Let's Talk Arts
is a multi-format series of interviews coordinated by the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, with the goal of providing context and consideration to the arts in the region. Throughout the year, you can look forward exploring the arts in depth through Interviews and Question & Answer Sessions with jurors, artists, performers, and others working in the creative fields.
Artist, Natasha Giles, had a solo exhbition, entitled Social Voyeurism in March of 1017 at the Arts Council.
In a recent interview by Dr. Joni Hand, Professor of Art History at Southeast Missouri State University, the artist discusses her motivation behind the exhibit and her approach to creation.
Question & Answer Session
March 6, 2017
By: Dr. Joni Hand
JH: Appropriation is a primary element in your work. How do you maintain a balance between found imagery and your own creative impulses? In other words, how do you manipulate these found photographs so that they become original works?
NG: The moment I begin drawing the image on the panel or paper (I like to paint on both) it begins to change. I start filtering the image and deciding what is important. In my newer paintings, I have begun to take the figures out of their original environment all together and place them in “environments” that are textured and abstract. As I start painting, I continue to make changes. In the more recent paintings you can actually see where I intentionally leave some of the original drawing after I have decided that it isn’t needed. I never really know what a painting will look like. At the beginning I have an idea of how I think a painting will turn out. The final result is always different.
JH: As you choses images from social media, are you drawn to any particular themes (other than people)?
NG: Right now I find that I am drawn in by the composition, the construction of the elements and principles of design. Images that have depth are the most interesting; depth of space, depth in possible narratives, depth of character and personality. There was only one time where I actively chose to work within a theme. That was a few years ago after the death of a close friend. Almost everything I painted for about 2 years was a reflection of her, our friendship, her death and the sense of loss.
JH: In your artist statement you discuss the idea of “shared experiences of memory.” Could you explain what you mean by this and how it is specifically demonstrated in your work?
NG: In this social era, nothing is private. We intentionally or unintentionally share things that happen in our day. There is subtle comradery or bond that we create with each online. Through a simple post, we connect and share our lives with each other. We are inviting each other into private moments. I become a part of each memory I find though the act of creation. I begin to feel like I’m there, watching and participating.
JH: Body language is also something that informs your work. Could you discuss the importance of body language in the images you create?
NG: I am a people watcher. There is a lot that we say without ever moving our mouths. Some people, like myself, can’t keep my emotions from my face. I have been told I have animated facial expressions. The same way we can learn about someone’s personality through a handshake, we can learn about people from the way they sit, cross their arms or if they look people in their eye. The unspoken words can be more important than the verbal ones. I look for the unspoken dialogue because it is really easy to say one thing and mean something else. Body language will always show the things we are trying to hide.
JH: When did you begin using multiple canvases and how does this technique strengthen your message?
NG: In the beginning, I wasn’t even thinking about it as a way to strengthen the narrative. I just enjoyed it from a formal perspective. It added an interesting element for me. It began to change after reading Relational Aesthetics. Layering and overlapping became a way to engage the viewer. I enjoyed making paintings where people had to bend, turn or move around a piece. Using multiple panels or sides allowed me to carry the narrative to every aspect of the painting if needed. I discovered I could create a visual footnote that enhanced the experience.
JH: What do you want the viewer to take away from this exhibition?
NG: I always love to see people engage with the more dimensional paintings. I love watching people imagine. I want people to think, to create stories, to wander, to consider. Some of the most interesting discussions along the way have also been about privacy and the social personas we construct. Social media is really an interesting phenomenon. It’s fascinating to think about how much it has changed how we interact with each other. Coincidentally, as I have been working from social media, it has made me question the things that I post and my reasons for posting them. None of this is to stay that people shouldn’t feel free to share. I love it and hate it all at the same time when I’m looking at people posting about their breakfast. It’s where we are right now culturally. People just have to think about how much they are willing to share.
Let's Talk Arts with Michael Baird & Justin Henry Miller
Artists Michael Baird and Justin Henry Miller will partner to bring “Dark Wonders” with painting, installation, and puppetry to the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri from October 7 – 29, 2016. In a recent interview by Dr. Joni Hand, Assistant Professor of Art History at Southeast Missouri State University, the artists discuss their fascinations with science fiction, references to genre art, and their technical processes.
Download the PDF: Q&A Session with Michael Baird & Justin H. Miller
Question & Answer Session
September 30, 2016 By: Dr. Joni Hand
JH: Both of you approach your work through a lens of nostalgia, Michael looking at a child’s sense of wonder, and Justin to a purity in the genetic make-up of living beings. Do you see your works offering an alternative to the encroachment of technology?
