Studio Practice: The Nexus of Content and Medium
By Maritza Ruiz-Kim
The studio draws me in. For years I’ve had subjects that have sparked my curiosity and I’ve asked How, What, Why about the impact of the use of modern technology on our human connections. I’ve read related non-fiction books on the subject; I’ve studied the Fiction of Relationship (thank you Coursera.org and Brown University); I’ve watched not so brief lectures on the Brief History of Humankind (again thanks to Coursera.org and this time the Hebrew University of Jerusalem–it was fascinating!); I’ve read art curator essays on portraiture, voyeurism, and self-representation; I’ve read random articles that seemed tangentially related to my idea obsessions and I wish I’d kept track of them; I’ve used various technologies and social-media platforms and considered their impact on my own connections. I say all this to communicate that these are ways I’ve fed my mind with the concepts that I want to see materialize in my work. I didn’t always think I was working; I was just following my distracting curiosities, unable to stop myself. I do not work in a linear way, deciding what my work will say, then making it. I have stuffed myself with these ideas and now the studio draws me in. I’ll see what happens with the lines, the contrasts of color, and the layers of translucency of wax. I love what I do.
There are so many ways to approach our studio work and what I’ve described above is one way I do it. Below are excerpts of quotes by various artists in the ProWax group page on Facebook as we discussed concept, content, and color in our work. –Maritza Ruiz-Kim, Editor-in-Chief, ProWax Journal
Elise Wagner: When I set out to make a body of work, it is initially very much about color and content. I spend a lot of time focusing on combinations and I completely immerse myself in their variances and subtleties. I’d be interested to hear how some of you negotiate or set parameters when setting out on a body of work in terms of color, content or scale.
Howard Hersh: When building a body of work for a show, I try to keep everything up and visible in my studio. Then I can spot problems like “too much of this, or too little of that.” Clearly, we all have favorite colors, shapes, and sizes, but assembling a dozen or two of our works together in a room requires that we pay attention to broadening our scope as much as possible.
Susanne Kilgore Arnold: I am not a colorist, and focus on narrative and light and dark tonal forms and areas, so my work often ends up in the brown or earth color range. Last year, I determined to try color, primarily red, to see if it would change my themes and images. (It did.) I have found I am very sensitive to color and can’t wear or paint with more than one strong color, so this was helpful in pushing me beyond my comfort zone. But I still have a tendency to focus on light and dark tones rather than color mixes.
Lynda Ray: I actually don’t set out to do a body of work with set parameters. I work in the studio every day and then something makes my heart race. I then pursue that, be it color, texture, form, scale, space or line, exploring a visual idea fully. My visual vocabulary is fine tuned continuously. It becomes a body of work. Later, when installing an exhibition, I will edit for a cohesive group.
Elise Wagner: I work in terms of exploring a visual idea fully, sometimes editing in the end. My panel maker lives two doors down, so I always start with a pile of panels that are stored, then gradually, as Howard mentioned, they all become part of the walls and a dialogue emerges.
Ruth Hiller: What inspires you and how is your inspiration reflected in your work? What message are you trying to convey to the viewer? What is your vision/philosophy? How do your techniques and style relate to your philosophy?
Krista Svalbonas: Architecture, space, and environment inspire my work. I aim to make individuals aware of their surroundings. My wall drawings are a way to directly engage the gallery wall in the conversation of phenomenology. When working with wax I consider the consistent building up and tearing down of material vs. the ever changing urban landscape. When working with felt I liken the material to the philosophy of Modernist Architecture, of using basic and cheap materials for a certain aesthetic response.
Ruth Hiller: The combinations of nature, manmade things, and technology fascinate me. They obsess and inspire me. I want to convey speed, timelessness, and space through bold minimal mark making. I examine and explore my relation to friends, the community, and society as a whole. Integrity, simplicity, truth, and beauty are the threads throughout my life and work. Using beeswax with exposed plywood allows me to infuse meaning through the simplest forms. I push the boundaries of the materials to create works that explore nature and manmade objects in unexpected ways.
Paula Fava: Nature, light, movement, the divine, color, absence of color, textures, rusted things: these inspire me. Creating layers allows the story to be hidden/revealed. I often use ‘healing materials’ embedded in my work for the specific goal of healing heartbreak. Staying in a place of risk allows me to keep my heart open.
