Thursday, January 31, 2008

Art Space Talk: Emily Smith

Emily Smith is a Gloucestershire based artist who creates sculpture and installation pieces. Primarily using plaster casts, her work reveals a constant re-appropriation of methods as diverse as carpentry, ceramics and needlework. Influenced by childhood memories, nostalgic spaces are suggested through symbolic objects which represent a particularly subjective interaction with the memory of a significant person or place. Subtle overlaying of projections onto sculpture builds up a visual palimpsest and restructures the narrative of each object. Emily's work is concerned with loss, memory and trace of an absence.

UNTITLED, projection on plaster casts, casts approx 10 x 15 cm, 2006

Brian Sherwin: Emily you have a Fine Art Ma from UWIC and graduated with a first class honours degree in Visual Art from the University of Gloucestershire in 2004. Can you tell us about your academic background? Who were your instructors? What can you tell us about these programs?

Emily Smith: I was very lucky to thoroughly enjoy my degree and Ma, I pretty much lived in the studios spending nine hours a day working. Like a lot of art students I found the technicians far more inspirational than the tutors, although this changed during the Ma where I was tutored by Dr. Chris Short and Louise Short (no relation!) both extremely demanding and passionate artists. I studied ceramics and painting at Ba (with Visual Culture as a minor) - the multidisciplinary approach suited the way I work. There was a interesting tension between my 2D and 3D work as I felt and still feel that the sculptural pieces are the real focus.

The Ma was very intense, a two year course condensed into one year. My work moved away from the organic forms to much more conceptual work. Living in a city changed the direction of my practice from being concerned with organic and visceral pieces, to exploring man-made objects and environments.

BS: Your work often appears as if it reflects time gone by. Several of your pieces have an aged quality about them. Is that something you strive for? Or am I just interpreting the works that way? What do you think of my observation?

ES: Yes there is certainly an aged quality, like a thin film of dust on objects which picks up fingerprints. In recent years I have been working with objects that have not been touched for many years so there is a kind of archaeology to the process of rediscovery. In earlier works the manner of construction is deliberately crude to suggest former use and clues to their construction. I am very interested in traces left by my own hands through the process of making, as well as the traces of a former use present on all objects, which give clues to who may have touched the object.
INSIDE, plaster, 2005

BS: Does you work involve any philosophical or psychological theories? Do you study philosophy or psychology?

ES: Freudian theory played an important part in my Ba work, especially the theories of the uncanny. Freud and Winnicott's theory of transitional objects onto which we transfer our desires and needs influenced much of my work: many pieces I made at this time were like fetishes or symbolic ritual objects. More recently Derrida's theory of trace has been pivotal to my practice.
Coming from a ceramics background, casting techniques are central to my work and I became interested in how the cast replaces the original. Derrida wrote about a grammatical trace that is created when a word is partially erased, placed 'under erasure' but still present. It is this paradox of absence/presence that I felt to be really significant as I was moving towards much more personal work that dealt with memory and absence.
Just as memory is often biased or false, the trace at once confirms the origin but questions or undermines its structure and meaning. Often what is left (physical trace, mnemonic trace) is more real than the original event and so trace itself becomes the origin of a completely subjective event.
Poetry is a huge inspiration to me, so much of my work comes from words which are translated into the visual or physical. Surrealist poetry (and the Surrealist poem objects) and the poetry of Paul Celan play an important role.

BS: Tell us more about the themes that you deal with in your work...

ES: Theories I focus on tend to pivot around the uncanny (specifically the unhomely or 'unheimlich'), feelings of nostalgia and loss. I see much of my work as a kind of detective work, seeking out traces of others in myself, revealing clues to long past events. However there is also a sense of me acquiring memories that are not my own, a conscious attempt to become someone I didn't know.

In previous work I explored my feelings relating to adolescence and childhood, the sense of a burgeoning sexuality that is explored through organic forms - often ripe, fecund and hugely magnified. ‘Box’ for example combines the tactile properties of latex and the obvious sexuality of the form and name, with the uncanny nature of something both familiar and unknown. Its form suggests functionality, but simultaneously confounds this expectation.

Box, latex, wood, chain, foam, approx 30 x 40 x 70cm, 2004

BS: Can you tell us about some of your other influences? Are you influenced by any specific artists or art movements?

ES: Artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Eva Hesse whose work is now experiencing a revival (or long overdue recognition) influenced me on a practical material level but also on a more poetic level, especially Bourgeois who combines objects, installation, traditional sculpture and words in a rich poetic structure. Bourgeois has created an extremely personal vocabulary of symbols and objects that reappear, but never lose their freshness. I find Doris Salcedo's examination of both a personal and a pluralistic, ‘meta-memory’ very powerful. Surrealist collage and poem objects fascinate me, as does Rachel Whiteread's use of casting unseen spaces and making the transient solid.

I site myself as predominantly modern rather than postmodern, perhaps not particularly fashionable. I am drawn to the material first, to the physical presence of a object of installation, I am more interested in the phenomenological reaction of a body to an object than with conceptual gags.
HIS CABINET, projection on plaster casts, approx 130 x130 cm, 2006

BS: I really enjoyed the images I've seen of His Cabinet and Drip. Can you tell us about these two installations and the thoughts behind them?

ES: 'His Cabinet' began as a cataloguing of an old cabinet filled with paint, wood stains, glues and other woodwork materials that hadn't been touched for years. It was interesting to see how the cabinet had been used; the bottom shelves were most densely stacked, the top shelf - out of reach - almost empty. The listing, dusting, sorting and cataloguing was cathartic and I felt like I was not only unearthing old memories but absorbing and reappropriating the history of the bottles and jars. of course none of this process is revealed in the piece but for me as artist it was vital to understand each object before casting began. By casting in plaster traces of the labels were transferred and when overlaid by the slide projection a palimpsest of traces was created; the plaster cast as trace, the fragments of label and paint picked up on the surface and the very transient photographic trace of the projection. The illusion is broken when a viewer walks between the projection and the cabinet, revealing the objects as non-functional simulacra.

The installation 'Drip' really emphasises the fragility of the material - plaster. It is a more directly emotional piece, a response to the effects of grief. A literal staining occurs, there is a slow measuring drip and a gradual darkening as the plaster absorbs stain. I am interested in how furniture is so close to the human body that it can often stand in for a person or take on human characteristics.

I have made five of these chairs so far, only one remains intact as they are often mistaken for the real thing and moved or sat on! I enjoy the precarious nature of these pieces; all my works are ephemeral, from fragile plaster and decaying latex to the slow burning away of the slide image.
Drip (after installation active for one week), Plaster, tin, chain, Fiddes vandyke and brown wood stain, dimensions variable

BS: Emily, you have several works in progress right now... care to give us any details about these projects?

ES: My practice feels fairly disparate at the moment, I think partly in response to a recent studio move and all the stresses and changes that entails. I am really enjoying pinhole photography and playing with lighting my cast objects with projected images.
There is a gradual (very tentative!) move toward introducing some colour into my work. I have stayed away from directly colouring pieces playing more with applying colour through light, however I am particularly drawn toward yellow at the moment, from my lemon pieces.

I am also investigating Braille and working on a music box that plays Braille phrases. It is the transition from spoken word to writing to touch to sound that interests me, how things are communicated and what is lost or gained through translation.

Untitled (work in progress)
Untitled (work in progress)

BS: Tell us about your process... how does a piece go from being an idea to a physical reality? Place us in your mind during the process of creation.

ES: Each new work stems from a previous piece so there is rarely a complete change of course. Most inspiration comes when I am away from the studio and have time to dream without being distracted by practical tasks. From initial sketches there is a direct jump to the actual pieces; I work directly without models or trials so my work is very labour intensive and there is always the risk that I spend weeks on a piece but then am not happy with it. My work is more like a jigsaw or collage, individual pieces can be modified and developed within the restraints of the whole. I sometimes miss the immediacy of paint but cannot move away from my love of process driven work. I suppose my ceramics background has a lot to do with this, within each stage there is freedom but the production of work has a clear process and direction. I use repetitive methods such as casting and sewing which are deeply absorbing. I have developed a deep knowledge of materials and respond to the physicality of the work, which is often tiring and almost always messy!

BS: Finally, will you be involved with any exhibits in 2008? Where can our readers view your work?

ES: There are a few shows planned for 2008, mainly in Gloucestershire. All are in the preliminary stages but more details coming soon!
You can learn more about Emily Smith by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Art Space Talk: Brian Hoover

Brian Hoover was born in Pennsylvania and received initial undergraduate training in art at the Cleveland Institute of Art. He went on to receive a BFA in Fine Art from Kutztown University in 1988 and then earned an MFA in Printmaking/ Painting from the State University of New York in 1990.
From 1990-1995 he taught foundation art classes at the Harrisburg Area Community College, in Harrisburg PA. In 1995 he accepted a teaching position at Southern Utah University which is where he teaches Painting and Printmaking today. Brians highly detailed and symbolic work is exhibited nationally and is part of many private and public collections throughout the United States.
Girl with Fantastic Hat VIII (How the West Was Won), Oil on Canvas, 24" x 18"

Brian Sherwin: Brian, you are a professor at Southern Utah University. Can you tell us about your academic philosophy? What do you expect from students? Can you tell us about the art program?

