Jeanne Lorenz

Higher Ground, 2017
Installation view
The Compound Gallery


In her exhibition Higher Ground (Jan. 28-Mar. 12, 2017 at The Compound Gallery), Jeanne Lorenz explores water, fire, climate change, high-altitude hiking hazards, the history of textiles as pattern and protection, and the intersections of environment and social justice. The show took root in 2015 during her 2,000-mile trek on the Pacific Crest Trail with her husband Canyon and their daughter Adeline, then age 10.

Here Jeanne walks us through the evolution of the project, from the tiny sketchbooks she filled during the months on the trail, through paintings, collages, and wall-size installations. In this ongoing explorations Jeanne uses the immediate, sensory experience of living in the elements to explore perceptions of familiarity, danger, and interrelationship. We were joined in our talk by Compound artist Takehito Etani and Compound co-manager Matt Reynoso.

Articiple: I’d like to start by getting the bigger context of the work in Higher Ground. I know this came out of your hike on the Pacific Crest Tail (PCT) in 2015, and you’ve been addressing that in a lot of different ways. It’s also related to the other large-scale installations you’ve done over the past few years, so maybe we can weave back and forth between those ideas. Do you want to start with the drawings you did on the trail?


Looking out on the desert from the Acorn trail, 2015
Ink drawing, detail from sketchbook
Original: 5 x 3 inches


Carson Iceberg Wilderness, 2015
Ink drawing, detail from sketchbook
Original: 5 x 3 inches


Lake Odell at Shelter Cove, 2015
Ink drawing, detail from sketchbook
Original: 5 x 3 inches


Jeanne: I had a sabbatical that year. I knew I wanted to take this long walk, and some artist friends said, “What are you doing, you should really be spending the year making work!” I felt like going out on the trail with one tool would divorce me from the computer in a way that I felt like I really needed to do. A lot of the work I’d been doing was very digital. And now it’s not really digital at all. It’s mostly just about looking at things in nature and trying to make patterns from them. That’s what a lot of this installation is.

Articiple: It looks like you filled a sketchbook on the trail almost every few weeks.

Jeanne: I did a lot of drawing, and I continue to draw. I still draw in this format. But then I also allowed myself to get bigger. So this is my big-sized sketchbook (7 x 10 inches). Now I’m realizing that this is a size I would feel comfortable actually showing. If I ever decide to show my sketchbook drawings, I’ll show them as drawings and not just as sketchbooks.

Articiple: You can take them out and treat them as finished works. So, was there an evolution while you were on the trail, of how you wanted to deal with the material constraint and the size and so on?

Jeanne: Definitely. I stuck with the same sketchbook and the same pen the entire time and I developed a really strong connection to it. So I stayed with the same material and the mechanism. In the beginning I was trying more to be very literal with the drawing. Later, I would just start drawing and it would become something more like the way I would paint, where you’re responding, you’re making decisions in the process of making the drawing. And also I let myself go back and work into them. The nice thing is, this ink is very transparent so it lends itself to being built up. Sometimes I’ll go back and darken things that need to be darkened.

Articiple: Did you send the notebooks home from the trail as you filled them?

Jeanne: I would mail them. At one point I gave a couple to my mother-in-law, and then when I returned she said she didn’t have them. I was a little like, oh, no. And then, it was amazing, because I opened up a drawer in my house and there they were. So she had brought them home to me. But mostly I would mail things home. And I did not lose a single package. It was really great. And I would mail myself ink. All I needed was to refill my pen, and I carried a small amount with me. But I would replenish that supply when we got our food drops.

I’m just going to keep working this way, I think. This weekend I’m going out to a farm near Redding, and I’m going to draw there. It’s great to be in the landscape thinking about environmental issues.

Articiple: So how did that come up on the trail? Obviously you’re in this remote area without many signs of development or industry, sort of ‘unspoiled nature’. But still, there are signs of humans wherever you go.

Jeanne: The main thing for us was water. It was a huge issue. Right now it’s so wet and everything is so mossy. But the PCT was experiencing the worst drought in 150 years the year we chose to hike it. It was really intense getting ready, figuring out how we were going to handle it. At points we walked across basins 42 miles long without any water. That was a real challenge. Often we would think, what are we doing, bringing our child into this?

Post-trail, I read a lot of post-apocalyptic environmental fiction. My favorite was called Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. The title is about all the things that people come to California for. It’s set in the California drought. It hit home for me.

I’m happy that it’s raining now but I also know that we’re still having huge water issues. It’s something that our state and our country will continue to face. Where I live [in Canyon, CA], there’s a plan afoot to pave and develop 140 acres of watershed. So this is something that I feel very strongly about. I can’t allow this to happen. It’s the first time where I feel like I may be ready for some direct action if it came down to that. I feel so emotional about it.

I’m trying to document these frogs that are down in this watershed, and finding out about the plants, reading about moss, trying to know as much as I can. And also trying to connect to the environmentalist groups that already exist, that have been waging the battle for a long time.

Articiple: Was there an environmental impact report for that project?

Jeanne: Not yet. The proposal is in the planning stages. The planners are telling us, “Calm down, it’s not a big deal.” But when you see the plans it’s so horrifying.

Articiple: I worked for a while with an environmental restoration firm. Most of the staff were wildlife biologists. It was their job to do population surveys of whatever protected species were in the development area, the California red-legged frogs and such, and design corridors or protected areas for them. Anytime a development impacts a species with state or federal protection, the developer has to hire a firm like that to make sure the protections are enforced.

Jeanne: I want to see the red-legged frogs. I’ve only seen the chorus frogs, the tree frogs.

At the other end of Canyon there’s a park. We’re happy that the land was acquired by a park. They’re daylighting the creek. They also have a plan to make a campground. We’re not super happy about that, but suddenly this new development is much more threatening. So our energy has shifted.

Articiple: Right. You’ve got to stop the biggest threat first.

What came after the sketchbooks in this project?

Jeanne: I was really lucky because when we hiked the PCT I was on sabbatical. When we came back I was able to go on my first residency, to the Vermont Studio Center. I would highly recommend it to any artist. They’re the largest residency program, maybe in the world. It’s truly international. They do a really good job at making it diverse, especially in terms of age. So any person can go there and feel comfortable and be a part of that community.

I had never experienced a month-long residency. The fact that I could go into a studio every day really allowed me to go through these drawings and think about them. I made a lot of really bad work during that month. A very good friend of mine is a wonderful painter who works with landscape. She was a visiting artist during that time. So I was able to have a studio visit with her. I felt like the work that I had been making was mildly horrifying. But after we met, I turned a corner and was able to really narrow the focus and start making some of the work that’s in this show.

I wanted very much to do an intervention on a building there. I identified the old Johnson Woolen Mills building. I wanted to talk about water and wool as a collaboration between the things that can kill us and the things that can keep us alive.

Articiple: And ways that we interact with the environment, using it to produce things we use.

Jeanne: And all the beautiful patterns that come out of weaving wool. So this [freestanding wall installation] started out as an installation there. I realized that I would be crazy to want to wheatpaste a building in Vermont in December. It was really cold, and they kind of talked me down from it. But I did a photographic rendition of what I wanted it to look like. And that actually really helped me come to this installation.


Johnson Woolen Mill
Photographic rendition of visual intervention, 2015


Wool and Water, 2017
Acrylic on fabric
Installation view
The Compound Gallery


It was also interesting there because—they serve very healthy food so you really don’t want to miss meals and you want to go hang out with the other artists. So I was getting up early, going to my studio and then going to lunch. One day, I had painted a section of this on the floor. When I came back from lunch, there was all this mark-making that I hadn’t done. It was the salt from the floor from this old normal school that my studio was in, just coming up through the floor and affecting the water-based medium I was using. So now I have been using some salt in my process, and I definitely want to check that out again.

All these little flock marks are just coming out of the floor.

Articiple: Amazing. So this was acrylic medium that you mixed with pigment?

Jeanne: Yes. I was making my own paint. I was trying to use a limited palette that would reference the trail drawings. For years I’ve been using Guerra paints, a company in New York. They seem to be the only company that grinds pigment into water, so it’s a dispersion that you can make acrylic with. These are all different cocktails of acrylic that I made. Pretty much everything is acrylic, except for the drawings.


Higher Ground, 2017
Installation view with ink drawings
The Compound Gallery


Wool and Water study, 2017
Homemade walnut ink and Noodler’s kiowa pecan ink on Crane Lettra ecru paper


Picnic Lightening, 2017
Homemade walnut ink and Noodler’s kiowa pecan ink on Crane Lettra ecru paper


I made walnut ink with my students from trees on the Solano campus. I’m in the process of making iron gall ink. It’s not ready cause it takes a long time to ferment. It’s funky. I have some vats of it sitting in my office.

