Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Art Space Talk: Adrienne Outlaw

I discovered the art of Adrienne Outlaw while observing the Featured Artist section on Adrienne Outlaw explores the often conflicting dialog among science, nature and religion. Exploring a world she observes as beautiful yet dangerous, nourishing yet cruel, Outlaw considers the contradictions that develop as people grapple to balance the dichotomy between emotional and intellectual thought in an increasingly technological world.

Manipulating and reassembling naturally protective materials, such as porcupine quills, human hair and beeswax, with industrial products including metal, plastic and high-tech fabrics, Outlaw references emotions "best contained in polite society." Understood in this light, the works reveal our fear of the unknown and our desire for transcendence.
Outlaw has guest taught and lectured at schools and museums including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, SUNY Stony Brook and the Nashville's Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Outlaw holds a BFA from the School of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and an MLAS from Vanderbilt University.

Brian Sherwin: Adrienne, you hold a BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, and an MLAS from Vanderbilt University. Who were your mentors at that time and how did they help direct your path as an artist?

Adrienne Outlaw: My mentors at SAIC were professors Park Chambers, Joan Livingston and artist Lindsay Obermeyer. My professors encouraged me to go straight to grad school, but I wanted to take some time out for real world experience. It’s easy to be an artist in art school – I wanted to see if I would keep making work once I got out of school.
When I kept making and showing art after a couple years, I looked into going back. Just about everyone I talked to said don’t bother with an MFA unless I wanted to be an art professor. Because I focused so heavily on art in undergrad, I decided to get a liberal arts degree for my masters. It was great decision for me because it opened up new fields of knowledge and allowed me to meet a wide range of intelligent and cool folk.

BS: Adrienne, I read that you often explore the conflicting dialog among science, nature and religion with your art. Your art considers the contradictions that develop as people grapple to balance the dichotomy between emotional and intellectual thought in an increasingly technological world. Can you go into further detail about these views and how they shape your art?

AO: People living in developed areas are able to keep their bodies alive via artificial means. Prenatal tests such as amniocentesis and Chorionic villus detect chromosomal abnormalities such as Downs Syndrome and other genetic disorders. Women can choose to abort a fetus that tests positive for such abnormalities. Doctors now recommend "pregnancy reduction" for women carrying multiple fetuses. What technology allows makes for very difficult decisions, especially when religious beliefs are also considered.
The rate of plastic surgery has risen dramatically as people choose to "fix" their exterior rather than accepting themselves. I question if we are being smart to take advantage of what science and medicine now offer us or are we playing God? At what point do we draw the line?

BS: You use materials in a manner that creates a form of 'shell' around your work. You installation figures seem to be cacooned... as if they have a physical layer of some symbolic protective force. What are your characters, for lack of a better term, protecting themselves from? Are they being protected...or are they hiding the complex nature of the human condition?

AO: Insightful question. A couple friends of mine recently told me that while I am very social, I am really an introvert, in part because I fiercely guard my privacy. The creatures (what I call the characters) have a protective shell, or cocoon, to help protect themselves, but there is always an opening for them. Also, many of them possess the means to defend themselves via sharp metal pins, porcupine quills or other measures.

BS: Adrienne, in 2005 you were commissioned to make several pieces for the new U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. Can you recall any of your experiences from that event? How did they learn of your work?

AO: It seems like most opportunities I get come three years after something else. For example, I was recently invited to participate in a Biennial in South Korea. I asked the curator how she learned of my work and she said it was from a FiberArts review three years ago. Likewise, I contacted the Arts in Embassies program about three years prior to the Nigeria commission.
Kresta Tyler Johnson, their curator at the time, happened to be making a trip to Nashville so she paid me a studio visit. About a year later she moved to Africa and began work as an independent curator there. She remembered me and asked that I propose some work for the embassy. I did a lot of research and proposed several ideas. She asked me to make six pieces. The other great part of this was that they sent professional art packers to my studio to crate and ship the work. That was cool.

BS: You have also instructed art. Have been a guest instructor and have also lectured at schools and museums including the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, SUNY Stony Brook and the Nashville's Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Can you share some of those experiences?

AO: I love to teach, but dislike bureaucracy so I teach my own way via my internship program, writing and reporting on the arts and lecturing. I think most schools leave out crucial aspects about becoming a successful artist. When I left undergrad I realized I had learned how to make art, but not how to show it. Luckily for me, just before I graduated, SAIC offered a class called Career Issues in Art.
I also interned with artists and curators (wish I had also done so with gallerists). Artist Lindsay Obermeyer taught me the most. She taught me the most about how to get my work out there. I’ve patterned my internship program after how she mentored me, and add on further experiences for the interns when I can. For instance, when I have several at a time, I host guest speakers in the arts to talk about what they do and how they do it.

BS: You were included in a book called Faith and Vision: Twenty-five Years of Christians in the Visual Art. The art world is known for being spiritual as far as art is concerned, but very secular in practice. As a Christian do you ever find obstacles in the art world that contradict your faith? How has your faith influenced your art?

AO: My faith is probably more broadly defined than some Christians. In particular, I believe there are many forms of authentic expression of faith, that they are all acceptable and may be equally legitimate. That being said, yes, my faith has influenced my art and no, I have not faced obstacles. I’ll bet however, that artists who make work only about their faith may well meet the obstacles you mention. However, if the art is great, then I would also imagine people would overcome their prejudices and accept the work.

BS: Adrienne, you are known for extending your art practice beyond the studio. You regularly involve hundreds of participants in your community-based works. You have also served on the arts advisory boards of six arts organizations and have reported extensively on the arts for newspapers, magazines and radio. Do you see yourself as a facilitator of the arts? Would you like to say anything about the importance being involved with local art communities?

AO: I think we all have some unique knowledge and by connecting to and helping others we can share that knowledge and become stronger not only individually but as a group. Artists and scientists lost funding at a similar time for similar reasons. The scientists, unlike the artists, got together and formed a united front, educating the public as to the value of their work. Artists have not done that on a large scale. I believe that the more we work together and with others about the value of art the stronger we can be.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the art world?
AO: I think free listing websites such as myartspace, neoimages, callforentry, Irving Sandler and Saatchi are doing artist a great service. They make it quick and easy to list our work, find and apply for shows. They’re also allowing artists to get their work out there to more people in a more democratic fashion rather than relying on the old school method of who you know for exposure. Thanks!
You can learn more about Adrienne Outlaw by visiting her website: or by visiting her space at (sample gallery below).
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Hi Adrienne,Brian.
This was a really great interview and produced what many artists feel and want to happen in their careers without sacrificing the making of 'sellable art in blue or reds.' I enjoy the opened ended answers that Adrienne gives and makes this artist realize 'its the work stupid' that really counts...
Best to you both.

nueveau said...

i learned an amazing amount from the last paragraphy alone. . . keep defying gravity!

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