Brian Hoover: The last thing I want to do as a professor is create a class full of little Brian Hoovers. One is more than enough. I’ve always asserted to my students that art is a form of language and painting is in essence, "visual poetry". I’m also convinced that poetics can not be taught- only encouraged.

I have participated in academic programs that prioritized "concept" and I’ve witnessed programs that were very "skill oriented". I think each extreme does a disservice to the student. I’ve always tried to balance my classes with a strong underpinning of traditional skills while encouraging students to research, explore and eventually discover their own artistic voice.
Traditional academic skills are part of the grammar of the language. To ignore them will only limit what a student can communicate. Overemphasizing craft or skill seems to produce only technicians… like playing scales on a piano ad infinitum. Eventually the goal is to make music. Its hard, maybe impossible, not to instill some of your artistic biases on students, but that comes with any mentor/student relationship.
Death & the Flowers, Oil on Canvas, 20" x 16"

BS: How do you find balance between your academic career and your personal art?

BH: I know many artists who teach and just as many who make a living from selling their work in galleries. I’ve dabbled in both. In each case, the demands can stifle creativity. Short of being independently wealthy, I’m not sure there is an ideal situation for an artist who must earn a living. However, teaching is a natural extension of my own creative process and when you have a roomful of motivated students the relationship can be very symbiotic (when they’re not so motivated I refer to them as "energy vampires").

Balance usually occurs when I’m being very regimental about studio time (usually in the mornings before my afternoon classes). Even when that regiment is broken because of academic responsibilities, having large blocks of time off (summers and winter break) makes up for that lost time.

BS: Brian, you have stated that your work revolves around dreams, myth, and spirituality. Can you go into further detail about these themes and why you have embraced them in your work?

BH: Joseph Campbell wrote "All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other." I want to believe that. It has become somewhat of a mantra. I think it’s the bigness of that idea. Perhaps the infinite really exists in all of us. Infinity seems like a great place to look for ideas...and an ideal place to get lost.

BS: Would you say that you explore yourself with your work? Or is it more of an exploration of our collective thoughts in regards to these themes?

BH: Both. "Myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth". Some of my dreams and dream imagery have struck a chord with a few collectors. According to Campbell, that at least puts me in the company of a few like-minded people and perhaps the collective thoughts of society. But many of my dreams are very personal; my own memories and experiences. I never set out to illustrate a particular dream.
"Death and the Flowers" (image above) is a painting that comes closest. It was inspired by a dream I had when I was only 5 or 6 years old. In the dream, I saw a row of flowers and lollipops, all of which had faces. Every one of them had different emotional expressions, but some were obviously dead, with little x’s where their eyes should be. I remember being horrified by the fact that I ate lollipops and here were a few that were suffering some major consequences. I imagine the dream was brought on by some developmental stage where a child becomes more sympathetic to the feelings of others… but to this day when I see M&M’s talking on TV, it gives me an uneasy feeling.
"Death and the Flowers" is not a literal interpretation of the dream, like most of my paintings, they are like dreams themselves – layered and out of context. This, I imagine confuses many who view my paintings. I think most of my private, disconnected works are about "exploring myself" as you suggested or as Campbell describes as "an adventure in the dark forest".
The Lovers, Oil on Canvas, 20" x 16"

BS: One could say that your work reflects the psychological theories of Carl Jung. Does his work, Man and His Symbols for example, influence your art? Or would you say the psychological direction of your work is more focused on aspects of the psyche that have yet to be explored? Aspects that are unique to you as an individual-- the exploration of your own mind...

BH: I have had several dreams that I am walking in a large gallery or museum and I am amazed at the art that I see on the walls. The work is strikingly new, complex, beautifully designed and skillfully painted. When I awake I realize that the dozen or so pieces I’ve dreamt about don’t exist... or at least in waking reality. Within moments, the memory of the paintings and their specific details slip further and further into the ether (in spite of the fact that I try to scribble down the basic ideas or images in my dream diary).
Jung suggested that those who are able to clearly tap into that rich vein of the unconscious are called geniuses. I have been accused of being many things, but never genius. However, there are geniuses or those who have had flashes of genius based on their ability to tap into that vein. I’d like to believe we all have that potential. Faith? Samuel Taylor Coleridge supposedly wrote "Kubla Kahn-A Vision in a Dream" (albeit opium inspired) in such a state.
I’m not claiming to be an oracle or a seer, but I have experienced many dreams that have suggested that there is something far bigger than anything I can imagine in my waking state. The unknown and the unknowable and the vastness of even the known universe give me hope that there is a god. My sense of spirituality is comforted by the fact that although infinitesimal, I am part of it.

On a side note: I’m also a self-declared agnostic zealot, one who is amazed at the arrogance of both devout believers and devout atheists.

BS: You have stated that you are not interested in the current trend of dealing with global issues, politics, and esoteric aesthetics with art. Why are you not interested in these issues? Would you say that you are looking for a more 'pure' art? One that goes beyond the fears and concerns of today?

BH: Not sure what pure art is, but I suspect like pornography, I’d know it if I saw it. I wouldn’t say that my paintings are disconnected from the fears and concerns of today either. And its not that I am uninterested in global issues or politics, all too much, the older I get, the more I find myself engaged in politics... alas. It’s probably because of my myopic vision that I have dismissed these topics as mundane.
I was educated in the 80’s with modernism and postmodernism the topic of most critiques and seminars. (Has it changed?) I was always in some other camp… or more, alone in my journey through the dark forest. It doesn’t help that every time I see a celebrated NEA or likewise sponsored artist, they still seem to be rehashing some form of aesthetic that was revolutionary when Duchamp first made his anti-statements… revisited in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, ‘80’s’ 90’s…. To me it seems too easy.
I’ve lived as an artist in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and now Utah… never in any so-called cultural hubs, but I’ve try to keep abreast of what’s going on in the major urban centers. However, I continue to see so many artists constantly checking the wind for the whimsical and capricious changes in fashion and trend… and for so long the flavor of the month has been politics and esoteric aesthetics. I guess that alone has created a bit of discord with the subject.

You mention my statement concerning esoteric aesthetics, which I would define loosely as: aesthetics derived from over education, a penchant for sipping lattes and a need to separate oneself from the Thomas-Kincaid-loving masses. I think Odd Nerdrum’s musings on Kitsch are right on the money. In spite of my somewhat traditional approach to image making I do embrace Modernism. Without it I would not be able to make the art I do. However, I’m equally mystified by the other extreme. Movements like that want to see Modernism pay for its crimes against the European Academies. Seems I’m always somewhere in between. If I had the technical skills of Bouguereau and the innovation of Duchamp, I’d be one step closer to self-actualization.
Girl with Fantastic Hat I, Oil with Gold Leaf on Board, 20" x 16"

BS: Brian, tell us more about your process. I understand that you spill or splash liquefied paint onto the surface of a canvas and from that the image builds from your mind... can you go into further detail about this and why you embrace this practice?

BH: This technique first emerged while a student in Michael Hollihan’s beginning lithography class at The Cleveland Institute of Art in 1984 (where are you Michael?). He had high expectations and very little tolerance for visual cliché’… which is all I had to offer as a freshman in his class. I found that making puddles in the tusche washes on the litho stones yielded many interesting and unexpected interpretations. I was inspired by Paul Wunderlich’s early erotic works using the same method. This was the beginning of exploring imagery through accident.
It progressed to gouache paintings in my undergraduate and then oils in my post graduate research. I am still exploring the splash method in both printmaking and painting today.
To recap my artist statement: I begin a painting by spilling and splashing liquefied paint onto the surface of a canvas; not unlike an abstract expressionist would. After the paint dries I begin to ARorschach@ images that my subconscious sees in the abstract puddles of paint. I then try to render in a more traditional manner- without completely disturbing the freshness of the spill- a representational narrative that often equals the strangeness and absurdity of dreams. Beauty, levity and horror are often combined in what I hope to be a seductive if not disturbing image.
Surrealists like Max Ernst used similar approaches. I even read somewhere that Da Vinci used to make color studies from the puddles of viscous human fluids found in the streets and sewers of Florence . It’s human to make order out of chaos and very self-revealing to do so.

BS: Would you say that Andre Breton and the surrealists are an influence on your practice?