Debra Claffey: I’m inspired by life forms, life mechanics, life interdependencies and interactions. The forms I use are biomorphic, fractal, and in concert with natural processes.
Tracey Adams: Science, organization within the natural world, music and philosophy of yoga inspire me. I seek to communicate universality, to simplify form to its basic essence, to be fully present in life. My work involves patterns inspired by nature and science and organized by musical structuring e.g. rhythm. I constantly explore and experiment with combinations of media and color, usually involving wax. I employ permutations of visual elements in each series, revisiting previous series as a springboard to the next.
Cheryl D. McClure: Opposites such as unstructured/structured, active/passive, casual/formal, and bold/subtle inspire me. I prefer to start without consciously thinking too much, then refine by looking and thinking about what is happening with the work. Luscious paint is the vehicle for my style of work. It can be gestural and casual as well as considered and refined.
Kate Miller: Why do you make art (in encaustic or other media) at all, what are your issues? Looking at the bigger picture, what do you see as the major issues (themes if you will) being seen in contemporary work today? Does that influence you in your work or have nothing to do with what you do?
Peggy Epner: Kate, I think about this all the time. I think my most basic answer is to achieve connection. By that I mean that I feel my work is a form of communication, perhaps to someone I will never meet. I feel artwork that stays in my studio and never finds an audience is incomplete because of that. I don’t know if I am seeing the need for connection reflected in the art world specifically, other than a lot of work that recognizes the connection between everything, humans and nature, for example. I see the desire for real connection everywhere, in spite of how “connected” we all are superficially, via technology. I suspect that I am reflecting the need I sense in the population at large, and also my own need, since I am a part of that population.
Toby Sisson: I consider my work an investigation and the very act of making art is a way to “think” about the world. I actually formulate my thoughts by making and interpreting images. My “issues” as you say, are varied but I’m often focused on transformations and relationships between one state of being and another (especially social and psychological). The concept of the “other” has been a consistent concern over the years. Whether I like it or not, my tastes are influenced by contemporary trends. Because I engage with the larger world, my work naturally responds to the era in which I live. That response, of course, can also be a rejection of what I perceive to be the prevailing winds. I find, however, that I’m becoming more and more attracted to the emerging “casual” aesthetic and even surprise myself with how much I enjoy work that not too long ago I dismissed.
Peggy Epner: Toby, I have to say that really resonates with me. I am also really attracted to work that very recently I would have disregarded. You put into words why that is, I think.
Toby Sisson: Thanks for your comment, Peggy. Isn’t it interesting how quickly we are enriched by new ideas when they are contained in an art form. That alone is reason enough to consume a steady diet of contemporary art throughout our lives.
Kate Miller: It’s very interesting here to note that not only are our reasons for making art and our methods of sharing it changing, but that the nature of those changes is also affecting our critical judgment of that work.
Nancy Natale: Toby, I am attracted to certain aspects of the casualist art making, but part of me sees it as just not being disciplined enough to go all the way into making a work of art. I don’t want to be old about it, but neither am I ready to embrace it.
Toby Sisson: I don’t think Nancy’s reservations about the casualist aesthetic are old. I’m not enthralled by all of the work either. But it’s also worth noting that the current trend toward less “disciplined” work has happened before, usually in response to and rejection of established structures. I think of Dadaism or Arte Provera as previous examples. A good description of the latter can be found on MOMA’s website. Just as the supporters of Arte Provera were opposing the conventions of modernism by embracing social issues and juxtaposing found objects to make “poor art”, I think casualists (at least some) may be rejecting the homogenizing aspects of globalism and technology.
Nancy Natale: Toby, Joanne [has] used a term “faux naive” [ed: Mattera’s blog post, Armory Week 2009: Salvage Operation] that I think sums up my objection to the casualist esthetic. A lot of the casualist work looks as if it has no intention behind it or compelling it into a finished work. I can understand the point of not overworking something or of finishing it to the nth degree in what is sometimes regarded as a craft esthetic, but sometimes the work looks like it belongs on the trash side of Mattera’s “Art or Trash” posts from Miami. Too much irony, too little ability, too little conviction, too little transformation? These are questions I ask myself about this work.
