walls of the interior of the church. I first became interested in sacred spaces after learning about architectural designs of ancient Egyptian tombs that use the dramatic contrast between sunlight and complete darkness to trigger spiritual experiences. Western examples of churches or cathedrals have vaulted ceilings that produce an atmosphere with specific sound qualities, akin to Japanese meditation rooms. These spaces are manipulated and constructed by humans to elicit very specific sensations. However, this does not make any moods or energies that flow through these spaces any less real.
Does the name of this series, "Props" allude to the stage?
Yes, the title refers to my interest in the act of staging, which has roots in the history of painting. I think a lot about paint as both a physical substance and a material employed to represent something other than itself. The facade of painting, similar to the facade of stage sets, museum backdrops, and dollhouses have varying degrees of believability. Museums and theater productions are platforms for sharing knowledge. Museums never just present raw data; they are curated and composed to tell a story just as a play is a self-contained narrative. I am specifically interested in the visible awkwardness and even crudeness that is evident in the attempt to represent history, to share scientific knowledge about the physical world, or to recreate events that have either already taken place or were completely invented in the first place. In the series, “Props,” I wanted to reference miniature stage sets that echo the appearance of folding and flatness associated with small-scale constructions.
Some of your paintings are quite large. Does size enhance the illusion that the paintings are real interiors?
A couple of years ago I went on a road trip and came across the House on the Rock, a quasi-museum/ tourist attraction located in southwest Wisconsin. I decided to work on a much larger scale after visiting an exhibition within the museum, called, The Streets of Yesterday, a close-to-human-scale construction of an outdoor street block. It is lined with window displays that are slightly smaller than an ordinary storefront, yet the objects displayed within the windows are of a normal size. This subtle miniaturization produces a very uncanny sensation for the visitor. Working large gives me more room to experiment with this kind of abstraction.
Over the past several years I have experimented with dramatically shifting the size of my painting supports. While my current work is rather large, I am looking at dollhouses for source material (specifically the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago). While visiting these constructions in person has been a key part of my research, I am more interested in the photography of miniatures. They are framed as if the viewer is actually standing within one of the doorways. At first glance, the rooms appear to be human-sized spaces. As time passes they slowly unhinge, and the believability of the room dissolves. It isn’t necessarily a sense of “realness” that I am trying to achieve in the work, but a tension between flatness and illusory effect. The large scale of the work has the ability to envelop the viewer, producing that uncanny sensation that I experience when moving through a manipulated space.
You move back and forth between work that is more architectural at times and at other more abstract. Do you think you can achieve the same goals in your art working in abstraction?
Abstraction occurs on a million different levels. In my work I find it more useful to consider abstraction a process or formation of relationships, rather than the state of being. With that said, I think all of my work is deeply invested in abstraction, even though various projects employ different levels of objectivity. I have recently returned to making work that is more representational because many of the ideas I am gravitating towards are founded in specific research goals that call for this kind of imagery. However, in smaller studies, such as "Props" I can isolate moments that exist in the larger works to satisfy my itch to focus entirely on formal relationships.
Could you tell us a bit about your painting "For Eponine"?
This painting served a similar function as the "Props" series. By building a generic form, rather than depicting a specific place, it allowed me to experiment more freely with the physical characteristics of painting and the inherent flatness of the surface. At this point in time I was also questioning the way I was handling paint. I wanted to see how I could make paint perform as both substance and meaning. The smearing of the paint makes visible its physical properties but also produces the illusion of a wood grain surface. In this painting I wanted to tiptoe along the line between 'paint as substance' and 'paint as image' to make visible the artificiality of the pictorial space. This can be read as a nod to the modernists’ obsession with flatness. However, I am most interested in finding moments when substance and image can be read simultaneously, rather than one lagging too far behind the other.