BH: I’ve always tried to disassociate myself with surrealism, although that’s changing. I guess it might have something to do with the modernist mentality that there was something slightly sophomoric about the movement. I was enamored by Dali in high school but found his weird-for-weird-sake approach to marketing disillusioning. I guess I came to doubt the sincerity of most surrealists after that. Talk about being over educated.
However, Max Ernst, Remedious Varo and Yves Tanguy will always hold a fascination in spite of my Modernist brainwashing. I’m beginning to realize that there is a subculture of really fascinating contemporary work being produced in Surrealism’s camp. However, I still claim a flag in the camp belonging to the European Symbolists; Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones and Fernand Khnopff… my real heroes.

BS: Can you tell us more about the symbolism behind your work?

BH: Only what I have already stated. I’m a sucker for narrative. I’m attracted to images that tell strange and exotic stories. I’m an escapist. I find most of life very mundane, but have had some experiences that suggest otherwise. I choose to explore those experiences. I love the craft of illusionistic painting. I love the flatness and paint-for-paint’s-sake of Modernism. I like finding order in chaos. I search to find a private myth in my dreams but I hope that some of my myths find their way into the public dream.

BS: Brian, what are you working on at this time? Also, will you be involved with any exhibits in 2008?

BH: I just finished a one-semester sabbatical. That gave me the luxury of exploring some ideas that were on the peripheral. I discovered a very old sketch that I made of two riders- one male, one female- on elephants. I made the doodle when my wife and I first moved from Pennsylvania to Utah 13 years ago. There are some elephants in our history…
I also just finished reading (guilty pleasure) "Lisey’s Story" by Stephen King. Among other things and foremost, it’s about love and marriage. Somewhere in the book (I’m looking for the exact quote) he says something like "every marriage has two hearts – one light, one dark". That describes my marriage, me being the dark one. I’m equally attracted to the purely formal aspect of contrasting light and dark shapes. If this series takes off, it will not start with the serendipitous splash method and I am initially thinking that it may take the form of B&W intaglios.

I just dismantled an exhibition at the Museum Gallery on the campus of Northern Arizona University , in Flagstaff AZ. The exhibition was titled "Mythical Object Redux" it was the second time I exhibited with ceramist Susan Harris.

In August of 2008 I will be showing again with Susan at the Sears Gallery in St. George , UT.
Woman Scorned, Oil on Board, 16" x 20"

BS: What advice do you have for art students?

BH: Be cool. Stay in school. If that doesn’t work, than I would say that art is a highly competitive field that is inundated with thousands of artists. If you are considering another career, even if it’s just a small consideration, than perhaps you should not go into art. You can always paint on Sundays.
Art is more about tenacity than talent but know your craft well- the larger your vocabulary- the more you’ll be able to communicate.
Grades/Shmades. Grades mean nothing. Focus on your portfolio. It’s OK to judge your performance with the other students in your class but realize your real competition is other artists who have been working professionally for years.

Be a hungry looker. You are defined by your heroes. Always be seeking out new work and new artists.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your work?

BH: I had a discussion with a fellow painter once and the question arose "If you were the last person on earth, would you still paint?" I require my students to write an artist statement but I also ask them to respond to this question as well. I think that many are shocked when I tell them that my answer would be no.
I’ve never been an artist that entirely paints for myself. To me it’s about ego and exploring my psyche but it’s also about saying I was here, I lived, and I experienced these thoughts. If I couldn’t share them, I doubt I would cloister myself in my studio and paint my strange, highly detailed images with a 00 brush like I do, knowing nobody would ever see them but me. If I were to continue to make art, it would be more plausible that I would learn to operate large earth moving equipment so I could create earthworks that could be seen from space. So, as much as I am currently involved in exploring dreams, myth and spirituality, I think the impetuous for me to make art really breaks down to a need for me to say "I was here".
You can learn more about Brian Hoover by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Art Space Talk: Holly Hughes

Holly Hughes is a full Professor in the Department of Painting at Rhode Island School of Design. Born in San Antonio, Hughes helped kick off the ‘80s East Village gallery boom with her first NYC show at Piezo Electric. During her "travels abroad in America" as a visiting artist and critic at over a dozen colleges (including Bennington, Brandeis, Middlebury, Parsons, Kansas City Art Institute, Sarah Lawrence), she developed an insight into curriculum planning and pedagogy, and an unquenchable thirst for new vistas.

Holly has been reviewed in ARTnews, Art Forum, Art in America, The New Yorker, The New York Times and D’ARS, Milan. Her work is represented in the collections of The RISD Museum, the Kemper Museum, Davis Museum at Wellesley, the Atlantic Richfield Corporation, Pepsico and the Freedman Gallery at Albright College, among others. She is represented by Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham, NY and Lenore Gray Gallery in Providence, RI.

The Big Empty, Oil on canvas, 46 x 32", 2005

Brian Sherwin: Holly, can you tell us about your early experiences? Why did you decide to pursue art? Where did you study? Who were your instructors?

Holly Hughes: We started out in Texas. I was born in San Antonio. My father was a jazz percussionist. I have a great old photo of his big band with HH on all the bandstands. My brother and I were both named so that our initials would be HH - like his. Pretty theatrical. We moved New York eventually, as my father found the racism of Texas to be a horrible contrast to his diverse friendships in the music business. Later he managed singers and was a recording engineer. Hal and I both tried playing instruments as kids – but were not particularly gifted so it was suggested that we find other artistic arenas in which to focus. Art captured my heart immediately. (My brother became a pro bowler and pool whiz kid.) So I was seriously drawing and painting very early on – classes after school and lots of support from the family.

In high school I apprenticed with a very skilled portrait painter, Frank Covino. We were living in Westport, Connecticut by then. I assisted him mixing palettes – 9 values and three intensities of every color he planned to use. I learned his systematic classically inspired painting approach, completing fully developed underpaintings before building up color afterwards. It gave me a ready mastery that I was very suspicious of, even at that tender age. I wanted painting to feel more risky and provide more of a sense of the discovery. And then I went off to art school – Pratt at first, then Silvermine College of Art (only a guild now, but it was a college in ’69-‘70) then two years in France, initially with a Silvermine abroad program, before finally finishing my BFA at SUNY New Paltz.

Through all of these educational experiences I was privileged to have some amazing instructors. Jack Whitten was my drawing teacher at Pratt and I still remember some of the challenging exercises from his drawing class. Silvermine, back then, was run by an exceptional art educator who really knew his stuff – Robert Gray. I complained about my dislike of Pratt’s approach of breaking things down to study and never reassembling them. He had me read the big white book on the Bauhaus and took my questions so seriously. He gave me his version of the bastardization of Bauhaus teaching methods that occurred through its importation to America. I also worked with Murray Zimiles there and we are friends to this day. He opened many doors into how ambitious one can be using drawing as the base skill to build upon. Zimiles also introduced me to printmaking – a medium which is almost too much fun to study.

The acquisition of skill and technique is always engaging– but for a young artist printmaking can also be dangerous. Learning to rainbow roll or edition, when I had never made anything I was happy with or would want more than one of, luckily veered me towards a "one of a kind" painting and a works on paper practice. Just now, at this stage in my career, do I understand what I could do with prints.

At SUNY New Paltz I really enjoyed working with Henry Raleigh – who helped me realize that I was not getting enough of an intellectual education in art school and that I would have to continue to educate myself for the rest of my life if I was to "feed" my art responsibly. To continue learning, for an artist, is a survival instinct. It is like gardening – if you want to pick something later you have to plant it so it can grow.

And there was Joop Sanders, a seriously good New York school painter who was an important teacher for us there. He directed me straight to New York and began opening my eyes to what a hard place the art world was going to be. I began to understand that your own deep seated curiosity about what your work will be like "down the road" as you live and it changes and grows is really your biggest ally. Your biggest enemy is to let any bitterness creep into your viewpoint -- as you confront the complex balance of triumphs and struggles the life of art maker is bound to present.

Ceramica Historica, Oil on canvas, 46 x 32", 2005

BS: Holly, can you tell us more about your experience in France? Give us the ins and outs of your early years as a painter?

HH: So living in France for a couple of years at a formative stage really changed my life forever. Travel opened my eyes to how much exquisite visual information is out there and how much it can tell us about who we are and what we are capable of as human beings. I remember going into Venice on the vaporetto for the first time and spontaneously weeping. I wondered how it was possible for the Grand Canal to be so beautiful and for New Jersey to look like it did.

I understood the need to look for your artistic roots with a sense of freedom and the spaciousness of the world. Your artist’s family tree invariably leads beyond our shores. The dropped threads I was interested in picking up and going forward with…. would come from many time points in history and from many cultural locations.

Learning to speak French cleared the way for me to understand the visual language of painting in a more complex and expanded way. If my sense of humor was different in French, clearly the approach to drawing and painting one undertook would effect what one could communicate as well. Art was not about a display of skill or a stylistic positioning but about seeking a "voice" and a use of means that would enable some clarity to emerge. It was propositional - about the way we understand reality.