Cheryl McClure: I think I was drawn originally to the materiality of painting/art-making and I still am. Since I paint intuitively and abstractly, I have to let the materials speak to me until something clicks. I just love the look, smell, feel of paint. Some years ago, I would not have appreciated [casualist] work as I do now. This is all a growth process. Sometimes we lose a little of that freshness, casualness, improvisation as we grow. It is inevitable, whether we like it or not.
Toby Sisson: I think the Casualists, like all movements, will have more chaff than wheat. That said, I’m still very curious about how each of you views your own work within the larger context of contemporary art. Any more thoughts on Kate Miller’s questions?
Laura Moriarty: I make art as a way of engaging with culture. It’s the way I think about, process and contribute to what I see going on in the world. For me this practice has always been a material and conceptual investigation; they bleed into each other. Based on what I see in major surveys there seem to be many different ways that one could interpret current themes in contemporary art, but if I had to try to put a label on it, I would say we are in a moment of heavy questioning.
Kate Miller: Laura, I love your idea of heavy questioning. I agree with that, although I don’t think the idea of identity searching is totally gone; we see both in movies, books, art. I also think that the themes of isolation and fragmentation within the heavily technological transformation currently going on are still relevant. I find that making art helps me feel a part of this rat race world.
Laura Tyler: As someone who’s embraced the casual since college I’m all of a sudden finding myself pulled toward difficult, time intensive representational work. This is a weird experience for me and I’m not sure where it’s going. I toggle back and forth between painting and documentary filmmaking. Painting seems both more and less necessary than ever to me right now. It is paradoxical.
Joanne Mattera: I’m a painter. Abstraction is the umbrella. Reductive geometry would be the niche within abstraction, with (usually) an emphasis on color. My interests and my expression are bound up together. As to why I make art, I have been making all my life. It’s what I do. I stopped briefly when I arrived in NYC–needed to learn a new job, find an apartment, insert myself into the stream of the city–and although I viewed a lot of art, for three years I was without a studio and made almost none. I felt like a large percentage of myself was missing. So I guess I make art to feel and be whole.
Joanne Mattera: I’m a painter. Abstraction is the umbrella. Reductive geometry would be the niche within abstraction, with (usually) an emphasis on color. My interests and my expression are bound up together. As to why I make art, I have been making art all my life. It’s what I do. I stopped briefly when I arrived in NYC –needed to learn a new job, find an apartment, insert myself into the stream of the city–and although I viewed a lot of art, for three years I was without a studio and made almost none. I felt like a large percentage of myself was missing. So I guess I make art to feel and be whole.
Nancy Natale: I make art as a means of esthetic expression and because I am drawn to the materiality of working with my hands, making things. Art is my second career in life and I went to art school when I was just about 40 after an awakening experience. (No, I wasn’t Sleeping Beauty despite all the rumors.) I had always made things but never really made art, even in high school, so I had a lot of catching up and learning to do about how and why to make art. Contemporary art seems to be pretty wide ranging. I think I am most drawn to geometric abstraction but usually not the clean cut kind. I do love the messy, physical, dark, weatherbeaten kind of work that I find in my faves such as Leonardo Drew, Philip Guston, Lee Bontecou, Brian Dickerson and so on. They influence me in terms of what they have made and inspire me to keep making and striving to please myself with what I do. That may not always be the case, but I keep trying and am always learning and discovering.
Laura Moriarty: This discussion and these questions continue echoing through my mind, and there is something important I want to add to why I make art; because it’s fun. I enjoy every aspect of it, and when the going gets rough this point is the one that drives me back to it.
For further reading:
1. Raphael Rubenstein, Art in America, on provisional painting
2. Sharon Butler, Two Coats of Paint, on casualist painting
- “The New Casualists”
- “Reader response to ‘Abstract Painting: The New Casualists'”
- “The Casualist tendency”
- “Good news: ‘Some of this work is quite good'”
3. Brian Dupont, epononymous blog, on provisionalism & casualism
- “Provisional Criticism and the New Mannerism”
4. Steven Zevitas, Huffington Post, on the art world
- “The Things We Think and Do Not Say, or Why the Art World is in Trouble”
Teaching the Art of Encaustic in the Netherlands: An Interview with Catherine Nash
PWJ: How did you end up teaching encaustic internationally?
