Wednesday, March 11, 2009

UW-Milwaukee Grad Student feature: Mairin Hartt

This is the second in a series of MFA student features from the graduate program I work in at Peck School of the Arts, the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. These will be cross-posted on implicit art at

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After graduating with a BFA 2006, Mairin worked as an Arts Educator at various institutions, including the Evanston Art Center, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and the Marwen Foundation. Her work explores the existence of emergence, entropy, and connection in organic forms and processes. Mairin has studied at Beloit College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and at the Burren College of Art in Ireland. Mairin is currently working toward a Masters of Fine Arts in Visual Art at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. To view images of Mairin’s work or information about upcoming exhibitions and events, please visit her blog,, or her website,

Talk about your current practice. What do you make and why is that important to you?

I combine various media on paper, using mostly automatic drawing methods. In 101 Cellplates, for example, I layered small sheets of rice paper on top one another, working on the utmost layer. Marks from the previous sheets – graphite pencil and ink – would seep through, creating impressions upon the sheets underneath. I interacted with the marks of each layer, simulating sedimentation and other processes of accumulation. I find it interesting how one layer builds upon and affects another, creating a dialogue, and becoming a document of time. You become a witness to that process.

#41, #55,
and #61 of 101 Cellplates, Sumi Ink, India Ink, and Graphite on Rice Paper, each 3" x 5", 2008

Drawing, to me, is the most elemental, the most direct act in visual art. It allows for different media to interact and co-exist. When I draw, the exposed paper often reminds me of exposed bone; the textures, raw and fragile, like skin. The residual spaces reveal the process of creation, of the piece itself. There is something about the tactile quality of paper and drawing that is extremely fulfilling. I feel more connected with each piece. I believe that establishing a connection with the image is important to create honest work. Art that is honest – both emotionally and intellectually – affects me the most.

What got you to this point? What were you doing or making before, and how did that lead you to this kind of production?

As a child my two favorite subjects were art and science. Both subjects were about curiosity and discovery, about observing the world around us. I studied natural forms a great deal. I would peel open seedpods in my backyard, sometimes creating drawings of dissected trees and plants. I once made a flipbook of a single flower growing from a seed, blooming, wilting, and then returning to the soil. I considered being a biologist, but I felt art allowed for a deeper exploration and study of all aspects of science as well as other subjects.

Up until college, I painted realistic portraits and landscapes. For me, realism represented a sign of discipline and the technical ability of a professional artist. In 2002 I finished a portrait that was the most successfully realistic painting I had made up to that point. I remember looking at it and feeling, surprisingly, dissatisfied. Realism could only scratch the surface of what I wanted to convey. It was strange. None of my favorite artists were Realists. They were Impressionists and Expressionists, and I asked myself, "Why am I painting this way?"

Afterwards, I began exploring other methods and techniques, moving toward abstraction, eventually utilizing intuitive and automatic drawing exercises akin to the Surrealists and Expressionists to explore the textural and emotional affects of numerous combinations of various mediums. I still use these methods today. I believe that everything is connected in this world. As such, I feel abstraction allows multiple contradictions to co-exist and connect.

Who inspires you that you know personally, as well as historically or in contemporary practice?

As I said previously, my initial inspirations were Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and Expressionists: Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, et cetera. I first saw their work in the flesh at age nine, and was in awe. Monet’s analytical approach, and Van Gogh’s emotional approach, to color revealed to me the emotional effect of color upon the viewer. As I got older I also became interested in the Romantics' use of rich, saturated colors to convey the Sublime.

Contemporary artists I admire would include Vija Celmins. She creates intensely detailed graphite drawings of vast, natural spaces. I appreciate her treatment of the small and the grand on an equal terrain. Her work revealed the potential of gray to me. Ocean Surface Wood Engraving 2000 is a large, gray, woodblock print of the ocean that appears to recede into infinity.

I am also interested in work by Paul Nudd, specifically his drawings and collages. I saw some of his mixed media collages at the Evanston Art Center in 2007. They looked to consist of mucus, pubic hair, and other possible repulsive items on canvas. The materials were not listed, which left you wondering if the materials were actually what you feared. Yet, I could not help but stare. They were oddly alluring.

Tell us about your favorite and least favorite works of art from your entire repertoire - why they deserve those titles and what you learned from them.

My least favorite works would be those lacking imagination or discipline. It is a precarious balance. Part of what I enjoy about reactionary processes is the unexpected, the 'mistakes,' which provide potential for exploration and imagination. What I have discovered is my imagination is more vivid than I could have fathomed. However, work without any structure or focus also loses my interest.
My favorite pieces are ones that are unpredictable, where the image develops and progresses on its own. This is how I became interested in ideas of emergence – specifically how order can come from disorder, and how the universe is in constant flux.

Images from Cellular Repetition/Outdoor Installation, Chalk, 2008
In Cellular Repetition/Outdoor Installation, I wanted to engage with the urban environment directly and, symbolically, re-connect areas within that space to each other. I envisioned these circular marks representing microscopic cells, replicating, spreading, and connecting everything around us. It began as an exercise to continue freeing up my drawing practice, but it grew into a much larger project when I began drawing on my own skin to connect myself with the space.

Image from Cellular Repetition/Body
, Ink on Skin, 2008

What are you working on right now, and where do you see your work headed next?

I see my work continuing in this vein - combining various media on paper, creating abstract images. I enjoy the vagueness or unidentifiable aspect of my work. Despite the vagueness, the images often remind me of odd organic creatures and structures. The ambiguity allows the viewer to make their own connection with the work.

untitled 1, Sumi Ink, Watercolor, and Graphite on Paper, 8" X 15", 2008-2009

untitled 2, Sumi Ink, Watercolor, and Graphite on Paper, 8" X 15", 2009

untitled 3, Sumi Ink, Watercolor, and Graphite on Paper, 8" X 15", 2009

urrently I am exploring notions of emergence and connection through microscopic forms and cellular processes, highlighting the connection of the macro and the micro. I am fascinated with the theories of entropy and emergence. Specifically, to the idea that patterns and structures develop and organize from apparent disorder. According to the theory of entropy, organized systems should not exist. It would be more efficient for all of our atoms to float around the universe detached, instead of cooperating as complicated entities. It requires energy to become a planet, star, or living organism. Living is tension, a balance between existence and non-existence. I hope to remind people of how inter-related everything is and to gift a sense of some of the sublimity of existence.

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