Jamie Brunson

Rajni, 2017
Oil and alkyd on polyester over panel
66 x 66 inches

 

Painter and mixed-media artist Jamie Brunson is well known in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lived and worked for many years. Jamie relocated to New Mexico in 2014, but continues to exhibit in the Bay Area. Her current show at Andrea Schwartz Gallery is on view through July 21.

In our conversation Jamie shares thoughts on the significance of meditation for her art practice, the influence of the New Mexican landscape on her new work, and the pleasure of revisiting earlier investigations.

Articiple: Your art is closely connected to your practice of Kundalini meditation. You’ve described your art practice as the process of translating the perceptual states of meditation into a formal visual language. The relationship between meditation and art seems intuitively evident in some ways, but very elusive in others. Could you explain a bit about Kundalini meditation, and how that ancient practice came to have such relevance for your life as a contemporary artist?

Jamie: The sitting meditation practice I follow is based on a form of controlled, “circular” breathing. It’s an active “fire method” practice with a complex esoteric, philosophical, and ideological history. My teacher has written extensively about it, but I might make the analogy that you don’t need to know the principles of the combustion engine to know that if you put gas and oil into your car, and turn the key, it will go.

The practice might be seen as a near-cousin to Buddhist mindfulness/breathing meditation: by breathing through a circuit of chakras, you open, expand and link the chakras while burning away accumulated negative energies.

As with Buddhist practice, over time you gain the capacity to put space around certain reflexive reactions as they arise. With continued practice, you eventually enter the Void body, an expansive unbounded state that’s hard to describe, except to say that it’s a palpable sensory experience with specific qualities that most practitioners collectively agree upon. So it’s not arbitrary or imaginary, it’s somatic and specific. It has color qualities, spatial qualities, visual attributes, yet those qualities might be regarded simply as indications of having entered a state of being and awareness, which is the true goal. But, I do bring some of the visual and sensate information from the practice into the studio.

My Kundalini teacher, Dr. Mark Levy, is also an art historian who has written extensively about the relationship between metaphysical states and art practice, going back to primary shamanic rituals done for the benefit of healing communities. His research and writing have been a profound influence on my studio work. Perhaps I gravitated to his ideas because I’ve always intuitively understood the relationship between formalism and physical, sensate experiences? I’ve always experienced art making as a transcendental process that can lead to altered perceptions of time, deep engagement with the present moment, and a sense of affinity with the materials. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this sense of engagement as a “flow state”. I see a strong correspondence between meditation practice and studio practice because they both require full participation and presence to enter that state.

Articiple: The term “translation” suggest several interesting possibilities: maybe a process of visually rendering perceptions that you’ve experienced during meditation, or a process of recreating a meditative state of mind as you work on a painting. How do you characterize the process of translation in your work?

Jamie: I think your question contains the answer—both ideas are true.

I should say that because I’m a formally trained visual artist, of course I learned the academic principles of color, composition and design: contrast, harmony, rhythm, surface qualities, distribution across a picture plane, the illusion of spatial depth, et cetera. These principles are an important part of my studio work because they’re the elements that make any artwork function well.

Long Way Around, 2017
Oil and alkyd on polyester over panel
60 x 72 inches

 

The boundless qualities of the Void body I mentioned earlier are the qualities I’m working to evoke with formal visual language and with the inherent properties of materials and what they can suggest. My work is partly an attempt to create an image-object that might serve as a threshold, for anyone who sees it. Several artists I know—Squeak Carnwath and Tracy Rocca, to name just two— have talked about the capacity of art to slow people down, to give them a moment to pause. That’s something I intend in my work as well. For me, a big question is: by investing time, presence, craft, and curiosity—can my engagement get embedded into my work? Can I give a viewer a glimpse into the transcendental phenomena I’ve experienced, both as a painter and as a meditator? Part of the compelling power of formal elements like color and surface rendered in a fluid medium like paint is that they mimic elements in the world that we’ve experienced bodily, tactilely. That’s how I apply the formal aspects of materials to my work.

The Lattice paintings lean a little more towards the formal realm—while they’re also based on visual experiences in meditation, I’m more conscious of using what I know formally and intellectually when I’m making them. I think of them as a form of improvisational drawing, even a drawing exercise that demands careful decision-making with full attention. While they’re completely improvisational, they also incorporate careful evaluation and a kind of courageous decisiveness and immediacy. The end result is a trace of a thought process. Perhaps that could be said of any work of art?

Articiple: Since your move from the Bay Area to New Mexico several years ago, you’ve written that your work is increasingly influenced by elements from the environment, including the expansive sky and dramatic atmospheric conditions. I’m interested in the conversation that emerges between an immersive meditation practice and an immersive experience of landscape. What are the confluences or the generative contradictions that happen as you draw from these two phenomena for your work?

Jamie: That idea of the Void body and spaciousness comes into play—when you’re outside here in New Mexico, the sky seems larger. You become physically attuned to the low horizontal band of the ground plane against a vast, animated, celestial backdrop. Seasonal atmospheric phenomena are an insistent part of everyday life and have a kind of presence. The land and the seasons penetrate your body and your consciousness. If you’ve had the interior experience of the Void body in meditation, you can connect immediately to the external phenomenon, because they are such similar somatic experiences. You’re both dwarfed by the scale of the environment, and expanding to fill it and participate in it.

Articiple: In regard to immersion in the landscape, you wrote in a recent Instagram post, “Beginning to understand why Agnes Martin used reduction, vertical lines and the grid to capture the vast space of the New Mexico sky/land.” (Pieces of Sky, posted April 9, 2017).

Martin herself offered intriguing reflections about the place of landscape in her work. From a statement published in 1966:

Nature is like parting a curtain, you go into it. I want to draw a certain response like this…that quality of response from people when they leave themselves behind.

My paintings [are] about merging, about formlessness. A world without objects, without interruption.

Joan Mitchell, roughly a contemporary of Martin, also found impetus in landscape. Critic Irving Sandler wrote of Mitchell in 1957,

…a recollected landscape provided the initial impulse, but the representational image was transformed in the artist’s imagination.

The object disappears in the exultation of the act of painting, and Miss Mitchell ends up with almost pure emotion. 

This act of creating a work that is in sympathy with landscape, rather than a representation of it, holds so much possibility. What can you tell us about how you experience landscape as part of your process?”

Jamie: Your choice of quotes is very astute—that quality of “formlessness” that Martin cited feels very familiar. Material handling and scale can evoke the qualities of immersive landscapes and atmospheric phenomena. I’ve started working larger, on supports that demand full body gestures to draw bands of paint horizontally across the panel surface in some of my work, the Veil paintings. That larger scale can become “environmental” so that a viewer might step into it the same way you step into the landscape and become a part of it.

 

Swirl, 2017
Oil and alkyd on polyester over panel
60 x 60 inches

 

I can also relate to what Sandler wrote about Mitchell making work that’s sympathetic with landscape, rather than literally representing it. In the work I’m making now, I’m consciously committed to formalism over narrative or representational imagery. I wouldn’t call myself a “landscape painter” by any means—it’s more about an extra-linguistic, physical relationship to the land and to space.

The collage work you mentioned is something new—I’ve been making collages for a long time, but the earlier Practice collages were pretty much a series of formal exercises, a kind of game using deconstructed calligraphic letterforms from a language I couldn’t read and could only appreciate as shape and line. I was laying geometric forms on top of grounds made with “deconstructed calligraphy”, to create compositions that were dynamic and driven by movement, using forms that were in part associative or memory-based.

 

Blackbird, 2011 Collage and mixed media on polyester over panel
14 x 14 inches

 

I mention this work because I’m curious about all kinds of ideas and sometimes go off on tangents to investigate. Sometimes I lean towards pure geometry and color, but the act of moving an eye through arrangements on a flat plane still has its roots in a physical experience. I feel that exploration and experimentation open the way to new information and new processes. If you look back through my work there are series that shade into other series or arise as offshoots that become their own bodies of work. Sometimes one series falls away and the other takes over, sometimes they merge, sometimes they diverge. To me, this is the beauty of art-making as a tool for consciousness: that “play “ can lead to discovery and understanding. The best part is just suspending judgment and observing something as it unfolds.

Articiple: You’ve written about how important the physical qualities of materials are in your practice. In paintings of oil, alkyd, and wax, and in collages of vintage paper, sometimes including ink and other media, you explore the sensual and associative properties of the materials. How did you arrive at your choice of materials for these respective practices? What is their significance for you, in terms of the perceptual phenomena you express in the work?

Jamie: The new found-paper collages are related to work I was making, and ideas I was pursuing, quite a while ago. I love the idea that you can seemingly reach the end of an investigation for a period of time, and suddenly wake up to a new way of working or a way to carry an idea further after having set it aside.

Vecchio Citta, 2017
Vintage found paper collage and acrylic medium on 400 lb. rag Fabriano paper
Paper Size: 15 x 12 inches
Image size: 9.25 x 6.25 inches

 

I’ve been collecting vintage paper for many years, in part because, since the 1990s when I worked on pattern-based abstraction, I’ve been interested in worn physical surfaces marked by the passage of time and history. I had been fortunate to travel in Europe, North Africa, and Asia for most of that decade, visiting historic monuments, churches, shrines and temples. I really responded to the tactile, haptic, patinated surfaces of these ancient places. The ruined beauty enacted by time and the elements added something that was beyond the control of human intent. It was purely phenomenal, time made visible. So portions of my work have always been focused on trying to create/recreate that kind of surface through an almost “devotional”, time-based, additive-and-subtractive method. A certain kind of surface is an inevitable product of working that way; I still get a lot of comments about the surfaces of my paintings, which are the direct result of glazing, sanding, layering, and reworking.

That aura of age and wear is another big part of living here in New Mexico—Santa Fe dates back to the 1500’s—although even when I had a studio on the Oakland waterfront and lived in Dogpatch in the City, I was always shooting details of “found compositions” on industrial, urban surfaces with my iPhone. So these new horizontally banded found-paper collages come from the synthesis of several ongoing fascinations—my interest in tactile surfaces produced by wear and use; my interest in linear, architectonic structure and in pattern, which came out of travelling to different world cultures; and my interest in getting the greatest impact from the simplest and most direct means. Working with found-paper collage let me reintroduce some of the pattern-based elements that I used in my earlier work, but used differently as rhythmic placement of geometric fragments. Trove, one of the collage studies I made from the smallest scraps of found materials, led me to paint one of the very large paintings in the exhibition at Andrea Schwartz Gallery (Rajni, shown at the beginning of the interview). I was surprised to make something that went in that more architectural /patterned direction, but I had to make it in order to know what it would look and feel like.

Trove, 2017
Vintage found paper and block print collage, acrylic medium on 400 lb. rag Fabriano paper
Paper size: 12.25 x 10.25 inches
Image size: 8.25 x 7.25 inches

 

A lot of it is really about paying attention to what the materials want to be, recognizing them for their innate character, then re-arranging and reconfiguring them until they converge into something greater than the individual parts. This is incidental, but there’s also something to be said about making “beauty” from materials that are discarded for being no longer useful. It is a metaphor. At the heart of it, this is the gift of being an art-maker: the capacity to find the arresting qualities in anything, through small acts of arrangement, recognition, or juxtaposition.

Articiple: You’re an active curator and you were an art instructor for many years. I often meet artists in the Bay Area who’ve studied with you and who name you as an influence (and of course, I was your student). How do your curation and teaching experiences inform your own art practice?    

 Jamie: The thing I miss after moving from the Bay Area is teaching. I’m still connected to and correspond with many of the people who took classes with me or worked with me. Some of them have come out to visit—and when they’re here, they really understand why Walter and I picked this place to live, as a way to sustain our work.

I feel an almost parental pride in the successes of the artists who’ve studied with me, or whom I coached—although honestly, I can’t take credit for their accomplishments! So many have worked hard and worked fearlessly, and have gone on to develop work that’s thoughtful, authentic and skillful. All the printmaking investigations you’ve done over the past several years are a great case in point—teaching yourself through a process of determined inquiry.

Amanda Williams, who took classes with me at CCA, is opening a solo show at the MCA in Chicago this month. She developed a powerful color-and-materials-based body of work that deals with the Southside community where she grew up, and the relationship between physical structures and cultural value and status.

Adrienne Heloise, who studied with me at UC Berkeley Extension, has her narrative cut-paper pieces installed at the Morris Graves Museum right now.

I love these artists for their passion and determination. There’s excitement in helping people develop their vision and technique, and the confidence to trust it and pursue it. And then I just have to stand back and get out of their way!

I believe in the idea of giving service in the community you inhabit, and for me, teaching was a way of doing that. It was also a way of modeling generosity, the idea of sharing information and resources, which I feel is an important part of building community in the arts, when you’re so often engaged in a practice that can be isolating.

To become a good teacher, I had to organize what I knew in order to transmit it effectively. And, if I didn’t know the answer to something technical, I had to be able to research it and assimilate it for my own understanding so that I could share it and explain it. Through preparation for classes, I built a tremendous amount of technical knowledge that has served me as much as the people who were taking the classes.

Both the curatorial projects and the ability to give solid critical feedback in classes were informed by the travel I mentioned earlier, and also time I spent writing art criticism and later, writing manuscripts for didactic audio guides for museum exhibitions. Those jobs were exercises in description and analysis, and in contextualizing concepts in the framework of visual and general history. That helped me to develop the ability to do solid research and to explain things to people: in class, I could refer people to historical and contemporary precedents for the work or the ideas that interested them, so they could add to the ongoing dialogue around these ideas and approaches.

Curating has given me the opportunity to do something else that was very important to me—defining developing currents in the local art scene, recognizing ideological connections that drive people’s work. That kind of naming or defining, dealing with work taxonomically, was a way of explaining, to myself, the emerging approaches that I was seeing. But curating exhibitions also allowed me to pair established and emerging artists. That was a way of showing affinities as well as equivalencies, of creating opportunities and removing some of the hierarchies in the art world.

I lived in the Bay Area for so long—went to undergraduate and graduate school there, showed at different galleries, taught at different institutions, wrote for different publications, sat on some curatorial boards, had work acquired by some of the museums—that I built connections in the community that allowed me to make curatorial proposals that had some credibility. I’m still interested in curatorial projects; I’ve been here in New Mexico for three years now, just long enough to start meeting artists and understanding which regional institutions I might approach with a proposal, and where I might apply for funding for proposals.

I’m still very interested in the category that I put my own work in—what I call “Metaphysical Abstraction”, formal work that’s motivated by encounters with the ineffable.

There are a significant number of artists here, as well as in the Bay Area, whose work moves along those lines, or has been directly informed by meditation practice: Michelle Theberge in Berkeley and Lisa Espenmiller in Oakland, who both use a kind of ritual repetition, with form and line respectively, in producing their work. Pegan Brooke in Bolinas makes beautiful, shimmering paintings of repetitive marks, but natural forces indirectly inform her work, perhaps in the same way Sandler described Joan Mitchell’s work. I’d like to combine their work with related work by Southwestern-based artists—like my Veil paintings, or Susan York’s masterful, reductive lead pieces. Raphaelle Goethals and Tracy Rocca are both making exquisitely crafted, atmospheric paintings that produce that sense of an environment that I talked about earlier. Raphaelle works with encaustic, so the materiality of her work contributes to that sense of depth and mystery.

I think that these artists’ work, seen in relationship to each other, will make a persuasive case for a mode of perception, and a way of working, that emphasizes a more thoughtful set of values. The overlay of excess—in media, in consumption, in the political situation where we find ourselves—feels emotionally and psychologically corrosive.  We’d all benefit from the presence of a slower, measured, illuminating, and less sensational approach to work.

 

Prop, 2010
Oil, alkyd and wax on polyester over panel
24 x 24 inches

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Maritza Ruiz-Kim

Work in progress, 2017
Acrylic on panel
22 x 17 inches

 

Bay Area artist Maritza Ruiz-Kim is not complacent. She is curious, insistent, and inquisitive. She is looking for challenges, and devising ways to move through them.

Maritza’s current practice focuses on abstract encaustic and acrylic painting.  Her most recent work is on view in a show titled Progress (pronounced pro-gress, a distinction we’ll get into) at The Studio Mind, her artist-run space in Martinez, California.

Maritza is an initiator who developed her own self-lead postgraduate curriculum, the Studio MFA, and founded ProWax Journal, an online publication for artists working in wax and encaustic. She’s an art instructor committed to progressive, integrated pedagogy, who has taught children, teens, and adults. She’s a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute with a BFA in New Genres, and has created performance, video, and installation works.

Work in progress, 2017
Acrylic on panel
16.5 x 13 inches

 

In 2016 Maritza opened The Studio Mind, where she maintains her studio, teaches classes, and curates rotating gallery shows. (Earlier in 2017 she hosted my solo show Knots in the Stream.)

Maritza has shown her work throughout Northern California and in New York, Provincetown, Kansas City, and Miami.

I asked her to talk me through the experiences that have lead her to where she is now.

The Studio Mind. Studio, classroom, gallery. Martinez, CA

 

Articiple: I’d like to get the long version of your artist’s story: your time as a New Genres major at the San Francisco Art Institute, your transition to painting and working with encaustic, your work as a curator. What has that journey been like?

Maritza: Well, first of all, I don’t see myself as a curator, but thank you! I guess practically speaking, it’s true. I think of what I’m doing here at The Studio Mind as basically using half of my own art studio space to bring more contemporary art to this part of the East Bay. And secondly, to give artists an opportunity to hang their work in a space that honors what they’re doing it, giving their art the white walls that say, ‘Hello! Look at this serious art!’