CN: Karina van Vught is the owner and director of Zijdelings Studio in Tilburg, a city famous for textile production in the south of Holland. She emailed R&F Paints for suggestions of instructors of encaustic painting, and they recommended me. I am very at home in Europe, but it was my first time teaching encaustic there. (I have lived, made art and exhibited in western Europe extensively: with artist residencies in printmaking studios in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and a year of artmaking in Paris. Opportunities arose for me later to teach the contemporary applications of Japanese and Western papermaking in eight different European countries, returning a number of times to the same site.) After a year of planning and marketing with Karina, I taught two workshops in encaustic monotype and one about the potential of paper with encaustic at Zijdelings last November.
PWJ: How familiar were your students with the medium of encaustic? Do they use the same processes or is there anything different? Where do they get their supplies?
CN: I would venture to say that the use of encaustic in Europe as a fine art is a rarity. While encaustic is known in general as a craft or hobby, artists are just beginning to explore encaustic as a viable art medium. Zijdelings is first and foremost a center for the fiber arts: workshop topics are always related to surface design on fabric and/or mixed media. As the representative for the Surface Design Association in Europe, Karina met Daniella Woolf during the 2009 SDA conference held in Kansas City, Missouri. Intrigued and wanting to introduce encaustic art in her studio, Karina invited Daniella to come and teach at her Tilburg studio in April of 2010. Zijdelings is now an official vendor of R&F paints, products and equipment, one of the very few places to buy quality encaustic supplies in Europe.
Several of the students who took my workshops were repeat participants from Daniella’s class returning to learn more about the medium. Artist and educator Cherilyn Martin (from the U.K., now living in Holland) writes, “Karina attracts and invites some of the foremost international teachers to her studio to teach, which is unique here in Europe. Consequently, participants come from all over Europe to join these specialist classes.”
The workshop participants with whom I worked at Zijdelings Studio, were professional, exhibiting artists from Norway, Germany, Belgium and all over Holland. I observed that they approached encaustic with their own expertise and creative vision, bringing their vast knowledge and skills of the fiber arts, painting, printmaking and artist books to the table. Belgian artist Lia Flemings explains, “I always search for media combinations that offer strength to each other.”
Once I’d introduced varied techniques, I encouraged participants to experiment with encaustic as a visual and structural tool with which to express their creative ideas. I was truly thrilled and inspired by their innovative incorporation of molten pigmented waxes within their work especially with their works using fabric and fiber. They also taught me a great deal – a true exchange.
PWJ: How popular is using encaustic, and if it is popular, who is using it? What kind of work do people make with encaustic?
CN: I thought it would be interesting to pose these questions directly to some of the artists who took my workshops. Their responses support my own observations that the medium is not very commonly used. Lia Flemings has found that few artists work with encaustic in Belgium or France.
Cherilyn Martin has herself been teaching some courses in encaustic at Zijdelings in Holland. She has an upcoming workshop there in mid April and it is fully enrolled. She writes, “There are people using encaustic, but this tends to be the popular method of ironing wax onto paper to use in card making. One can find a handful of artists in Europe working individually with encaustic, mostly exploring encaustic collage/mixed media on paper or wood.” She adds, “Occasionally one will find an artist working sculpturally with the media. But I don’t know of anyone else in the Netherlands who is teaching real encaustic. Luckily Zijdelings attracts painters and textile artists who are able to work independently after learning the basic encaustic techniques.”
Norwegian artist Deborah Mathisen participated in the 6th International Encaustic Conference, in Provincetown and studied with me during a hands-on workshop that I taught as part of the conference. She and an artist friend from Oslo flew to Holland to study again with me there. Mathisen wrote, “There isn’t any encaustic work in Norway that has hit the professional art scene that I’ve noticed, and I keep my eyes open!” Trying to discover the use of the medium in Norway, she polled artists and called a major art supply store in Oslo. “There are some Norwegian artists who buy wax and use it in different ways. But the store hadn’t had any response for encaustic medium, nor did they know of using damar resin to harden wax. One of the salesmen googled encaustic on my initiative and confirmed this is not a media of which they knew anything.” As far as she can discern, “Not much is happening with encaustics here in Scandinavia, only wax on a hobby basis where an iron is used to manipulate the wax to obtain different marks and tone as to resemble landscape and vegetation.” She optimistically adds, “But it could be a growing trend.”