MB: I love technology. In fact, in this show, I will be displaying remote controlled creatures, automated critters, audio-activated lighting effects, and more. All of these live alongside manually operated puppets and big fake landscape forms. I have created this series of work especially with the feeling of wonder I receive from old science fiction books, movies and TV shows where the reader/viewer was invited to imagine what might await us in the far-off regions of outer space. The endless horizon technology presents can be very exciting.
JHM: I am not necessarily looking to offer up alternatives as much as I am an observer influenced by the ever changing world around me. I am concerned with our societal need to see the next technological breakthrough without considering the backlash, side effects, or mishaps along the way. I see my artwork more as cautionary tales. Each work is little window into what could be.
JH: Science fiction informs both of you and your work. Are there any specific examples from this genre that you are especially influenced by?
MB: I adore really cheesy B movies from the 1950s through 70s. Giant monsters, ridiculous costumes, pathetic plot lines, there is just something charming about them. I would have a hard time pointing to anything specific as an influence for this work. I love Gamera, Angry Red Planet, Lost In Space, The Green Slime, The X From Outer Space, and Ultraman to name just a few.
JHM: For me an overriding attraction to science fiction comes from the endless possibilities the genre endorses. Worlds are created where seemingly anything is possible. I have become increasingly interested in the closing gap between science fiction and science fact. Take for instance cloning. This is a scientific practice that I am sure my parent’s generation would have deemed fiction earlier in their lives, now it has become a reality.
I find myself drawn to films that use the concept of synthetic mimicry to question what it means to be human. In essence films that deal with the creation of artificial intelligence. These include Blade Runner, Ex Machina, Terminator, etc. Even the c3po and r2d2 characters of Star Wars seem at times “human” to me.
JH: What made each of you interested in exhibiting together?
MB: When the Arts Council invited me to exhibit my work again, I was concerned that I would struggle to fill their generous space with my installation. Thankfully, the Arts Council suggested that I could exhibit with Professor Miller. I have always adored his fantastically immersive paintings and his wild imagination, so I was ecstatic. The more the idea soaked in, the more exciting the pairing became to me.
JHM: Michael and I both installed separate shows at the Arts Council in the Fall of 2013. After experiencing each other’s work firsthand I think there was a mutual admiration and realization that we shared several similar interests. When Murielle Gaither, the Director of the Arts Council, approached me about exhibiting with Michael I enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity. The macabre nature of work makes for a good pairing, especially for the month of October with Halloween and the Arts Council’s ‘Trick-Art-Treat’ event.
JH: Your artists’ statements outline things that are lacking or skewed in contemporary society, yet both of you embrace play and whimsy in your work. How do you see the serious nature of your intent coexisting with this playfulness?
MB: Play is serious. In children, it is a means to learn about the world. The type of play may change as we age, but we must never stop playing, never stop using our imaginations to probe the limits of our inner and outer universe. Whimsy too, is crucial in many ways. Whimsy allows us to address ideas that would otherwise be repulsive, taboo, or just plain boring. My intent in bringing this installation to the public is to invite a little whimsy, a bit of playfulness, and with luck a little wonder into the viewers' lives. We can never have too much wonder.
JHM: I enjoy artwork with a certain push-pull experience. That is to say I like being seduced into an artwork because of its approachable aesthetic only to find myself in a content-rich message. I try to pull viewers into my work with candy-coated palettes, high technical resolve, and cartoonish characters. Once pulled in hopefully the viewer finds something deeper. A perfect example of this would be an artist like Takashi Murakami. If you look at his mushroom painting series you at first glance seem to be simply be looking at candy-colored mushroom characters pulled from a manga comic. However, after closer inspection of the composition and a consideration of Murakami’s Japanese heritage you realize a more ominous connection to the mushroom cloud and the WWII bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
JH: Which artists are you influenced by and why?
MB: I am influenced by slews of artists. Though some of my most beloved would be Jim Henson for his work toward bringing puppetry to adult audiences, Douglas Adams for his unbound humor and imagination, and Eiji Tsuburaya for his work in making giant monsters a cinematic phenomenon.