Bows in My Hair, Greeks in the Sky, Oil on canvas, 46 x 32", 2006

BS: You have traveled much of the world... as a whole, how have your travels made you a better artist?

HH: As mentioned, my travels have played a huge role in making me who I am today. They have been central to my continuing education and to my sense of the complexity of the world I try to express in my painting. China, Laos, Thailand, Mexico – I could do the whole interview on what these voyages have meant to me.

BS: Why did you decide to instruct? You currently teach painting at the Rhode Island School of Design. What can you tell us about the department? Do you have any advice for painters who are considering RISD?

HH: I never suspected I would teach while I went to school. I went to four schools just to get my BFA and never went to graduate school. That choice was not so obvious in my generation. Just go to New York and try and make good paintings was the advice I got. I was demanding and not always satisfied with the quality of my education. The really good teachers along the way made a big impact and remain voices in my head. Only in retrospect is it clear what each of them offered me. I appreciate this question for the reflection it has encouraged.

Being in New York City is like watching the river of art flow past – and after a number of years I really felt I had something to share. Invited to do a visiting artist gig at the University of Delaware after a painter teaching there saw my show at the David Beitzel Gallery – I found that I really enjoyed the experience and had the ability to verbalize very creatively about painting. I can offer insight into what someone’s work looks like to others and help them contextualize it both intellectually and visually. I seemed to really connect with the students and found the conversations very entertaining. I am sure I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. They trust me as I invest a lot of energy in their personal growth and the development of their work.

So that was the beginning of teaching – more visiting gigs followed including a semester at both University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Kansas City Art Institute. Getting the full time job at RISD was great and the challenge of teaching there is very stimulating. For an art education you really can’t beat RISD. The students – both undergrad and grad are amazingly talented and terrific to work with – and the peer group they form for each other lights a fire under them. They take the art world by storm and it is gratifying to see their shows.

Shazia Sikander, Julie Mehretu, Ben Snead, Benjamin Edwards, Kara Walker, Chris Ulivo and more all passed through our grad program on their way to making great careers for themselves. From the undergrad, Do Ho Suh, Molly Lowe, Kevin Zucker, Leah Tinari, Daniel Lefcourt, Megan Pflug, Marc Handleman, Ramon Vega, Fiona Gardner, etc., are doing fascinating work and showing. There are too many to list. I stay in close contact and count many of these RISD alums as my friends. New York is really a small town when it comes to art.

Memoryware, Oil on canvas, 36" in diameter, 2007

BS: How did you find balance between being a working artist and art educator?

HH: It is very natural and has been the way of the world way back into history. I consider myself very lucky to have this amazing institution paying me a good salary to think and talk about art in the work a day world. It also opens a lot of doors – I just created ceramic pieces in the Italian hilltown of Deruta. I painted images on majolica forms in a workshop and studied the 7000 object collection in the region’s beautifully renovated ceramic museum on a faculty development grant during my paid one year sabbatical. How bad is that?

When I was in Italy I was the artist and the people I was working with were educating me. These roles are constantly shifting. Artists are lucky to be in a field where we learn new things everyday. Art involves learning to pay attention in very particular kinds of ways and that applies to making and teaching and appreciating it.

BS: How do you give to one without taking something away from the other? Or do they mesh together?

HH: Yes - they mesh – but do I wish there were more hours in the day – of course I do. Finding time to write out the answers for this interview has been hard as at the end of fall semesters I always have 15 – 20 students, past and present, who want letters of recommendation for untold numbers of grad schools, residencies, and teaching jobs. This is the price we pay for teaching them to be go-getters. These kinds of balancing acts are part of grown-up life. It is all work. But one thing I have discovered about artists is that they are "big time" worker bees. I really only have one speed – full steam ahead – and I apply it to making work and to teaching.

BS: Tell us more about the philosophy and motives behind your work...

HH: I paint like I am drawing. And drawing is the first witness of -- ‘mark, image and word’s’ promiscuity. Marks combine with the activities of the mind – allowing the surface support to become something else. I experience an itchy urgency of interpretation when working with the forms as they appear. As though I am in heated conversation with them. I am at play in fields of language – visual, verbal, historical – citationally linked to the fullness of time and geography. Out of necessity, descriptions are formed of the near, the far, the global, and the ancient. There is cross-pollination, hybridity and a sense that we are all adrift in one and the same vast cultural soup.

Our minds teem with encoded versions of all they have processed – and much of what others have as well. Painting allows access to that attic of the mind with great efficiency. Memories are structural trees hung with words and images, roots deep into the subconscious, back into history and gene pools. My fascination with potentially arbitrary juxtaposing acknowledges the results of the overwhelming quantity of information in our age and thus the certainty of incorrectness. When it comes to the inventory of the visual I have inherited it all - and own it - at least to the same negligible extent that others do.

Artists count on the inevitability of the connection between description and interpretation – and through this circuitry organized paint becomes our proposition about reality. It is this very persistence of painting’s ability to serve up the world that allows us, individually and as a culture, to experiment with who we are becoming.

Dove Plate, Majolica made in Deruta, Italy, 12 1/2 x 121/2", 2007

BS: Can you discuss how your work has matured through the years?

HH: My earlier work was greatly influenced by painters like Gorky, deKooning, Lee Krasner, etc. Paintings, like the ones in my show at Piezo Electric in 1984, raised expectations from abstract expressionism – yet ended up providing different kinds of experiences. They were very verb oriented and compositionally inclined.

I remember a critic, Ronny Cohen, who asked me if my persistent use of the central void was some aspect of an eco-feminist approach. I did not fully understand her comments at that time but suspect she was on to something. Even though I like thin paint – the active accumulation of marks formed the surface and every implication of what could be seen. I remember Michael Brenson’s NY Times review discussing the tension between what was painted and the painting itself. My interest in the shift from "mark" to "sign" was already in place. "Sign" has been winning this battle recently.

The work I am currently doing takes advantage of my engagement with both textile and ceramic traditions – and particularly the way images from nature are treated fascinates me. I see it as a code – a visual language that allows us to get at what we need, what we desire, what we remember and what we cannot do without. I explore images built, accumulated and collected – packed full of the suggestive and the recognizable, the legible and the "just sub-noun."

Working with historical sources allows me access to broken narratives where I pick up dangling threads to develop. History is a tattletale - with not so hidden "other possibles" lurking everywhere. You can retell, reinvent, reorder and re-imagine. I can let nature images speak. I can take the liberty of toying with the coats of arms of the once powerful without having my head cut off. Recombinatory strategies unearth new meanings, sound warnings and reveal the telling instabilities of signs.

BS: Holly, you are known for avoiding boundaries in the art world in that you are willing to exhibit anywhere. You don't contain yourself within any geographic... you explore the market. Would you suggest that emerging artists do the same? Do you think that younger artists focus to much on New York and other hubs of the art world instead of paying attention to the opportunities that can be found throughout the world?

HH: I think you are skirting the issue with that phrasing of your question. I would be very happy to have a one person show in a good NYC gallery tomorrow should the chance present itself. I work at making this happen. I have the art and am ready and eager. However, Piezo Electric, David Beitzel, and Dru Arstark – my previous galleries all went out of business.

As I have spent more time in Rhode Island and gotten older, opportunities have come my way less easily. Out of sight, out of mind really applies to the art world. Lots of people whose opinions I value know and respect my work but younger dealers tend to show younger artists only naturally. We are all aware how hard it gets for mid-career artists to be seen – even those doing their best work right now. So for the moment, I’d go along with what artist Nancy Shaver said during her visiting artist lecture at RISD this fall -

"Art – like vegetables and politics – should be local and global."

I show wherever and whenever I can, within reason. Over the years this has included many states and several countries. Many people see these out of New York shows but most importantly - I see them. Looking at the works in context with one another is always revelatory, offering signposts for the development of the work.

With regard to younger artists – I feel they are more equipped than ever to make their own opportunities and to be creative about it. They are savvy and schools talk about these realities. This preparation is far more helpful than when I went to school. Yet, let’s not kid ourselves, it is important to go to art centers, to become part of the dialogue, and to see the work of your time flowing by. Curating shows oneself is always a good move – I am working on a monoprint show right now with fellow artist Nancy Van Deren for spring at the Spencertown Academy, a beautiful little not for profit gallery in Columbia County, NY. It will include, among others, Stephen Westfall, Melissa Meyer, Joan Snyder, Roberto Juarez, Stuart Diamond, and Ken Buhler.

One Hundred Suns Rose, Gouache on paper on panel, 16 x 12", 2007

BS: Holly, can you tell us about your recent exhibit, Farming Umbria?