Articiple: And that will be a red?

Jeanne: I think it’s actually very black. I haven’t figured out how to make the red iron pigment. Where I live, there’s an iron-loving microorganism in the water. My water is actually the color of that wall, the orange part, if you get down to the bottom of the tank. It runs really red. People keep telling me I should go up to our water system and harvest some of the residue. I think it’s probably just iron in the water, and the microorganism is gone. I think if you dried it out, you could use it. It would be clotted, but the walnut ink is also like that.

Take: How did you make the walnut ink?

Jeanne: There are a lot of walnut trees where I teach. It’s the outer husk of the walnut that you use. Some of them we picked from the trees, some of them we picked up off the ground. We peeled off the spongy outer part and soaked it in water for a week. It became very black and very funky. Then I strained it through cheesecloth. And I made a watercolor medium that had glycerin, ox gall, and some honey. It’s not really ink, it’s more like watercolor. But it works really well. You can get different tonal ranges.

Articiple: Right. You’ve got everything from really dense, dark areas to transparent washes.

Take: So honey is the binding agent?

Jeanne: Honey is an anti-microbial.

Articiple: So it keeps it from fermenting more.

Jeanne: It also allows you to reconstitute it. If you have it on your palette, it dries shiny. But if you mist it with water, it becomes fluid again. I think usually there’s some kind of sugar in watercolor. Or gum arabic. You can see here, it got shiny. A couple of these drawings were so sticky that they stuck together and I had to repair them.

So I’m in love with drawing. I feel like it took me this long to figure out how to draw.

Articiple: There’s a lot of really nice varied line quality in these.

Jeanne: Just today I made a monoprint. I feel like if you have a daily drawing practice you already have a mechanism going that helps you move through imagery in a way that’s a little bit less self-loathing. You’re like, “I’m just going to start it. I’m not going to worry about it.” There will be less anxiety. It will just be like, “Here we go.” I feel like I needed that.

Articiple: Right. Then it’s more like a practice than a high-pressure goal.

It looks like you just used a pen nib and brushes?

Jeanne: It’s a Japanese tool, a Kuratake. It’s a fountain pen that has a sable tip. I converted it so I can use the ink of my choice. It comes with black, with cartridges that you can throw in. But once you convert it, there’s no waste. Whenever you need ink, you just create a vacuum and suck the ink up. I’ve had this pen for four years. The pen will never go away. The sable tip gets worn down. So you can see in some drawings, at the beginning they’ll be sharp and fine and lean, and then suddenly you wear it down and it’s harder to make fine lines. Right now I’m carrying around an extra tip, waiting to replace the old one. But I don’t want to replace the old one because I like what it’s doing.

Articiple: It’s amazing that these are all with the same tool.

Jeanne: The washes are not done with the same tool. I try to start with the tool. You can do a lot of inking and filling. But because these are not my sketchbook drawings, I go in and layer things afterwards, if it needs depth or something.

I’m fairly religious in the sketchbook practice, where it’s just the pen. That’s why it has to be small. But then it’s underwhelming, because when you show somebody, you’re like, “Look at my little iphone-sized drawing!”

Articiple: It’s like a miniature.

Jeanne: But it’s not the level of detail of a miniature. To me they feel more loose and painterly. I’m very happy with them. But when I talked to Matt and Lena about having a show here, it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to show the sketchbooks because it was like, “Here are these tiny things!” Not super exciting. So the vitrine was a great way to display the sketchbooks. It’s so great that they had that.

Articiple: It’s a really important part of this show. It’s what all the other work came out of.

Did you do these fabric-based patterns while you were in Vermont?



Higher Ground, 2017
Fabric pattern details
The Compound Gallery


Jeanne: Yeah. I was researching the Johnson Woolen Mill. I’ve had so many different jobs in my life. One of them was, I spent a couple years restoring antique Persian carpets. During that time I learned a lot about the patterns of the Caucasus and how they inspired so many patterns. A lot of Navajo rug patterns come from Caucasus rugs—not all of them, but some of the later ones. Settlers would go to a weaver and say, “I can’t afford a rug from the Caucasus, but I would like you to make me this.” So some of the patterns that we would identify as Native American actually go back further.

Articiple: I’ve been working with Islamic tile patterns. It’s the same, they’re related to Persia and the Caucasus.

Jeanne: The Fertile Crescent!

Articiple: Right. A lot of trading and exchange of ideas going on.

Jeanne: And in Japan, they’ve got the ikat woven pattern, for clothing that farmers wear, the black and turquoise. This one is a little bit like that.

Articiple: Ikat fabric, that’s when they pre-dye the pattern into the fiber before they weave it, right? It’s unbelievable how much precision and planning that must take.

Jeanne: Things were going a lot slower.

Articiple: Right. We do the same level of detail work now, we just use a lot of automation to do it.

Jeanne: They didn’t have machines, that was the only way. They didn’t really think about “time equals money”.

Articiple: Right. They weren’t “wasting” time, they were using it.

So when you made these patterns, did you find them online?

Jeanne: The Vermont Studio Center has an amazing library, so I found some things there. Then I also visited the Johnson Woolen Mill. This big, quasi-abandoned factory was between where I was living and where my studio was, so I was constantly going by it. I went in and checked it out. I really thought about how they’re essentially in the business of selling nostalgia to people who want a taste of this time in Vermont when things were hand-crafted. You want this heirloom, very expensive wool jacket that maybe you’re going to hunt in but maybe not. The other thing I found out that was super cool was that the icemen who were harvesting ice from these lakes in New England had a specific kind of pant that the Johnson Woolen Mill made. They were these green icemen pants.

Articiple: So they wouldn’t get cold.

Jeanne: Yeah. If you’re dealing with ice you have to protect yourself from water. Wool is great because it repels water. A lot of people on the PCT were proselytizing about their wool clothing.

Articiple: Instead of Goretex or something engineered.

Jeanne: Right. No synthetics, just wool, because it’s super warm, it’s also cool, it’s a little less stinky.

Take: It’s anti-microbial.

Jeanne: Yeah. But now there are all these Teflon-fiber anti-microbial fabrics.

Articiple: But they’re all trying to replicate natural materials.

Jeanne: The other thing I’ll say is that the Johnson Woolen Mill slyly mixes nylon in with their wool now.

Articiple: To make it more durable?

Jeanne: Yeah. It’s supposed to be a little stronger.

But when we were hiking, water was what it was about. It was either lack of water or too much water. We’re feeling like we’re going to die in a hailstorm because we’re being pummeled and we don’t have shelter, or we’re going through a place where there are absolutely no seasonal streams and we can’t carry enough water.

Articiple: What happens when there are days where you can’t carry enough?

Jeanne: At one point we hired a guy to come out to the PCT in the middle of the desert and drop water for us. There were quite a few water caches, but you’re never supposed to rely on a water cache.

Take: What is a water cache?

Jeanne: People go out and put gallons of water near the trail for the hikers. It’s sort of like we’re human hummingbirds. They’re like, “Oh, you’re so beautiful and wonderful. Look at you on your awesome pilgrimage across the country. We’re going to bring water to you.” It’s beautiful. But you can’t really rely that the water will be there. In one case, we got to a place that had an amazing water cache. We took water from it, and then within 12 hours a flash flood had completely washed the whole thing out. The vehicles that were coming through to replenish it couldn’t get through anymore.

The guy who was replenishing it, his trail name is Devil Fish, he showed a video to me of the flood. It was as if the desert floor was up to your waist, roiling like some molten lava. It was just like that, snap, the water just comes through.

Articiple: It can’t soak in anywhere because the ground is so hard.

Jeanne: It just goes so fast. It was nuts. But Jugs was this kid that we paid to bring us water.

Take: How did you find the kid?

Jeanne: It was as if we had been kidnapped. We were at the Tehachapi post office waiting to get Adeline a pair of shoes that we had ordered. The shoes didn’t come and we were really bummed and Canyon was very stressed. This woman walked in. She knew about us because we were hiking with a kid and it was unusual. She very much wanted to give us a ride. So we decided, yeah, we’ll just get in this woman’s car and she’ll take us wherever. We ended up going to the Mojave Motel 6, which is quite a scene. In Tehachapi we stayed in a nicer hotel, thinking, we need a break, we just want to chill out. The Motel 6 was way more fun. It was where everyone from the trail was. There was a swimming pool. People were barbecuing. It was just a convergence. It’s a big part of the PCT because you’re almost at the top of the desert when you get there, so you’ve really endured a lot. You’re about to get to Kennedy Meadows South, which is like—if you think about the Heironymous Bosch painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, everyone thinks it’s going to be like that.

Articiple: People must think, it’s called ‘meadow’, it must be lush!

Jeanne: Right, it’s a meadow. It’s where you get your big resupply before you enter the Sierra. It’s where you know you’re done with the desert and you’re going to be going into the mountains. All hell does break loose there, so that’s kind of great. When we hiked in it was dark and we had two little kids with us. We had Adeline and her cousin Julia. We could see in the distance that there was an enormous tipi and there was fire and people were whooping and hollering. When we got close enough for them to recognize that there were people arriving, everybody started whooping and screaming hysterically and clapping. Canyon turned to me and said, “I don’t know what kind of party we’re coming into.” But it turns out they just have a tradition of clapping everybody in because you made it that far. It was sweet, but we didn’t realize that until the next morning. The other thing is, they remove the spigots from the water. So by the time we got there, it was dark, it was crazy, the store was closed, there was nothing we could offer the children, and there was no water. So I had to go around and ask. Finally I ran into a hiker I knew and she gave me water.

They have to do it. Their water system is so fragile that they can’t have people just leaving it on. I think they’re trucking it in.

I’m still obsessed with water. Now, living on a watershed and thinking about what that means, trying to protect it, it’s become my issue. But there are so many social issues. They existed always, but now we’re in a place where everyone is more aware.

Articiple: And with water or any environmental issue, we know it’s always low-income people who are disproportionately affected.

Is this wall piece related to the work in your solo show at Solano last year? (Force of Nature, Herger Gallery, Solano Community College, March 2016)


Higher Ground, 2017
Wall painting/collage
The Compound Ground


Jeanne: Yes. This is somewhat new. The configuration is new and the patterns are new. The trees I made at Solano based on trees I had done in Vermont. So I’m still trying to deal with these ideas. Some of it is, you know how you have an idea and you’re trying to work through it and you feel like you’ve done it but it hasn’t been successful the way you want it to be. I feel like I’m still trying to deal with how the desert looked specific to charred fire and burnt trees. I haven’t gotten there yet. We had some amazing visual experiences, trees that would be upright, completely blown upside down and stuck into the ground, where we would have to climb through them. You just wonder, how did this happen, this is so unusual. Or, in a completely black and charred forest, there’s an amazing sense of renewal, with beautiful wildflowers just bursting up.

I finally saw my dream flower, a Matilija poppy, in the wild. For years I’ve know that they’re supposed to only grow after fire. I have them on my property and I love them. To see them in the wild was like, whoa! Because it was a charred, burnt area, but there were these big, beautiful white poppies. That was cool.


Matalija poppy


But there are also a lot of invasive species. And you’re like, we’re too far out for this to be here!

Articiple: Like broom and fennel?

Jeanne: Worse. Like star thistle. And you know it’s probably coming from horses. I saw some stuff pretty high up in the Sierra, where it didn’t seem like it should be there.

The David Brower Center hosted an amazing talk about this new textbook called Ecosystems of California. It’s a 1,000-page book that talks about California. It’s the first California ecology textbook in a long time. The guy who is the chief editor is Harold Mooney, from Stanford. He talked a lot about his scholarship, which was going out into the back country and seeing these stands of trees that were from much further away, and wondering what was happening. So he was the first person to document climate change out in the wilderness.

Articiple: So no matter how far you go into the wilderness, you can find evidence of change.

Jeanne: We definitely saw that. We saw the diminishing snowpack over a series of summers. We hiked the Sierra three summers in a row.

Articiple: It must be coming back this year finally, with the rains we’ve had.

Jeanne: This year is going to be amazing. We’ve been talking about taking another hike. I want to hike Washington, but we might do the John Muir Trail or something in California. The snow will be incredible. And much harder to hike.

Articiple: How did you make these patterns on the large wall pieces?


Higher Ground, 2017
Screen print detail from
wall painting/collage
The Compound Gallery


Jeanne: Those are screen printed. Everything in the show except those patterns is hand-painted. I have access to an amazing print shop at Solano and I have people working with me. We did this screen print and I liked it enough to incorporate it.

Articiple: It’s so textural! Can I touch it?

Jeanne: Yeah. It’s really thick. I’m using plastisol, which is like a textile ink. I feel like it blends visually with the other stuff, but I’m interested in making things by hand.

Articiple: And then you painted after you installed?

Jeanne: I used Matt Reynoso’s big, beautiful wooden ladder. There was a night where I just put stuff on the floor in here and got up on the ladder and dripped from the top. I knew I wanted an effect like that.

The piece you saw in Vallejo had drips that I made right on the wall. But this was a little more in my control.


Wild By Nature, 2016
(Collaboration with poet Canyon Steinzig)
Installation, Temple Art Lofts, Vallejo CA
In conjunction with the Visions of the Wild Film & Arts Festival 2016


Articiple: When you deinstall this wall, will this stay in one piece?

Jeanne: No. I was thinking about that. I’ll probably have a box with rolls.

Articiple: Each of these is its own separate piece.

Jeanne: It’s all placed. It’s going to look like nothing when you take it down. But these elements can be recontextualized. I liked the fact that I could come in here—Matt and Lena were so generous in letting me make it as a piece. So I was painting in the exhibition space.

Matt: And you had time, which was nice. There wasn’t a rush. Sometimes it’s like, you have two days to install.

Jeanne: When I’m taking it down, you’re going to be like, get it out of here! It does pull off really easily, though. And my game has gotten cleaner. The wheat paste is much thinner. I could reinstall this pretty easily, I think. This piece [central wall] has been installed three times, in Vermont, at Solano, and then here. It looks different every time, because it’s a different-sized wall. It feels a little different here because it’s missing the whole top section.


Fabric pattern installation, 2015
Vermont Studio Center


It’s acrylic, so it’s waterproof, so it doesn’t damage it to wet it and take it down. The only thing is, this part is my fountain pen ink. For some reason that bleeds a little bit. So I kind of learned a lesson. I like this kind of thing, I embrace the changing mark. But I know that out of all my materials, that ink runs. And it’s not supposed to.

Take: Maybe because it’s on plastic [the pellon substrate].

Jeanne: Maybe my Japanese pen does not like polyester!

Articiple: I like this piece. From this angle the whole piece is like a stele from 2001, like the beginning of writing, the beginning of symbolizing.

Matt: Should we put on monkey suits and jump around?

Articiple: And scream and hit each other with bones. Or should we fast-forward to the part where we all fly away in space ships?

Take: Maybe both!

Articiple: So, this piece was what came out of using the fabric patterns?

Jeanne: This was really influenced by Helen Frankenthaler. I met her when I was in high school, in Milwaukee. I was lucky to have a good art education, so I knew her and her significance. When I went to meet her, I shook her hand and I remember thinking, “Holy cow!” She had these big manicured fingernails. It was crazy. It threw me. I just thought, this is not what I think of from a female painter.


Hiking Helen Frankenthaler Up/Black;
Hiking Helen Frankenthaler Down/Yellow, 2017
Installation view
Acrylic on canvas


Articiple: She was very elegant, right?

Jeanne: She was super glamorous.

I feel lucky that I was able to grow up in Milwaukee in the proximity of an amazing collection that I could see every day. We had this program at the Milwaukee art museum where every day in my high school we would go down there in the afternoon for a class. It was amazing.

Articiple: Milwaukee still has a good art scene. For a city that size, it’s got a lot going on.

So what about these smaller pieces? This piece is folded?


Sequoia, 2017
Acrylic on linen mounted on wood
16 x 20 inches


Jeanne: This is a fabric that I made with my fountain pen in my sketchbook. It’s an image of a clear cut forest from above. I used an iphone app and then I sent it to Spoonflower and had them print it onto linen. So it’s a digital print. It’s fabric that I glued down and then painted back into. But I made the mistake of using clear gesso, which caused it to cloud. So I feel like there is work in this show that I’d like to spend more time with.

Articiple: What would you use instead of clear gesso?

Jeanne: Polyvinyl adhesive glue, maybe. It’s for bookbinding.

For this piece, I wanted to see how low-tech I could be, meaning only the digital stuff I could do on the phone. There’s something to be said for limiting your possibilities. When I was hiking I had to learn how to write on my phone. We had some friends on the trail that we really loved, who started hiking with laptops. They were amazing artists, they wanted to document things or be able to upload stuff. After a couple hundred miles they realized that’s too much to carry.

Articiple: Not when you’re living outside. Maybe if you’re staying in a cabin.

Take: Did you have solar panels to charge your phones?

Jeanne: We have an external battery. It’s the size of the phone and it’s fairly heavy. But it will charge your phone for about a week—it charged my phone and Canyon’s phone and Adeline’s Kindle. The only technology we had to charge externally was our spot device. We had a satellite communication device that we had to keep charged.