JHM: From a technical standpoint I love looking at the Dutch Golden Age painters. Abraham Mignon is a particular favorite of mine from this era. Not only are their works exquisitely crafted but I love the visual payoff of viewing them in person. Housed within their still lifes and floral paintings you often find little micro-worlds, insects chasing other insects, and other tiny details. I similarly try to encode little visual details within the larger narrative of my paintings. In a similar, but more bizarre way, I am a fan of Hieronymus Bosch. I remember seeing his most famous work, The Garden of Earthly Delights, in the Prado and I think that by the time I left the museum I had returned to that painting 3 or 4 times. I love paintings that keep you coming back to discover something new. Not to mention his paintings have some downright wild stuff going on in them. From a more contemporary standpoint I have found myself increasingly drawn to several pop surrealist artists like, Mark Ryden, Jeff Soto, and Camille Rose Garcia. Aside from their technical prowess, I find myself drawn to their social consciousness.
JH: How do the materials and processes of your art making support the overall intent of your work?
MB: The materials I use vary widely depending on my physical needs. Installations create huge challenges that demand creative solutions. However, I tend to utilize materials and processes that present a softer, more organic appearance. I feel like this is helpful in creating an approachable atmosphere that I hope viewers will feel comfortable investigating, even if it's really weird.
JHM: On a technical level I like for my paintings to feel void of an artist’s hand. I want my images to feel somewhat mechanically made. I think this plays into our present day where we consume so may images through a screen or monitor and where visual products themselves are increasingly synthetic.
For this particular show I am broadening my typical working process and media.
While I will be displaying some of my more traditional paintings and drawings, I am also going to be creating a 17-foot long mural. I think the increased scale will help the kraken creature I am painting feel a little more imposing and leviathan-like.
JH: What do you want your audience to learn from your work?
MB: Ultimately, I would love to inspire viewers to tap into their childlike sense of wonder, to imagine seemingly crazy possibilities that could lay just beyond the edges of our knowledge.
JHM: On a very basic level I want the viewers to be entertained. Hopefully they will find relatable moments within the show but experience them in new and thought-provoking ways.
Let's Talk Arts with Chris Wilson
June 24, 2016
By: Dr. Gabrielle Baffoni Christopher Wilson is a fast-rising artist who has appeared as a soloist, chamber musician and clinician throughout the United States. As a soloist Mr. Wilson has helped to introduce the marimba to public audiences outside of the concert hall, and he will continue this path at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri on July 1st, 2016 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.! In a recent interview with Dr. Gabrielle Baffoni, Arts Council Board Member and Instructor of Music at Southeast Missouri State University, Mr. Wilson expanded on his role as a musician performing in different settings.
Download the PDF: Q&A Session with Christopher Wilson
Question & Answer Session
GB: You are a proponent of bringing marimba performance to the public, outside of the traditional concert hall. Why is this important to you? What challenges do non-traditional performance spaces present? What advantages do they present?
CW: It started as something of a necessity, and quickly grew into a passion of mine. In the initial years after completing my Master’s degree it took time before I began to find opportunities to perform solo recitals in traditional settings. Because performing is so vital to my identity as a musician, I created opportunities to play the marimba, but they were mostly in informal settings (including nursing homes, schools, libraries, hospitals, coffee shops, etc.). I still find a great amount of joy introducing both the marimba and classical music to a variety of public settings. In some cases, like performing at nursing homes and retirement communities, it feels as much like community outreach as it does performance.
The biggest challenge I find is in repertoire selection. The marimba is capable of being rather loud and abrasive, but it can also be a calm and soothing instrument. For a concert in an informal setting, like say in a coffee shop, I have to coordinate music appropriate for an audience that is not only in attendance to listen, but to also eat and converse.
GB: How do you select solo repertoire for performance? How does your repertoire choices change depending on the setting of the performance?
CW: I personally prefer to perform original compositions for the marimba, as opposed to arrangements or transcriptions. However, when performing for an event like First Friday, throwing in arrangements of more well-known classical works can help spice up the concert. Adding a few easier transcriptions can also help with the depth needed to perform on such a lengthy event.
GB: Do you prepare differently for performances in a non-traditional setting?
CW: When playing a formal solo recital, I will prepare forty-five to fifty-five minutes of music. However, when playing in a non-traditional setting I am often asked to perform anywhere from two to four hours. When practicing for an event such as this, it is important that I am not only prepared to perform with excellence, but that my endurance is where it needs to be.
GB: You are currently working on a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Percussion Performance. In what area are you conducting your dissertation research?
CW: I am researching percussion pedagogy in beginning to intermediate students. I am mainly concerned with diversifying skill sets on multiple instruments, and the development of technical skills on those instruments.
GB: In addition to percussion performance, you have also studied wind conducting. Does this inform your work as a performer? In what ways?
CW: My studies as a conductor, my studies as an orchestral percussionist, and my general love of all music by non-percussionists have all greatly informed my work as a performer. I often try to approach the marimba as anything but a percussion instrument. For example, I often ask how would a wind instrument approach this section of a work? What articulations would they use? How can I emulate that? In works where I am providing every layer, from accompaniment to melody, I ask how I would balance an ensemble performing something similar, and how I can emulate that on my instrument.
GB: Is there a particular piece, composer, or musician that has been inspiring or unforgettable to you over the course of your career so far?
CW: If you visit my website, you can view a performance of Ney Rosuaro’s Marimba Concerto No. 1. I first learned the finale to this work for two competitions the Junior year of my Bachelor’s degree, both of which I won. As a result of winning one competition, I had the opportunity to perform the movement with the Spokane Symphony. The assistant director was so taken by the piece that I was asked to perform the movement again with the symphony on an outreach concert at the Spokane Indian Reservation. When I returned to school for my Doctorate, it seemed fitting that I compete on the entire piece for the Rocky Mountain competition, which I ended up winning. Not only has that work seen me through many stages of my development as a musician, I think it is one of the absolute best marimba concertos ever written.
Let's Talk Arts with Hannah & Blake Sanders
Blake and Hannah Sanders are collaborative artists whose work focuses on environmental concerns including pollution and sustainability. They strive to involve the viewer in their commentary on how we interact with our environment. Their exhibition at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri, from October 2 – 31, 2015, places their own work at the center of this discourse as they question their own impact on the environment. In a recent interview by Dr. Joni Hand, Assistant Professor of Art History at Southeast Missouri State University, Blake and Hannah expand on some of the issues they confront in this exhibition.
Download the PDF: Q&A Session with Hannah & Blake Sanders
Question & Answer Session
October 2, 2015
By: Dr. Joni Hand
JH: The dinosaur is a reoccurring motif in your work. Would you explain its significance and how it references the issues of sustainability and climate change in your work?
HBS: The dinosaurs depicted in this exhibition are living fossils reeking havoc on the landscape as an expression of the damage fracking and oil and pipeline leaks has inflicted on much of the country. Unfortunately the benefits of the uptick in domestic fuel extraction—cheap gas prices and utilities paired with the nationalistic pride of “energy independence”—have clouded our collective perspective of the dangers of these shortsighted, toxic practices. Earthquakes are now commonplace in Ohio and Oklahoma; shrimp and fish in the Gulf of Mexico are still carrying cancers and lacerations caused by the oil and dispersants remaining from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill. Those examples are not expressions of the Earths’ natural cycles. They are tangible effects of reckless energy practices.
|JH: Do you make a distinction in your work between manmade environmental disasters, such as the BP spill, which could have been prevented, and phenomena like naturally occurring methane gas leaching into the air?
HBS: Generally, we discuss the contemporary effects of human-made environmental impact. To comment in any detail about naturally occurring phenomena would presumably water down our message; essentially letting humanity off the hook for our verifiable contributions to what is an increasingly warm, sickly planet.
That said, natural history does have an important role in our work. Dinosaurs reference the cycle of mass extinction and regeneration the planet has been through many times. Strata of earth is another recurring motif that references the geologic- broad view: we as a species have made one heck of a mess and may make the planet uninhabitable for ourselves, but in the long view, the planet has taken a lot of abuse over the last 4.5 billion years and has always
recovered. It has survived before and it will survive us. Our question then becomes, just because we may not be WHOLLY responsible for rising temperatures, increasingly acidic oceans, and the mass extinction of species, is there any reason why we shouldn’t change our behavior so we are consuming less and living a cleaner lifestyle? How is conserving resources and thinking about how our behaviors affect others a bad thing?
JH: How does the printmaking process speak to the issues of sustainability and environmental consciousness that permeates your subject matter?
HBS: That’s a tough one. Printmaking in and of itself can be a pretty messy medium. Traditionally printmakers use oil based inks, heavy solvents, and waste a lot of paper. The irony of preaching environmentalism while using dirty processes is not lost on us. This is partly why this show focuses so much on our own complicity in the mess. However, we’ve made major strides to clean up our practice whenever possible. We print on repurposed fabric, mostly worn out bed sheets. Old clothes, fabric scraps, and proofs on sheets are turned into the crochet “footprints” that reference clouds, oil plumes, and weather systems. Our plush sculptures are stuffed with plastic grocery bags. In the studio we clean up with vegetable oil and dish soap in the place of paint thinner and other petrochemicals.
Metaphorically printmaking works for us for a couple reasons. First, printmaking is known as the democratic medium. Being able to print multiples allows our message to get to a larger audience. We can increase consciousness about our issues on the cheap. Also, printmaking has had to evolve its practices time and again in order to remain a relevant art form. As a species we must evolve our behaviors and priorities in order to reduce our global impact. If we don’t we’ll have to evolve biologically to be able to survive an increasingly hostile environment.
JH: Audiences differ in their understanding of environmental issues. How does the location of an exhibition affect your work? Do you see your work as instructive?
HBS: We think about the location of our work only in that when possible we choose pieces that speak to the specific environmental concerns of the region the exhibition is in. For example it made more sense to include work that discussed fracking and oil extraction in a recent exhibition in New Mexico rather than work that focused on ocean pollution. We do not soften our message for an audience that may be unresponsive or even hostile. Instead, we encourage a dialog. It is difficult to make artwork that communicates an explicit message without coming across as preachy. By taking a stark look at our own behaviors and their impact, we hope that this work provokes our audience to examine their choices as well. I don’t think the work is instructive per se; I don’t know that it teaches, but it does ask the audience to consider the themes presented. Fortunately, I don’t think the work requires much prior knowledge of environmental issues, but hopefully folks will want to learn more after checking out the show. There’s definitely potential to skew the work in the future toward being more didactic, more instructive, á la youth oriented natural history museum exhibits. Stay tuned!
JH: As educators, how do you instill in your students the importance of the environmental issues you address in your work?
HBS: We encourage greener shop practices: conserving materials and using cleaner alternatives to solvents and petrochemicals. We try not to be explicit about our ecological beliefs in our classes since professors already get a bad rap for political proselytizing, so instead we focus on health and safety when explaining these choices rather than environmental impact.
We foster a culture that focuses on the studio community, how one’s actions affect the lives and conditions of others. This is made obvious every time someone leaves an ink mess that screws up the color of the next person printing. It’s easy for students to see how the benefits of clean shop practice can be extrapolated into a greener, conservation minded lifestyle in general.
We practice what we preach in our studio practice as I mentioned above. We also set an example by walking as much as possible (can’t tell you how often students remark that they see us walking all over town, it makes a difference!).
JH: How does installation expand on the important issues you confront in your prints?
HBS: The contemporary art world seems increasingly disconnected from the general public. Unfortunately art is seen as stuffy, self-consciously cerebral, and unapproachable. A frame is literally a barrier between the viewer and the artwork. Installation breaks that barrier. Taking our pieces out of the frame, and sometimes off the wall invites the audience to interact with the work. It breaks the mystique of art in a useful way. In our case if folks get up close and personal with our work and actually handle it they will gain an appreciation for how the recycled/repurposed materials we use incorporates our message into our process.
Let's Talk Arts with Shelby Prindaville
The second edition of Let's Talk Arts is a Question & Interview Session with Shelby Prindaville, an artist in the Wild Things exhibition currently on display at the Arts Council. Prindaville's painting Confrontation was selected by Juror Ruth Ann Reese as Best in Show. The interview was lead by Dr. Joni Hand, Arts Council of Southeast Missouri Board Member and Assistant Professor of Art History at Southeast Missouri State University.
Shelby Prindaville is a studio artist and the Art Program Director and Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas. To see more of her artwork and read view her biography, please visit her website at www.shelbyprindaville.com.
Download the PDF: Q&A Session with Shelby Prindaville
June 23, 2015
By: Dr. Joni Hand
Question & Answer Session
JH: You tend to create series of works utilizing the same subject matter, such as the bison in Confrontation, which was your winning piece in the Wild Things exhibition. How do you determine when you are finished with a certain subject?
SP: I don’t know if I’m ever finished with any particular subject matter! I can be very obsessive in continuing to revisit the same subject over and over, and I believe that type of repetition has great value in terms of exploring the conceptual and compositional possibilities that arise from ever deeper investigation into specific animal behavior and form. The environment that I am in plays a huge role, though, which is one reason I really enjoy attending both domestic and international residencies. Being an artist in residence exposes me to new ecosystems which in turn generates new bodies of work with different subjects. Confrontation and my other bison paintings stem from my two week-long residencies at Madroño Ranch in Medina, TX.
JH: Ruth Ann Reese, the juror for the Wild Things exhibition, commented that in Confrontation you were able to maintain the integrity both of the bison and the viewer. How does this observation relate to other works you have created?
SP: I appreciate Ruth Ann Reese’s observation, as I do strive to maintain the integrity of my subjects while still allowing room for the viewer to make their own connections and conclusions. My ultimate goal is to demonstrate the value of engaging with nature particularly to those viewers – and there are far too many – who have been deprived of such important experiences, while incorporating a suggestion of the losses we’ve forfeited thus far. Some series are more weighed toward value and others toward loss, but all of my pieces are meant to encourage curiosity, conversation, and reflection. I think my intensive studies and interactions with wild fauna and flora aid enormously in terms of capturing my subjects’ presence and vitality.
JH: When did you become interested in the connections between art and science?
SP: The two have always been intertwined for me. My work’s focus and level of representation necessarily involves interest in the fields of anatomy, botany, ecology, and zoology. I’ve also always enjoyed learning about the chemistry of art media. I had wanted to create very delicate, small-scale sculptures for some time but never found the perfect medium to do so until I collaborated in actually formulating a new polymer clay with Dr. John Pojman while pursuing my MFA at Louisiana State University. This collaboration resulted in the launch of 3P Quick Cure Clay and allowed me to create the sculptures I had been envisioning. Working with Dr. Pojman has been a marvelously rewarding adventure that has also led to my recent collaboration with our mutual friend Dr. Patrick Bunton of William Jewell College in creating functional and aesthetically attractive aquaponic systems.
JH: In your artist statement, you discuss the isolation of the subject in your work as a reference to taxonomic illustrations. These types of illustrations often reduce the animal to a specimen rather than regarding it as a living thing. How does this approach to your subject matter demonstrate your idea of the role of humans in shaping an ecological balance?
SP: My pieces reference taxonomic illustrations, but they don’t follow the standards for taxonomic studies and are instead composed with the aim of engaging viewers into emotional connecting with the subject matter. I think there’s something purgatorial about removing an animal from a strictly representational landscape which increases the intimacy between the viewer and the subject while also reflecting on ideas relating to discovery and documentation as well as the species’ historical record, habitat loss, and conservation status – all of which have been and will continue to be shaped by human intervention.
JH: According to your website, you have lived in a variety of places in the U.S., such as Philadelphia, Baton Rouge, and Leavenworth, KS. You have also spent considerable time in Spain and are currently completing an artist’s residency at Nau Côclea. How do these divergent environments affect your work?
SP: Each place has a completely different ecosystem, and my work responds and adapts accordingly. At exhibitions held in the same geographical location that generated the work, the highest praise I can hear from familiar locals is that I have captured the spirit of their environment. Different places sometimes require distinctive color palettes or media. Two watercolor on panel paintings I recently created specifically for a show in Philadelphia depict pigeons on abstracted, gritty backgrounds that call urban sidewalks to mind, whereas my work from Baton Rouge has a more tropical atmosphere. On residency in Peru, I worked in watercolor on locally sourced, eco-friendly banana and sugarcane papers, while the bison paintings are acrylic on basswood panel. Here in Spain, I’ve been using new papers and panel supports and am working in acrylic as well as watercolor. I typically choose to paint on residencies because for me, paintings and the supplies needed to make them are more easily transportable than sculptures and installations. I would like to make some new sculptures later this summer when I return to Leavenworth.
JH: Your interactive plant pedestals seem to encompass all of the ideas you are trying to express in your work concerning the role of humans in the shaping of an ecological balance. How did you come to design these micro-installations and how do they fit into your overall aesthetic?
SP: I primarily focus on fauna in my pieces instead of flora because it’s easier for viewers to empathize with and sustain interest in animals, but I’m also really fascinated by plants – I keep over a hundred different plants in my home just for my own personal enjoyment! Through research, I found that there are a number of plants that react in a human time frame to human action (most react, but far too slowly for us to perceive). The two plants I have used so far are Mimosa pudica, which will collapse its leaflets and petioles in response to a number of different stimuli but will open them back up minutes later, and Selaginella lepidophylla, which will unfurl into a lively green display or close into a desiccated tan tumbleweed depending on the availability of water. I thought that bringing such animalistic and therefore sympathetic plants into the gallery could function as an interactive encapsulation of the relationships my viewers can choose to have with nature and of the consequences of those relationships. I visually connected these interactive pedestals with my other pieces through using a cohesive color palette, reflecting my pedestal building choices in my framing choices, choosing a delicate typeface that references my artistic hand for the pedestal text, and incorporating representations of the plants into several paintings. A looped video and the pedestal text demonstrate and provide all necessary information, and viewers can choose to lightly and knowledgably engage with the plants, enjoy them, and preserve them for future viewers, or they can ignore, forget, or purposefully harm the plants; if the plants die, they are left dead in the pedestals until the end of the show and later viewers only get to watch and read about what they missed instead of getting the chance to experience firsthand the wonders these captivating plants have to share.
The Wild Things exhibition was on view at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri from June 5-27, 2015. More Information>
Let's Talk Arts with Ruth Ann Reese
The first edition of Let's Talk Arts is an interview with Ruth Ann Reese, the Juror for the Arts Council's June exhibition: Wild Things. The interview was lead by Dr. Joni Hand, Arts Council of Southeast Missouri Board Member and Assistant Professor of
Art History at Southeast Missouri State University.
Ruth Ann Reese is a studio artist living in St. Louis, Missouri and the founder of The Reese Gallery, where she curates exhibitions of other emerging and mid-career artists. To see more of her artwork, please visit her website at www.ruthannreesedesign.com and to see upcoming exhibitions at The Reese Gallery visit www.thereesegallery.com.
Download the PDFs: Interview with Ruth Ann Reese & Q&A Session with Ruth Ann Reese
"Covet" by Ruth Reese
Question & Answer Session
May 22, 2015
By: Dr. Joni Hand
JH: One issue that you speak about is the division between craft and fine art. You said in an interview that ceramics is making its way out of the realm of craft and is reinventing itself. How do you see that manifesting in the work of younger artists?
RR: For the artist young at heart, there really is no distinction between craft and fine arts. Clay, the medium in question, is malleable, sensual and alive as the earth itself. It has the ability to be representational, non-objective, design orientated or even functional. Clay is abundant under our feet and is as old as time itself. As an ancient material force, it helped define how we understand materiality.
However, that being said… the emerging MFA artist pursing clay in their studio is walking a fine line between two worlds. That line was drawn in the sand by New York Times, art critic Roberta Smith when she made the distinction between “art world, as opposed to ceramics world, ceramics.” These emerging artists have one foot in the legacy\tradition of ceramics - which has promoted and archived clay learning. It takes years of investment and lots of expensive equipment to become proficient in clay. Clay needs a system of specialty studios, foundations, niche museums and galleries to support that - that is the craft world. To gain access to clay you must access the community – the craft community. On the other hand, these young emerging artists also may find themselves at a sort of contemporary art round-table with a variety of other mediums where they need to speak the language of the dominant contemporary art culture and where they must also contextualize their own work for the broader art world. However, we all are becoming more fluent in each-others “worlds”. Think Theastor Gates – clay artist gone contemporary. Or, maybe Julie Green or Sterling Ruby who crossover from the contemporary world and into clay. I might mention, John Mason, who exhibited “ceramics world, ceramics” at the Whitney Biennial 2014. In Missouri, I think of artists like Gin O’Keefe, Arnie Nadler, Phil Finder, Kahlil Irving and Erica Iman. These artists have created clay work with real agility and sensitivity to both traditions and trajectories. They have taken risks that not everyone will like and are aware of their simultaneous and yet very different audiences as they commit to a body of work. Today, young artists have to be fluent in both cultures. Nevertheless, I still think clay will surpass these momentary delineations (between craft and fine art) in surprising ways for eons to come.
Now that’s not to say that I don’t think functional work is simply craft (whatever that slippery word means!) For one, functional work offers a counter-narrative to the shapes and forms of mass production found in big box stores. For me, dishes from most store shelves have an overly produced cookie cutter moment that is ultimately very de-humanizing. It’s a restorative/healing act to make a cup or bowl and then to use it. That may not be philosophy or contemporary art - but it’s a vital, rebellious act in such a commercial environment as what we live in.
"What are you pretending not to know?" Ruth Reese
|JH: There is a lot of whimsy in your work, even though some of
your pieces address serious issues. How do you reconcile the fantastic
elements in your work with these themes?
RR: I hope that my work can connect with people on a variety of
I’d like to draw people in with voluptuous forms and at the
give the more sophisticated viewer something to consider.
The work is
whimsical, especially in form, but there are deeper
under currents. At my best I hope I’m double coding. I
at porcelain figurines that come out of the Baroque period.
from that aesthetic, there is exuberance, tension and
elegance. Somehow it fulfills my needs as an artist to take
Baroque and Mannerist conventions and make monsters out of
of these monsters are female and allude to an evasive
monstrous feminine as discussed by Kristeva, Lacan and Frued
psychoanalytic criticism. My work explores concepts of
femininity which can be devouring, toothed and/or peaceful.
cases, these are mother figurines, icons that consumes
individuality. These figurines are often a way to make peace with death,
changing identity, with the idea that we are one yet
separate. I’m allowed to work out the psychological content of these
ideas, as does
the viewer and culture at large. However, we don’t have to talk about these ideas directly – that’s a little too scary – even for me. Instead, I make whimsical monsters out porcelain, that mimic the gallantry and coquetry of Meissen figurines. Even though these are difficult and hard-to-pin-down topics, I think the culture is relieved to engage in them – even if these ideas aren’t acknowledge directly. Terms that help me get a hold of the work are manifest content, mythology, psychoanalysis and fantasy.
JH: How does your undergraduate degree in English literature influence your art?
The English degree gives me a rich sense of metaphor, poetry and trajectory of narrative. Reading stories, plays and novels still gives me an interest in characters and even absent protagonists. I like to think of my work as representing absent or hidden protagonist.
JH: In a promotional video for the exhibition, “Feat of Clay” at the PHD Gallery in St. Louis, which you curated, you spoke about the “anxiety of completion” that ceramicists face. How does this anxiety affect your work?
For me, ceramic sculpture is not a quick process like making functional ware. It’s not really a direct process, either, like painting, drawing, stone-sculpture…. A piece must be tried by fire before you really know what the finished product will look like. For instance, an applied but unfired glaze doesn’t look anything like it will after it comes out of the kiln. I might be applying what looks like a green toothpaste to my piece, which will (if all goes like planned) be a shiny cherry-red glaze when it comes out of the kiln. You have to learn to use your mind’s eye and imagine how you might want it. Even all the consideration in world often leaves me stumped when I open a kiln. How did that happen, I wonder? However it’s the thrill (the flip side of anxiety) that makes opening a kiln so wonderful. Long tentacles move in the firing, cracks open, colors change….but sometimes an unexpected miracle happens, too. So, mainly I’ve learned to do a lot of testing, pray to the kiln gods and hopefully detach a little bit!
JH: How does your approach to selecting work for the Reese Gallery compare to selecting work as a juror for another location and audience?
When I organize an exhibition at Reese Gallery I’m thinking of two artists that will pair well. When their work comes together, I hope that a dialogue emerges. It’s very interesting me, at this point in my life, to hear the visual conversation between two concentrated bodies of work. In a group show, there are lots of individual voices. I’m listening for the voices that stay true to themselves, that are focused and driven. Even as I’m looking for strong compositions, I’m also looking for clarity of intent – which can be intuitive! It’s true, I’m also captivated by pieces that are essentially outside of artistic clichés offering new viewpoints. Sometimes, the quietude of piece speaks volumes. I often think that the artists chosen will bring their communities and provide the audience. In a sense the audience is an extension of the artwork chosen.
JH: How can shows, such as “Wild Things” at the Southeast Missouri Arts Council inform the public of issues in contemporary art? Do you think that these types of shows, which are sometimes conservative in their offerings, perpetuate the divide between craft and fine art?
I don’t think so – I’m going to be glass half full here! Because of this exhibition, more people are going to see more art. The more art we see, the more subtle our understanding will become. Hopefully, by seeing this exhibit, more people will be bold and create art which gives meaning and context to their own lives. With exhibitions like this, people can take that next step and collect an art-object. People will feel more interested and comfortable going to a museums, art fairs and galleries. Perhaps they will grow a curiosity about artwork - not simply for being decorative - but because every object carries meaning and knowledge. If I want to be close to a certain line of questions, a certain knowledge, I collect that item. If you collect something, you become interested in its background and it’s art history, it greater framework. Eventually, our culture becomes more aesthetically literate – and that’s because of each and every exhibition.
The Wild Things exhibition was on view at the Arts Council of Southeast Missouri from June 5-27, 2015. More Information>