HH: I felt the show had a magical light to it…. The space was a small white box of a room flooded with light in the afternoons. We did a Salon Style hanging on one wall that I was very excited about. It was a hue map that led my eye – flashing about the wall from one work to another was almost like a drawing in and of itself. You could follow all of the blues, or all of the yellows. It was almost musical.

I like to show oil paintings, gouache paintings, monoprints, and ceramics in one show as that combination reflects what I actually do in the studio. For me each of these material approaches has fed experimentation in the others. The show was named "FARMING UMBRIA" for one of the four gouache paintings that sat alone on a ledge on the other side of the room. It acknowledges the amazing wealth of ideas I have gotten looking at historical Italian majolica and my intense respect for artisanal traditions.

BS: Was it a success?

HH: I was very satisfied with the way the show came together, both the choice of works and the hanging. That and my two-person fall show at Lenore Gray Gallery in Providence, RI had a radiant quality, if I do say so myself. There were some sales but I certainly won’t be quitting my teaching job. Some of these shows are as much about community as anything.

BS: Will you be involved in any exhibits in 2008?

HH: I will be starting the year in a large group show at Sideshow Gallery in Williamsburg.

BS: Speaking of success, how do you describe a successful artist? For example your work has been reviewed in ARTnews, Art in America, Art Forum, The New York Times and other publications-- one could say that that you are a very successful artists based on those accomplishments alone. However, do you view the success of an artist in a different light? In your opinion, what are the forms of success that an artist can have?

HH: I remember being in France, around the age of twenty. I was sitting in a stone building making a painting and listening to the radio when they announced "Picasso est mort." It was the end of an era. I was deeply moved and at the same time felt completely connected to how he had spent his time. I still do. My curiosity compels me to go on.

A day comes in life when you realize that they may not announce your death on the radio and that it may not bring tears to people’s eyes – but that does not make me any less interested in processing my experience of the world through the making of art. My job is to make work in a conscious way – not to decide how others evaluate it. Second-guessing is not empowering.

BS: Holly, I'd like to know your opinion about the influence of technology on painting. Today information is just a finger-tip away-- students have access to what appears to be an endless stream of information. Have you noticed a change in the mentality of students who enter art programs today compared to in the past? In other words, has technology and the advent of the Internet created a new breed of artists?

HH: Students access a lot of photographic information via the Internet and have to struggle to learn how to use the photo sources and not be used by them. Clearly we do not see the photograph as truth anymore. Just one more thing to be manipulated – a new kind of plasticity perhaps.

Some visions of how painting operates are more like hypertext than the more straightforward narratives, expressive explosions or formal immersions of the 70’s and 80’s. Some artists seek to understand how computers alter our understanding of the world and want to reenact that experience in painting – reintegrating the hand. For others technology supplies the evidence and/or specifics of the layered complex reality they want to mirror or comment upon or situate themselves within. This would be my case. Some see painting as the antidote to that overload. Some have made paintings upon which to project digital imagery. In any case, there are as many responses to and uses for technology as there are artists.

Yet, I do not see anything I would describe as a new breed of artists. I see them more individually. They have a huge amount on their plates these days and being able to make choices and realize that you cannot do everything at once is a strength for any young artist. At RISD, I always have a lot of students who play music and are in bands. Speaking with them leads me to think that the Internet may have changed music and its industry more than the visual arts thus far. (We do, however, have a graduate major in digital and time based media at RISD and I am sure the faculty in that department would have more to say on this question than I do.) Simply put, I still see painting as a technology.

BS: What do you think of sites like and networking sites in general-- have they empowered artists?

HH: My students have almost all made networking sites part of their daily life. I seriously wonder where they find the time. Young artists have great opportunities to see what is out there, to form connections and communities and to promote themselves. They use these tools fluidly. It is really too soon to know just how all these sites will change the career paths of artists. The Tattletale, Gouache on paper on panel, 16 x 12", 2007

BS: Holly, I understand that you are interested in the current media fascination with art schools and the shaping of creative talent. As you know, the media often portrays artists in a way that ads to the collective myth of what an artist can and should be. Do you think these myths are dangerous in that they may give potential students a false sense of identity in regards to how they should behave and what they should pursue upon entering an art program? Or do you feel that most students are able to cut through the hype in order to focus on their unique personal growth? What concerns you about these media created expectations in regards to art education?

HH: I am interested in art education and how it is perceived by the public and through the media. I initiated a series of shows called CRIT at the Spencertown Academy investigating what we in art schools do in critiques. I did the first show with RISD undergrads and then Buzz Spector did the second one with Cornell students. We are currently planning the third. At public programming for these exhibits we carried out the kinds of conversations that take place in front of objects with their makers inviting the public to participate. People seem astonished by the breath of topics that come up in critiques.

Art education is a changing field that reflects much that goes on around us culturally, politically and economically. Books like Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class examine just these kinds of reflections that artists and their communities offer society. Many of my students at RISD are very aware of their responsibilities as citizens, as cultural producers, and as the potentially "out of the box" thinkers of their time. We live in an image driven time and young artists were raised awash with information. Their struggles to find themselves are no different than in the past and I personally find that they are less romantic about being artists than we were when I was in school. They are more aware of what is needed to make a go of the commercial art market.

Some are intimidated or feel that that direction is not for them. We encourage them to investigate many different options – including careers in museums, conservation, art therapy, art ed, etc. It is not a horse race – and there are many paths to personal fulfillment and many ways to make a living. RISD offers a problem solving education that turns out to be inspiring and practical for most students. As educators, we try to keep them in touch with "reality" and to address an awareness of world problems. We are not a trade school and these young artists are getting more well rounded educations than some might imagine.

BS: Finally, do you have any further advice for emerging artists?

HH: Pick your friends like you were going on the wagon train together. Choose those who will get out and push through the mud when the going gets tough. Look for hard working, fun, generous, supportive people and be that for others. Skip anyone you’d have to throw off in Ohio – it’s a long road and you do not need undermining folks around you.
You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Monday, January 28, 2008

myartspace Facebook Widget

myartspace has introduce a facebook widget which can be used to make a person's profile much more interesting.

The myartspace staff selects a number of images every day to be highlighted or "featured". These daily picks are then made available to every person that is running the facebook widget to show off the rich array of incoming art on the site. For the artist, their work is exposed to potentially millions of users of facebook (there are more than 50 millon people with facebook accounts). This increased visibility can and often does spark interest in their art. Facebook users can easily click on the image and see the full works of the artist as well as their profile. We at myartspace believe that as an artist develops their career, name and work recognition are key to getting representation and sales.

To install the myartspace widget on your facebook profile, click below:

Art Space Talk: Michael Banning

Michael Banning was born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended the University of Colorado, Boulder where he received his BFA degree in 1989. During his undergraduate studies he also studied drawing and painting at the Atelier of L.V. Davis in Boulder and traveled to Italy to study art history in 1988. In 1995 Banning moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in Visual Studies at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2004, and taught drawing and painting at the college in 2005-06.

In 2005, Banning received an Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. He has also received two Minnesota State Arts Board Career Opportunity Grants and a Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, which allowed him to study fresco painting in Detroit, Michigan.

In 2001 Banning participated in a two month Artist Residency at the Mill Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has also exhibited work in Chicago, Denver, and New York where his paintings were exhibited in a solo show at the Chuck Levitan Gallery in 1998.

Banning has been represented by the Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis since 1998 where he has had four solo exhibitions. He currently lives and works in Chicago, Illinois where he teaches drawing part-time at Columbia College and The Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago.

Houses Near Smoke Stacks - Northeast Minneapolis, 2007, Oil on Panel, 9" x 9"

Brian Sherwin: Michael, you studied art at the University of Colorado and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Can you tell us about your academic years? What kind of student were you? Who were your instructors?

Michael Banning: I started out as an architecture student. In some ways studying studio art was an accident. I was unable to get into the architecture studio classes twice as a freshman, so I elected to take care of all my art foundation and elective classes in the art department. I really enjoyed the freedom of the painting and drawing classes I took and this, coupled with my less than stellar performance in calculus and physics made me reconsider my career choice and I eventually changed to studio arts. Also, my mother is an artist and I grew up in a household focused on art and creative endeavors, so this seemed like a natural course of action.

The environment at the University of Colorado in the mid-eighties was one of extreme freedom and experimentation in painting and drawing and the school maintained close ties with the kinds of "post-modern" work that was happening in New York at the time. I was inspired by my professors, Linda Herritt, George Woodman, and particularly Chuck Forsman a painter of realistic yet conceptual western landscapes. I remember spending most of the time of my undergraduate years in the studios at the University of Colorado. There were a core group of students who were serious about painting and this early artistic community was important to my development.