Mathisen is having a solo show this April at one of the regional art societies in Norway. She will be showing, among several works, a large piece/installation entitled Tenderness, a grid of 6 by 6 inch panels that is inspired by D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (which had a working title of “Tenderness”). “I am working with the colour red, one with which I’m not too familiar or comfortable,” she writes. “What I enjoy about the medium of encaustic compared to acrylic is its textural aspect and dimensional surface. I am looking very much forward to the public’s response.”
Included by invitation into numerous national and international exhibitions, Nash’s work has been exhibited most recently in Japan, Bulgaria, Poland and Australia. The landscape, aesthetics and cultures of Japan, the rich gradations and spaciousness of Scandinavian summer night skies, experiences with Native American friends and her explorations into the wilderness of the southwestern deserts have deeply influenced and informed her work.
Artists & Community
By Milisa Galazzi
As a regular feature in ProWax Journal, this month’s Artists & Community is Milisa Galazzi’s (MG) interview with artist Laura Moriarty (LM) about her residency experiences.
MG: You have applied to and attended a few different highly selective artist residencies. Please tell us a bit about your residency experiences. Where did you go, for how long were you there, and what was the general flavor of these experiences?
LM: Since 1996, I have taken part in seventeen residencies, including the Ucross Foundation, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus in Germany, the Printmaking Center of New Jersey, Pilchuck Glass School (four times), Cere’s Project Room, The University of Dallas Printmaking Dept., the Frans Masereel Center in Belgium (twice), Women’s Studio Workshop (twice), Collaborative Concepts, and The University of Virginia at Charlottesville. Most recently, I took part in the Platte Clove Artist-in-Residence Program in the Catskill Mountain Wilderness. These residencies ranged in length from one week to eighteen months, but were typically three to six weeks. Several of the programs were based on the model of the pure gift of time and space, while others were more project oriented or interactive with a particular community.
MG: You created your own residency in your art studio. Could you tell us more about your DIY Residency? What prompted you to do this, what did you do to prepare yourself and your work space for this type of work? What was the experience like for you?
LM: My DIY residency was really a stay-cation with a mission. At the time my day job involved activities that were closely related to those of my personal studio practice. I did a lot of traveling and planning for the job and the prospect of taking on residency applications, with all the tentative planning they entail, was too complicated for my schedule. Instead, I used my vacation time to work in my own studio. I had enough experience to know what makes a residency effective – a clean, uncluttered space, some defined projects that I wanted to pursue, and the luxury of uninterrupted time. I created a self-appointed residency. I basically prepared for it as if I were hosting a visiting artist in my studio. And since the visiting artist was me, that was super easy. I got a great deal of work done and made some important breakthroughs.
MG: In your opinion, what are the signs and symptoms that an artist is ready to take full advantage of all that a professional residency has to offer?
LM: I can imagine almost any artist benefiting from a residency. It’s actually easier to come up with situations in which an artist might NOT be ready, since I can only think of a few. I have been in a couple of residencies where one of my fellow artists was not having a good time of it. For instance, there was an artist from Paris at Ucross; and she was really miserable in Wyoming. It was just too remote for her, and she didn’t connect with the culture. Another time there was an artist who was grieving the loss of a loved one. They tried to attend, but found it too difficult and wound up leaving pretty quickly. I would say the key is making sure the artist understands the situation and ensures that day to day life won’t present a distraction.
MG: This is a two-fer: How has your art changed and grown from your experiences being part of these sorts of artist communities? How have you as an artist changed and grown from being a part of these artist communities?
LM: Residencies are utopian in nature. They have allowed me to live my ideal life for a short time, completely immersed in my work every waking and dreaming moment. While it may not be possible to live this way all the time, residencies have often helped me to see how I might make shifts and adjustments in my normal routines that have significantly improved the quality of my life and my art.
MG: What advice would you offer an artist who is preparing to apply for a professional residency?
LM: Residencies vary greatly. Try to talk to other artists who have taken part in the residency you are interested in to make sure that it will be a good fit for you.
Thank you for taking the time, Laura, to talk about your experiences and thoughts about Artist Residencies!
Galazzi is an artist living and working in Providence and on Cape Cod in the summer. Her graduate degree is from Rhode Island School of Design where she especially focused on her lifelong interest – art and community. Her website is www.milisagalazzi.com and she is represented by ERNDEN Fine Art Gallery in Provincetown, Mass.