I didn’t really have in mind that I would go into something other than painting when I started at SFAI. Getting to this point has just been a series of singular steps, I definitely didn’t see myself owning an art space one day. But the first semester at art school I took a class with Paul Kos, in what was at that point called the Performance/Video Department (now New Genres). Paul is a key figure in the Bay Area Conceptual Art movement, and his class was all about how to think about making art. It was pretty amazing. It was everything about why I picked SFAI instead of a more traditional program, because I knew I wanted to be challenged by the content and purpose of art. He helped me make connections with Joseph Kosuth, who did the piece One and Three Chairs (an influential conceptual work), and other artists like that. I like that way of thinking about art, something that makes your mind do more.

 

Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs. 1965.
Wood folding chair, mounted photograph of a chair, and mounted photographic enlargement of the dictionary definition of “chair”.

 

Articiple: Not just retinal, as Duchamp might say.

Martiza: Yeah. I just listened to an Artsy podcast about Picasso’s Guernica . There’s debate among critics and historians about which is his best work, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or Guernica. One person said that the one you choose says a lot about how you think about art. If Les Demoiselles is your favorite then you’re probably interested more in formal aspects of art. If it’s Guernica, then you’re probably also thinking about art’s societal impact or its impact beyond the canvas. And definitely Guernica is where I land.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica. 1937.
Oil on canvas
138 x 306 inches

 

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. 1907.
Oil on canvas
92 x 96 inches

 

So, to come to a class at SFAI and start thinking beyond formal issues or craft was powerful. It’s not that I think focusing on formalism is a negative, it’s that I’m interested in things that take me to another place in addition to being connected to the material artwork. I am really interested in materiality and formal aspects, but I like the art to link up to other ways of thinking and to things in the outside world.

Articiple: Right. Address the context of where the work exists. And I’d say, even if somebody thinks of Les Demoiselles in formalist terms, it still has a lot going on in terms of concept and context—about gender and power, about the commerce of sex, about the use of non-Western imagery to disrupt conventions of beauty in European art. Picasso wasn’t recording a specific political tragedy there the way he was in Guernica, but political contexts are in the work inherently.

Maritza:  Right. And Paul Kos’s class led me to think about those things, mostly through performance and installation work I did. I started to think about who the audience was and what I was going to present to the audience and how I was going to present it. I have an early sketchbook from that time where I wrote a list of all the things I need to think about when I make a piece of art: time, color, audience, all the issues I wanted to address.

 

Notebook page from first semester at SFAI

 

Articiple: ‘’Time’ meaning the duration of the piece, or the cultural time when it’s made?

Maritza: Any of those things, whatever it means for that particular piece. I was trying to make a framework for things to think about whenever I’m making work. Paul’s class was especially impactful that way. Also, I can’t help but think about one of the students in particular from that class. Halfway through the semester, she was killed in a motorcycle accident. It was so sudden. The whole experience of being in that class stayed with me, even though it was only my first semester there. Being with the small connected group of people in that class underscored the meaning of making art for me. I changed my major from Painting to New Genres. There were a lot of practical things I didn’t learn, though, because I wasn’t studying a craft that had me working with my hands. When I graduated I felt a little like, I don’t know anything!

Articiple: Things like paint chemistry or how to stretch a canvas?

Maritza: Right. I still don’t know how to stretch a canvas! After I graduated with my BFA, I was still really young, 20 years old. This was still pre-internet. There was no way to just Google something and figure out something, like, ‘steps to have an art show’. I felt like, well, that’s that. I didn’t know what to do next. My art practice in college had not been about making things that lasted, I had been creating experiences or installations. I didn’t have a portfolio of completed projects. I wasn’t making art to be fleeting, but I didn’t construct the work in a way to last forever. I barely documented anything, and even had to re-perform some pieces in private just so I could document them.

Articiple: Was there a lot of talk about relational aesthetics at SFAI then?

Maritza: No, not at all. Paul Kos has a sense of humor, so in my mind his work connects to caring about how it relates to the audience. But no, not relational aesthetics per se. Paul’s way of thinking about art registers with the part of me that likes to mess around—not that it shows in the paintings I’m doing right now. I like a little bit of irreverence in art making, a bit of ‘why so serious?’, even if material I have in mind is a kind of serious. I don’t think art should be set on a level far above real life. Art in everyday life, I like that better. Thinking about my own work, I was never super precious about it. Even when I managed to make something back then, it was just a thing in that moment.

Articiple: It seems like that irreverence was part of SFAI. Like David Ireland.

David Ireland House, 500 Capp Street, San Francisco

 

Maritza: Yeah. We met with him at his house. That was pretty amazing. After I left school, I was trying to figure out my approach to making things and what I was doing. I thought I might want to go into graphic design as a way to make a living. I started doing temp work at design firms. That’s all it took to tell me, absolutely not. So I needed a different job. I was walking around my neighborhood and I saw a little art school for kids. I walked in and I liked it, and I ended up with a job.

Articiple: And you’d had no teaching experience, you just decided, ‘I can do this’?

Maritza: I’d worked with kids before. I was a babysitter as a teenager. And I took a 2-semester course at SFAI that was something like, ‘The Artist as Teacher’, one semester in lecture, one semester in San Francisco public schools. So I’d had some exposure. I felt really comfortable working with kids. Then my husband and I moved to the East Bay. I did a little bit of work with the Walnut Creek Civic Center for the Arts as a teacher in the schools. Then I got pregnant and went on bed rest, which put an end to that. When my kids were small, I did various stints teaching art out of my home studio. Eventually I decided it was time to make my own art again, since both my kids were in school and I could at least a few hours uninterrupted. I got a piece into Local Voice, a juried show at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek. That felt amazing. The juror was Philip Linhares, who was then Chief Curator at the Oakland Museum of California. And I got a little prize recognition, that was a great boost. I entered my work to another open call in San Francisco, curated by an artist I knew, and I got rejected. Wait, I mean, my work got rejected. Ha!

That was 2009. I did a few more juried shows, looking for ones curated by people whom I wanted to see my work. One show was Portraits at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts in Sebastopol, California. It was curated by Lucinda Barnes, who was Chief Curator of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive at that time. I got another sort of merit prize in that show. It wasn’t monetary, but I appreciated the recognition that I was doing something that was relevant somehow.

A couple of years later, I watched the reality TV show Work of Art with Jerry Saltz and some other New York art world people.

Articiple: Right! Nao Bustamante was one of the contestants. 

Maritza: Another SFAI person!

I was enthralled. It was a window into something that was super mysterious to me, the New York art world. I know, it was reality TV with all the staging, but there was something that was real about it. The people that were on it are real artists and curators and critics and so on, even if they were in contrived situations. It was super valuable to me and a real breath of fresh air. And it was an escape from my life with two small children.

I had a Twitter account from when I had done advocacy work for a friend whose child had cancer. So as I watched this show I ended up on Twitter and came across an artist in New York who hated the show. A lot of people hated it, but this one artist in particular, William Powhida, had a blog post where he seemed to rip the whole thing to shreds. And I thought, ‘That’s nice for you, you’re in New York and you aren’t raising kids and you can sit around and make art and think about how much you hate this show.’ I was probably resentful about how little time I had for studio work, much less time to think. So I was like, ‘For me, this show’s been great. So maybe don’t think just about yourself, the world doesn’t revolve around you.’ I figured since he was in New York, he had privileged access to art world things that I felt pretty sure I’d never see if not for a TV show. So I made my own assumptions, ones that fueled how indignant I got.

I was so ticked. I didn’t know who he was. I just pounded my keyboard and hit Send. The next morning I went on Facebook and I had bunch of friend requests from people I didn’t know. I was like, what is this? They’d seen my response to Powhida’s post and some of them loved what I had written. And some didn’t!

Articiple: It’s amazing that you just jumped right into a nationwide art debate.

Maritza: I didn’t even think about who this artist was or if I should care. I was following him on Twitter, and I had also followed a bunch of people he was connected to. Twitter was still a new concept and, there didn’t seem to be many artists using it. So I connected to a small artist community based in New York, people who knew each other in real life. Which means, I dropped myself uninvited into this circle of people. That was August 2010. I didn’t really know enough to be intimidated or self-conscious.

Articiple: Right. How can you be intimidated by people you’ve never heard of?

Maritza: And the possibility of being an internet troll wasn’t really on my mind as a known variable then, so I didn’t think it through. Now, I kind of regret some of the ways that I was a little stalkerish, but I had no intentions of that.

I later learned that Powhida and another artist named Jen Dalton had done a project on Twitter that they called #Class, about class and hierarchy in the art world. They were playing on the double meaning of class as social hierarchy and class as a group of students. They staged a classroom space as a performance in the Winkleman Gallery in New York, to talk about class and elitism and such in the art world. People who followed the hashtag on Twitter met in real life at that event in New York. And that’s the group of artists I got connected with on Twitter.

Articiple: Are you still in touch with them?

Maritza: Yes. I’ve met some of them in person and we’ve been in shows together and things like that. I was amazed by the whole community that was coming together online, this feeling of the internet as a place to be in conversation.

There was a lot of writing about what it was like to have this Twitter experience, but to society as a whole it was still very new. And there weren’t many people in the art community on Twitter at that time, at least that’s how it felt to me. So it seems like it was something that could only have happened at that time, that I fostered these relationships from far away with a group of people who were more connected to each other than I was to them.

Articiple: You were thinking about the same things they were but you brought a different perspective.

Maritza: I think so. Another sort of stalkerish thing I did was an art piece in response to something Powhida wrote. He stated his mind clearly, and that clarity of thought made it possible for me to decide my own point of view. He had a particular problem with Carol Vogel, an art writer for the New York Times. He linked to an article Vogel wrote about Dan Colen, who was making artwork from chewing gum. Powhida really hated Colen and what Vogel wrote about him.

I read her article and reacted in kind of the same way. So I made a piece based on the article, that I called Guess It’s Art Now: Redacted & Rearranged. It’s in two parts. For Rearranged, I cut out text from the article and made a poem from it. I used Vogel’s words that she’d written praising Colen’s work, and made a poem that criticized him. For Redacted I pasted sheets of gold leaf representing the pages of the article from the newspaper, with areas cut out where I had removed the text for the poem. I liked my piece, I thought it was really funny.

 

Guess It’s Art Now- Rearranged, 2010
Gold leaf on tissue paper
22 x 30 inches

 

Guess It’s Art Now – Redacted, 2010
Gold leaf on tissue paper
22 x 30 inches

 

I tweeted it to Powhida because I thought he’d like it too. But he never replied. I really wasn’t looking for a lot of response, just some acknowledgement. Around the same time there was another person, known to that Twitter circle, who posted that he was going to do a pop-up art show in his house in LA. He said he wanted to hear from (if I remember correctly) artists who are mothers, so I submitted some work. Sending my work out was very personal for me, since I’d only been in a couple juried shows since art school. I felt vulnerable as an artist, and I wanted to be taken seriously even though I had been full-time with my kids for several years. It was a risk to submit my work. I waited to hear back. And he never responded. I think I even emailed once or twice to see what the status of the show was. Who knows what happened? Then I worried that maybe it had just been a joke. I mean, if you receive work from an artist, at least say that you got it, or say you’re not doing the show, or whatever. I was really appalled to not hear any reply, nothing. I was incensed. Because, what about common decency?

After that, I wanted to make a piece about those exchanges and about the hierarchy that is Twitter. There was a whole conversation on Twitter at that time about the hierarchies in the art world. People were pretty obsessed with it, with the Dan Colens and all the millions of dollars they made and all the access they had, while so many artists didn’t have that access, due to gender or class issues or so many other things. But for me, these people were having an art conversation that I wanted to access. I was living in the suburbs, outside a big city that still didn’t seem to have a place on the art world map, just a mother, barely an artist, finally getting my art life rebooted after college. I heard these people complaining about being shut out and I was like, ‘Don’t you see, you say you hate this hierarchy, but you perpetuate it.’

For the piece, Artifact of an Anthropological Experience, I wanted to capture the range of what I was seeing on my Twitter feed. I was seeing tweets from artists about the art world hierarchy and how they felt excluded. At the same time, I was seeing tweets from the pediatric cancer community, about someone whose child had just died. I went through the Twitter feed of every person I followed, which included people from the fighting-childhood-cancer community on the one hand, and art people on the other. I selected two tweets from every account. I printed them on strips of paper and juxtaposed them next to each other, things like ‘We have two days of a healthy child’ (he lost his battle a little while later), and ‘I don’t blame Hirst for his plagiarism, I blame lazy critics and remote-control curators for not doing their job when it mattered’. And I felt like, everything these artists are complaining about is just really stupid.

Artifact of an Anthropological Experience, 2010
Vellum, acrylic, watercolor, aluminum, and inkjet on panel
16 x 20 inches

 

I was pretty proud of this piece, I loved the performative aspect that happened, the meaning I wanted to lace into the actions that created the piece. I posted it on Twitter to share it with this online art community, but even the artists who were quoted in it had no response (except a few people who had become my friends). I wanted to tell these people: ‘I’m no one to you, so my voice is not welcome. This is the hierarchy you claim to hate. You’re a part of the same thing, so why do you feel so sorry for yourself?’

In Fall 2010, Jen Dalton and William Powhida proposed a show called #Rank to take place at the Miami art fairs, in a satellite space organized by the Winkleman Gallery. The #Rank event was a continuation of their earlier project #Class, to look at hierarchies and privilege in the art world. #Rank was a non-curated show. They would accept anything from anybody. I thought, ‘Cool, that means I’m going to be in the art fair. An automatic “in”!’ I wrote a performance script, of me interviewing myself, where I ask and answer questions about Artifact of an Anthropological Experience. I wanted someone to care enough about the work to ask all about it, so in defiance of waiting to be asked I decided to ask myself. I called it The Interview: In Which I Ask Myself All the Questions You Didn’t Care to Ask, Along Also With the Answers You Didn’t Care About.

It also briefly touched on the experiences I mentioned earlier, about not hearing back from the guy who called for work for a show at his house, and not hearing back from Powhida about Guess It’s Art Now. I rolled both those events into the exchange with Powhida, because I decided that I wanted Powhida to read the script at the fair in Miami. I wanted to force this interaction where the type of conversation I’d wanted would happen, because I scripted it and made it happen. He would basically have to become me, the person who’s interested in my work enough to ask questions. So I forced that empathy and point of view on him. It was pretty creepy, in a way. But I also thought it was funny.

Articiple: He agreed to perform with you?

Maritza: Not with me, exactly. He read both roles since both were the same person, me. I’d asked both him and Jen Dalton what they thought about him reading the script when I sent in my proposal. They thought it would be best to discuss once we met in person, which made sense. So I asked him when we met at the opening reception in Miami. He was kind of like, ‘Who are you and what do you want?’ But after we talked he was fine with it. He and Jen put me on the program first thing on the first day, 8:00am, I assume because no one would be there. Ha! I understood though, it was fine. There were technical problems that ate up the time that we could have used to discuss the project more. I had hoped to explain away some of the creepiness, but I didn’t get a chance. Oh, well. But the performance happened, and I was happy about that.

It was there in Miami that I met a lot of the artists from the Twitter group. Laura Isaac Pensar in Kansas City is the primary friend and colleague I have kept up with from that group. We not only share a similar drive and approach to our work, supporting each other and collaborating on projects together, but we both also parent school-age sons. Most of the other artists there were local to the New York area. I’ve been in some shows with them in New York, one in a private lobby space and one at Bushwick Open Studios. We were also in a show in Kansas City that Laura organized. And I’ve visited with them when I’ve visited New York.

Articiple: It’s great that you just jumped in and went to Miami. You didn’t wait to be invited, you said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea. I want to do it with you.’

Maritza: Yeah, it was an opportunity that came at the right time. I thought, why not. That fall, I’d been taking a professional development class with Jamie Brunson at Kala Art Institute. Actually, I put my idea for the Miami performance to the class and they said, ‘Yes, you should do it!’ Having other artists support the idea helped. I wasn’t all on my own. They pushed me and gave me the confidence to follow through. Another awesome thing is that two of the artists in that class, Ron Saunders and Dana Zed, decided to go to the Miami art fairs that year, too, just to check it all out. They both came to the performance.

Taking a risk was something I learned back at SFAI, too. In one of my classes with Paul Kos I proposed an idea for a sound art piece in Union Square in San Francisco. He told me I should submit it to one of the local arts organizations, Artists’ Television Access or something like that. I didn’t submit it, because for all sorts of reasons I didn’t know how to. I didn’t know where to start or what that the piece would look like. He gave me a B in the class. I was ticked off that I didn’t get an A. He said it was because I didn’t submit the piece.

Articiple: He was sort of saying, ‘Taking your work public should be your priority, you need to get out there.’

Maritza: Yes. Those lessons stick with you: you need to take the opportunities that you can.

You know what, I really like remembering all this, because I’m seeing how some of these connections happened.

Articiple: It’s great to have an instructor who says, ’I believe in you so much, I’m going to penalize you if you don’t believe in yourself.’

Maritza: Yes. He was right.

Around the time that I went to Miami, in 2010, I decided to refocus my practice on making objects, to explore a visual language and make works that could be commodities (so much of my work until then had been performances, videos, or installations). I guess all that talk about how market-oriented the art world had become made me feel like getting my hands involved with making physical art pieces, rather than just the invisible non-thing-ness that was performances and video. If art was becoming just another commodity, then I wanted to make art and not let it be a commodity. Or if money was exchanged, I wanted it to be on my terms, with me embracing the legitimacy and importance of these things I made.

So, I started to paint! The thing is, though, I didn’t really have a visual language. It was frustrating. I didn’t like what I was making. I’d started working with watercolor and drawing and acrylic, but it wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. It took time to figure out what I liked. When I shared images of my work in that professional development class at Kala, people asked me if I’d ever done encaustic. I said, ‘Isn’t that really complicated?’ At SFAI I had seen work done with resin, which I thought was similar. I was overwhelmed by it, in the way that film photography overwhelms me, with all the chemical processes. But the other students said I should try it, based on what I was doing and what I wanted in my artwork. At their suggestion I took a class at Kala on painting with encaustic, taught by Hylla Evans, in Spring 2011. Hylla makes encaustic materials and sells them at Evans Encaustics. I still use her materials in my work.

I instantly fell in love with encaustic. It has the translucency and the sculptural aspects I’d been looking for. And it has the practical aspect that, if you have to leave your studio at a moment’s notice, you just turn everything off and walk out—perfect for my lifestyle! There were a lot of reasons why it worked for me. Painting with encaustic was what I needed to take my visual language in the direction I wanted. I needed a material that supported my process and the visual language I was developing. I don’t think I could have figured it out without the qualities of that particular material.  I stayed connected with Hylla and started to meet other artists who worked with encaustic. Hylla told me I should go to the annual International Encaustic Conference that year. The conference was founded by Joanne Mattera, a New York-based artist who wrote The Art of Encaustic Painting.

She’s a well-known painter and art blogger. We knew a lot of the same people through the blogging and Twitter communities. I didn’t feel ready to go to the conference that year, but the next year I decided to. Then I found out that Ed Winkleman would be the keynote speaker. I’d met him in Miami, because Winkleman Gallery hosted #Rank.

At the 6th International Encaustic Conference in Summer 2012, I showed a video, inquieta | in quiet a. I had first shown it the year before at the ArtPadSF art fair at the Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco. I made the video in response to a call for work by Krowswork Gallery in Oakland. I had met the curator at Krowswork through Ron Saunders.

 

I’m proud of that video piece. It had had so much in it that was what I wanted my art to be about, raw but accessible. The narrative was my feelings of what some people now call ‘racial imposter syndrome.’ Like, not knowing how to be in my skin as a Mexican, being white or brown, or not being confident using the Spanish language. Most people don’t believe that my heritage is so Mexican. My most recent European ancestor is from the mid-1800s. Other than that, cien por ciento mexicana.

The video is a conversation between white and brown. It’s first-person perspective. Now the format of a fixed-camera perspective on hands doing something seems more familiar to people, because of ‘unboxing’ videos on Youtube. But at that time in my mind it was unique. The camera looks down from overhead onto a table, where I have jars and bottles and other containers arranged around a white bowl. My hands interact with the materials on the table. I have cactus soil, because my family is from the desert in Mexico, and I was raised in the Mojave Desert here in California. Both my grandfather and my mom worked in the fields so I was trying to make my hands look like theirs would have looked after working. I use the soil to make my hands brown. Then I go through a process of cleaning my hands and trying to remove the brown. Later in the video, I pour bleach into a bowl and wash my hands with it. (That was painful because the cactus soil had spines and things in it.) So, there is a back-and-forth tension of being darker and then whiter.

I decided to show the video at the International Encaustic Conference since I knew that Ed Winkleman is particularly interested in video art. I’d included encaustic gesso as one of the materials on the table, so there was that connection to encaustic, which for me justified its inclusion in a conference about encaustic. Some people at the conference really engaged with the video– artists and a couple of gallerists. I ended up showing it again later that summer in a Provincetown gallery. Several of my friends who aren’t in the arts felt deeply about it too. If only people in the art world had responded and none of my other friends had responded, that would have been frustrating. But to have non-art people and art people both respond is exactly what I wanted. That’s what I want all my work to do. I don’t make videos as often now, but when I do it’s pretty meaningful for me.

At the conference I enrolled in a small class with Ed, about professional practices in art. Among other things, we talked about sexism and ageism. Is it ever too late to be taken seriously as an artist? Ed said if an artist doesn’t have some solid work by the time they’re 60, then he would say it’s unlikely he’s going to be interested in what they’re doing. I thought, 60, I think I can do that!

As I look back on all this, I realize there have been some key opportunities that have come up that have matched perfectly with what I wanted to do. Being ready to move on those when they come has been important.

Articiple: And at some point you became the editor of the online magazine for encaustic artists, ProWax Journal. How did you get involved with that?

Maritza: After that conference, I was active in Facebook conversations around encaustic as a medium, and how encaustic is received in the contemporary art world. I had a lot of opinions to share. And some of my encaustic paintings were starting to be shown. One piece made it into a juried show at Sandra Lee Gallery in San Francisco. Joanne Mattera wanted to create a private group for artists working in wax and encaustic, called ProWax. She invited me to be in that group and I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s awesome!’ It was by invitation only. She had specific criteria for who could join the group, so I was excited that she invited me. In that group there was a lot of continuing conversation about a lack of standards in teaching encaustic. If badly-made encaustic work gets into galleries and it’s falling apart, it’s bad for all artists. There was a sense of, ‘How do we elevate the conversation around encaustic work?’

The group was posing this question, what do we do, how do we get information out there? I said, ‘Why don’t we make an online magazine?’ There was a lot of positive response. Joanne said, ‘How about if you do it?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So I became founder and editor-in-chief. I didn’t have previous experience as an editor, but I had a lot of writing experience. Joanne was still really busy running the International Encaustic Conference, but she has a professional editing background and offered her support as a consulting editor, which was great.

Articiple: So you solicited articles from people in the group?

Maritza: Yes. We decided on the regular features that we wanted. It was a lot of work. But it was so worth it. Because of that opportunity editing the journal, I got to interview Amy Ellingson, who uses encaustic in her work and who is based in the San Francisco area. She was having a solo show at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art at the time.

It was great to be able to ask her a lot of questions and write about her work. Back then, I was able to write more effectively. That was before my brain injury (from a bike accident in 2015). It’s harder now to write. But that interview was really fun. It was a really fast turnaround. That was especially generous of her. We did the interview through email, and she only had a couple days to get back to me. When I went to Amy’s show in San Jose I met the editor of Square Cylinder.

He read the interview I did with Amy and quoted an excerpt of what I wrote. And I saw on her website recently that Amy quotes something I wrote about her work. So that’s validating! I feel like with a lot of these things, I just stumble into them.

Articiple: But with intent. Stumbling With Intent, that can be the title of your memoir.

Maritza: ‘Stumbling with intent, and then flat on the ground!’ I feel like a lot of face plants happen. Did you see that viral video recently, something like, Hey whys art school gotta be like this?

Articiple: Yes! A woman lying on the ground while everyone around her just goes on with their business.

Maritza: Right! I knew it was staged. To me it was funny because that was exactly what happened at SFAI all of the time. Someone could walk by in a random costume, and you wouldn’t wonder what was happening. You probably wouldn’t even look twice.

Articiple: So what happened next on your path, after ProWax Journal? How did you decide to start The Studio Mind and open a gallery space?

Maritza: Those two things happened nearly sequentially, handing off PWJ to another editor-in-chief and opening my art project space. PWJ was a ton of work. I did thirteen issues over three years. I wasn’t even writing that much anymore, but just running it was overwhelming. Luckily, Joanne was able to take over as editor-in-chief just as I felt life was grinding to a halt again.

It wasn’t the first time my art life crashed into a wall. One reason I’d wanted a studio space at The Compound in Oakland was to be closer to the action, even if I had to drive out of the way to make that happen. But things kept getting in the way. I had the bike accident in Spring 2015 and experienced a major traumatic brain injury. It took months to recover. Then my younger son’s needs got really intense that fall. We found out he was autistic in early 2016, after a few months of even more heightened issues with school. During Spring 2016, I was hardly making it to my Oakland studio at all. I felt pretty defeated. I had to find studio space closer to home. I started looking closer to where we live in Contra Costa County for another shared space like The Compound, or anything really.

And now I’m here in my own space in downtown Martinez. It’s everything I’ve always wanted. I so often feel like nothing’s working, but as I talk about it, I realize everything’s working just fine! Even though I still remember the pain back then and even though there are still weekly obstacles, I’m here!

Articiple: Good. Then hold this up to yourself as a mirror, because from my perspective it looks like you’re doing pretty well. It’s just that you have more ambition than you have time in the day.

Maritza: That’s what I was thinking this morning. I’m always wishing things could be more. Just problem solving my way forward.

Articiple: That’s volume 2 of your memoir, Problem Solving My Way Forward.

Maritza: Right! I eventually found the right school for my son and got things stabilized for him. And literally when I dropped him off for his first day of school was the first time I had a couple of hours to start working on finding a studio. The first place I thought of was downtown Martinez, because I love the feel of this place. Anyway I was looking at square footage and the general cost per square foot and so on. That first morning I parked in downtown Martinez and walked around and saw the space I’m in now, with a For Rent sign. I peeked in and thought it was way too big, and the cost was more than I wanted. I found another spot in Todos Santos Plaza in Concord that was super small, a third of this space. It was just the right size, and it had a storefront on the street. There’s a farmers market and an awesome bookstore nearby. I thought about what I could do with that, to bring something to the area and cover rent and all that. That’s when I started thinking about doing something commercial, in addition to a studio. I hotly pursued that space but I kept getting put off because there was someone else in line for it. Once I was more comfortable with doing something in addition to a studio, I was more open to this space in Martinez. I thought of all these art-related money-making schemes to support the rent. At first I thought I would have more retail stuff happening.

Articiple: You were thinking of taking artwork on consignment?

Maritza: Right. I thought of having a small works gallery, cash and carry. I thought about how to make this a community space—maybe I could get high school art teachers to come together, to support their own art practices. Because they’re the ones who are influencing young artists, and the best way to influence young artists is if you still have an art practice yourself. I thought of having art talks and other things. I realized, though, that it was more than I could manage. But at the time I was putting it all on the table. I wanted to offer classes that made a connection to art history and contemporary art. When my boys were small and I wasn’t making as much work of my own, I had been working with an art program in my kids’ school, teaching an art history class. I was getting really comfortable helping the students make connections between art history and art making. In the art school where I’d taught earlier, they taught discipline-based art education that had an art historical component. Lessons were connected to works of art, and then the kids would make art in response. So I thought I would do classes like that in my space. I came up with a schedule and made my website and got the space launched. In the gallery space, I hung my own work for the first show. But I don’t want to do that all the time, it feels like cheating.

Articiple: But some artists do have gallery spaces where they show their own work. It’s kind of like an ongoing open studio. If you have a following and people want to come and buy directly from you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Maritza: Since I’m not represented by a gallery right now, yeah, I think it’s fine. And  I want to put my work on the walls and see what I can do with it. It’s kind of for myself, but I have friends in the area who like to see my work. I’m showing my work again here this summer. I’m enjoying it, even though it’s been stressful to carry out. The idea is to put works up that aren’t finished. The show is called Progress (as in pro-gress, the verb).

Work in progress, 2017
Acrylic on panel
16.5 x 13 inches

 

I don’t want it to be pro-gress (the noun), a movement that’s already finished or arrived at. I want it to be something that is in process. I’m putting up work that may or may not be done and I’m going to keep working on it through the duration of the show. I want it to embody something that’s not finished. There’s a lot of pressure in trying to finish something and arrive. It seems like every time I try to finish something in life, I can’t. And that’s frustrating. So I figure I might as well put the work up as is and keep working on it and it’ll keep changing while it’s up.

Progress show: hanging underway

 

Progress show: hanging complete

 

At the beginning of the show, I decided to hang the work left to right in order of most done to least done. I like the conversation that comes up about how, in my assessment of a piece, one piece is closer to finished than another. What is lacking in that piece? What took this other one closer to done? The paintings will pro-gress during the course of the show! I think that’s a compelling idea.

Progress show: panorama view of gallery and studio

 

Articiple: It makes me want to come at the beginning and then come back to see what changes.

Maritza: I’d like that to be an interesting experience for people. And for people who aren’t in the arts, the idea of being able to see an artist’s work in progress is maybe kind of exciting.

Articiple: It can demystify the process. Some artists are so guarded about letting anyone know about their process, like it’s a secret recipe, and if anyone finds the recipe out they could steal it. I don’t think it works like that. Anyway what’s interesting to me is seeing how the work grows from the first stages into a finished piece.

Work in progress, 2017
Acrylic on panel
11 x 8.5 inches

 

Maritza: When I work with my teenage students I try to show them my mistakes. When I work alongside them, I tell them when I’m unsure about what I’m making or when I don’t like what I’ve made. Like, ‘I don’t like this but I’m going to keep working on it.’ All of that. That’s what I went through when I was first trying to create my visual language. I was so irritated with myself. It took a long time to keep doing it, to make something. I had to find that material that I loved enough to help me keep working and not quit.

So once I decided how I wanted to use the space for The Studio Mind, my brother built this divider wall to separate the front gallery area from the studio space in back. I always meant to post online, ‘A Mexican built this wall and a Mexican paid for it! And it’s a GREAT wall!’

Articiple: Perfect.

Maritza:  After I opened The Studio Mind I heard about a new a preschool nearby, Center of Gravity, that’s focusing on STEM education—science, technology, engineering, and math. And I thought, why not have art there too? Then by chance the school’s founder, Michelle Grant-Groves, happened to walk by The Studio Mind and came in. She saw that I was reading Studio Thinking, a book from researchers at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The book is about how studio art works as a model for learning.

Articiple: I know the book! I actually worked at Project Zero years ago in one of my first jobs out of college.

Maritza: It’s all connected!

Michelle saw I was reading the book and said, ‘That’s exactly what I’m into!’ She said the preschool was looking for an artist to teach there. So I became their art teacher.

There are eight habits of mind that Project Zero theory describes, and I try to hit on all of them in my teaching. Even though the students are little children, it still applies to them. For the habit of ‘Developing Craft’ I like developing their fine motor skills and their knowledge of how to use their tools. ‘Engage and Persist’ comes in when I challenge them just a bit, for example by drawing a cat or an octopus step by step. I want to teach them to stick with a difficult process rather than focusing on the end product (though honestly, their end products are great too!) I also want them to ‘Envision’ something before they make it, though that’s a little developmentally advanced for them because they need to learn mark-making first. Even envisioning can happen without perfect execution of an idea, though. I want them to develop their imaginations, and develop the skills to attempt what they have in their minds, and I want them to enjoy the process as they go along. I teach brush skills and using scissors, watercolor painting with cool effects, how to see more than what meets the eye. I love working at the school and I love the children. It’s an amazing environment in so many ways. I feel very appreciated.

I’m absolutely covered for my expenses at The Studio Mind now, so I don’t have to offer so many classes in my studio. That was stressful, trying to fill classes every month. Lots of people say that they’d love to take classes, but they don’t really follow up.

The gallery show that finished in early June at The Studio Mind, called Person Place or Queen, is work from artists in the group RES Success (Redefining Educational Services), which provides services for adults with developmental disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Person, Place, or Queen: Recent Artwork by Participants of RES Success
. May 5 – June 2, 2017

 

Their administrative offices are in the building next to mine. Their art therapist saw my space and came in. We talked, and decided to have this show. I’m so amazed by what she does with her students. This show was originally going to be up for only 10 days. But it looks so good—and it’s so much work to hang a show and publicize it that I wanted to keep it up longer. The group did a lot of PR for the show, so I shared the work of running a show with them. And from a marketing standpoint, I know that having community events here brings people into the space who didn’t know about the space. So a lot more people have come in.

It really does make a difference, having a physical space. People walk by and see I’m here. It takes time for people to register that you’re there, especially because this space is a little hidden from the street. But I love looking out the window at the garden and the creek outside.

Articiple: It’s an amazing location. And it’s doing what you wanted. It’s making connections.

Maritza: And it’s great for my own work. For years and years, I’ve wanted a studio space where I could just hang my art and see pieces next to each other. I need to know how my paintings are interacting with each other. When you don’t have a studio space where you can have your pieces out all around you or hanging up on the wall, you’re only doing one artwork at a time. It’s a very different experience. I couldn’t hang things in my space at The Compound. My walls there were concrete block. Having these white walls in my studio here means a lot to my practice. It’s great to have a place where, on my own time, I can have a show going up and I can tell people it’s happening and they can come here.

Articiple: Let’s talk about the Studio MFA. You organized a self-directed independent MFA-equivalent project that involved studio practice, theoretical study, critical feedback, mentoring, and other things that students usually have access to in graduate school.

Maritza: At the moment I started that project, I needed to move my professional art practice forward. I had been looking at MFA programs, the timing and the cost, and realized that wasn’t going to happen for me. I have children, I have commitments. Even if I got into Stanford, which is a great program because it’s fully funded, I couldn’t physically make the time to be there. I couldn’t even get to UC Berkeley often enough to do the MFA there. I looked at part-time programs and low-residency programs, like Goddard. I looked at the UC Berkeley Extension Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Visual Arts. But that would have been silly, because I have a bachelor of fine arts already. I kept thinking, ‘I can go back to school!’ Then, ‘No. I can’t.’

I couldn’t justify the expense. I have two kids to put through college. Why would I get a Fine Arts MFA when it’s not going to help earn income for my family? If I didn’t have to pay for my kids’ education, of course the MFA would be worth it. But I don’t have infinite money to send them to college and send myself to grad school. I’m not going to sacrifice their education for mine.

Articiple: MFA programs are set up for people who don’t have other commitments.

Maritza: I was irritated when I talked to people at these programs. One guy said, ‘You need to really value yourself.’ I said, ‘I do value myself!’ Just because I’m not sacrificing my children’s needs for my own doesn’t mean I don’t value myself. And he has skin in the game. He needs people to enroll in the program to support himself and his school. So of course he wants me to enroll. I started feeling really angry about the MFA programs. It’s so expensive, why should I spend so much money on this? I thought, I can learn without going to a program. I have a pretty amazing undergraduate education. There are a lot of people who go to undergraduate art programs who don’t learn what I learned. There are a lot of people who go to grad school to learn what I learned as an undergrad. The biggest reason I needed an MFA was because I need to make more professional connections. I don’t want to go to a program so someone can tell me what to be thinking about. I don’t want them to tell me what books to read. I don’t want to go in different directions. I know what direction I’m going in. I finally washed my hands of it.

When I was first looking into MFA programs, I took a class with someone I’d met at SFAI when I was there, Amy Berk, about how to organize an art show, all the practical steps, even how to make postcards. It was all those little things added up that had been making it intimidating for me. The class got me over the hump of that process and helped me realize I could do things on my own.

When later I felt more pressure about needing MFA-level structure, I thought about how I’d already been cobbling together learning experiences. I decided to organize my own independent program that I called my Studio MFA, an MFA I would do from my own studio. I made a list of the things I wanted from an MFA, and how I would do those things for myself.

Articiple: You created a great program. I was impressed, and inspired. Your plan is really thorough and integrated. It’s a good template for anyone who wants to take initiative in developing their practice, at any stage really.

Maritza: I wanted to set it up in a way that other people could take from it. I thought, what if I could do this in a way where people doing it could start connecting with each other? I wanted it to become an in-real-life thing. Then I had the bike accident and the brain injury, which changed what I hoped to accomplish. I finished the first semester that I’d planned for myself, but I wasn’t able to pick it back up again. Still, some great things happened.

Articiple: And you’ve carried on. The Studio Mind is like your post-graduate stage. You’re doing the work you set out to do. 

What impresses me about the Studio MFA is your integrated perspective. You connect the hands-on aspects of individual practice to the importance of relationships with the community (in the art world and the world at large), and you link creative and intellectual and social engagement and political justice. You synthesize a lot of different kinds of understanding. I think it stands up to any program of study in an institutional MFA.

Maritza: Thank you! I was able to get so much done that ‘first semester’ because I had three months of recovery time from the brain injury. I didn’t have any responsibilities. Although at first I had to have silence in a dark room, I was able to slowly start reading and writing again. Once I felt normal in that way, I focused totally on the Studio MFA project. I couldn’t watch TV, drive, or even do child care. So I had a lot of time to myself, enough so that I could dig in deep and organize my thoughts. I guess that was my ‘residency’.

My life got back to normal life by mid-summer of 2015, then things picked up speed with my boys. It’s been hard since then to write. I have a lot of ideas, but it’s hard for me to complete a thought the way I want to. Any time I try to flesh out some thoughts, it’s full of stops and starts. I don’t know if what I’ve written makes sense only in my mind but not to readers. And then when I re-read, I catch simple mistakes. I can’t be sure whether there are more mistakes than I even realize.

Articiple: To me, it looks like you’re always moving forward to the next tier of engagement. There are people who go to grad school who never get to the level you’re thinking about, in terms of situating your practice in a social context and a history and an art community. That’s ok, there are different ways to do art. But you have an intellectual investment, you see beyond just making things and finding an audience.

Maritza: I guess I only know what I see from my perspective, like, I have my eye on doing something, and I have an idea of how I want things to turn out, from small things like a particular artwork, to bigger things like my career work as a whole. If it doesn’t turn out quite how I’d pictured, sometimes it’s hard to see the value in what did happen. Also, like anybody, I can get disillusioned that things don’t get a bigger reception or traction, like back when the piece I did the script for that performance at #Rank in Miami, or the Guess It’s Art Now piece. I thought those projects would be interesting to more people. I mean, it was interesting to me and I don’t think I’m that esoteric, haha!

Anyway, though, it’s still hard when people don’t pick up on something. It’s can’t tell if it’s because they didn’t notice the layered meanings or if it was some failure on my part. In my current show, I’m playing around with layers again. I like thinking about the verb pro-gress versus the noun pro-gress, about works in progress, about progressivism and what’s happening lately, how we handle the imperfect ‘now’, and how we make peace when we know things are far from perfect. I guess I like to not only have a finished product that I’m happy with, but I also like all the experience that swirls around it, I like what lives and breathes around art. I can’t tell if I’m making enough clear connections in my work for people to have more of a response, or if there’s enough substance there for them to respond to in the first place. Or, maybe the substance is there and the connections are clear enough, but life is fast-paced, and who slows down to notice and consider things? There’s plenty that I miss as I go about my days, too.

Articiple: There are so many things that determine when something becomes a conversation and when people really spend time with it. A lot of it is beyond your control. I guess sometimes you have to let go and let it have its own life. But the work survives. A piece like Guess It’s Art Now is interesting, and it will keep being in the world for more people to find.

That’s my reason for doing this interview series, to give artists a chance to say whatever they most what to talk about in regard to their work. The interview marks a place in time, so you can send people back to it later. When I started this project I imagined getting more response to it. Like, ‘OK, Bay Area, I’m giving you these fascinating interviews. You’re welcome! Now let’s talk.’ Well, this isn’t the kind of thing that goes viral. But the artists I interview care about the conversations, and they share them with their circles. These are quiet conversations maybe, but I think they’re worth having.

Maritza: I love that you’re doing this. You do a phenomenal job at slowing down as you look at people’s work. Is that part of being a poet? I deeply appreciate you doing that here with my work. It’s really opened my mind to appreciate what I’m doing, like, looking at the ground I’m walking on, instead of looking so far ahead that I keep tripping on things.

I think what you’re saying is true. There is a time and place for certain conversations to happen. I realize that life goes fast for a lot of people, me included. It’s not that I’m disappointed in people for not picking up on what I’m doing with some projects, because that’s just silly and self-centered. It’s more like, I really like what I’m doing, I’m going to keep doing it, and I hope people can enjoy what I’m enjoying about it. Life is hard a lot of the time, and as much it’s possible, I’d like my work to bring more meaning or empathy or enjoyment or something like that. And whatever changes I need to make to my work or to how I present it in order to, I guess, progress in that hope, then I’m up for it. As long as I stay true to the work itself. I think if I’m having fun with the stories I’m telling, then I’ll figure these things out. Then when the time is right and someone needs to see it, they’ll see it.

Articiple: The work keeps living beyond the time when you first share it. And sometimes you do make connections. We had the 9th anniversary party at The Compound in June 2017 and I had an open studio. I had a range of work on the walls, really new stuff and stuff from more than 5 years ago. And I had great conversations with people, about what I’m doing and how it’s changed over time, and about the thinking and processes behind it. People brought their own contexts, asked questions, gave me new ideas. I thought, this is really all I want: to be in conversation.

Maritza: Yes! That’s exactly it. I want those conversations, and this artwork and the way I show it is my best effort at igniting particular kinds of talks. That’s one of the most valuable things about art making for me, when the work I make does land with somebody and resonates enough to come back to me somehow. Not because I’ve accomplished something or because I’ve earned someone’s esteem. But because I saw something, and I said it in this way through art, and someone saw that art and understood something, and it becomes this shared experience. I love that.

 

Work in progress, 2017
Acrylic on panel
24 x 36 inches

 

Maya Kabat

Attempt to Cross 24, 2016 Oil on canvas 40x30 inches

Attempt to Cross 24, 2016
Oil on canvas
40×30 inches

Maya Kabat

Maya Kabat

 

Maya Kabat is a Bay Area artist whose abstract oil paintings stand out for their thick, visceral color fields, created with scrapers and other tools of the drywall trade. Maya mixes colors directly on the painting, covering and uncovering layers to build intricate surfaces balanced between tension and rest. Her practice also includes ink drawings, loose, delicate explorations of fluidity and chance.

Maya is represented by SLATE Art in Oakland. Past exhibitions include the SFMOMA Caffe Museo and 5 Claude Lane Gallery in San Francisco. She was a founding member of Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland and President of the Oakland Art Murmur Board of Directors from 2010-2011.

I met Maya at her Berkeley Cedar Street studio in November 2016 to see recent work and to hear about her very busy year, including a solo exhibition at SLATE, a month-long residency in London, and a trip to Machu Picchu. We started by looking at some of her new ink drawings.

Regrowing, 2016 Ink on paper 12 x 12 inches

Regrowing, 2016
Ink on paper
12 x 12 inches

 

What I knew, 2016 Ink on paper 14 x 11 inches

What I knew, 2016
Ink on paper
14 x 11 inches

 

Articiple: These are really nice. They’re so different than the oil paintings. How do you feel about the relationship?

Maya: I’ve had a lot of different phases over many, many years. So most people don’t know the whole trajectory and all the paths and strains of my working methods and history. When I first started making, I was a knitter. My grandma taught me and I was just kind of obsessed with knitting. I was one of those kids who knit in class in high school. It was a very calming activity. So I kind of grew up using my hands. I just liked making things and that’s where it started. As the years went on, my interest in making things did progress into drawing and other forms of artmaking. But I was always drawn to textiles and thread and texture. I seem to have a really heightened sense of touch. It seems to be very important to me as I look back over my life. So texture is a big part of what draws me to making art. I respect but I don’t love ceramics, or glass. They’re just too hard for me, and I can’t relate to them, in a certain way.

Articiple: They don’t respond to touch the way textiles or soft materials do.

Maya: Yeah. So that’s just evolved over many years. I went to grad school in textile arts, eventually. I did some soft sculpture. I also did collage and mixed media. I would sew on them and make collages that way. And it was only after grad school that I really started painting seriously. When I first started painting exclusively, I did a series of paintings that were atmospheric, with oil. So, to circle back, it’s not surprising to me that I’ve come to be interested in water media again–there is a similar atmospheric and organic effect that comes through. But it wasn’t a direct line as there were ten years in between these bodies of work. So, to answer your question, I have done a lot of things over a lot of years. I see relationships between all my different phases and bodies of work, and these two bodies of work are just different stops along the many paths I have explored throughout my career and over many years and many bodies of work.

Articiple: So with these ink drawings, it looks like there’s some pouring involved?

Maya: There’s a little bit of pouring. And I use some brushes to move things around. Often I’ll start with the paper wet. I think what I’m most interested in at the moment is dispersal, and how the pigments disperse and become these organic, halo-y kind of flowy things. Then I push the ink around with more water. Sometimes I wash them completely and start again with them wet. I’m interested in process and layers and in how things pool, and I do a lot of dragging. I did a lot of dragging in the atmospheric oil paintings I did all those years ago too. So like I said, it’s interesting how everything comes back at some point, whether it’s a palette or whatever idea or tool or method, it’s just part of the process. And that’s so much fun. It’s like there’s nothing wasted. Everything new that you do gets in and integrates into what you do and then it comes out again later in new ways. Things always come around and out again later in my experience, in some way.

Articiple: And you don’t have to be intentional about it, because it’ll take care of itself.

Maya: Right, it’s just like with cooking when you throw stuff into the mix, it changes the way everything tastes.

Articiple: Right. I can sort of see how the palette knife work and the scraping work with the oil paints would come out with the dragging, the gesture of moving stuff.

Maya: The motion, the movements are important elements in my work. Those are just another kind of tool: a different element that makes the work specific.

Articiple: Do you ever work on drawings at a different scale?

Maya: Yeah, when I was in London I did a couple really big drawings. They came out beautifully and I didn’t know that they would. It was a good experience to be reminded of the different ways in which I need to push myself in my work. So I do have some larger ones of these.

Articiple: Good, I’d like to see those. So that was over a few weeks?

Maya: It was a month. I got back September first, so it seems very recent. It was a pretty intense experience. There were 20 artists. There was lots of interaction, which was wonderful. It was so packed. I had critiques almost daily. That turned out for me to be just a little too much, as I could barely process one interaction, one meeting, before someone else came in and had an entirely different perspective and point of view. At the end of it I felt like it was really fantastic, but it was pretty overwhelming. When you have six critiques over a couple days you get a lot of different feelings and perspectives and you can take and leave stuff as you choose. There is too much to take in anyway. But I wasn’t at all used to having that many people coming at me with all of these different opinions.

Articiple: It’s hard to evaluate that much feedback at one time.

Maya: Right, and it took me time to get into it and realize, “OK, I’m going to leave that comment behind and I can not worry about that, but these other comments were very helpful and I’ll integrate them.” It was a very active negotiation, because I’m used to just working alone in my studio all day with nobody around. If I feel like showing a drawing to someone, I can, but I don’t have to. With this, everyone was right in there with me.

Articiple: Like grad school again.

Maya: It was like grad school, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I enjoyed it a lot but it took time to flip into that mindset. It wasn’t a natural mindset for me. It’s been a long time since I was in grad school. But it was a wonderful opportunity and it was a wonderful group of people, so I’m really grateful.

Articiple: Were people working in a lot of different media?

Maya: Yeah, and there were people from all over the world. One woman was from Pakistan and she was doing miniature painting in a kind of classical sense, but it was her own imagery and story. They were just unbelievable. Another guy was Sufi, and he would lift images from archives of the Sufi community from different cities. In this case he pulled images of the Sufi community in London over the years. He was from Ontario, Canada. He would sit on the floor cross-legged and his pens and crayons would be all around him. He did these really interesting, intricate drawings of people and buildings. So anyway, yes, it was a pretty amazing exposure to a lot of different artists doing a lot of different things.

Articiple: It’s so great to see people working in different practices like that, in these traditions that you don’t usually get to see.

Maya: And then you’re right there while they’re working. Jag (Sufi artist Jagdeep Raina) would sit on the floor cross-legged. It didn’t look comfortable at all, but he was happy as could be. His pens were strewn everywhere, it was a mess. And Wardha (Pakistani artist Wardha Shabbir) was sitting there with a magnifying glass, her space was pristine, and she was working on this tiny piece of paper. Her glasses were on and she was doing these tiny, tiny little areas of this little painting. She didn’t even finish one painting that month. It was just a wonderful thing to get to see the inner workings of all these different artists and the way they’re thinking and how they keep their spaces. It’s all so individual. It was really a pleasure.

Time is Personal, 2016 Ink on paper 60 x 48 inches

Time is Personal, 2016
Ink on paper
60 x 48 inches

 

Maya: So here’s the big drawing I did in London. And the other one is here.

Time is a Substance

Time is a Substance, 2016
Ink on paper
60 x 45 inches

 

Articiple: Did you shape the paper purposefully, or just take a piece that was already cut?

Maya: I got the end of a big roll of paper from someone else and I was going to trim it. And then I just decided, it’s fine the way it is, I liked it.

Articiple: It works with the cloud forms.

Maya: So this is when I started working with ink and pen nibs. This text is actually written with a stencil and a pen. I did the stencil and then I dropped water on it, like rain. Awhile back, I noticed that when water got on the drawings made by these pens, the ink would just immediately disperse. They wouldn’t stay at all, and they were really light and delicate. So that became really interesting to me, how that particular ink dispersed on contact with water. I tried to find other kinds of inks that might do that, but nothing does. I couldn’t find anything that was as loose and impermanent.

Articiple: What kind of pen is it?

Maya: They’re called Tombow. They’re from Japan. They’re at every art store.

Articiple: They have a really interesting quality. It’s almost like watercolor pencil.

Maya: There are two ends. There’s a point and another end that’s fat. They’re beautiful pens. I really like how they react with water. So I discovered that awhile ago, and I’ve played with different ways of exploiting that quality. I’ll wash them completely and get these ghostly residual images. And then I can add more line back in. Interesting things happen that you couldn’t get any other way.

So parts of the drawing I can leave, and there’s still the residue of some of the lines in the areas where I washed it away.

Articiple: A lot of layers. And then some pencil too?

Maya: Yeah, sometimes I’ll go on top again and bring out things. If something’s buried I’ll try to bring it back up. It’s a very flexible process and plus it’s fun.

So from there I’ve evolved to do these more formal drawings. I did stenciling and then dropped water on it. Sometimes I’ll move them around to get things to mix. It’s fun when they just melt and do their own thing. And there’s always a surprise, because different papers hold the ink differently.

These were the ones I ended up doing in London. Some went more formal, straight across, and some were more asymmetrical.

Time is a System, 2016 Ink on paper 30 x 24 inches

Time is a System, 2016
Ink on paper
30 x 24 inches

 

Articiple: It really has a textual quality with this repeated pattern.

Maya: And it’s got this grid thing happening, and then the pattern of the language. That’s binary code. The language in them is reflecting on theories of time and different conceptions of time from physics that are impossible for us to understand, because time is linear for us. But time is not really linear. So I was exploring, what would that look like, if time weren’t linear? How would you visually represent that? So this way water spreads and moves is sort of a visual exploration of how time might work.

Articiple: Like stretching and curving and thinning and thickening.

Maya: We all kind of know this feeling that time moves really fast sometimes, and then sometimes it’s just glacial. That sense is not necessarily real, but it might be, right? We don’t know, really, what is happening. Does time move at different speeds?

Articiple: Our physical organisms go in one direction temporally, but our minds can go in all these other directions.

Maya: Absolutely. It’s all relative, so we don’t know. If you’re in space, near a black hole, you can’t tell that time speeds way, way up. And if you were able to get away from that black hole again, everyone would be gone by the time you came back to earth. Maybe those factors affect us, and it’s interesting to think about.

So once I got going I played around a lot with the edges, how much of a border to leave or to have no border at all.

Metamorphosis 1, 2016 Ink on paper 12 x 9 inches

Metamorphosis 1, 2016
Ink on paper
12 x 9 inches

 

Articiple: And how much color, how much hue to add.

Maya: And the different pens have different intensities. This blue one was super strong. On the later ones I ended up working on top again, playing with the asymmetries, things falling off the page.

Time Is a Network, 2016 Ink on Paper 30 x 24 inches

Time Is a Network, 2016
Ink on Paper
30 x 24 inches

 

Articiple: And so many senses of accretion or dropping away and receding.

Maya: I’m happy with how it came out. So I did a lot of pieces. These were the larger ones. I did those two really large ones at the end.

Articiple: That’s a lot of work for a month.

Maya: It was. And everybody was working like that. A month really isn’t that long to make a whole body of work. At some point I’d really like to take the oil paints on the road and do a residency with the oil paints, and mix in driers so they would dry fast enough for me to be able to take them home at the end. But I haven’t been able to go on residency with the oil paints because they take so long to dry. So for the residency, I focused on drawing, and I created a whole new body of work practically from scratch. Everyone else was continuing work they had been doing before. But for me, this was an entirely new way of working. In hindsight I wish I had just figured out how to do my oil painting there. But it’s a process and I need to spend some time here in my studio investigating how I might take this work on the road.

Articiple: Especially when you have such thick paint applications, it must take months for pieces to dry.

Maya: It takes forever. Which is good, in a way, because when paintings are required for a show, I have to get them done early. I can’t do anything last-minute. But then I can’t fly off to Berlin and paint for a few weeks either.

So that’s what I’ve been up to with the drawing. I’m always drawing and painting at the same time. I’ll do a day of painting and then I’ll rest a day and then I’ll do a couple days of drawing and then back with the painting. It kind of flows in a circle like that. It’s a different kind of energy that is required to do the drawings versus the paintings. And the oil paintings require intense focus and physical stamina. And I just can’t do it every day. I just don’t have the stamina for it anymore.

Articiple: And conceptually, they seem to have really different concerns. The drawings are so spontaneous and malleable—or anyway, you introduce a big element of chance. And the paintings, I know that there’s a lot of improv, but there also seems to be a lot of planning and intention.

Maya: I have to really make decisions and commit with the paintings and decisions in the drawing don’t feel as weighty somehow. The decisions in the paintings can change very quickly, and that’s super intense. I can wipe out half of the painting with one move. I can just destroy it. The pressure to make decisions is exhilarating—sure, I can make small moves, but if I make a big move, it’s a BIG move. And then suddenly it’s an entirely different painting. It’s fun, I like it, as it’s almost like playing sports. You have to process information very quickly to play sports, and it’s all very fast and you have to adjust to other people very quickly. Whatever sport you’re playing, there are these laws of movement and adjustment. And it’s very similar when I’m working on a painting. Things happen very quickly and decisions happen quickly and impact all other parts of the painting and then other things have to adjust to accommodate. I like playing sports, so it makes sense that I see the relationships when I paint.

Urban Field 11, 2015 Oil on canvas 60 x 60 inches

Urban Field 11, 2015
Oil on canvas
60 x 60 inches

 

Articiple: Your painting technique seems really distinctive. How did it evolve for you?

Maya: I’ll show you the old work I was doing with oil paint from years ago. They’re starting to get destroyed, and I’m starting to paint over them. I was doing these very atmospheric pieces. I did a lot that were larger than this. They’re kind of misty landscape kinds of things. I grew up in Oregon, so, I think they are about growing up in the rain and the clouds and my emotional connection to that place.

Fluxion, 2004 Oil on canvas 48 x 60 inches

Fluxion, 2003
Oil on canvas
48 x 60 inches

 

Articiple: A lot of thinner paint layers.

Maya: Many thin layers.

Articiple: Are these from years and years ago?

Maya: Yeah. This is from 2000 maybe, 2001 or 2. I did a lot of them and sold some. I just was getting to the end of that body of work around 2003 because I just didn’t have anything else to say. And I had a little scraper, a tiny one like this. I can’t remember what I was using it for. I think I was using it to mix up a color on my palate. I didn’t normally use knives or anything. Anyway, then I realized this tool makes a very interesting mark. That was it, I just started painting that way. The early versions of these paintings were very different. They were almost stippled, but with little squares of paint.

Articiple: More gridded?

Maya: Well, they were more impressionistic, and subdued. I don’t even think I have any of them left. And then they evolved to what I am doing now. I started using bigger tools and it sort of evolved from there. I don’t think that I am going to stop anytime soon.

I’ve been experimenting with new methods recently though. These are the works that went into the show, mostly. But I’ve been experimenting with a little more kind of all-over freeform and thick paint. They are slowly getting better. It’s been fun to try something totally different.

Untitled Yellow, 2016 Oil on board 12 x 12 inches

Untitled Yellow, 2016
Oil on board
12 x 12 inches

 

Articiple: So many of the paintings like the ones from the show have a play between a neutral and a more intense color. But these new ones are really different.

Maya: They’re totally different. I’ve gotten pretty good at manipulating paint. I have a lot of control now, which is really cool.

So these could be really jewel-like and pretty, and they tend to go that way, to be too pretty. And I don’t like that, so I want to keep them sort of gritty in some ways, and messy and more interesting. These are the ones I did first, these wavy patterns. I don’t know, I’m not sure anything is going to come of them, but this feels like a good experiment.

Articiple: It’s a good counterpoint to the more planar pieces.

Maya: And some of that texture might end up coming into the planar pieces at some point. It would be really interesting to play around with it. We’ll see. There’s a big one I did.

Untitled, , 2016 Oil on canvas 18 x 14 inches

Untitled, , 2016
Oil on canvas
18 x 14 inches

 

Articiple: It’s like a gathered textile.

Maya: Yeah, it has the grid quality, and almost like a weaving.

Articiple: When you start a piece like this, do you have a palette in mind? Or is it all evolving as you work?

Maya: It definitely evolves as I work. But recently I’ve been just squirting a bunch of color on at once, like a big mess, and just going with it. Normally that would produce a real muddy, messy thing, but somehow I’ll manage it. I’ll add as I go and somehow it seems to be manageable.

Articiple: You can keep them separated.

Maya: If you push hard, something else happens than if you push lightly. If there’s stuff underneath, I can play with pulling up what’s underneath it, or if I want to, I can just cover it up. I’m doing them on top of old paintings that have a lot of texture already. I feel like that makes them more interesting. That green was already there from another painting. And then you can go over the bumps and it kind of shatters the consistency, and I like that more.

Articiple: And it looks like stuff chips off, too? Or there are places that don’t get covered as much.

Maya: I think that’s just what’s underneath. You know how with oil paint, if you have a very oily layer underneath and you go over it with something fatter, it will just skid across. I was sort of lucky. The top layer of blue just wouldn’t stick and cover that flesh tone underneath.

So I’ve also been touching up old paintings, slightly adjusting them and reworking some of them right now. So these are in process right now. I haven’t made any new work since my show came down. London happened, and then I cam home and my show went right up. My show was great, but I felt like I needed to take a break. Now I am back in my studio, and I have a bunch of old paintings that were OK, but they weren’t quite there. So it’s worth looking at them again and playing around with them, and going over areas and redoing parts. If I can save them, that’s great. If I can’t, they can just get restretched. But it’s fun to see if I can fix them.

Articiple: What does it mean for you, to feel like something is ‘there’ or finished?

Maya: Well, you know how it is, you do a painting and it’s hard to see it. Sometimes it takes a month or five months or a year to to really see the painting objectively. Often, I wish I had fixed one part or changed a color out. And once they’ve been sitting in my studio awhile and it’s clear that I’m never going to show them, it’s sort of like, I might was well play around with them. They can lose their freshness very easily, so adding to them after they’re done is a little risky. But I have plenty of paintings, so if I can learn something by adjusting things and playing around that way, it’s worth it to me.

Articiple: For sure. Like an ongoing conversation with the piece.

Maya: Yeah. Like, it’s getting there, it needs some work, and let’s see if we can make it really good now.

Articiple: And the pieces you showed, are they all recent?

Maya: Yes, they were all new. I did them all this summer. There were only six pieces in the show. They were substantial. This yellow one and this gray one came back. But they kept the others and a few sold. I pretty much did them all this spring and summer, so it was a lot of focused time. They’re similar to what I was doing before, but they seem more pared down. They’ve got these strips that sort of stop and start and move across, almost like text to me, like little sentences or something.

Attempt to Cross 21, 2016 Oil on canvas 72x48 inches

Attempt to Cross 21, 2016
Oil on canvas
72×48 inches

 

Attempt to Cross 22, 2016 Oil on canvas 72x48 inches

Attempt to Cross 22, 2016
Oil on canvas
72×48 inches

 

Articiple: These little intrusions of intensity.

Maya: They’re fun to do. I really like the format. They feel really good to make. When I go back to painting I’m sure I’ll do them again. I think I’ll switch the composition around and do some horizontal compositions and see what happens with it.

Articiple: Yeah, these feel really different to me. The horizontal ones you kind of fall into, I think because we’re used to looking side to side, just in our orientation to the landscape.

Maya: Yeah. Obviously, these are like horizon lines, different horizon lines. When they’re square or horizontal, something else happens.

Articiple: And there’s also an aerial quality of looking down at something from above.

Maya: Yeah, I was looking down on farmland when I was flying in an airplane recently, just looking at the patterns and how all of these funny puzzle shapes fit together, and I always find it so fascinating. I also just went to Machu Picchu this spring. I did some paintings for the show before I left for Machu Picchu and the rest of the work when I got back. Being there was like a religious experience for me, because I realized they were doing something with their wall-building that was similar to what I am trying to do with my painting. They were taking these very unusual shapes and fitting them together in a way that is just so perfect and solid and strong and complete and balanced. It’s just mind blowing. Seeing these Inca walls, that are so well-designed and also so organic-looking, and so perfectly integrated into the landscape… It’s just incredible, I can’t imagine how it was done. In fact, no one knows how they did it. But the magic of the puzzle and how it just locks together, like, click, is what I’m going for in my work. I want everything to interlock and be perfectly logical and structurally sound but also completely quirky and utterly unique. I am not into perfect grids or symmetry or perfect balance. Life isn’t like that and perfection isn’t real.

So it was really inspiring for me to see that similar aesthetic in this entirely different medium, architecture. I realized more clearly what it is that I’m trying to do, and it was very helpful. Because sometimes I don’t really understand why I paint. I mean, of course, there are so many reasons why I paint but sometimes I can’t get a firm handle on it. So it’s nice to identify specific ones when they come up. There has got to be more that just a love of color or form. Obviously, I’m interested in color. I love the way colors work and talk to each other, and that’s part of the reason I paint. I like the texture of the paint. But there is also a psychological component, and I think it relates to these realizations about Machu Picchu and how the Inca fit all these huge rocks together to build these incredible structures, and how that’s like me trying to fit the many pieces of my own life together, the disparate parts of myself that are quirky or don’t look like they will fit. How do I get my green part to fit with my blue part? How do I get the structure to balance? It’s a question that’s kind of eternal and existential for me. How do I take all the facets of myself and make sense of them as a concrete whole? How do we take the different elements of our world and fit them all together in a way that makes sense? Maybe it’s not possible, but for me it’s essential to try to get the fragments back and pull them in and fit it all together. So that’s why I do it.

Articiple: It’s sort of the gist of consciousness, I think.

Maya: Yeah. My parents were divorced when I was six, so for me, symbolically, it’s like two parts of myself were separated from a very young age. They still don’t get along after all of these years, and I have come to see that that is still a painful thing and it always will be. It’s not like I am worried about it anymore, but I think I paint this way because I’m trying to get the shattered parts back together and to fit it all back in. And I never really will, but symbolically it’s somehow a necessary thing for me to try to do.

Articiple: It’s so interesting to have architecture as a parallel for that, because architecture starts from the point where everything has to fit or it just doesn’t work.

Maya: Absolutely. And in my own painting, I realized only a couple years ago, I would be painting and I would have a stripe across and I would be like, that just does not work. Nothing’s holding that up. I need something to hold that up visually, whether it’s a darker line underneath, or a fatter line or something. It’s weird, I didn’t realize I was having that dialog with myself and the work. Because of course anything is possible in a painting. Nothing needs to hold anything up. But in my world, this dangling line (in the painting) is very hard for me, but because this little teeny line is there underneath, it manages to keep it structurally complete. And this strong vertical holds it up. If that weren’t there, I would have to do something with that.

Articiple: You’re developing a language that’s specific to this practice, and to each painting. It has to be internally consistent to itself.

Maya: It’s really true. There is a logic to it once I start talking about it, but it’s not a logic that makes sense in any kind of real-world way. It’s just a logic that happens in my own very specific and unique way. It’s a little crazy.

Articiple: It’s not built on any other system. This is the system. That’s the power of good work, it can make up this logic system or this psychological reality.

Maya: I think good art does just that. Good work creates the language that holds itself up. In order for it to be convincing, you have to believe in it. You have to believe in it as the artist. And you can tell when someone doesn’t believe in their own work. You can really tell. You can look at a painting and see, they’re just doing that. They don’t believe it, or they’re mimicking something or someone else. That’s cool, mimicking, that’s part of learning, but it’s not going to be enough. It’s not going to be there yet for me. I do hope I am making that kind of good believable work.

Articiple: Yes, you can tell when work doesn’t have the urgency or the necessity of whatever was behind it.

Maya: It’s just maybe not specific enough yet, or they haven’t taken full ownership of it yet? I’m happy to say that I don’t know anyone who makes work quite like mine, and I’m fine with that. I don’t want my work to look like other people’s work. Obviously there are influences, significant ones, like Diebenkorn and other California painters and other abstractionists.

Articiple:  Your work feels really distinctive to me.

Maya: One of the first art classes I took in college was an architectural theory and practice class. It was taught by an architect who was also a theorist. We did things like, we had to take one of the cities from the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, and recreate it in a sculpture.

Articiple: You went to Oberlin, right? I did too. I think I may have taken that same class!

Maya: Stan Matthews taught it. He was Pat Matthews’ husband, from the art history department. Strangely, it was my senior year. I didn’t take any art classes in college. I was doing art history. I was interested in academics. I thought, I can make art later. So this was the first art class I let myself take. We had to take a piece of illustration board and fold it or cut it and make it into a tower, but when you dismantled it, it had to unfurl into that same single solid piece of paper. It had to be intact. You couldn’t cut and paste. So I cut strips and wrapped them around the back and tucked them in. It slowly evolved to become like a flower. At the very end, I cut an extra piece of paper—it was an orange piece of illustration board—and added it to the center of the flower, because I needed something to hold it all in the middle. It was beautiful. I was really proud of it. I was working on it day and night. I just hadn’t been making stuff and I certainly hadn’t been making any sculpture ever before. And there were all these art majors in this class. So I showed up for the crit, and plunked it down with the other towers and couldn’t believe it. There were all of these beautiful elegant folded towers that were engineered very well and were made by talented adept artists, but they all looked pretty similar. Mine just looked so different. It was hysterical how much it was the odd one out with my flower with the orange middle. And I didn’t get approval for the little orange square in the middle. My prof said, “That’s unnecessary.” It wasn’t like I got an A or anything, but it was interesting to me, how different my flower tower was. I think that was because I just hadn’t been trained in the way that all those kids had been trained all through school, and sculpture was this new and very challenging thing for me.

Articiple: So you could come at it in a totally new way.

Maya: And similarly, many years later, I took painting classes to learn about color, but I was only doing that because I was in textiles and I needed to learn about color more. I was really interested in quilts and collage and I was never meant to be only a painter. So I kind of came at painting too from the side. The more I paint, the more I see the relationships to my interest in textiles and quilts. A lot of my works look like weaving because of the interest in the grid and the quality of interlocking vertical and horizontal.

Title, date Oil on canvas size

Urban Field 10, 2015
Oil on canvas
20 x 16 inches

 

Title (detail), date Oil on canvas size

Urban Field 10 (detail), 2015
Oil on canvas

 

Articiple: And the layering working through, like a warp and weft.

Maya: In much of my work, for instance, even if you looked back at the binary code drawings, there’s this warp and weft and then I mess it up and tweak it. So that’s just the way my brain works.

Articiple: Do these paintings start with these large color fields?

Maya: Sometimes I’ll start with a variety of colors all over the canvas, just squirt them out and start working. If I know that I’m going to keep one side light and one side dark, I don’t put a ton of black over on the light side, because then keeping the black out is virtually impossible. But it’s nice to have things come up like little surprises of color from underneath. With these ones, I definitely have a compositional idea in mind. So I will start with a plan, but then I will intentionally try to fuck it up a little bit along the way and change the painting so that it’s not so planned in the end. But usually I know basically what I want to do. And they can change. If it’s not working, I’ll just scrape off a big part of a painting as I go and change it. But the decision to use that green [in that painting] was pretty deliberate. I will often make a painting based on a palette or a color that I want to explore, without having a specific endgame in mind.

Articiple: And the pieces need to have a certain lifespan during the process, to get to that kind of layering.

Maya: If they happen too fast, it can be really fun in a sense, because things just come together and it’s flowing, but they’re often just not interesting enough because the layers haven’t built up, the weird parts haven’t been covered over or adjusted or worked. I mean, in the end you actually can’t really cover anything up. If I don’t like something I will “cover it”, but there’s always a little peek of it sticking out. Something, even if it is barely visible, is always still there. The paintings just get more interesting the more they get worked on. But then, also, I do feel like there’s a point where you can overdo it. The details get too finicky and there’s no reason anymore. When I notice myself sort of picking at the painting, without really doing anything, I realize that that’s the time that it’s over.

Articiple: “Step back!”

Maya: “Step away from the painting!” I can be quite obsessive-compulsive.

Articiple: There’s nothing but your judgment saying when to step back.

Maya: And there are paintings I’ve destroyed because I thought they weren’t working, that I really wish I had waited a night and slept on it. I could have scraped them down in the morning. It’s very hard to see clearly after five hours of painting. You can’t see the painting objectively anymore. I have probably scraped down some fine paintings for no reason over the years.

Articiple: You paint mostly on canvas?

Maya: Pretty much exclusively. I do have a few boards that come into the rotation sometimes. Usually those are small. When painting on wood, the grain of the board never seems to be what I want it to be. Canvas always looks so right and canvas has a nice push and a little spring to it. I find that it works better with the kind of work I’m doing. But small works on board seem to be fine. You can get a very sharp edge when painting on wood in a way that you can’t with a canvas. It’s super precise. But precision is not what interests me, anyway. I still like the sharp edges, but I like the wiggle that happens on canvas, the softness of the edge. With the wood, I can get really perfect, beautiful lines. Sometimes that’s fun, but overall it’s not exactly what I’m going for.

Articiple: I’m interested in what you say in your artist statement, about urban experience and the city as a paradigm. In some ways it’s an image of density, the urban grid. The paintings also have the feeling of being very spacious and open.

Maya: They are definitely like little neighborhoods. There are metaphors of the city all over the place in these paintings but they could be referencing a lot of things. There are elements that look like bridges, or maybe they are streets? There are big open spaces like parks or lakes or empty lots. There are structures and forms that could be buildings, or doors, or possibly you are looking down on a city block from high above. They also look like maps sometimes, or interiors. And then I look and think these new paintings really are something different. The older paintings are neighborhoods, but in these stripe paintings, there is something else going on. It could be the repeated horizon lines, but I think really they’re more about integrating parts, the way we were discussing previously.

 

Attempt to Cross 26, 2016 Oil on canvas 40 x 30 inches

Attempt to Cross 26, 2016
Oil on canvas
40 x 30 inches

 

Articiple: Tell me how you went from textiles to painting. Did you do any painting in grad school?

Maya: There are times when I think I’d love to go back to school to get another MFA in painting. But now I think, “Oh hell, no.” I can’t imagine uprooting my life and putting myself under that kind of stress again. Back when I went to Davis (which was great, by the way), I didn’t want to upheave my life for grad school, and I could commute there from Oakland, where I was living. So it worked out. I wasn’t in the visual art MFA, I was in the textile MFA, which was smaller. I had really good professors, like Gyongy Laky and Barbara Shawcroft, people who are more traditionally in the textile world. So it was a different education. But it was fine, because I learned how to make things my way, and I think that’s what you need to learn in grad school; you need to learn what it is that you do, and how you do it and why and you can’t dabble in that practice or that process. You have to be willing to really investigate yourself and your being as an artist in some very essential ways. And you need to be willing to break yourself down over and over to get at the true essence of what you, as a specific, unique human, do or do not do and why you make those choices.

Articiple: It’s a training ground for developing your process and your judgment. I think it’s almost immaterial what medium you focus on in school.

Maya: I think that’s really true. And in hindsight, I didn’t know that I was going to end up a painter. Sure, if I had to do it again, I’d go get my MFA in painting, because it turns out I’m a painter. But I’m a painter with this certain set of interests that are a little tweaked and there is definitely the textile interest. So it’s all fine, because that’s who I am and I can own it.

Articiple: I don’t think studying textiles instead of painting has set you back!

Maya: But it was tough in grad school, because I really wanted to paint. And they kept pushing me, and saying that I had to do something with fiber.

Articiple: Were you weaving?

Maya: Before grad school I wove professionally out of this small production house in Petaluma. I did a lot of things for them, including hand painting fabrics with stencils and dying, but I also wove these blankets for them on a big loom. It was fun, because I was working with my hands and I like that. But it was pretty boring work.

Articiple: Pretty repetitive, I guess.

Maya: And for me, creatively I just didn’t get into the weaving. With my paintings, I can squeeze out color right onto the canvas or mix something on a palette. There’s an immediacy with painting that you almost can’t get with any fiber art. With quilting, it’s hours of intensive labor sewing pieces of cloth together and layering the batting and hand sewing it. My brain wants the immediate result, and then being able to change it. Having this plastic medium is just required for me at this point. So there wasn’t really a way for me to get at the immediacy that I wanted in fiber. But by the end of grad school I did do collages that I would paint on and sew on top of, so I got to have the kind of play that I needed. But I do my paintings very quickly. My process is very fast, again it’s like playing sports, which you can’t do slowly, because that is just the way my brain works and the way I need to work. So I couldn’t do anything but painting now. I’m just too demanding.

Articiple:  I don’t think anything really compares with working in a fluid medium. It responds instantly and it’s almost infinitely malleable. I can see why paint suits your way of working.

Maya: I’m not the kind of person who likes to plan my work. There are artists who think it all through first.

Articiple: I think Amy Ellingson works like that, plans things far in advance. (I interviewed her a few months ago.) She creates digital diagrams with illustration software, then she goes through a really deliberate, painstaking process to translate them into paintings. 

Maya: I just can’t work that way. I need a little structure and then I want to be able to improvise. That balance of structure and improvisation is really where it’s at for me. I can’t plan that much. I can’t even follow a recipe when I am cooking because I just want to improvise, I find it so confining to work from a set of rules.

Knitting was great because, on the one hand, I do have an ability to do hours of mindless labor happily, because my brain can space out and it is just singing, “la la la!”. But at the end of the day, it’s not my preferred mode of working creatively when there are a set of rules that you follow and then, boom, it’s all over. What’s the fun in that?

Articiple: It’s interesting that you went through the route of fiber arts, because so much of what you say about your process doesn’t necessarily mesh with that. And I didn’t even mean that as a pun!

Maya: It doesn’t mesh at all. It really doesn’t. But the sensibility was definitely interesting to me. And clearly I have a deep and powerful emotional relationship to texture which drives that interest. And the way that materials can be transformed in that world is very interesting to me, the variety of textures and all the different fabrics and the way they absorb color, transparency. It’s all there. It’s very similar in many ways to painting, but it’s just very slow.

Articiple: And fiber itself is fascinating. I learned a little bit about spinning awhile ago, using a drop spindle. I got very interested in how that works, and how people figured it out thousands of years ago.

Maya: I guess some of the first textiles made were rope, and then they would knot it into nets.

Articiple: That makes sense, to start with some looser structure before getting to fabric.

Maya: It is extraordinary. The line is a thread to me always. With drawing, for me what’s interesting is line. There are just endless possibilities with line.

Articiple: And the small drawings would be beautiful fabrics.

Maya: They could be. I did do some dying too when I was in grad school. But it’s interesting to go back into using ink almost as a dye. But as you can see, it’s all about the line in this body of work—this just makes me so happy.

Articiple: And all those different layers of transparency that you can’t plan, the pools with these different concentrations.

Maya: I’d like to figure out how to work with it more, because things go back and other things come forward. I’d like to make more decisions around controlling and creating that space, so I’m working towards that.

Articiple: So you’re in drawing mode now for awhile?

Maya: I don’t know. This year really wiped me out. I just did too much. And London was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back. I loved it. You can see how much I produced there. And I produced all the work for my show in the two or three months before I left for London. And I traveled a lot. I was in Europe in January, I have family there. And then I was in Ecuador and Peru in May with my mother. We went to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu. Then I went to London in August, and I had a show.

Articiple: That’s an intense year.

Maya: It was a lot. In 2015 I had major surgery, because I had an autoimmune disease that went undetected and it ravaged my body. I’m really lucky that I was able to get it all under control, but it was years of trying to figure all of it out. No one knew, because you couldn’t tell by looking at me that I was sick. But I was very sick for about 5 years while we cured the autoimmune disease and then waited to see if I could recover. The surgery was in 2015, and it was the end of a long and difficult road where I was really in limbo. I bounced back after the surgery in just a few months, which was really fast.

Articiple: That’s amazing in itself.

Maya: It was amazingly fast. I just lucked out that the surgery worked and that there weren’t any complications. So after that, I really jumped back into life. There were so many years of being in limbo and waiting that I just ran out of the gate, and then after going so fast and being on all of this adrenaline I went to London after all of this other travel and started dating again and making work, and I just felt like I smashed into a wall. I realized I needed to slow down So I’m glad I did all of that traveling and living. It was worth it, but now I feel like I need some time. It’s fun to do some smaller works and experiment, but there are no shows coming up soon and there is nothing I need to do.

But there are some other things going on. My dealer Danielle Fox at SLATE and George Lawson from Lawson Gallery are making a book of 6 images and some essays for me about the recent show. George and Danielle are both going to write a piece for it. So that’s happening. There are some other nice things happening—talking to you, and I have a private student, which I’m really enjoying. And I’m going to curate a little online show for NIAD, Nurturing Independence Through Artistic Development, the Richmond organization for developmentally disabled artists. So there are little things coming up that kind of keep things flowing.

Articiple: It sounds like it’s good to slow the pace a little.

Maya: It was a fun time, but it was a little much. I’m just trying to find my balance again. And it was a really intense time leading up to my surgery in 2015. Anybody who goes through anything like that, there’s a reevaluation that has to happen. It’s just required. Things get really clear really fast. I just don’t have time for drama anymore. I am just so not interested.

Articiple: I was really sick around the time I was at Oberlin, I had Hodgkins Disease. So in my early 20s I went through that feeling of, “Oh, this is how it could end.” Suddenly you just can’t count on your body. It gave me a different perspective.

Maya: I’m sure it did. Fortunately most people don’t have to face that when they’re young. I think about the difference before I found out about my disease and after. It’s like I’m two different people. It was such a game changer. Before the diagnosis, I was just this healthy person and I took it all for granted. I think that’s great though, don’t get me wrong. Young and healthy people should take it for granted. On the other hand, I don’t regret any of the lessons learned. I’m a better person by far for the experience. I’m grateful in that way. But I don’t wish it on anybody and if I had had the choice, I wouldn’t have chosen it.

Articiple: If you can get through it, it’s a really formative experience.

Maya: And that’s all that matters, getting through it. It didn’t take me out. That’s all that matters.

Articiple: Right, you get a second chance.

Maya: It’s definitely just taking me some time to sort through. So it’s going to happen in phases. It’s going to be awhile. But I’m very happy to be on this side of it.

Articiple: Well, you look amazingly healthy! No one would ever know what you’ve gone through.

Maya: I’m grateful that when I was diagnosed and in the years before the surgery, nobody really knew. I don’t think I looked super healthy but I didn’t look ridiculously ill, either. It was kind of a blessing to be given a pass in that way, to be able to go along as if, and deal with it more privately. When you have to deal with stuff like that more publicly, it’s more challenging. I didn’t want to talk to everybody about it.

Articiple: And if you’re able to travel and all of that, it seems like you don’t have any restrictions now. Going to Machu Picchu is pretty intense. It’s over 14,000 feet, right?

Maya: I think Cusco is 12,000 feet. Maybe Machu Picchu is only 10,000. But still, that was a big adjustment. And it wasn’t even a year since my surgery, it was 11 months. And I went to Europe at Christmas, so that was only six months after my surgery. In hindsight, I clearly had a mission. I didn’t quite realize how much I had a mission. It’s understandable, after having to wait and wait and wait for resolution. But now I’m settling back into normal life and not wanting to rush. I went to Peru and Ecuador and I had to make all the work for the show and I got to go to Europe again. It’s enlivening to have activities and a deadline like that. It helps to get things done. But it’s not how I like to live.

Articiple: Then things start feeling more like obligations.

Maya: Things don’t happen as organically. So I’m enjoying the fact that this is a period of quiet. I think I might not push too hard until the new year. I did a lot this year, and it’s fine. I want to be excited about making the oil paintings, particularly. I’ll be messing around with water and drawing and stuff all year, but I might just wait to do more oil paintings. Although at the same time, the experiments with oils feel really necessary and interesting. Experimentation is important. It’s really easy to get stuck in ruts, at least for me. So doing stuff that’s so wildly different is really helpful to push things around in a new way and see what happens. When you’re working for a show or something, you know what you have to produce. You can’t really experiment all that much. For me, it’s like I want to create a body of work that’s interesting and there are new things happening, but they’re all kind of talking to each other in some way, and you have to deliver something that holds together and makes sense.

Articiple: You want it to be coherent.

Maya: Yeah. I try not to plan too much, but usually when I’m interested in something—like I got really interested in grays again. I did a bunch of gray paintings. The gallery didn’t show them, because they get to edit. But there’s only so much planning I’m going to do. It’s nice to have a gallery that picks the work at the end of the day, because they always do something interesting and also something different from what I might have done. That’s what they’re good at. I’m actually really not that good at hanging up shows. I’m good at making the paintings and then it’s nice to have someone else take them and do stuff with them.

Articiple: I like SLATE a lot. All the shows I’ve seen there have been really interesting.

Maya: The new space is really nice, too. And they’re just lovely to work with. I love working with them, so it’s been a nice thing.

Articiple: And are you still working with Mercury 20?

Maya: I left there because SLATE took me on, and I can’t do both. I kind of wanted to figure out a way to do both, because it’s a community I really value, and I helped start it. I still feel like it’s my baby. But it was time. It’s important to let other people have that platform. It’s evolving and changing. It’s really thrilling to see what they do now. I get to hang out still with everybody and be around. It’s a lot less work for me to have someone else hanging my shows and doing all the promoting and marketing.

It was really fun to work with Mercury 20 and help evolve the Art Murmur. The Art Murmur organization, when I first got involved, was so disorganized. People could hardly make a map. But at the same time, nobody really had to do anything or promote it because it was gaining so much momentum on its own. Once the galleries started having openings, people just started coming. It just happened organically, and it didn’t need anybody, really, to push it anywhere. But then once it got big it did need some organization. So it was cool to witness and participate in that process and to help things come together. Now the Art Murmur has got this huge board and they’re fundraising. It’s pretty amazing.

I just saw the Eva Hesse movie, the documentary about her work and her life, last week. It was so interesting. She was in New York, she was in the New York art scene very specifically and she was very ambitious. I hadn’t realized that about her before. She was very deliberate and intentional about her career. Part of me thinks that that’s probably required on some level. I often wonder how much ambition is required, and how much planning needs to go into a career. There are people who push-push and sell themselves in certain ways. I guess that’s fine if it’s natural to you. But if it’s not, forcing it doesn’t feel like it’s really going to help. I feel like if I just take that energy and put it back into my work it’s better for me, and then make the effort to do residencies like the one in London and the one before that in Iceland, and develop my communities. I met a lot of great people at these residencies and made some important contacts. The business person in me is not super excited about forcing those conversations and relationships. And any career is a lot about relationships. There’s only so much I’m willing to do, though, and then I just let the chips fall where they may.

Articiple: I’ve been reading a lot about Agnes Martin. She did work for years in New York, but almost ambivalently, it seems. Or anyway she ended up choosing seclusion over almost anything else. But she definitely got her work out there, she was part of the conversation.

Maya: I think it helps to be there, in the community that you want to be developing. Ultimately it’s about the relationships that you form. Opportunities come in the same way that they do anywhere and in any career, and it’s often based on the communities and the relationships you’re in. I’m fine with being in the community here. I love it. But there are some really interesting things going on in New York. I have good friends there. I try to get there every year and see the shows and keep up with it all. It is such a great city and someday I hope to show there.

Amy Ellingson

Variation (blue), 2014 Oil and encaustic on two panels 78" x 72" x 2"

Variation (blue), 2014
Oil and encaustic on two panels
78″ x 72″ x 2″

 

Amy Ellingson is a Bay Area painter and interdisciplinary artist who has exhibited her work nationally and internationally for more than 20 years. Her signature large-scale paintings in oil and encaustic use abstract patterns generated with digital illustration software, translated to material form in painstaking, deliberative processes. This act of translation from the virtual to the real, investing the ephemeral digital file with the attention and intention befitting an enduring artifact, is central to Amy’s work.  Also key is her practice of iterating a concept through different media, such as by interpreting a painting in 3-D sculptural forms.

[installation] Variation (blue), 2014 Variation (blue): Artifacts, 2015

[installation] Variation (blue), 2014 Variation (blue): Artifacts, 2015

 

Amy’s upcoming solo exhibition Chopping Wood on the Astral Plane  will be on view October 1-29 at Eli Ridgway | Contemporary Art, located at Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco.

Variation (three grids), 2016 Oil and encaustic on four panels 66" x 168" x 2"

Variation (three grids), 2016
Oil and encaustic on four panels
66″ x 168″ x 2″

 

Articiple: I’d like to pick up on some thoughts from your interview with Maritza Ruiz-Kim from 2014 (The Loop Of Abstraction: Amy Ellingson at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art). I’m interested in how you describe the investment of time and labor in your work, and the relationship between the ephemeral digital source imagery and the finished works:

The decision to make a painting based on a flimsy digital file is about commitment, time, labor, effort.

I feel that the imagery is imbued with some power along the way, via the investment of time, attention and physical energy, belying the humble beginnings of the digital imagery.

But I think (hope) the overall effect is one of the hand trying to be perfect, more perfect than the digital, more mediated by processes and materials, more real, more human.

In much of modern and contemporary art it’s often the gestural, the imperfect, or the improvisatory that are credited with being ‘more human’, as if the accidents and idiosyncrasies of individual presence are what rescue the human from the tyranny of technological precision. Your position seems like the inverse of that, instead identifying the human with the pursuit of perfection, the sustained and disciplined effort, the repetitive act of labor. I wonder if you have any more thoughts about that?

[detail] Variation (three grids), 2016 Oil and encaustic on four panels 66" x 168" x 2"

[detail] Variation (three grids), 2016
Oil and encaustic on four panels
66″ x 168″ x 2″

 

Amy: Yes, it’s a bit of a paradox when you put it that way.  Certainly, you are right to say that we perceive gestural, improvisatory painting methodologies as being truly human.  I suppose that is because we can see and “feel” evidence of the hand and body.  Perhaps we think we can “feel” the artist’s impulses and actions.  And, perhaps, the further we advance into the information age, the more we will perceive gestural, imperfect things as signifiers of the human condition. However, I’ve been thinking a lot about expression. What is it, exactly?  Why do we make assumptions about what is being expressed?  Why do we assume that “perfect” things are not necessarily expressive?

 

Variation: purple (dawn), 2016 Oil and encaustic on two panels 50" x 156" x 2"

Variation: purple (dawn), 2016
Oil and encaustic on two panels
50″ x 156″ x 2″

 

For example, I have a nice watch that my parents gave me for my fortieth birthday.  It is an automatic, meaning that it winds itself by capturing, storing and utilizing the energy created by the movement of my body. It does this through its design—a mechanism of tiny, compact springs and rotors and gears.  Though many people wear Apple and Fitbit watches these days, I still wear my automatic.  The only thing it does is tell time.  To me, it is one of the ultimate expressions of what it means to be human.  The complexity and precision of its design and its singularity of purpose are reminders of what humans are capable of.  What’s more human than Swiss watch making?  I feel the same about precision in art.  Isn’t a Bernini sculpture expressive?  To me, repetition, labor and the pursuit of technical mastery are the most human things.  Believe me, there are lots of imperfect things in my paintings, but in making them, I try to bring every element to a level of finish that results in a seamless whole. Agnes Martin wrote and spoke of the pursuit of perfection.  She said that we have an awareness of perfection in our minds but that perfection is unattainable, and that “the function of the work of art is…the renewal of memories or moments of perfection.”  I tend to agree with that.

 

[detail] Variation: purple (dawn), 2016 Oil and encaustic on two panels 50" x 156" x 2"

[detail]
Variation: purple (dawn), 2016
Oil and encaustic on two panels
50″ x 156″ x 2″

 

I like your phrase, ‘ tyranny of technological precision’.  Yes, computers and the graphic design and photo editing programs I use have their own algorithmic perfection, but I would argue that it is somehow lacking, at least in terms of human esthetic judgement.  I remember learning Adobe Pagemaker years ago, in the early nineties.  One could adjust the kerning (the space between individual letter forms) to make the text look better.  Of course, typesetters have been adjusting kerning with their eyes and hands for hundreds of years, in an effort to make text more legible and more pleasing to the eye.  What is that, exactly?  Well, we are still physical beings, we still respond to physical stimuli, we still have our mysterious ways of making esthetic and formal choices.

Articiple: I’m curious to know more about your choice of materials and your decision to work in oil and encaustic and gouache. A lot of art that engages with the relationship between the virtual and the real incorporates digital media directly into the work, through video, 3-D printed objects, or such. You’re taking a different approach in generating source material digitally and translating that through the use of more traditional media. Certainly that creates a dialog with the history of abstraction and the larger history of painting. But it seems like there is something more there. I wonder if there’s a phenomenological connection between the material qualities of the media and the qualities of investment and attention that you want to realize in the work? I think what I’m asking is, how do these media, or the ways you’re able to work with them, carry particular qualities of the ‘human’?

 

[detail] Variation (blue), 2014 Oil and encaustic on two panels 78" x 72" x 2"

[detail] Variation (blue), 2014
Oil and encaustic on two panels
78″ x 72″ x 2″

 

Amy: We remain physical beings. We are from and of the natural world.  Art making is a strange impulse. It connects us to our highest ideals even as it reminds us that we have feet of clay. Throughout most of art history, we humans made art out of natural materials: stone, wood, a bit of charcoal, ground minerals in a vehicle of some sort… even though the imagery in my paintings is the result of keystroke commands, the material reality of the work is very traditional: wood panels, chalk gesso and paint made of ground minerals, turpentine, oil, beeswax and resin.  I love the connection to the past.  Artists have been using these materials for hundreds of years and we have an intrinsic relationship to them, as we do to an image on a planar surface. When I look at one of my sketches on the computer, or even printed, it really doesn’t look like much.  It’s a reference, a starting point.  I do believe the computer and the graphics programs I use (Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop) prompt me to design in a particular way, but as you know, the desktop and the palettes are simulacra of real things: a real desk, a real pen and paintbrush, and real actions, such as copying, pasting, scaling, and erasing.  I look at the sketch and say, “now I am going to make this real”.  There is a bit of the Pinocchio story in play, I suppose; artifice only takes one so far.  I find a lot of satisfaction in learning about paint recipes and formulas and I enjoy making my own mediums.  I recently began experimenting with making my own gouache, and it is just unbelievably delicious.  I experimented a bit and then realized that I probably need a few months to really work out a methodology of testing recipes and mixing and tubing colors, so I set it aside, but I hope to spend more time on it in the next few months.

 

[detail] Variation (blue): Artifacts, 2015 Cast encaustic forms, wire, encaustic Dimensions variable

[detail] Variation (blue): Artifacts, 2015
Cast encaustic forms, wire, encaustic
Dimensions variable


Articiple: You often iterate an idea through different forms, repeating shapes and patterns in a series of related works. In fact your show at SJICA was titled Iterations & Assertions. You explained a little about this in your interview with Maritza:

For many years I have created groups of closely related paintings for exhibitions. Until now, the progression was more literal in a sense. For this show, I wanted to tease out particular qualities, elements, characteristics in a more fragmented way. The diptych is the “mothership”. Everything else relates to it, but in a more exploratory way.

Your use of repetition and variation set up a strong dynamic of constraint and discovery. I’d be interested to hear more about how the practice of iteration works as a generative tool for you.

 

Variation: Apparent Reflectional Symmetry, Parts I & II, 2014 Oil and encaustic on eight panels Overall dimensions 69” x 338” x 2”

Variation: Apparent Reflectional Symmetry,
Parts I & II, 2014
Oil and encaustic on eight panels
Overall dimensions 69” x 338” x 2”

 

[installation] Iterations & Assertions, 2014 Site-specific mural, sculptural installation, paintings

[installation] Iterations & Assertions, 2014
Site-specific mural, sculptural installation, paintings

 

Amy: I appreciate your putting it in terms of constraint and discovery, because that is exactly how I see it.  We must acknowledge that just about everything has been already been done.  How does one make a meaningful abstract painting these days?  How can I participate in and advance the discourse of abstract painting?  I decided some years ago to limit the imagery in the works to elements that I designed in Illustrator: simple lines, arcs and grids.  The oblong, or straight-sided oval, is the matrix of many of my forms.  This very basic, simple language gives me a lot of flexibility.  By piling it all up in layers and using simple commands to alter these forms, I have been able to create a vernacular that allows me to explore abstraction without worrying about generating new imagery—the imagery is self-generating, in a sense.  I think that most artists find a set of parameters that allows them to be free, to explore, to seek and find answers.

 

Variation: Large Delineation, 2014 Site-specific mural, acrylic 13’ x 40’

Variation: Large Delineation, 2014
Site-specific mural, acrylic
13’ x 40’

 

Some of my imagery has been altered so many times that I truly cannot remember how I arrived at it.  I wouldn’t be able to replicate it if I tried.  But it’s here, in my computer.  I can grab it and paste it into a new file, stretch it a bit, pile a bunch of things on top of it, and hopefully arrive at something that I want to spend a few months recreating by hand.  My hope is that the paintings will transcend this simple language of shapes, through deep exploration, and even exploitation.  The iterations allow me to push the boundaries I create for myself.  Over time, this language of simple forms (some of which are akin to letterforms, while others appear to be mere digital noise) has taken on a life of its own.  It is perceived as ‘personal’ somehow.  The shapes are recognizable signifiers, in the same way that another painter’s gestures or paint handling become personal signifiers.

 

Variation: Large Delineation, 2014 Site-specific mural, acrylic 13’ x 40’

Variation: Large Delineation, 2014
Site-specific mural, acrylic
13’ x 40’

 

Articiple: For Untitled (Large Variation), your ceramic mosaic installation at the San Francisco International Airport, you adapted your visual vocabulary to a much larger format than your previous work. What were the conceptual challenges that this posed? Or the technical challenges, if you’d like to go into that. I’m sure there were many!

Untitled (Large Variation), 2015 Ceramic mosaic 10' x 109' San Francisco International Airport

Untitled (Large Variation), 2015
Ceramic mosaic
10′ x 109′
San Francisco International Airport

 

AmyUntitled (Large Variation) presented real, unexpected challenges.  The design is based on a painting I was making at the time.  My basic forms are designed in Illustrator, but my final sketches are Photoshop files.  So, the first challenge was taking my working file back into Illustrator and redrawing it as a vector file that could be scaled up to 10 x 109 feet.  I redrew it all manually, since I didn’t feel I could get what I wanted using the Live Trace command.  It took a couple hundred hours to do that.  I literally pored over every single form, adjusting anchor points and arcs.  Then, I sent it to Mosaika, the mosaic fabricator in Montreal.  The owner informed me that I was out of my mind and that the mosaic would cost well over a million dollars to produce.  So, I asked what I needed to do to get it within budget.  She gave me some simple guidelines such as, “no shape can be narrower than a finger’s width,” and “you may only use one layer that gives the illusion of transparency.”  These restrictions were terrific, as I had absolutely no idea what was possible, what it would cost, what the pitfalls were, etc.

 

Untitled (Large Variation), 2015 Ceramic mosaic 10' x 109' San Francisco International Airport

Untitled (Large Variation), 2015
Ceramic mosaic
10′ x 109′
San Francisco International Airport

 

So, I went back through the file.  Keep in mind, it is very difficult to work on something so large on a relatively tiny computer monitor.  I “touched” each shape, each arc, a thousand times, much in the way that I do when I make a painting, refining and adjusting until the image was simplified enough to be viable as a mosaic.  The next challenge had to do with the nature of the digital file.  Usually, Mosaika starts with a finished work, such as a painting, which is scanned, enlarged and then interpreted in mosaic.  It was surprising to me, but the Illustrator file’s “flatness” and lack of directional detail posed problems.  The first material samples that were made were awful, as the fabricators assumed that I wanted to convey a similar flatness in the mosaic.  However, once I visited Mosaika in person and shared my work with them, there was a collective “oh…”  in the studio.  We realized that we had to give the forms some direction.  How do you break them up in to small fragments?  What are the shapes of those fragments? How do shapes overlap to create the illusion of space?  How would we address gradients and transparency?  There was a lot of collaboration at this stage. Mosaika excels at this, since they work with a lot of artists who have no experience with mosaic.

 

[detail] Untitled (Large Variation), 2015 Ceramic mosaic 10' x 109' San Francisco International Airport

[detail] Untitled (Large Variation), 2015
Ceramic mosaic
10′ x 109′
San Francisco International Airport

 

The scale of the piece is just…impossible.  There was really no way to envision the mural until it was complete and installed on the wall at SFO.  A leap of faith was required.  It’s a bit scary and an incredible challenge to work at this scale. I was not entirely sure if the piece worked until the final reveal.  As an image that relates to my paintings, the mosaic is interesting because each shape is fragmented into multiple tiles, in some cases hundreds or thousands of them. The overall effect is one of simultaneous fragmentation and unification of form.  The faceting effect is very interesting to me. There are tens of thousands of small planar forms, and a million little edges that catch the eye.

 

[detail] Untitled (Large Variation), 2015 Ceramic mosaic 10' x 109' San Francisco International Airport

[detail] Untitled (Large Variation), 2015
Ceramic mosaic
10′ x 109′
San Francisco International Airport

 

Articiple: I’m looking forward to your solo show at Eli Ridgway this fall (October 1-29, 2016). Is there anything you’d like to share about this new work or how it furthers your project?

 

 Variation (thicket), 2016 Oil and encaustic on two panels 36" x 144" x 2"


Variation (thicket), 2016
Oil and encaustic on two panels
36″ x 144″ x 2″

 

Amy: I have been working on my forthcoming exhibition, Chopping Wood on the Astral Plane, since December.  It has been entirely immersive.  The show will include 10 new paintings, all created in 2016. As a rule, I create works for exhibition in a specific space, so I have a scale model of the gallery that I have been working with.  I’m so deep in it at the moment that it is difficult to talk about, but I will say that I’ve tried some new things with color.  There have been some mind-boggling color challenges within this body of work.  The paintings are very dense and complicated, even more so than usual.

 

L: Variation: yellow (dusk), 2016 R: Variation: purple (dawn), 2016

L: Variation: yellow (dusk), 2016
R: Variation: purple (dawn), 2016

 

Another thing that viewers familiar with my work will notice is that the title of the exhibition (and the titles of the some of the individual works) is a bit more whimsical than usual.  I usually tend toward titles that are basic, descriptive identifiers.  But something has taken hold of me as of late; I feel the weight of time and temporality.  The title for the exhibition started as a bit of a joke at first, but it perfectly describes the relationship of hands-on, consistent labor to more philosophical things.  It addresses the relationship between the quotidian and the esoteric, and the relationship between time and timelessness.  The great thing about preparing for a show is that I’m in my own little bubble of reality.  I make the rules, I follow them or I break them, and the consequences are mine alone to grapple with. I’m going to savor these last couple of months of intensive work, before the paintings enter the public realm.  It’s a magical time.  As Agnes Martin said, “Sometimes through hard work the Dragon is weakened.”

Identical/Variation No. 2 (blue, black), 2016 Oil and encaustic on panel 36" x 36" x 2"

Identical/Variation No. 2 (blue, black), 2016
Oil and encaustic on panel
36″ x 36″ x 2″

 

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

Kate Rhoades

Required Skimming (based on Forgetting the Art World by Pamela M. Lee). 2014, video still.

Required Skimming (based on Forgetting the Art World by Pamela M. Lee). 2014, video still.

Kate Rhoades’ video Artist Statement opens with the line “My current work is an exploration of the role of the artist, the institution of art, and its discourse,” but only after taking us through the hair pulling, swearing, and second-guessing that go with trying to jam an artistic practice into a few sentences.   The video is buried inconspicuously on Rhoades’ website, but as a capsule summary of her practice it’s on point. Rhoades makes videos, paintings, performances, and other work that jostle the institutional complacencies of the art world through humor, sly guilelessness, and a cheerful willingness to include herself in the joke. I saw Kate’s mixed media exhibition at the Mills College 2014 MFA Exhibition and immediately wanted to talk to her.

Kate also co-hosts a podcast, Congratulations Pine Tree, with Maysoun Wazwaz (Program Manager at the Mills College Art Museum.)  It’s a serious and entertaining and very listenable take on the same things we talk about here.

Articiple: Your MFA exhibition made me want to ask you questions that can’t really be answered, even though they need to be talked about over and over. Like: how can artists resist the cooptation of the market and work for communities based on self-determination?  In particular I wanted to talk to you about—well, pretty much everything in the exhibition, and how things all played off each other.  Such as: those precise, mostly small paintings of the behind-the-scenes operations of the art institution—a copy machine, somebody on a scissors lift, the back (once front) door of the Mills Museum—all with a lot of blank space, like the gallery walls had been sucked into the paintings.

Daisy in the Ceiling. 2014, 0il on muslin on panel. 9″ x 12″.

 

Lawler Installers.  2014,  oil on linen on panel.  48" x 36".

Lawler Installers. 2014, oil on linen on panel. 48″ x 36″.

Kate: All those paintings are based on things and people that were around me when I worked at the Mills College Art Museum. When I was working on them, I was also taking a class taught by Julia Bryan-Wilson and Darcy Grigsby at UC Berkeley on the histories of photography. One of the readings I did for that class was an essay by Rosalind Krauss called Photography’s Discursive Spaces. She talks about the gallery wall as a charged space which lends new meaning to whatever is displayed on it. Many of those little paintings that I made have large swaths of white, empty wall. The white cube is supposed to be a void where art work can speak for itself without interference, but we know now that the white wall has its own significance, and is no longer a totally neutral space, if it ever was. Also when I was making those paintings I was thinking about color field paintings, and then putting the figures in some of them was making it as though they had wandered into an abstraction to do their work.

Articiple: The Required Skimming videos are like spoofy Cliff Notes for art theory, especially theory about the codes of power that control art institutions and perceptions of art and perceptions of artists themselves.

Required Skimming (based on 9.5 Theses on Art and Class by Ben Davis), 2014.  Video still.

Required Skimming (based on 9.5 Theses on Art and Class by Ben Davis), 2014. Video still.

Kate: I wish they were proper cliff notes, so I could actually understand anything Hal Foster has written. His were the hardest texts for me to make videos from, because I can’t fucking understand them at all. I tried to get some of the art historians I know to talk to me about them. I would ask them if they could sum up The Return of the Real for me in a couple sentences. Everyone declined, and I couldn’t tell if it was offensive for me to ask people to sum up important work like that, or if no one could do it because his work is so inscrutable or complicated. I think the people that appreciate that series the most are people who feel they’re getting revenge on the readings after having to grapple with them in school. For me, that series is an excuse to force myself to at least casually familiarize myself with those texts. I had been reading Andrea Fraser‘s essays since I was in college, but her writing is also very dense and references a lot of these other writers, like Krauss, Benjamin Buchloh, and Pierre Bourdieu. I thought if I could just immerse myself in this kind of theoretical writing I would be able to understand Fraser’s writing more. It turns out her writing is pretty easy to understand compared to some of these other writers.

Anyway, yes, most of the writing I’m interested in has to do with art and power, or art and class. These are the issues that I think are most important to the field of art right now. I gave a lecture recently about my work to a college class, and I talked about the idea (this is also something Andrea Fraser always talks about) of the artist as a rebel who speaks truth to power versus the reality of the artist as a producer of luxury goods for the super wealthy. That contradiction is something I try to address and work through in my practice. After I said that, one of the students told me he didn’t have that conflict at all. He thinks of himself as basically a glorified wall decorator. It seems that this is becoming the standard attitude for contemporary artists now. I think artists don’t expect as much from art as they used to, say during Dada or Surrealism. I don’t know too many young artists interested in “the art which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of the last week, which is forever trying to collect its limbs after yesterday’s crash.” Not that I think my work is so earth-shatteringly radical, but I am interested in art that contends with the conflicts happening in the places where it’s shown and in the audience engaging with it.

Articiple:  Outside Jokes, the zine about the exhibition,  made it seem like you’d be friendly and funny to talk to.

Outside Jokes.  2014, photocopied zine.  8-1/2" x 5-1/2", 12 pages.

Outside Jokes. 2014, photocopied zine. 8-1/2″ x 5-1/2″, 12 pages.

Thanks, I love talking to people. I hoped for the zines to give some explanation or context to people that might not be art-world regulars, people like my mom.

 Articiple: The furniture you used to display the videos and zines looked like it was made of plywood from old art packing crates.

Installation view, Mills College 2014 MFA Exhibition.  2014, mixed media.

Installation view, Mills College 2014 MFA Exhibition. 2014, mixed media.

I decided on housing the video screens in actual crates that had been used to ship work to the museum, because I was thinking of the essay, Why Does Fred Sandback’s Work Make Me Cry by Andrea Fraser (published in Grey Room, 2006.) She talks about the museum as a source of indoctrination. We go to the museum, and then we become the museum. We replicate the values and hierarchies that the museum represents. So in my show the crates are shipping information to the museum in your head. That might be kind of a stretch, though. Here’s my favorite part from that Andrea Fraser essay:

We are all here members of cultural fields. We carry, each of us, our institutions inside ourselves. There’s a museum in here, inside of me, with the Corinthian columns, the grand staircase, and the mezzanine. There’s a system of organization: the way I see things. There are objects and images, and there are texts, and there are voices explaining. There’s an archive that also contains my memories. And there’s a basement where I keep the things I don’t want to show.

Just as art cannot exist outside of the field of art, I cannot exist outside of the field of art, at least not as what I am, which is an artist. And this is also the limit of institutional critique. I can attack those internal objects. I can rip at the walls of my institutional body. But I can’t tear it down completely, and I can’t leave it, because I would then not only cease to have an effect within the field; I would also cease to exist.

Articiple: You’re shining a light on some of the whitewashing and cooptation that goes on in the art world, the ways that art is used to shore up wealth (financial capital) or status (cultural capital), and the ways art is contained within elite or esoteric social strata.

Kate: Again, I want to direct people’s attention to another reading that talks about all these things way better than I can: 9.5 Theses on Art and Class by Ben Davis.

Articiple: Punks, Guerrilla Girls, 70s downtown performance artists all confronted this in their way, but every era has to reinvent the wheel of autonomy or community.  So… how does it work in 2014?  How do we make art right now that can’t be immediately co-opted for wealth or status?

Kate: I don’t know if art alone is going to reverse neo-liberalism, but one thing that I think will help make art less dependent on wealth disparity is paying artists fees for showing in non-profit institutions. If artists weren’t totally reliant on selling their (very expensive) work they might be more inclined to make work that is challenging to the ideology of the ruling class. W.A.G.E., Working Artists and the Greater Economy, has been pushing for this and is actually having a fundraiser right now to help jump start their certification process to establish standardized fee payments to artists for their labor. If anyone wants to donate, here’s where you can do it: www.wageforwork.com/coalition/3/donate.

 Articiple: A big part of your practice is about online media and popular, accessible formats like YouTube.  Is the user-curated internet the portal to artist autonomy and self-governing communities?

Kate: The internet has definitely made artists rely less on galleries and museums to create a viewership for their work. However, I also get called a douchebag more on the internet than I do in galleries, so it’s kind of a trade-off.

Articiple: Institutions and money are so much a part of getting the art out into the world—on a very basic level, like the way so many galleries rely on MFA graduate programs to deliver the next crop of artists to them, and artists rely on gallery support to have a living.   So…where is that sweet spot where artists can get the resources and support they need to do their work, without colluding with an art market that exists mainly to expand wealth in the hands of the wealthy?

Kate: I’m just going to plug W.A.G.E. again here: www.wageforwork.com.

Articiple: And about the state of art and artists in San Francisco: independent galleries and all the artist support that goes with them are being priced out of the city center.  At the same time, SFMOMA is expanding at a cost of over half a billion dollars, in part to showcase the Fisher Collection of mostly midcentury American blue chip artists.  So I guess my question here is, what do institutions like SFMOMA have to offer artists who are working against the cooptation of art as an investment commodity?  Is there a useful way for artists to be in dialogue with places like SFMOMA?  Guerrilla exhibitions in the restrooms?

Kate: There are still many independent art spaces in the Bay Area, though their positions are more and more precarious. As we were talking about before there will always be artists finding alternative channels for distributing their work, like through the internet, zines, etc. My friend Eli Thorne did a guerilla performance at SFMOMA a couple years ago where he had a loud spiritual communion with a Jay DeFeo painting. I videotaped it secretly, which was one of the most stressful moments I’ve ever had in an art museum.

I’m not sure what the best practice is for dealing with a museum that has Charles Schwab on its board of trustees. Of course we also have to realize that most non-profits, arts-related or not, are getting money from places that we may not want to think about. It is particularly problematic, though, when you’re making work about the life-threatening working conditions of sweat-shop laborers in Bangladesh and the venue where your work is being shown is sponsored by the Gap. I don’t have solutions for these problems, because to be totally honest if Janet Bishop or Rudolph Frieling came knocking down my door (highly unlikely) tomorrow asking me to be in a show at SFMOMA it would be very hard for me to turn them down. I think highly-publicized withdrawals from shows have been effective for sparking dialog about the injustices that institutions perpetuate. For example, when the YAMS collective withdrew from the 2014 Whitney Biennial over Joe Scanlan being one of the other exhibiting artists. Or when artists involved in Creative Times’ Living as Form exhibition boycotted over the show touring in Israel. These aren’t easy decisions to make, though, and it’s hard for me to begrudge any artist for taking whatever scant opportunities are coming their way. Again, I think these problems are rooted in neo-liberal capitalism and until we address that, not just in art discourse but in larger conversation, I don’t think much will change.

 

 

Kimberly Rowe

Dots in Other Spots.  2014, acrylic on canvas.  60" x 48".

Dots in Other Spots. 2014, acrylic on canvas. 60″ x 48″.

 

I took a painting class with Kimberly Rowe this past spring, when I was feeling it was time to get my hands back on some brushes after a couple of years of printmaking.  I discovered a personality as energetic and irrepressible as her art.  So I corralled her briefly to find out where all that energy comes from.

Articiple: Something apparent to anyone who sees your art is the sheer exuberance.  You seem to really stay in the moment as you work with a color, a form, a gesture.  There’s a sense of immediacy and unrestrained expressiveness.  At the same time, there’s structure, balance, symmetry–or purposeful asymmetry—in the finished pieces.  I’d like to hear about how that all works for you.  How do you move back and forth between the need for sustained thought and concentration, and the need for immediacy?  This is a question about process—but the answer might also have to do with what music you’re listening to or what coffee you’re drinking as you work!

Old Brown Show.  2014, acrylic on canvas.  60" x 48".

Old Brown Shoe. 2014, acrylic on canvas. 60″ x 48″.

Kimberly: It’s funny that at the end of this question you mention what music I’m listening to.  I have heard some people say that the music they listen to or environment that they are in does not influence their work.  Both do for me, for sure.

I love music and it is an important factor both directly and indirectly in my work.  I am a big proponent of silence, too, because I believe that we have to allow ourselves to hear ourselves think.  But often I end up realizing that I am singing some crazy made-up songs even in the presumed silence so I have come to force myself to stop and turn on music just to give myself a break from my own voice!  It’s a relief!  And that is a true strategy, both in creating a certain mood, but also to get myself out of my head and stop thinking too hard.

I used to act, and I used to play the piano and violin, and I still love to dance.  All of those things can be similar to painting.  I study and research and look and think about art (and music, and theater, and literature, and all sorts of inspiring things in the world) much of my waking (and probably sleeping) life.  By doing that it is sort of like rehearsing.  Whenever I perform I cannot spend time thinking too hard while I am “on”.  The piece comes through me as though I am a channel or conduit.  I fill myself with possibilities but I do not plan my paintings and do not know what combination of elements will appear.  A painting is not as fresh if it is stop-started throughout the process.  Rather, like in acting with memorizing lines and creating a backstory that provides a sense “memory” from which to drive my responses, I have to go into the making with the confidence that I will know what to do when I come to it and then allow that to happen.

Kiss.  2014, acrylic on canvas.  20" x 16".

Kiss. 2014, acrylic on canvas. 20″ x 16″.

I listen to a lot of different types of music, but in the last year or so I have become a huge fan of the Beatles.  I had never heard whole albums of theirs before.  I am in total awe of what amazing innovators they were and how their work shifted over a short period of time.  I am blown away by their musicality and the complexity of many of their songs, yet how simple they can seem.  They are structured, but the structures change, breaking things up in ways that can be perplexing, which is the Beatles’ genius.

I think deconstructing music influences my work.  I constantly think about challenging myself to mix things up and take risks, to do things that surprise even myself.  I have been told several times that a lot of my work “feels” musical.  I am really into rhythm, repetition, rhyme, pattern, scale, and, of course, color.  I dance while I paint.  I hope that shows!

Articiple:  I know you resist representation or resemblance in your work.  I’ve heard you say that you’ll paint something out if it starts looking like a painting “of” something.  I think that’s an interesting insistence, that the painting needs to exist fully in a space by itself.  Of course abstraction is as old as art, and we could talk for days about what abstraction means or where it comes from.  But I’d like to hear, for you, why abstraction is compelling.  What are the particular problems or possibilities that keep you interested in this genre?  

If I Fell.  2014, acrylic on panel.  60" x 48".

If I Fell. 2014, acrylic on panel. 60″ x 48″.

Kimberly:  Hmmmmm.  I think I may have been saying that, for me, it is important to know how something may be read even if it was arrived at unintentionally.  That is not to say that I am a proponent of censoring my work, nor that representation per se is bad, nor that I need to control what the viewer may think they see in it.  However, if I inadvertently put two eyes a nose and a mouth in the middle of what I have meant to be a nonobjective painting and I don’t want it there I would likely choose to paint some or all of it out.  On the other hand, never say never.  I have a wry sense of humor and have been known to stick something trompe l’oiel, like tape (pun intended), on top of a perfectly nonobjective surface and turn things on their head.  I am not a purist, especially if messing things up makes a better painting.

Abstraction is compelling to me, because it makes me think in a certain way.  Of course there are incredible representational paintings as well as amazing conceptual works that move me.  And I used to make both representational and conceptual work.  But when I think through the annals of my art memory, nonobjective work has been something that is not too sentimental nor too clinical but is just right for me.  And within that realm, I tend to favor painterly abstraction, even if it is very structured and not gestural.

Tomorrow Never Knows.  2014, acrylic on panel.  12" x 9".

Tomorrow Never Knows. 2014, acrylic on panel. 12″ x 9″.

Pulling apart layers and edges, sinking into color, reading a piece as if it is poetry or a song, makes my heart sing.  Perhaps I am a more abstract thinker and that is why I studied Psychology, Philosophy, and Religion, particularly eastern teachings.  I want to dig deeply, but the answers are always elusive.  There are no cut and dried answers. It’s like the adage that “What I am searching for I am searching with.”  My own mind peels away at this thing that is really just paint on a substrate and comes back with new discoveries every time.  It’s like reading a book or seeing a movie or listening to an album and finding out that I understand it more deeply this time than the last.  And the thing about a nonobjective, visual surface is that there are no real clues.  A great abstract painting serves as a mirror; I am like a parakeet pecking at my own distorted image.

Articiple:  You’ve said Allison Miller is an important influence.   I see a number of similar concerns in your work and hers: patterns masked by more dominant shapes, a purposeful disorientation in the figure-ground relationship, an overall energizing of the surface.  What else can you tell us about why Allison’s work is important to you?  What other artists have been formative in your work?  [Thinking of ‘If I Fell’, and Allison’s ‘Lean’ or ‘Repeater.’]

Allison Miller, "Repeater."  2013, oil and acrylic on canvas.  66" x 60".

Allison Miller, “Repeater.” 2013, oil and acrylic on canvas. 66″ x 60″.

Kimberly:  Well, first let me address your question about other influences:  besides Allison’s work, there are several other artists whose work has informed mine, but there are a few key ones.  It began with Robert Rauschenberg.  I love his intellect and humor and profundity and rawness all rolled into one.  His use of materials is amazing.  I love Richard Diebenkorn, too.  His layers and edges and angles have taught me invaluable lessons.  And Keltie Ferris is a contemporary favorite.  Her work is big and powerful and layered and super colorful.  Luckily for me, she has become a friend, but even before that I loved her personality.  She was the first artist I had ever heard giggle and bask in the glory of her own work while she gave a lecture, without sounding egotistical.  She genuinely loves making her work and I celebrate her audacity and generosity of spirit.  It makes me want to be a better artist and person.

Allison Miller’s work has changed a lot since I first discovered it.  The older paintings seemed much thinner in their material quality.  They were more like drawings and looked a lot like they were made with markers.  She used to use small brushes on large panels or canvases, resulting in marks that recalled the coloring posters I used to buy as a teenager.  I spent hours filling those in with felt tipped pens.  Her paintings were playful and that really spoke to me.

I think Allison’s work affects me on many different levels.  The older work didn’t have so many layers, but it often revealed residue from below while also remaining direct.  It was simple but not easy.  It was abstract, but felt like it had personality and a non-narrative “story”.  It tackled space without, for the most part, using perspective or illusion.  It was super colorful and fresh.  And it was formal but not merely formal.  Plus it was made mostly of acrylic paint.

Over time, Allison’s work has become more painterly and more dense, with a greater variation in texture and pattern and paint application.  The  more I paint and try to do certain things with paint, the more I appreciate and learn from what she has done as she further develops her work.  Looking at her paintings, especially in person, is like taking a master class.  I have become a better painter by studying her work.

Castaway. 2013, acrylic on canvas.  30" x 24".

Castaway. 2013, acrylic on canvas. 30″ x 24″.

I am very fortunate to have become friends with Allison in the past few years.  Not long ago, she told me something while we were talking about another artist’s work that I think is a recipe for success.  After having seen photographs of an artist’s paintings and imagining what they might really be like, Allison was very disappointed in their actual quality when she visited a gallery and saw them in an exhibition.  These aren’t her exact words, but she said something to the effect of this:  As a painter, you have to give viewers something to look at; you owe it to them.

I understood what she meant and took it to heart.  In other words, it’s not enough to just make a cool composition.  As a painter, I have to really make a painting!  Give it body; give it life!  Really use the paint and build the surface.  Make viewers have to look, again and again; cause them to want to keep coming back.  It’s an edge next to a pattern, hidden by an opaque patch, set against a thick glob.  It’s three different blacks, one made of several mixed colors, two from the tube, one glossy, one matte, one in-between.  Why is there dirt in Allison’s paint? Because it pushes the envelope and makes yet another texture.  Remember the Beatles’ songs that I mentioned in the first question?  It’s a little like those.  The way to remain unfailingly fresh is to give viewers enough to allow them to keep experiencing something new and wanting to come back for more.

Articiple:  You teach painting, and your teaching style is as energized as your art.  In a class I took with you, you really pushed students to stay in the moment, take risks, let go of anything “precious” to take the work somewhere unexpected.  It was almost like having an aerobics coach!  You’re generous with your energy and your insight.  How does teaching feed your practice?  What’s your vision of an ideal teaching or mentoring situation?

John and Yoko (diptych.)  2013, acrylic and acrylic spray paint on panel.  Each 14" x 11".

John and Yoko (diptych.) 2013, acrylic and acrylic spray paint on panel. Each 14″ x 11″.

Kimberly: I taught high school art for six years.  I quit teaching in 2007, after my first year of graduate school.  This year I began teaching classes again, but at the adult level.  And I love it!  Not because of the adult part, but because the students really care about painting.  They are coming to the right person if they want someone to cheer them on.  I know what you mean about my being almost like an aerobics coach.  And that’s not far from the truth.

I take group yoga and dance classes, because I find it to be more fun to let go of some of the responsibility of pushing myself so that I can become immersed in the moment.  And that is what I am offering in my studio classes.

I want to help my students to become fearless.  I want them to be able to let go while they are working, rather than making constant, consciously calculated decisions the entire time, which can literally stunt their growth.  I can’t always do it myself, but I know what it’s like to throw caution to the wind and what amazing things can happen when I do.

When I was a freshman in college, my drama teacher gave us a motto to live by: Dare to be bad.  Sometimes when we are left to our own devices we kill all the spark by thinking too much and trying to do things perfect and right.  In my studio classes I try to take the pressure off my students and get them to take risks.  Like my dad says, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”  It’s so easy to stop short of an epiphany just by trying too hard.

I am ravenous when it comes to learning.  I am one of those kinds of people who takes loads of classes and reads and researches constantly.  I figure I have enough information to share.  Why not give it away?  It gratifies me so much to help others and watch them bloom.

I want to see my students succeed.  So I offer the opportunity to come into my classes and have a chance to be pushed past one’s comfort zone.  The best way to get better fast is to drop our control and just “do”.  It’s so exciting for me to watch my students let their guards down and make paintings that surprise them.

Recently a student came to my studio and we worked together for about eight hours straight.  I taught her how to make a really extensive palette and use lots of new colors and unexpected combinations.  I pushed her to be fearless and ruin her precious marks and be responsive over and over again until her paintings felt good to her, not overworked, but fresh and exciting.  In eight hours she made two awesome paintings.  I worried that maybe I had driven her too hard, but she was elated to have moved beyond her paralyzing fears to where she could paint on her own with a new perspective.

Of course, teaching isn’t only about being in a full-blown production mode.  I get as much out of listening while my students discuss ideas and concerns, as I do coaching them in the studio.  I love every aspect of mentoring, and hope to get to continue to do it both in groups and one-on-one.

In July (2014), I am teaching a two-Saturday intensive at CCSF’s Fort Mason campus.  And in the fall I am teaching a semester-long course through SFAI’s Public Education program, at its Chestnut campus.  I’m really excited to see what my students will make!  I learn at least as much from them about painting as they do from me.  And that’s a big thrill!