I attended MCAD many years after receiving my BFA from the University of Colorado and after having lived in Minneapolis as a working artist for many years. My goals in going to graduate school were to explore the conceptual concerns of my work as well as to study realistic painting in a more in-depth manner. With this in mind I studied at MCAD with Mike Kareken as my mentor. Mike was a great teacher for me and is also a painter of realistic yet conceptual landscapes and figurative works.
Houses Near Railroad Tracks - Northeast Minneapolis, 2007, Oil on Panel, 18" x 18"

BS: You have experience teaching as well. You have taught at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Columbia College, and the Illinois Institute of Art. How has teaching influenced-- or inspired --you as an artist? Has the experience enhanced your personal study of art?

MB: Teaching has been great for me. I was really terrified at the prospect of teaching at first. However, now it has become a comfortable situation. One thing about teaching for me is that it forces me to constantly review my knowledge base in painting and drawing; often forcing me to do assignments before I teach them. I learn a lot from working with students and find myself constantly trying to improve my mastery over certain skills and techniques in an effort to teach them better.

BS: I understand that you've been represented by the Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis since 1998. Will you be involved with any exhibits at the gallery in 2008? Do you have any advice about sustaining artist/gallery relations?

MB: I've been really lucky in terms of the Groveland Gallery. They are a very stable gallery and have been really supportive of my work from the beginning. In particular, they have been good at finding a market for the work and also at being flexible and supportive through changes in my artistic direction.

I think the important thing about working with a gallery is to think in terms of a long-term relationship. Galleries make markets for an artist's work over a period of years, not just a period of months. It's also important to find a gallery where the prevailing aesthetic fits with your direction and where the gallery isn't just looking for the same kind of work over and over again.

I think a lot of artist's approach a gallery kind of like applying for a job, with this idea that they are trying to get a gallery to accept them as a "good fit" for their programming, however, I think it's equally important to find a gallery that is a good fit for your artistic direction. It's really a partnership.

I will be exhibiting at group shows at the Gallery and other venues in 2008.
Dumpster in Empty Lot, Near Stevens Expressway, Chicago, 2007, Gouache on Paper, 13.5" x 18"

BS: Michael, your recent work in painting and drawing focuses on images that are both natural landscapes as well as depictions of the built environment. These works are are very honest in that they don't deny what most people would consider an eye-sore-- industrial ruins near homes, bits of trash upon the ground-- do you strive to give the viewer a true depiction of these spaces, so to speak? Can you go into further detail about this interest?

MB: The images I've been working with recently are all about exploring so called "eyesores" or even further what I call "blind spots", places that are so ugly and banal that we often don't really see them as we pass by. In addition, some of the places I've been depicting are so out of the way - along side roads and service roads - that one would never encounter them unless they were trying to.

Yes, I would say I'm trying to give the viewer a true depiction of these places. On the one hand, I'm trying to bring into the spotlight things that we do see everyday but choose not to think about. On the other hand, I'm also trying to depict subjects that ,although we may not see them unless we seek them out, are nevertheless there.
I often feel like we are living in a kind of Disneyland movie stage kind of society - where things look cheery, perfect, and optimistic, from the front view, but if you go behind the scenes you find that what you thought was reality is in fact a façade- unsubstantiated by a stable structure and often being undermined by abandonment and decay.

BS: What are the specific themes that you explore within the context of your work? Is there a certain philosophy behind what you do?

MB: I've been focusing on depictions of urban decay, post-industrial abandonment, and the presence of nature within these kinds of spaces - basically searching out places that are literally "going back to seed" - as the expression goes. For me, this work is very much concerned with how to represent what is real.
Baudrillard's notions of the simulacrum and his idea of hyper-reality come to mind- for instance the relation of photography to reality, and of photography to painting, and full circle back to the relationship between painting and reality. I'm also very interested in finding spaces that have not yet been subsumed, altered, and re-presented by consumer and popular culture to the point that they no longer bear a resemblance to their source.

BS: How do you select a scene? Do you work from memory? From photographs? Tell us about your process...

MB: I currently work from photographs. Most of my recent work has focused on abandoned urban area on the west and south sides of Chicago. Also, lately I've been investigating Gary, Indiana, Detroit, and some of the smaller industrial towns on Lake Michigan.

Basically, I drive around, learning the city as I go. Although, I do sometimes use Google-Earth to identify areas that seem to have potential for exploration. A large open area within the midst of an otherwise densely populated urban space shows up fairly clearly on Google-Earth and I have found some sites in this way.
Behind Abandoned Building, Gary, Indiana, 2007, Gouache on Paper, 20.5" x 29"

BS: Can you tell us about your influences? Have any artists or art movements influences you?

MB: I've been influenced by many artists and movements. I've certainly been influenced by the well known American Realists such as Edward Hopper, The Ash Can School, Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, George Caleb Bingham. Also, I'm very intrigued by the work of some of the French painters such as Courbet and Daumier, and Northern European Symbolists like Casper David Friedrich, Villhelm Hammershoi from the 19th century.

I also feel there are many contemporary artists whose work has an affinity to my concerns. Painters such as Antonio Lopez Garcia, Rackstraw Downes, Andrew Lenighan, George Nick, Nicholas Evans-Cato, Morgan Craig, Michael Kareken, James Stephens, Chuck Forsman, Yvonne Jacquette, Rebecca Silus, and Carolyn Swicz among others; and contemporary photographers like Camillo Jose Vergara and Richard Misrach.

BS: What do you find interesting about landscapes in general... compared to say-- figurative works?

MB: I really love figurative work as well as landscape. For me, though, the depiction of landscape without figures is a first person experience for the viewer. In other words, the viewer is not watching someone else interact with the landscape, but rather they "are" the figure in the landscape. Also, much of my work simply is more about the landscape itself, almost in the sense of the landscape "as" figure.

BS: What are you working on at this time?

MB: I'm working on several new paintings - As a group I would say they differ slightly from my most recent work because they focus almost more on the "nature" that is reclaiming abandoned urban spaces more than the decaying urban infrastructure itself. They palette is switching more to various hues of green rather than a focus on somber hues of grey. I'm painting lots and lots of leaves and weeds.
Empty Lot near Stevens Expressway, Chicago, 2007, Gouache on Paper, 13.5" x 18"

BS: Michael, you've been the recipient of several grants... do you have any advice for emerging artists who are seeking grants?

MB: I think when applying for grants one of the most important things to make sure of is that the work you present in support of your grant proposal actually relates to the concepts you are presenting. It's very easy to get carried away with explaining concepts about future work and where it might go to the point that it no longer bears a connection to the actual work you are presenting. The artwork is the most important part of a proposal - and your ideas should have a clear connection to your images.

BS: Finally, do you have any further suggestions for emerging artists? What advice do you have for a student who is thinking about applying to art school?

MB: My only advice to emerging artists and students trying to get into schools is to simply keep trying. You can't let yourself be discouraged and put off by rejection letters to the point that you stop working. If you apply for a 100 opportunities you may only get one, or a few, and the more opportunities you apply for, the more likely you are to get some of them.
On a related note, I would also say that it is really important to research the opportunities you are applying for, and make sure your kind of work is within the focus of what is being sought. This is especially true of galleries - don't waste your time sending your work to a gallery that focuses on work that's totally unrelated to what you do.
You can learn more about Michael Banning by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

Friday, January 25, 2008

Art Space Talk Margeaux Walter

Laura Pabst from the Nohra Haime Gallery introduced me to the art of Margeaux Walter. Margeaux recently graduated from The Tisch School of Arts in NYC with a BFA in Photography. She uses photography and photographic lenticulars "to explore the evolution of human interactions, technological innovations, and the relationship between them." The Nohra Haime Gallery brought Margeaux's work to Bridge Miami in December, and she was quite the rage, catching the eye of press, and selling all the pieces that were on display.

Brian Sherwin: Margeaux, you were born and raised in Seattle, Washington. You moved to New York City in order to attend the Tisch School of the Arts (NYU), where you received a BFA in Photography and Imaging. Can you tell us about your academic years? Did you have any influential instructors?

Margeaux Walter: I started studying photography in high school at The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut. There I realized that I wanted to pursue photography and art, and was fortunate to attend the Tisch Photography and Imaging program at NYU. This program forced me to delve into all aspects of photography: to try out different mediums, camera formats, styles etc. It was also a very conceptual program requiring students to define for themselves what art means to them, and what they hope to communicate with it. One of the many great teachers at the Tisch School of the Arts is Diane Bertolo, who specializes in digital photography. I took all of her classes and she became a mentor who helped me bring my project ideas to fruition.

BS: How did the transition from living in Seattle to moving to NYC inspire you as an artist? Did the geographic change make an impact on your work?

MW: As I went to boarding school, I haven't really lived in Seattle since I was 15. My time in New York City has had a great impact on my art. It is a city that inspires creativity with so much happening all the time. NYC is also a claustrophobic city, cluttered with people, lights, signs, noise, and motion – all which influence my views of modernization. But I do love this city, and the subway makes for an amazing place to observe people.