Take: So that’s to send emergency texts?

Jeanne: Yeah, that’s one of the things it can do. That was really helpful. There’s a button you can push when you need an immediate rescue. If you push it that means they’re going to send someone with a helicopter.

Take: And then you have to pay!

Jeanne: Right. So we encountered a hiker who told us he was dying. He said, “If you have the emergency device, use it!” Because Canyon is an ER nurse, he was able to assess the situation. We were in a place where there was no place to land a helicopter. So with that device, within about 15 minutes I was able to get a Yosemite ranger texting with me. He was asking, “What does it look like? What’s going on? Can you land a helicopter? Can you move him?” It all worked out and it was way better than sending a helicopter.

We were hiking with people who did have to use their device to get their kid rescued. He got a really bad injury in the snow in Washington and they couldn’t walk out. So they sent a horseback rescue.

Articiple: That’s a little better than having to send a helicopter.

Jeanne: In the hiking community there were people who were very judgmental about it. I felt like, you have to do what you have to do.

Articiple: Definitely. If your kid is hurt, why would you put them in more danger?

Jeanne: There’s always the judgment though, like, “Oh, they’re idiots.” That’s not true.

Articiple: Nobody plans to have an emergency. That’s the whole definition of emergency.

Take: How did you caught in a hailstorm?

Jeanne: We had a terrible experience with another artist, because I made a mistake. I wanted more than anything to sleep above the tree line because it’s so beautiful. We were all set up in the dark and we were eating and it was great. Then the storms came in from both ends of the valley. We packed up and ran. Adeline and I ran off the mountain and kept going. We got to the tree line and we were like, “Look at us, we’re so cool. Everything is great.” Then the sky opened up. The hail started coming so fast and so hard, I had never seen anything like it. It was a superstorm! It was incredible.

Within minutes, we were freezing and we didn’t have a shelter up. So we had to put up a shelter quickly. Canyon did that. He got in with a frying pan and dug it out, because it was full of hail. That night, the water was just running under it. I have a cell nylon cover for my sleeping mattress. It wicked all of the moisture. All of the water that was flowing below us went into my sleeping area. I was freezing. I had to get naked and lay on Canyon skin to skin to get warm. Little Adeline was like a pink ball of fluff sleeping in the middle, totally fine, but in the morning Canyon and I were all hung over and sad.

We were at a waterfall where there was hail just flowing by us. It was nuts. We hiked to a ranger station where the ranger had been working there for 40 years. He was in his 70s. He said it was the worst storm he had ever seen. So then we didn’t feel like idiots. It’s just that weather can be crazy. But I’ll never sleep above tree line again.

Take: Did you hike through any place where you were always above tree line for more than a day?

Jeanne: You have to time it right so that you hit it where you can go over the pass and get down to safety. We did have one night where we slept above tree line and it was fine. But if the weather’s bad, you have no place to go. The chance of getting hit by lightning is much higher. Every year there are hikers who die in their tents sleeping up there.

Articiple: I’ve heard about people getting struck on top of Half Dome, even though that’s a really well-monitored area.

Jeanne: There’s a Faraday cage on Mount Whitney because somebody did get hit by lightning in the hut. They have these stone huts that are supposed to protect you from the elements. But a guy was in there in inclement weather and got nailed and died. So now the beautiful hut has this big, crazy metal box around it. You’re not allowed to sleep in Muir hut, on Muir Pass. It’s circular, it’s so beautiful. It looks like a fairy house. But it’s not a safe place to sleep because of lightning.

Articiple: Tell me about these pieces.


Collage wall, 2017
Mixed media


Jeanne: Those are me exploring collage, and also playing with some of the patterns I had made. These patterns are the soles of shoes. This is the pattern on the bottom of Vans. This was originally designed as a skateboard deck.

This piece is close to my heart. The athletes that made the protest gesture, the black power salute, at the 1968 Olympics—Tommie Smith and John Carlos—also trained on the PCT. There is a monument to them on the trail. I always like to think that they hatched that idea on the PCT, because it’s a great, expansive space to think about, “What are we going to do?”


Decisive Moment: Showers Lake to Echo Summit, 2017
Acrylic on fabric mounted on wood


A lot of people are out there thinking, “What’s going to happen next in our lives?” I just ran into a woman at the Oakland Museum  who we met on the PCT. She said, “After the PCT I had a kid and now I have a whole different life.” Her life completely changed.

Articiple: This is a really important piece in the show. There are still ways that environmentalism, or even the protection of open spaces like the PCT, is seen as separate from social justice issues, as if the way we treat the environment is not connected to racism or violence or other problems. So bringing in this image of Smith and Carlos starts to make some connections between issues.

Jeanne: I’m trying really hard to make those connections. Naomi Klein did such a good job in This Changes Everything, her book about climate change. She brings it to activist culture around the country and around the world. This era that we’re living in, where people feel that the answer is to build a wall and keep everyone out, is really going to make it impossible for us to share resources and live peacefully. It’s going to bring on war and pestilence.

The cool thing for me about the PCT is, it’s a very hopeful space. A lot of the folks who are on it are trying to be their best possible selves. So there is a lot of discussion around social justice. The year we hiked was the year that gay marriage was passed. The kids we were hiking with were so excited and moved by this that they rented a U-Haul and went to the gay pride parade in San Francisco from the PCT. All levels of hilarious mayhem ensued. They got pulled over by the police. Of course it was documented, videod, in the way everything is now. The cops realized that they had this crazy situation where there were 22 people in the U-Haul who were naked and filthy and laying in hammocks. It was just like Facebook candy, we were all following it from afar. The police were laughing when they saw what was happening. They made everybody get out and sit down, and they issued each and every one of them a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt, and then they sent them on their way. So it worked out ok, and they did get to go to the gay pride parade in their U-Haul despite the police intervention.

People on the trail cared about the environment, but also about other people. You could tell when you ran into new hikers, because they would say, “You’re going to love this place, you’re not going to see anyone!” Whenever people said that to me, I thought, actually I’ve been outside long enough that I’m super happy to see other people. Generally the people that I meet on the trail are so cool that I want to meet them. I’m not just going for the solitude. I’m going for community and adventure. Usually an adventure happens with other people.

Articiple: I really like how you’ve taken this in so many directions for the show, starting with natural patterns and forms and making all these permutations.

Jeanne: I’m happy to be in a place where things are very fertile and I can play with ideas. Now I feel like I can circle back to some of these things that I didn’t quite investigate all the way. I think there’s enough here for me to dig into for a while.

Articiple: What direction do you think you’ll go in next?

Jeanne: I’m really interested in working in the landscape. I’ve identified places where I live. There are these old foundations where I’d like to do some very mild intervention and document it. Then I’d like to think about what that is, and try to take it into an urban environment. I think it would be cool to have an unfolding of what’s happening in the landscape, in the watershed, and what’s happening in the city.

There is a lot here that I don’t feel that I completely explored with the social justice angle. I could go further with that.

Articiple: That could be a show in itself.

I also love everything you’ve done with tessellation and pattern variation. I just finished the series using Islamic knot tiles, so I’m thinking a lot about that too.

Jeanne: That’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time. I feel like pattern is about empathy. I think there’s something for humans about wanting to see things that are repeated. It gives you comfort if you’re searching for food, to see repetition. So there are all these ways of conveying that, looking closely and realizing that the patterns in nature are really complicated.

Articiple: And they really signify a lot. There’s so much information there for someone who’s relying on visual perception and pattern recognition for survival. Really it’s like the foundation of thinking. You need repetition to understand relationships, to say, “I saw this before, but that’s new, how does that relate to this?” It’s primordial.

I really think art must have started with abstraction and patterning. Before you’d made a representation, you’d first just be making marks with your hands or your feet. You’d notice marks, and then start making them intentionally, just playing with the mechanics and the visual impact of that.

Take: Like the old cave paintings, hand prints and things like that.

Articiple: Right! 

And I love that you put Adeline’s Totoro in the show.


Adeline’s Totoro on the trail, 2015


Jeanne: Yes, Totoro made it 2,000 miles. There were other things Adeline carried for awhile. People would give her things, and every now and then we’d have to shake her down and make her send things home. But this made it all the way. It’s very sweet. It’s a forest spirit. It’s very beautiful.

Articiple: Is there anything else in the show that we should talk about?

Jeanne: This piece is a representation of Glen Pass, which is really steep. This is the one actual landscape painting. Very little of this show feels like representational landscape, it’s more emotional or psychological, things that I experienced.


Glen Pass, 2017
Acrylic on linen mounted on wood


This painting is my attempt to make clear the steepness of the granite. It’s 3,000 feet straight down. It’s terrifying. I’ve been through twice, once in one direction and once in the other. Both times it made me really queasy. I’m really afraid of heights and I’m not a good descender. I find that when I’m up in these places, one reason I like being around people is, it helps make the pass possible. I ran into these wonderful Mormon women who chatted me down off the pass. The whole way, we just chitchatted. It was great, because I could just watch this woman’s feet and think, yeah, I’m watching her feet, it’s cool, I’m not looking down and feeling sick to my stomach.

The worst part was looking over at my child and feeling, oh my god, what if she slips or fumbles. She’s much better than I am in terms of that kind of thing.

Articiple: Not nervous about heights.

Jeanne: No, she’s not. And I’m terrified, so I’m glad to be with people who can handle it.

Articiple: Are these pieces both about Glen Pass?


Picnic Lightning, 2017
Acrylic on linen mounted on wood


Jeanne: This one is the hailstorm. It’s about what it felt like when the sky opened up and it was like this biblical deluge. It’s the power of nature, where you realize that you are fucked. I had that thought with my friend Anthony Ryan, who’s an artist. He’s hiked 300 miles with us at least. Every summer he has a near-death experience. This time, I remember feeling like, I got kind of floppy inside, and I literally had the feeling like, I might die tonight. I really thought hypothermia was going to set in and we weren’t going to be able to pull out of it. Luckily, Canyon is not like that. He’s like, “We’re going to deal with this!” He just started working.

Articiple: He’s like, “You’re not bleeding, you’re not having organ failure—“

Jeanne: But the artists were like, “I guess it’s time to die.” It doesn’t say a lot for art. I actually can’t speak for Anthony. All of us were huddled under a blue tarp trying to stay dry. Finally Canyon got it going and dealt with everything. But this piece is how it felt—it was a biblical, epic event.

Articiple: It looks like everything is rushing towards you.

Jeanne: I feel like I’ve drawn this a lot and I’m still trying to figure it out. The other thing is, finding ways to translate sketchbook drawings into bigger pieces is difficult because you have to scale up a mark, and finding the right tool for that is hard. I’m almost there. I don’t totally know what that tool is, but I’m getting closer. In the scale of the show, this gallery is not a big space. Most of the work is fairly small. Most of the things hanging on the walls tend to be head- or shoulder-size. But I love making the big pieces. I want to be in it with my body.



Higher Ground, 2017
Installation view with Jeanne in foreground
The Compound Gallery

Truong Tran

Black As a Color Is Absolute, 2016 Acrylic on panel 38 x 38 inches

Black As a Color Is Absolute, 2016
Acrylic on panel
38 x 38 inches


I met Truong Tran when we both identified as poets with an interest in making art. In the years since then we’ve each given more time to our art practices until now the balance is effectively reversed. In Truong’s poetry I admired the clarity and specificity, the vulnerability that never veered into the maudlin, the recombinatory structures that wove different contexts and intensities into new wholes.

Truong has transposed those poetic sensibilities in an art practice that takes the detritus of our manufactured lives–overstocked plastics, leftover house paint, discarded porn–in works that go beyond the juxtaposition of collage or assemblage. These pristine works may attract us first with their brightness and precision, but the meaning of these pieces is borne in the unsettling and unresolved questions that motivate the work. Truong’s art brings us a language by way of objects.


Truong Tran with Black As a Color Is Absolute, #5 and #4 (opening reception for How Touching/In These Times with Mary Burger, Working Space Projects, Jan. 2017 Photo: Alan Bamberger)

Truong Tran with
Black As a Color Is Absolute, #5 and #4
(opening reception for In These Times,
Working Space Projects,
Jan. 2017
Photo: Alan Bamberger)


Truong: This is my new exploration. It’s house paint. I need to ask you about how to preserve things like this because—someone reminded me of the character in the Kurt Vonnegut novel where he was painting with house paints and he sold his paintings for millions of dollars, and then at one point all of them started deteriorating.

Articiple: Well, a lot of paintings made with house paint have held up pretty well. Pollack and Rothko used house paint!

Truong: It’s a strange space between controlling and letting go. I use ketchup bottles, squeeze bottles.

Articiple: So you have your whole palette of colors lined up in bottles, and you just grab and squeeze?

Truong: I buy the squeeze bottles and I do it right in my kitchen. I don’t use a brush, so I feel like I have more control. There’s an idea of somehow being able to control it. But then, even when you think you have controlled it, you walk away and come back and something’s changed. Sometimes you like it, and sometimes you go, aghh, no. There’s always that anticipation of control, how much you put on or whatever. And then the surrender of it, because it’s never going to fully follow your will.

At some point, something will ultimately get screwed up in the process. I’m always like, what is that moment? Do you try to cover up your mistake or do you just let it exist? And I find that if I leave it alone and walk away, usually when I come back, that’s the art.

Articiple: Exactly. Finding the shift in your expectations.

Truong: Each one of these has a different feel. I did one last night that I kind of fucked up. And then looking back at it, I think I’m ok with it. Because, looking back at some of these pieces, there’s some hemorrhage.

Articiple: Is that what you mean when you say fucked up? Where the paint bled, instead of staying in perfect circles?

Truong: Yeah. And I kept adding more to try to fix it, within these really clean areas there were a couple places that just felt wrong.

But there’s something really meditative. I don’t know how you work, but I love finding methods of working that allow me to meditate while I work.

Articiple: So you’re not planning every move, you’re kind of repeating a technique.

Truong: Everything is done instinctively in some sense. And with the butterflies it was muscle memory. You sit there and cut and after awhile your hand just moves through it.

Summer Bliss, 2014 Mixed media 49 x 69 inches

Summer Bliss, 2014
Mixed media
49 x 69 inches


Bang Bang, 2014 (detail of butterflies cut from vintage pornography)

Summer Bliss, 2014
(detail of butterflies cut from vintage pornography)


Truong: You know, that probably is my favorite part of making art, you spend all of this time thinking about an idea. And then when you get to the work, it’s almost like you turn off that part of yourself. In poetry, it doesn’t happen like that for me. It feels like every word has to be thought through. In art, it’s almost like there’s this movement through the work.

That’s the beauty of allowing your hands and the act of making guide your thinking. The thinking is evolving as it happens.

Articiple: And using your eye. Your physical relationship to it, moving back, stepping away, coming back.

I can see that in a lot of your work, the hands take over. You’re not rethinking every move, you’re kind of playing out something from an idea you had before you started.

Truong: And with these paintings, it’s just the dropping. After awhile you just automatically think through the process.

Last night I didn’t like what happened. I was trying to scrape off some paint and it was kind of a mess.

Articiple: You’re probably very sensitive to the little variations that someone else won’t notice.

Truong: Yeah, people won’t fully understand that.

Articiple: I like the fact that there is variation. It shows that it wasn’t completely planned—that there was some surrender, like you said.

That’s what I like screen printing. I use it as an improv technique so there are always surprises. I don’t ink the screens perfectly, I don’t make perfect contact between the screen and the canvas or whatever. I control certain things and let other things just happen.

What’s the substrate for the paintings?

Truong: It’s birch panel. And before I paint, I go over the wood with probably six coats of black India ink. I’m trying to get the blackest black.

Articiple: Right, the totally absorptive black, like the ‘Vantablack’ that Anish Kapoor got the rights to.


Two identical bronze casts, one painted with Vantablack (image: Surrey NanoSystems)

Two identical bronze casts, one painted with Vantablack
(image: Surrey NanoSystems)


Truong: Yeah. That’s the starting point. The idea is, I wanted to start the point of entry with the color black as the surface.

Articiple: And totally matte.

Truong: Yeah, almost like you sink into it.

This was one of my first prototypes. The one I’m working on now has text on it.

Articiple: And you use press-on type for the text?

Truong: I use Letrasets, which is how graphic designers used to do all of their work. It’s all contact. I have thousands of them, I just started hoarding them, because I knew it was going out. At some point they’re not going to have any more. So I just grabbed all that I could. I have a giant box.

I incorporated the lettering because I can control the lettering. What I don’t get in trying to control the paint, I can get with the lettering. It’s very precise.

Black As a Color Is Absolute #5, 2016 Acrylic on panel 25 x 25 inches

Black As a Color Is Absolute #5, 2016
Acrylic on panel
25 x 25 inches


Articiple: And there’s so much signification associated with text. It makes a good counterpoint to using color by itself.

Truong: It was also really interesting to work with letters as an art material, as opposed to language. I love that part of it, and the different font sizes and all that.

I started working over the summer with thread. I created a landscape with it. I also tried to do a little embroidery. I embroidered the first poem I memorized. It’s a Robert Frost poem. I could never teach this poem, but somehow it felt ok to put it in a piece of art.

Articiple: Language takes on a different quality when it’s used visually. It doesn’t have the same pressures of analysis.

Truong: It doesn’t have the same scrutiny.

Articiple: Like, it’s ok to use the word ‘eden’ in a piece of art.

Truong: Yes!

Articiple: And this is on velvet?

Truong: Yeah, like an upholstery fabric. J-Ha (writer Jennifer Hasegawa) helped me with this a little bit. She started it. But, being that I’m a control freak, I was like, oh, I’ve gotta do it myself.

The first half of the summer I was completely immersed in doing this Mylar work. These pieces light up.

I always have to figure out the best lighting. Flourescent lights are the best. They give off the best light. LEDs are problematic. I used LED strings for these.

Solids, 2013 Mixed media 12 x 48 inches (early pieces with mylar and light)

Solids, 2013
Mixed media
12 x 48 inches
(early pieces with mylar and light)


Articiple: That looks great, light catching all the surfaces.

Truong: I did an experiment last year where I made these pieces, these light sticks. This was when I was over at the Norton Factory Studios. At the time all these things were happening to me in the world and in the art community that I was kind of thinking about as I was making them.

Installation view of light sticks, 2015

Installation view of light sticks, 2015


They’re made with these things called pixel blocks. They’re these tiny pieces of translucent plastics, they look like pixels. And it was a great design idea, you could use it to build three-dimensionally. But it became a choking hazard for kids. And it’s not very conducive for people who have bad dexterity. So it came and went in a heartbeat. I discovered it and I started playing with it. I did a series of them.

And then I had that moment at completion, I was trying to figure out what to do next with them, do I name them in a way that gives people entry into them? Or do I just let them exist? Because that moment when I name it—I think Mark Bradford does this in his work, names it in such a way that frames the thinking of it. It’s a really interesting way to work, because his work is completely abstract. And it’s beautiful. But he always gives it a title that guides the thinking of it.

Mark Bradford Lights and Tunnels, 2015 (from the solo exhibition Scorched Earth, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles) Mixed media on canvas 84 x 108 inches

Mark Bradford
Lights and Tunnels, 2015
Mixed media on canvas
84 x 108 inches
(from the solo exhibition Scorched Earth,
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles)


Truong: I was thinking about that in my work. Do I give that name to it, or is it an undermining of the visual endeavor of it?

Articiple: And did you end up giving them titles or giving them a context?

Truong: I did give them titles. I gave them titles that framed the thinking of the time for me. But part of me always felt that that undermines the visual endeavor of the work.

Articiple: There’s always the question of how much of context you want to create for the work. Do you just want to say ‘untitled’ and put it out in the world, or give it more back story?

Truong: And that’s the fear. If I say ‘untitled’ the work becomes decoration.

Articiple: I think titles really are part of the work for me. Naming a piece is part of figuring out what’s at stake in it. It’s a process of drafting and revision, just like any kind of writing. And like any writing, I might throw out a lot of ideas as I go along before I get to the final version.

It’s the same when I’m looking at someone else’s work. A title gives another way to enter into the context of the work. You can get context from a lot of sources, like knowing about the artist’s process or the issues in their work. But maybe since I’m a writer I like it when some of the context comes as a piece of language.

Truong: But sometimes it feels very false. I watch a lot of Art 21, I use it as a way of studying techniques. But I also got to a point where I feel like those artists, those 1% artists, I’ll call them, because I think they’re the epitome of success—they have all that rhetoric. And it’s almost like there is an obligation on their part to speak to the kind of social condition that frames their work.

Articiple: And it’s sometimes like that obligation is only in the title or in the artist statement. The work itself can be filled with ambiguity, but the title might have a much more explicit or direct political message.

Truong: It’s not resolved for me. I always feel as though I’m at risk of being invisible if it doesn’t have a statement that frames it to guide your thinking around it. I feel like people will see it as decorational…

I look at Rauschenberg and you know, a can of paint, a goat’s head, a tire, and it suddenly is this great work of art. But I don’t think I could do that.

Robert Rauschenberg Monogram, 1955-1959 Mixed media 42 x 63 x 65 inches

Robert Rauschenberg
Monogram, 1955-1959
Mixed media
42 x 63 x 65 inches


I don’t think I could ever create something from that perspective of pure aesthetics or whatever, and put it out there and get a pass. I feel like there’s going to be a questioning of how I position myself in relation to that art. I think that happens for everyone. It happens for women, it happens for people of color. I think the white dudes in society still get to have that pass. They still get to do this thing based on ‘innovation and inquiry’.

It’s almost the same in writing. Too often I see how writers of color or women writers are framed within the context of existing as that being that reflects and documents history, as opposed to getting to innovate. ‘Innovation’ is still somehow handed to white men.

I always have that struggle when people look at my work and they see the image in my work. And often it’s the found image of the male body. There’s always the question of, where are you in it? As though somehow, if I put images of people of color in that framework, then somehow it eases the tension of questioning my relation. Because they see a person of color as a representation of myself in the work. I get that question all the time.

Butterfly Boy, 2009 Mixed media 57 x 42 inches

Butterfly Boy, 2009
Mixed media
57 x 42 inches


So I guess my response is, as a gay Asian man walking around this world being very conscious of who I am, I don’t think that ever is outside of my consciousness. It’s always a part of my work. I make very specific decisions about how to work with my materials. One, I don’t feel comfortable cutting into the image of a person of color and fragmenting that, sometimes. And two, more often than not, when I go looking for images, and looking as a response to the expectations, I end up in this framework of fetish. You go into a store to buy this material. There are several vintage spaces in the city where you can buy this material, if I get to that point. They’re all categorized by fetish. This is found material. I’m not working to seek out a fetish.

Articiple: The representations are already packaged as products. You’re repurposing them as a commentary on what you’ve found.

Truong: Reproducing the problems of it too. It’s problematic. It’s just really interesting to me that people, when they look at the work, they want some resolution.

I’ve had several occasions where people approached me about the butterfly work and wanted to buy it but asked that I do an edit on it.

Articiple: To remove the porn?

Truong: To make it more rated R, as opposed to rated X. I was like, you want me to go through and pinpoint the pieces that you think are not appropriate?

Articiple: I want to shift gears a little to talk about the issue of displacement–which of course is closely related to hierarchies of representation and control. Artist displacement in the Bay Area has become part of the city’s narrative. You were one of 70 artists who lost space at Studio 17 in the Mission in 2015 when the owners decided not to renew the artists’ leases. You were very involved in publicly advocating to protect the artist space. (KQED reported on the eviction and the aftermath.) How did that all play out?


Redlick Building, formerly Studio 17 17th and Mission St, San Francisco

Redlick Building,
former site of Studio 17
17th and Mission St,
San Francisco


Truong: We got kicked out on the premise that they were going to retrofit the building because it was unsafe for us, but they never offered us a way back in. And as soon as we vacated, they moved over the rest of that tech company that was lurking across the hall.

Articiple: Without even renovating?

Truong: Without renovating. Because it turns out it was an optional retrofit.

I went to the Arts Commission and said, hey, can you help us? Is there anything you can do or speak to, to advocate for us? And they said very clearly, we’re a city organization, so therefore we can’t get involved. We have to take a neutral position. And then, on the day of the hearing at which the Planning Commission votes to approve it, someone from the Arts Commission shows up and speaks really fast—they read off a statement that was so fast that you couldn’t even pick up on it, but basically they said, “We’re here to support whatever decision the Planning Commission arrives at. We want to say that we have already been in touch with the developers. We’re here representing the artists, trying to get them these things.”

I’m like, hold up. You never talked to us about this. You’re not representing us. The question is, how much did they pay you? Because that’s really what it comes down to. Someone’s pocket was filled. That’s the thing, in city politics. It was almost like they pulled a fast one on us. They wanted to do it really fast, hoping nobody would even notice it.

And sure enough, that’s happening all over the city. Back in the 60s and 70s, artist studios were zoned as PDR spaces (Production, Distribution, and Repair). And now they’re all being rezoned as office spaces. And everyone is making the same argument, which is that they’re trying very hard to accommodate the artists. So they’re finding other spaces to offer to the artists. But those spaces that they’re finding are all spaces that once belonged to non-profits or the service industry or mom-and-pop stores. These folks just disappear overnight.

Articiple: It’s this folding over of the city fabric.

Truong: Because it’s easier to talk about supporting the artists than it is to talk about displacing the larger community in the city. Take away the services to these communities that need them and sure enough, they start to move out. Because they don’t have the services to support them.

I almost compare the art scene now to the Truth commercials for cigarettes. All those damn commercials are made by the tobacco industry.

Articiple: As their fine for defrauding the public for decades.

Truong: They make these really shocking commercials, but they’re the ones making them. And the nonprofit arts community is doing the same thing. They do shows about displacement with one hand, but then you see support from the tech companies on the other.

Anne Subercaseaux

  Anne Subercaseaux finds substance in the insubstantial, in paintings that freeze the ephemeral patterns of reflection and shadow.  In her muted, almost monochrome palettes, images seem familiar but still elusive.  The precise silhouette of a bridge girder or a windblown branch moves into focus and out … Continue reading

Mel Prest

MIrror Zigg+.  2013, acrylic and metallic acrylic on panel.  28" x 22" x 2".

MIrror Zigg+. 2013, acrylic and metallic acrylic on panel. 28″ x 22″ x 2″.


Mel Prest is a San Francisco-based painter whose geometric-patterned works of charged color create such energy, they almost seem audible.

Mel’s past exhibitions include solo shows at Gregory Lind Gallery in San Francisco and B Sakara Garo in Sacramento.  In October 2014 her solo show MoonBrightChime/Portmanteau will open at Galleri Urbane in Dallas.  Mel is also a curator and art instructor working with numerous arts organizations in the Bay Area and throughout the world.

Articiple: The color relationships in your paintings carry so much energy—colors chase each other around the surface, reverberating in one area and then another, changing with the lighting, the viewer’s position, or even a tilt of the head. Of course color is inseparable from pattern in these pieces.  The basic elements of the patterns seem simple at first—diagonal lines in parallel, intersecting and overlapping—but they get more complex the longer one looks.  The patterns create alternating areas of density and openness, rest and activity, that move around the paintings.   The color/pattern dynamics continually animate the paintings and undo any fixed sense of composition.

Crossed Arrows

Crossed Arrows. 2013, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel. 14″ x11″ x2″.



Crossed Arrows. Side view.


Music for Limbo. 2014, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel. 14" x 11" x 2".

Music for Limbo. 2014, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel. 14″ x 11″ x 2″.


Music for Limbo.  Side view.

Music for Limbo. Side view.


Mel: Even though I stick to color and line in painting I feel like I’m constantly being surprised by what can happen. I don’t think it shows so well in the photograph but this piece with the fluorescent yellow so bright that makes the white look gray/ beige/ violet made me really excited. Just something so simple can be sort of magical—sneaking up on me while I work.

More Thought Work. 2014, acrylic on panel, 14″ x 11″ x 2″.


I painted in sets of parallel lines for many years, and allowing the lines to cross and meet has made the work much more alive. I’m most excited by glitches and where the pattern starts to break down—subtle things like reloading the brush with paint or a momentary jitter become visible and affect the work immediately.

Crossed Arrows Apocalypse OK.  2014, 28" x 22" x 2".

Crossed Arrows Apocalypse OK. 2014, 28″ x 22″ x 2″.


RF Arrows. 2013, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel.  12" x 12" x 2".

RF Arrows. 2013, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel. 12″ x 12″ x 2″.


Reverb.  2013, acrylic , interference, metallic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel.  14" x 11" x 2".

Reverb. 2013, acrylic , interference, metallic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel. 14″ x 11″ x 2″.


Articiple: A few years ago you shifted from oil to acrylic paint, and recently you’ve been including phosphorescent and metallic paint in some works. What has that shift meant for you?

Mel: Now, using acrylic, I feel I can do anything. I paint over things all the time and can get much stranger colors and physical effects. The glow in the dark is the most fun—it’s something that’s culturally attached to 70s black light posters and crafts, so using it feels naughty. I mean I was trained very classically and so things like metallics or fluorescents weren’t available in oil paint, or if they were they weren’t found on the “Master’s palette.” The best thing about these paints is that they shift with lighting conditions and proximity. It’s weird but I think working with acrylic has reaffirmed that nature is one of my strongest reference points—I’m looking and finding the effects of late afternoon sunlight flooding through a stand of trees by using silver, for example. It flashes at you when you walk by silver lines—goes from light to shadow instantly—like the sun going behind a cloud.

Falling Indigo Diamonds.  2013, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel.  14" x 11" x 2".

Falling Indigo Diamonds. 2013, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel. 14″ x 11″ x 2″.


Falling Indigo Diamonds.  Side view.

Falling Indigo Diamonds. Side view.


SF Radiation.  2013, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel.  36" x 36" x 2".

SF Radiation. 2013, acrylic and phosphorescent acrylic on panel. 36″ x 36″ x 2″.


SF Radiation.  Lights off.

SF Radiation. Lights off.


Articiple: The British artist Bridget Riley seems like a sort of artistic soul mate—your engagement with perception, your use of rhythm and variation, overlap in a lot of interesting ways.  I’ve also been thinking about Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, the Hard-edge work of Helen Lundeberg, even  Agnes Martin, as possible influences or co-travelers. Do any of these resonate for you?

Bridget Riley, "Cataract 3."  1967, PVA on canvas.  87" x 87-3/4".

Bridget Riley, “Cataract 3.” 1967, PVA on canvas. 87″ x 87-3/4″.


Bridget Riley, "In Attendance."  1994, oil on linen.  89" x 65".

Bridget Riley, “In Attendance.” 1994, oil on linen. 89″ x 65″.


Mel: I like Ellsworth Kelly, Bridget Riley and Agnes Martin! But I was profoundly influenced by Robert Irwin—I remember walking into Dia:Chelsea and seeing his Excursus: Homage to the Square3 installation and being transported.  And his book Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees. It was a book I read annually for a while and it got me super un-stuck in grad school. I like his approach—still—to his work, to phenomena, and to seeing. For me, he is the most important artist in my life.

Robert Irwin, "Excursus: Homage to the Square(3)."   1998.  Installation, dimensions variable.

Robert Irwin, “Excursus: Homage to the Square(3).” 1998. Installation, dimensions variable.


Agnes Martin, her stubborn kindness in discussing work, and her own work, is exciting. I relate to her focus with line, and to the very direct work—no mediation with a straightedge or representation. The quality of the work being that it is what it is—how it is what you bring to it—that there is no story, only what you see. I also appreciate her writings and how they speak so directly, plus address Zen Buddhism.

Agnes Martin, "The Islands."  1961, acrylic and graphite on canvas.  72" x 72".

Agnes Martin, “The Islands.” 1961, acrylic and graphite on canvas. 72″ x 72″.


I like how Ellsworth Kelly uses shapes, and also the possibility of chance, like Dada poetry, cutting and re-forming the image/work. La Combe is based on a photograph of light and shadow on a Parisian stairway that inspired a wellspring of paintings (like these and these.) This seriality that he uses—mining an image or an idea over and over again—is also something I hold close, admire and relate to.

Ellsworth Kelly, “La Combe I.”  1950, oil on canvas.  38" × 63-3/4".

Ellsworth Kelly, “La Combe I.” 1950, oil on canvas. 38″ × 63-3/4″.


Josef Albers’ work is thrilling too—the idea that color is always deceiving and must be in relationship (to other color) to be truly seen makes me think of color as phenomena and experiential. His book Interaction of Color reads like poetry.

Joseph Albers, from "Interaction of Color."  Published in 1963.

Joseph Albers, from “Interaction of Color.” Published in 1963.


I love Bridget Riley—and I so appreciate that you picked up on her in relation to me/my work. I like that much of her color relates to viewing nature and phenomena. Also that her iterations are visible—I see different versions of similar works and imagine I can see what she was seeing.

Bridget Riley, "Saraband."  1985, oil on linen.  54" x 65".

Bridget Riley, “Saraband.” 1985, oil on linen. 54″ x 65″.


And I have really fallen for Katarina Grosse’s work lately.  I feel like her work is always about to fall apart and that the color holds it together. Her large-scale pieces on erratic and non-traditional surfaces have been rolling around in my mind so much lately. I like that they feel too big to understand somehow.

Katharina Grosse.  2009, from exhibition at Temporare Kunsthalle, Berlin.

Katharina Grosse. 2009, from exhibition at Temporare Kunsthalle, Berlin.


I also like Mark Grotjahn, because he pushes the work till it becomes kind of ugly and also kind of like a ceremonial object—like it’s been carved or woven or somehow “built.” Also El Anatsui—how all the small objects add to a whole, creating different viewings/ perceptions based on distance; how all the small parts flow together rather than create so much pressure or feel picky. I think I could go on for a long time thinking about artists I like and for all different reasons.

Mark Grotjahn, "Untitled (Black and Cream Butterfly."  2006, crayon and mixed media on board.  48" x 35".

Mark Grotjahn, “Untitled (Black and Cream Butterfly.” 2006, crayon and mixed media on board. 48″ x 35″.


El Anatsui, "Gravity and Grace."  2010, aluminum and copper wire.  145-5/8" x 441".

El Anatsui, “Gravity and Grace.” 2010, aluminum and copper wire. 145-5/8″ x 441″.


I’ve also become interested in space or spatial relationships within 2D works that create and crush spaces. On a personal level I think this comes from the way I see, which, like many artists, is non-stereoscopic. I also see this in looking at West African fabrics from Senegal and at Japanese landscape painting. And living in San Francisco, where you are constantly looking At, Through, and Around layers of things—space contracting with fog, folded by hills and unfathomable at the ocean’s edge. Looking at nature has become a really important part of seeing—that it is constant and at the same time always changing—seeing trees that bloom, dry up, drop their leaves and those veils of leaves removed revealing an altered space.

I feel like there is a big push by artists within this space now. I’ve curated a couple of shows that dealt with this strange space between 2D and 3D, and having these contemporary artist colleagues and friends whose work relates helps me stay on my path (details here and here.)

Doppler.  2013, group exhibition curated by Mel Prest.  Parallel Art Space, Brooklyn.

Doppler. 2013, group exhibition curated by Mel Prest. Parallel Art Space, Brooklyn.


Sara Dykstra


Rift. 2014, oil on linen. 60″ x 72″.

I first saw Sara Dykstra‘s paintings at the California College of the Arts 2013 MFA Thesis Exhibition, and again at the Root Division Introductions 2013 Exhibition.  I was struck by her subtle mastery of color–seemingly achieved without glazing–and by her mysterious, tissuey forms that were neither completely opaque nor transparent.  

Sara’s solo exhibition Revolving Around You is on view at Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco from May 6 through June 21, 2014. The artist’s reception is Saturday, May 31, from 3 to 5 p.m.

I asked Sara about her process, her color palettes, and the space between things.

Articiple: In your current painting process, you create fragile sculptural installations that serve as models or points of departure for the paintings.   The paintings’ diaphanous shapes hold a tension between precision and ambiguity.  Can you talk about your interest in that space “between”—between life painting and abstract painting, between resolved and unresolved forms?


Arnolfini. 2013, oil on linen. 60″ x 50″.

Sara:  The space between things emerges in many ways. One way is, as you mentioned, the space between abstraction and representation. My installations are abstract, yet the paintings allude to the light and space of the set. So I don’t know where the work ultimately lies, and that is welcome in my practice.

Once the painting is done, there is a tension between knowing that I’m looking at something that exists, because it’s resting in space and its form is illuminated by light, but not knowing what it is. This is the space of ambiguity that interests me—the uncanny—something which is foreign, yet oddly familiar.


Revolving Around You #2. 2013, oil on linen. 40″ x 40″.

Articiple:  In recent paintings such as the Revolving Around You Series (2013), there’s an overall effect of controlled exuberance.  Colors are complexly layered yet distinct.  Shapes have ragged but discernible edges.  The paintings have unified, soft matte surfaces.  There’s a quiet certainty to each composition that I’m sure belies the effort behind it.  What can you tell us about your process that is not visible in the final paintings—the dilemmas or struggles that go into the work?

Sara:  Each painting begins with a process of discovery that takes place while I’m making the still-life. I never really know how it will turn out. I sometimes have an idea or a color in mind that I want to begin with, but they always end up looking completely different than imagined. This part of the work is done intuitively, so it seems as though the set-ups have a life of their own and a direction they follow outside of what I think will happen, or try to make happen.

The still-life, the subject-matter of the painting, is then painted from life. It’s never ready until there’s something unusual about the light, color or sense of space that makes me want to paint it. My still-lives are almost completely made of translucent material. I layer transparent color or form upon form so they can be seen through to the back of the set-up, then they are lit from various angles.


Chroma Key. 2013, oil on linen. 50″ x 60″.

Ultimately, I want the work to emerge unbidden. This is a difficult task because it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the process, such as getting the values and hues of the painting right in order to create the illusion of transparency. Sometimes I spend hours struggling to get one color right, painting it in and wiping it out. The color I think I see in the still-life and on the palette might not necessarily work in the painting. An optical illusion takes place on the canvas once the color is surrounded by other colors. So, the color that doesn’t necessarily make sense to me optically on the palette, might actually make sense in the painting. There is a lot of trial and error in undoing one optical illusion in order to make another one work. I’m amazed every time this happens and think a lot about Josef Albers.

Articiple:  The dis-Integration Series (2012) includes portraits with faces partially concealed by aluminum leaf.  The decision to step away from fully figurative work is pretty clear.  What lay behind that decision?  How did the dis-Integration Series set the stage for your recent work using sculptural installations as models?


dis-Integration 1. 2012, oil and aluminum leaf on canvas. 20″ x 20″.

Sara:  The dis-Integration Series marks a clear transition in my work. It was an important series of paintings to go through. I’d been painting the figure for quite some time and sensed I was getting ready to move on to something different, but didn’t know what or how to get there. During periods of transition I tend to work serially, painting the same thing over and over again in the hopes that I will discover something new about it that I hadn’t seen before, or a new way of painting it. In this instance, I was working from a model. I did several paintings of her from the same vantage point and in the same pose to the point where I could not go on without making a change. I then built a screen made out of scrim fabric and situated her chair behind it. I did paintings of her looking through one, then two, then three layers of fabric. I wanted to create a situation with the screen such that each time I painted her it was as if I was painting her for the first time. The fabric visually altered her, so every painting was a new challenge. When it became impossible to see her, I began to cut holes in the fabric. I became interested in how the paintings were about my experience of sitting with her, my own subjectivity, and what I thought I was learning about her even though we were mostly silent during our sittings. Ironically, the more difficult it became to see her, the more the portraits began to resemble myself. After a few months, I began placing objects behind the screen. I made small still-lives of things found laying around my studio. From here, the screen expanded into a large theater and the possibilities became endless.

Articiple:  In the Revolving Around You Series and many of your works from 2013, there’s a unified color palette—neutral mid-tones are set against assertive hues of cyan, orange, or magenta that feel almost like geological intrusions.  The palette derives from the materials you used in the sculptural still-lives.  It seems to have a connection to the skin tones in the dis-Integration series and earlier work.  What motivated your color choices in these 2013 works?


Revolving Around You #1. 2014, oil on linen. 40″ x 40″.

Sara:  I try to allow my color choices to be unconscious. Perhaps because I’d been working from a model six months prior, various skin tones stayed with me. In making the Revolving Around You series, I was still thinking about subjectivity and the idea of looking at the same subject matter, but from multiple vantage points and how different and complex it can be as a whole.

I’m sure living in San Francisco also has an impact. The vibrancy and color of the city becomes part of you, as does the incredible geology of this part of the world.

Articiple:  In some of your recent work, like Cave (2014), there’s a color shift to deeper blue tones.  A “cave” suggests a retreat or shelter, but also an exploration into the unknown.   Is this new palette motivated by any of those associations?  What else does this palette mean for you?


Cave. 2014, oil on linen. 30″ x 30″.

Sara:  Some of the paintings are beginning to look like places or landscapes to me. I see the figure in others. However, I never pre-plan any of my installations. The installations unravel on their own and are in a constant state of change for about a week. There were probably three different versions of this one. This piece took on the feeling of a shelter or cave and the colors came about naturally.

Articiple:  For your pieces in the recent exhibit SURVEILLANCE: Everyday (at Studio 110 Projects), you said that you were thinking about the experience of being surveilled—the emotions of vulnerability or even shame that arise when we realize we’re being watched.  It seems like these paintings, and the installations that preceded them, take on an almost narrative quality—characters (however slight or minimal) respond to something in their environment.  Do these new works feel like a shift to something more story-like in your work?  Or, has there been an implicit narrative element there all along? 


Exposure. 2014, oil on linen. 20″ x 16″.

Sara:  The works all have the suggestion of a narrative running through them, but the SURVEILLANCE: Everyday exhibit was different because the entire show had a theme and the work was made with that in mind. I was asked to make works which respond to the idea of transparency and being watched. So, I began these pieces differently than I normally do. I wondered, how would I show an element of curiosity, secrecy and intimacy between two things? What would it look like if they suddenly realized someone was watching them? As a response, I made two paintings, “Exposure” and “Cover Up,” which create a mini-narrative. The forms in these paintings are figurative and much more emotive and animated than in previous works. Body language was on my mind. This was an interesting and fun way to work.

Cover Up

Cover Up. 2014, oil on linen. 20″ x 16″.


To learn more about Sara Dykstra’s work, see her website at