BS: Margeaux, since graduating in 2006 you have been working in design and fashion, while continuing to create and exhibit your own artwork. Was it hard to find balance? Or would you say that one aspect of your work feeds the others? For example, does your commercial work help the development of your personal work?

MW: At first I found it hard to find a balance. I think I was trying to push my commercial work away from my art. Eventually I realized that it is a large part of my inspiration. Since I have accepted this, my work has grown from this interplay. The media, advertising, and marketing play a big role in my view of society, and of my artwork. Design work has really given me access to experiences and materials that I would not have found otherwise. I strive to use advertising techniques in my work, as these are the visual cues that people respond to.

BS: You explore the evolution of human interactions, technological innovations, and the ever-changing relationship between them in your work. What interests you about this? Do you view technology as dangerous to humanity? Do you see it as positive? Tell us more about the thoughts and motives behind your work...

MW: I see our obsession with technology threatening humanity in that we are eager to replace our own skills, and innately human characteristics with digital tools. For example, we access our memories less with so many information-cataloging devices. Our interactions are being turned into TLAs (three letter acronyms) via text messages and email. We are becoming more sedentary because we can now access anything we want with the click of a button.

This said, I am a complete techno-fanatic. Always one of the first to try out a new device, I am fully immersed in technology. My art (and my life as I know it) would not exist without it. And my fears stem from this dependency.

BS: You often use yourself as a model in your work. Based on that... would you say that your work is a very personal form of expression? By allowing yourself to experience your own fears, observations, and fantasies first-hand are you suggesting a search for identity? By using yourself as a model are you suggesting that due to technology the identity of an individual can be lost-- a Ctrl-Alt-Delete of the soul, so to speak?

MW: My work may seem personal, but I tend to assume the roles of imaginary characters in my pieces that are distinct from my identity. These characters are generated by my observations of others and express how I view the world around me. Stepping away from my own identity while I am creating a piece frees me up to experience and portray fantasies and fears that I don’t feel when I am wrapped up in my daily routine.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that technology can delete the soul, but I do see individuality becoming obsolete in the sense that there is less room for it. I see people’s priorities shifting towards the desire to work (produce) and away from family, love, community etc. We are modifying our lives and routines in order to keep up with technological innovations. Each new device that we integrate into our lives forces us to conform both to its limitations, and to mainstream society. These choices can lead to a blurring of our individuality to the degree we embrace the cookie-cutter digital world.

BS: What are your specific concerns about the role of technology in contemporary society? Does your work serve as a warning? Or is it more of a representation of what has already happened... what is already with us, so to speak?

MW: My concerns with technology relate to our continued reliance on it, and that it is slowly becoming a replacement for many of our skills. This is happening without our awareness and it is camouflaging itself as natural evolution. Like many advances in society, we have to take advantage of its attributes while we retain those behaviors that distinguish us as individuals.

Whether my work is seen as a warning is dependent on the viewer and his/her own relationship with technology. I also see my work as playful, and satirical. Although I have concerns about technology, I am keen on using it. I enjoy playing with this contradiction in my work and therefore it can be interpreted in many different ways. When I make my art, I take my observations, combine them with contemporary hypotheses, add my own fantasies, and create each piece from there. The emotions that go into my work are a mix of fear, excitement, desire, anxiety, hopelessness, and so forth. All of these represent my views on society and our future, and thus my work is not created to have one message. Rather I am offering all of these sentiments and asking the viewer to notice his/her own reactions to the images.

BS: What about influences? Are there any specific artists are art movements that have influenced you?

MW: I am inspired by new things everyday, so it is hard to pinpoint a few. But I think the artists that have had the largest influences on me are Cindy Sherman for using herself as a model to express the world around her, Aziz + Cucher for their sculptural work in which they combined the animate (skin) with the inanimate (machine), and Vanessa Beecroft’s repetitious use of the human body in her performances.

BS: Can you tell us more about your process? Place us in your mind as you think about a new piece...

MW: I come up with new ideas in really odd places, so I always carry a notebook, and start each piece by sketching out my thoughts. Once I have a rough image in mind, I create the costumes and photograph and/or montage the backgrounds. Then I photograph the characters (me) in various forms using a timer, cut them out in Photoshop and assemble them into the background. For the lenticulars I create multiple layers in a Photoshop file with the various movements, which I interlace together to create the lenticular print. This means that each photograph/scene is printed in thin strips. A lens, made up of curved ridges is then laminated over the print and lined up with the strips. When the viewer looks at a lenticular from different angles, the lens creates the illusion of movement.

BS: Margeaux, you are involved in an exhibit titled Peopled People at the Nohra Haime Gallery this month. You will have a solo show at the gallery in February. Can you tell us about these two exhibits? What should we expect? How long have been represented by Nohra Haime Gallery?

MW: The first show I had with Nohra Haime Gallery was in December at the Bridge Art Fair in Miami where there was a gratifying response to my work. I am really excited about these two shows in her gallery. The group show has four lenticulars from different bodies of work that I did in 2006 / 2007.

The solo exhibition will be mostly of work from my new series, Oneness. This is a collection of minimalist portraits that highlight subtle motions, gestures, and expressions that I notice in everyday interactions. They express the growing distance between people, as even the simplest act of making eye contact may cause discomfort. These portraits convey the isolation that occurs with every lost, unseen, and confused interaction, and forebodes a mechanical existence.
BS: What else do you have planned for 2008?

MW: I am working on a lot of new projects and also experimenting with other mediums such as 3d, as well as continuing new photographic and lenticular pieces. I am also involved in community collaborative projects with an NYC based art collective, Super Glue.

I have been energized the last several months, preparing for these two shows. As a result, my notebook is full of ideas that I am eager to bring to life in 2008.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

MW: Ctrl-Alt-Delete or Restart… Take your pick.

You can learn more about Margeaux Walter and her work by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Art Space Talk: Kirsten Rae Simonsen

Kirsten Rae Simonsen's work has been described as a "fairy-tale gone wrong" (Margaret Hawkins, The Chicago Sun-Times). Fred Camper of the Chicago Reader writes: "Simonsen's main subject...(is)...the loss of human identity." Her work has been exhibited in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Seattle, New York, London, and Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is represented by Whitespace Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia. After studying art in Bali, Indonesia, she received her MFA from the University of Chicago. Her summers are spent leading an Art and Design Program in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She lives in Honolulu.
Brian Sherwin: Kirsten, you are interested in the idea of children as transgressors in suburban and small town life... with your work you observe how children act beyond the norm that is expected of them as far as acceptable social behavior is concerned.What motivates you to explore this societal observation that you have made?

Kirsten Rae Simonsen: I am very influenced by Martha Stewart and the current obsession with babies and domesticity (observe all of the craft and cooking magazines) in our culture. I see a real move back to the 1950s these days. Also, too many people in our culture have too much disposable income, and they create interiors, exteriors, and, indeed, entire lives based on images in magazines. What does not fit well into these images are messy and unpredictable children (and animals, for that matter). I love the idea of the child with its fingers in the cake, or screaming bloody murder at a birthday party and messing up mommy's beige or taupe carpet (see my "Birthday" series). Another thing that does not fit into the world of formica and cream/ecru colored couches is aggression or even violence: violence between children and/or between adults (see "Stories for Girls" and Stories for Boys").
The Story of a Girl, Mixed media on wood, 11×14, 2007

BS: Critics have noted that your work is visually deceptive. By visually deceptive I mean that your work appears charming on the surface, but further investigation reveals a darker world where children are not exactly innocent. What interests you about this form of disconnection between what is expected from the viewer and what is actually displayed within the context of your work-- would you say that your work is a psychological play on the expectations of the viewer?

KRS: Yes, my work absolutely is a psychological play. I actually have had adults in the art world, highly trained in the discipline of art, ask me why I make illustrations for children's books, as in, "aren't you a little old for that?"

I see my work as exceedingly dark, and the point is proven when a collector balks at actually buying the work and taking it home because "it won't match my couch" or, more often, "I love it but I can't look at every is too disturbing." I work with a wonderful art dealer in New Jersey who completely "gets" my work and she explains it to others. I often feel it is helpful to have dealers and reviewers describe, explain, and interpret your work; in some ways I feel that should be the job of those people.

BS: Does your own childhood creep into your work? By exploring these themes are you attempting to gain a bettering understanding of who you are and what you have lost-- or is it more of an exploration of our collective experiences? Who are you placing under the microscope, so to speak?

KRS: As far as my own childhood goes, I suppose it only creeps in in a very abstract way. More than that, I am quite interested in the Victorian era, especially Dickens and the cult of the child. At the beginning of the Victorian era, life for children was quite harsh: many were sent to work in factories as soon as they were able. Many children grew up near factories, suffering from ill health and bad nutrition. In contrast, children from the upper classes were expected to dress well and behave like little adults: be seen and not heard. While the poor children were working, the rich children were attending parties and upper class schools.
By the end of Victoria's reign, the view of children had softened: education had become more emphasized, and adults realized that children needed protection and love. The view of children had become more sentimental, as popularized by Charles Dickens, who had a great affinity for the poor and disadvantaged members of Victorian society. Other influences on my work include fairy tales, especially "The Little Match Girl," a Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, also Victorian ( In this rather sentimental but very sad little story, a ragged little girl dies trying to sell matches on Christmas eve.

The Victorian view of children as workhorses or as China dolls has greatly influenced me. I am putting this view of children under the microscope, because I feel to some extent it has not left us. To some extent, even in (or especially in) America, some children are exalted and placed on a pedestal, and others are ignored and left to their own devices, dropping out of the education system and turning to drugs and crime. More often than not, even in our country, this is still based on class. More than anything, I would like to examine this cult of children that exists now (just pick up any celebrity gossip magazine to see all the happy mommies and their broods). This cloying, sickly sweet vision of the lovely, innocent child popularized in the late Victorian era and in these current magazines really fascinates me. I want to see that lovely, sweet kid with mud on her face after playing all day in the woods.

The designing of lifestyles in magazines like Blueprint and Martha Stewart's Living is related to the cult of babies in the celebrity and even fashion magazines: the baby is touted as the ultimate accessory. In a recent Vogue spread, a model was seen from the waist down only in very fashionable shoes and skirts: in every image, around her feet lay an expensive purse, costly and colorful toys, and a smiling, happy baby. This is the yummy mummy: hot, thin, and fertile.

BS: It seems that with each generation innocence is lost. In a sense, children are growing up faster than they would have in the past. Children are dropping their toys for the remote control and for the computer. Thus, in many ways one could say that technology and the media has caused this reaction. I'm not suggesting that children are maturing faster... they are just barraged with a gambit of experiences on a daily basis-- and some of these experiences are very adult in nature. What are your thoughts on this? How does this play a role in your work?

KRS: Two of my pieces, "A Girl's Life" and "Story of a Girl" speak directly to the experience of growing up as a girl in America, trying to navigate through technology, societal pressure, and expectations to form an identity. I am very impressed by my two closest girlfriends, who are trying very hard to raise their girl daughters so they do not end up addicted to technology. They also are raising these girls in non-suburban atmospheres (New York and Chicago), which I find very inspiring. I think there is definitely a move away from all this technology in parenting now, and I wholeheartedly support it. Letting children just "plug in" is a big problem.
Running Scared (detail), Mixed media on wood, 11×14, 2007

BS: Kirsten, you are represented by Whitespace Gallery in Atlanta, GA and Artspace in New Haven , CT. Your work can also be purchased from Domo Gallery in Summit, NJ. What exhibits do you have scheduled with these galleries in 2008? Also, can you discuss the importance of the relationship you have with these galleries-- perhaps you have some advice for emerging artists who are seeking gallery representation?

KRS: I recommend that artists take control of their work and their career; do not be afraid to switch galleries if you feel your work is not being represented properly. Galleries change quickly and they can fold as easily as any business. And remember a gallery is a business like any other business. It's really important to have someone representing you who understands your work and does not try to get you to change it. I have been represented by Peter Miller Gallery in Chicago in the past, and now am represented by Whitespace Gallery in Atlanta, GA. My work is also in the Flatfile in Artspace in New Haven, CT. I also have a wonderful dealer working on my behalf in New Jersey. I feel very fortunate that all of these people understand my work and where I am coming from.

Here's some advice regarding juried group shows I'd like to share with artists:

1. DO send your work to THEMED shows. If you make work about submarines, and it is pretty good or very good work, and you apply to show about submarines, there is a high likelihood you will get in.

2. DO look at the curator of the show. Do they work at the MOMA? Are they nationally or internationally recognized? Apply to that show. You want those types of curators seeing your work. On that topic, RESEARCH the work that curator likes before your send your work in. If the curator likes installation and you do traditional glass blowing, there is less likelihood she will like your work.

3. DO donate your work to auctions. That's where people who, frankly, have money will collect your art.

4. DO send your best work to shows and galleries. You really have to control what work of yours is out there. What if you become famous and you have all this really bad, early work floating around?

5. DO change your style or subject matter (not drastically) about once every three years.

6. DO NOT send your work to un-themed, all-media juried group shows unless the curator is someone you really want to see your work. Those shows are too much of a free-for-all in my opinion, and hard to get into.

BS: You mentioned a return to the 1950s... are you concerned that a form of glass culture is on the horizon? A culture that is filled with falsehoods and big fake smiles-- one that could be easily shattered?

KRS: I am concerned about the Disneyfication of America...I blame the media, for putting forth this idea that "every little girl wants to be a princess," for example...and for obsessing over celebrity stories of good girls gone bad, bad girls gone good, etc. It turns people's real lives into narratives that involve female self-destruction, subjugation, and redemption. In a way, the celebrity stories with the happy ending with the baby and handsome husband are the worst of all...the ultimate Disneyfication. Yes, these narratives do create an imagined culture, filled with falsehood and people smiling behind white picket fences.

Before I moved to Honolulu this past September, my husband and I lived in Florida, which is a fascinating place. We visited the Orlando area and drove around Celebration, Disney's planned community (residents can drive straight into Disney property from their neighborhood; more info at:,_Florida and at It really was the world of "The Truman Show;" everything was in its place and every house looked perfect, each with a rocking chair on the front porch (no joke! And it was the SAME rocking chair!). But the funny thing is, the place was almost deserted. We went back again the next day and still it seemed hardly anyone was living there. It was eerie. The local paper's biggest story (and it was a very long story) was about how to keep your kids from catching intestinal bugs from Celebration's public pool.
Special Day (detail), Mixed media on wood panel, 11" x 14", 2007

BS: Are you interested in any specific theories of psychology? You may have noted from my past interviews that I'm a fan of Carl Jung... does his theories apply to your work?

KRS: Though I have some problems with Jung's ideas, I do believe in archetypes, the collective ideas we are all born with such as parenting, initiation, and death, the idea of mother and father, etc. Many of my works are based on something that is part of the Western, privileged collective unconscious that has been LOST: for example, the ruined birthday cake (symbolizing the ruined birthday celebration), the burning automobile (loss of material objects that are important to us), the beautiful little girl (with lost identity), the loss of innocence in general. Although some of the imagery and outfits I use for my characters is Victorian, much of the iconography I use is meant to trigger memories for middle to upper class people who grew up in America since the 1950s: party dresses (usually light pink), communion dresses, birthday cakes, bows (for hair), cars that one has in high school (see Drag Race, Ghost Car), yearbooks.

I also am very interested in the psychology of girl culture (see the photographer Lauren Greenfield) and in the writing of Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth). Both of these people make a study of (among other topics) eating disorders...the ultimate attempt by womankind to disappear, to control, to have willpower, to feel free (the motivations are many for anorexia, for example).

BS: Would you say that the Victorian era view of children-- as you interpret it --has never really left... in that there is still a division between how one child is treated compared to the next? Would you say that we, especially politicians, describe children as hope for the future when in reality there is often little hope for our youth? For example, people will donate thousands after viewing a commercial with crying impoverished children in another country, yet when they see poor children in their own communities they look in the other direction. How is that reflected in your work?

KRS: Yes, it's true. It is a much safer, neater, easier, and cleaner activity to write a check to a organization that helps children in foreign countries than it is to help poor and impoverished children you see every day on our own streets. I think this is a colonial attitude as well...there is something "exotic" about caring about children in other countries, plus it helps one feel smug. I don't mean to sound so negative and judgmental...I hardly work for the UN myself...I am just trying to say it is important to care for and about ALL children, rich or poor, in ALL countries. And (this is a side note) one topic my work DEFINITELY touches on is how hard life can be for rich, well-off children too...that is true as well.

BS: Do you have any specific concerns about the state of the art world at this time?
KRS: I love the way artists are taking charge and managing their own careers now, through sites like myartspace and others. We should not feel at the mercy of the white cube art gallery. I also love that drawing has come to such prominence.

I am concerned about art education in colleges and universities, though. I see a division over and over between old-school, pure technique-based ways of teaching and new-school, conceptually-based ways of teaching. i believe students can be taught using a healthy mix of the two. The worrying part is that many technique-based professors are being hired now...ONLY technique, NO concept. When I see this, I feel elementary art education is creeping into the university, where I feel students should be challenged to think conceptually as much as possible. Luckily where I teach now, this is not the case.
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your work?

KRS: I think that is it. Thank you so much!!
You can learn more about Kirsten Rae Simonsen by visiting the following page-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin