What medium do you use?
What inspires you and your stencil art?
What medium do you use?
What inspires you and your stencil art?
Opening this Saturday at The Shooting Gallery in SF is Meticulous Engagements a two person show with Christy Langer and Kris Kuksi. I asked Christy a bunch of questions recently, which she answered with great detail. I just love the visions that she lays out in this interview. Read on to learn more about Christy's process, the inspiration behind her latest group of work and to get a great idea of how hard she works.
Can you tell us about the medium that you are work in?
Generally I work in sculpture, each piece is executed in a particular fashion depending on the idea I’m hoping to convey. It can range from something quite tiny and delicate that could fit in the palm of your hand, to large-scale installation. It all depends on the concept of each work. I worked for a long time building props for films and advertising, and stop-motion animation. A lot of my process comes from those experiences. I loved that line of work. I learned so much and how to manipulate such a variety of materials.
Your pieces are incredibly labor intensive, can you tell us about your process?
Each work is a three dimensional illustration of remembered experience. Some works are based on first person experiences, some come from a third party point of reference. Each work begins with a memory or image I would like to illustrate originating from one of these sources. And so, I begin sculpting either from memory or a point of interest.
Initially, I build an armature out of aluminum wire if needed, and sculpt the works with non-drying oil based clay. I rough out the general shape and size of each piece, and make changes to the armature if needed. At this point, if there are teeth, claws, bird’s feet, beaks, or any other parts on the sculpture that require extra detailing, I will tool them out of a hard material (usually epoxy putty or plastic). I make silicone molds from these and cast hard urethane plastic copies, which can then be inserted back into the clay sculpture for the duration of the sculpting process. These parts are removed when the final sculpt is molded, and then reattached after the work is cast.
When the sculpture is ready to mold, I paint layers of silicone on it to copy the detail. The silicone is flexible, so a plaster jacket is cast over it to help hold its shape. Each mold varies from 2 pieces and up, depending on the complication of the sculpture shape. The final work is then cast in resin, reinforced with fiberglass. Each mold piece is cast separately, and then joined as a last step. After the work is removed from the mold, I re-attach any teeth or appendages previously removed from the initial sculpt. I finish the works by painting them in oil paint.
Your work is so beautiful; the palate is soft and pale and gives off an almost an ethereal feel yet this is often a disparate contrast of what is actually on display in your work. Your subjects seem to be in states of shock, in the grips of death or wounded in some way. Tell us about this juxtaposition.
The relationship between subject matter verses presentation is often conflicted. It’s funny, it’s more of a happy accident- to be honest. I can’t say the frequent juxtaposition that happens is completely intentional, though I am always pleased with tension that exists when the sculptures can be both delicate and fierce.
The ghostly palate largely is conceived from the effort to illustrate that the animals exist as avatars or apparitions of their original state, as each piece is an illustration of a moment in an event or story. And so, often the pose, wound, etcetera is a signifier for the viewer. These signifiers enable re-access to the original context despite manipulation of the subject.
Because of this method, as you mentioned before, the outcome is often a strange combination of a muted ethereal aesthetic married with an intense posture or pose.
Can you tell us about your inspirations behind your latest body of work?
This body of work is inspired by my continued interest in the embellishment that can occur during the marriage of gradual ingestion and manipulation of reference. I’m currently engaged thematically with my relationship with the natural world. Each work, although deviated, are reconstructions of previously existing models.
My new body of work is largely the selection of subjects and removing them from context, allowing them to exist as individual studies.
Some of your work originates from memories. Would you mind sharing with us a memory that continually plays out in your work?
The idea of animals as game is a theme I tend to visit often. I realize the imagery I frequently work with can be vicious- this generally is born from the fact that images or events that make me uncomfortable tend to stick around in my mind more vividly than others. Lick is a good example of this tendency. When I was in elementary school, we moved to a small town in Northern Canada; hunting was a huge past time there. As we had moved there from a city on the west coast, (Victoria, British Columbia, a community not very enthusiastic about the sport of killing animals) I was previously unfamiliar with the tradition. I remember walking home from school one day in the fall, and sticking up from the back of a pick up truck I could see a beautiful set of antlers. In my child’s mind, I was so excited at the prospect of encountering a sleeping deer up close; I was completely unprepared for what actually lay in the back of the truck.
At that time, the image was so disturbing for me, that I began a serious effort to shift my perception and memory of what I saw that day. I slowly was able to remember something different, something more palatable when I thought back about the truck and it’s contents. To this day, I have a difficult time deciphering between what I really saw and what I later wished I had seen, both images simultaneously overlapping one another; Lick is the outcome of this disparity.
One of the pieces in Meticulous Engagements is three wolves in a semi circle (above), looking somewhat like hell hounds. It's such an incredible piece, can you tell us about it?
Here we travel back to the northern Canadian town. This piece was conceived as a representation of an experience I had a few times up there. We had a small cabin on a lake, the only access to it was by a rough logging road that was inaccessible by car in the winter because of the snow. My mom loved taking my sister and I out there, but during the winter months we would have to snowshoe in a couple of miles from the highway. The cabin was quite isolated, and in the surrounding forests there were packs of wolves that used the area as their hunting grounds.The feeling while walking out there was both extraordinarily eerie, and extraordinarily beautiful. We could always spot the wolf tracks around in the snow and hear them howling in the distance, piercing the quiet of the forest. Snow has a funny way of both muffling and amplifying sound; we could never tell where the noises were coming from. I never saw them on those trips, but you could feel them around you all the time. I remember my heart racing until we reached the cabin, all the while my mind playing tricks on me - every shadow or snap of a twig became an imminent threat. Suspended Animation is a combination of what really was there, and what I imagined was out there.
Can you share with us some of your creative inspirations?
I’m fascinated by the prolific desire people have to record and document their surrounding environments. I draw a lot of my inspiration from artists who pre-date the 18th century, having to document without the aid of photography. My own practice I consider to be a documentation of sorts, and I find I am constantly revisiting the old masters and admiring the skill and craftsmanship that is evident in their work. Lately I’ve been particularly drawn to and inspired by Frans Synders’ work, a Flemish painter who specialized in still life and game. Reprise, an installation I just completed in 2009, was an entire sculptural installation based on his painting Cook at a Kitchen Table With Dead Game.
What is the art scene like in Toronto?
Vibrant, eclectic, and very supportive. I’ve always found it great that despite Toronto being a fairly large city (about 5.5 million people). The city still has an inexplicable neighborhood feel to it. The neighborhood atmosphere is extraordinarily evident in the art scene, resulting in a strong sense of community. There is an immense amount of diverse talent channeled into the galleries and events that happen here. Collectively the scene crosses boundaries of medium and aesthetics. I think widely we share a feeling of appreciation and support for the community as a whole. Some of my favorite artists live here, Jenn E Norton, Mat Brown, Shary Boyle, Evan Penny, Heather Goodchild, (to name a few of many!), it’s a great feeling to be in close contact with so many people I admire.
What is one piece of advice you would give to younger version of yourself?
tricky one… I would be paranoid the advice might have a butterfly
effect, maybe change my current situation. Things aren’t always peaches,
but on the whole I’m pretty content these days.
What's up for you in the rest of 2010?
I’d like to push the limits a bit this year in my work, see what I can come up with; I’m looking forward to making a few larger, more challenging pieces. I’m also learning to play the accordion.
As an artist that is self-taught how do you continue to improve and grow your work and not stay stuck?
Well... I'm self taught as a painter only because I'm super stubborn and have resisted taking a painting class, but I've been pretty open to learning when it comes to other things. I studied graphic design in school, and Russian studies briefly, and studied Jewish literature, went back to school for geography and mapmaking, took writing classes, now I'm taking swimming classes, studying how to write a business plan and trying to learn how to power a juicer with a solar panel... for real. I like to think that all of those things inform my painting. I figure if I keep growing as a person then my work will grow too. At least that's a neat little assumption to make, and it helps me sleep at night, so let's go with it.
Little bit of everything. I've got some cool and varied projects to finish, from designing custom fonts for a hand made table of the elements to doing some traditional box lining on a touring bike. My fiance and I are in the midst of starting an organic juice company, thus the mucking about with solar panels and having beet-stained hands all the time. We're also doing a lot of athletic stuff... we're training for an Olympic distance triathlon in June, and looking forward to cyclocross season when our team will be back in the mud, embarrassing ourselves. I'm excited about these more physical, real-world adventures right now... riding bikes, starting seeds for the container garden on my porch, volunteering on a farm in exchange for a CSA. It's good to remember to live in the world sometimes, not JUST in the studio.
Oh yeah, also building a tandem bike for our wedding this fall. Oh man. I keep forgetting that a wedding counts as a project too.
"Dynamic" and "ethic" are generous words! Yeah, I've always been a little frenetic and and-over-the-place... I think that's pretty common when you're young and trying on a lot of hats, but perhaps most people just don't make a lifestyle out of it.Really, though, I think it has a lot to do with where I live, and who I live near. I know a lot of people, and I like a lot of people, and if you know and admire a lot of dynamic people you'll tag along after them, cultivate involvement with them, say yes to their project ideas and, if you're lucky, end up with your fingers in lots of pies. So to speak.
Same thing... by being inspired by the people around me. I've always been curious about crafts that have a lot of history and tradition, and require unthinkable amounts of meticulous detail... processes that promise to completely absorb me into a vortex of concentration. My father was an amazing woodworker who did some sign painting, and I grew up watching him lay gold leaf into sign lettering, wondering if I'd ever have such steady hands. As soon as I found out there WAS such a thing as pinstriping I was curious about that too, and when I met my fiance, who restores classic cars and paints cars and bikes, it was inevitable that I'd weasel my way into trying it.
I'm not entirely sure where I get inspiration or ideas. I sometimes feel like they can only really hit when I have my eyes crossed, or am looking the other way, thinking of something else. But if I had to go looking for an inspiration, a kick in the creative pants or the solution to an artistic dead-end right now I'd probably go to words. The most intense, lasting influences in my life have all come in the form of the just-right phrase, from a novel or from poetry or a quote pulled from in an interview.
Aside from that, I take a lot from old murals and sign painting, the kind of design that's just a part of the human landscape. I really dig the imagery that I find in the city every day, whether it's the texture of generations of paint peeling from an advertising mural, the green light of the sky here on a winter night, or the wheat-pasted image of a squirrel (those have just started turning up in Providence lately.)If you were to meet a younger you, what is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself as an artist?
Get over yourself and crawl outta that scaredy-cave.
I think that most self-employed artists and self-employed anythings are by nature pretty good at staying motivated. It's more of a challenge to control the always growing snowball of things-you-could-and-should-do. When you're running your own show, and working on things you're excited about, it's easy to work 24-7, and obsess about projects everywhere you go... in the shower, on a plane, under water, upside down in a yoga pose. I guess it comes naturally from the anxiety that if you let any slack into your process you might become a self-UNemployed artist.
I think the biggest challenge is to organize a schedule, and learn how to let whatever happens within a given day be for that day. For me, 2010 might actually be the year in which I learn to say "no" to a project or two. We'll see.
What is coming up for you this year?
Well, according to what I've claimed so far today, I guess it's juice, mud, gold leaf, and saying no. All that aside, though, I really am excited to spend a lot of time in the studio. I have a pile of paintings just started, and hope that by the end of the year I'll have a good-sized new collection ready to show. I'd like to install a really dense solo show, integrating all different sizes of paintings from the larger-than-life wildlife to the small, fragmented words. Judging by what I have going right now, there'll be a lot of large, horned animals involved, and the veiny images of roots and medicinal plants.I'll be showing in Boston in April and in London in June, and I've been talking with Thinkspace Gallery in LA about more opportunities to show there so I hope that'll pan out... I'm open to whatever else develops!
Between her super busy life as an artist, a writer, heading out on book tours, hosting openings and running her company Sublime Stitching, Jenny took a minute out of her dynamic life and sat down to do a Q&A with ML4U.
You've single handedly brought embroidery into the twenty first century. I was surprised to learn that you only began embroidering ten yrs ago...were you always creative and artistic before that?
Well, I was always drawing since I was really little. My mom began sending me to art classes when I was five and I loved it. I was very excited about drawing. My dad had been a photographer and industrial filmmaker and my mother had been an art teacher before I was born. They were very encouraging. I never did any needlework though. Not really. I did some knitting when I was in high school, around 1988. That was my first real foray into experimenting with crafting and needlework. Comics, illustration, painting, collage and photography were my big interests, though.
One of the things I love about embroidery is how easy it is, and how quickly it can make something so rad. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you fell in love with embroidery?
For all of those same reasons you just named. I just loved the look of colorful, American hobby embroidery -the kind of stuff you'd see on pillowcases and tea towels. I wondered what it would be like to use it as a medium for art and more ambitious and alternative themes. It was so pretty, but I wanted to stitch nudes, vintage tattoos anything you didn't typically see it used for or associated with. I guess I should point out now that this was about ten years ago, and that was simply not happening. There was very little "happening" about embroidery or any idea of "crafting" then. It sounded so beautiful to me, and I had never seen embroidery used like that before. Trying to picture what that might look like in my mind, really inspired me to try and create it. But, I was very reluctant to try embroidery, because I had no idea how to do it, and I really thought I would never have the patience for it. "Embroidered Portrait" sounded like a never-would-be finished project that I spent years not even bothering to start.
But I did try it, and I became addicted to it.
What do you say to people that think embroidery is dated and old fashioned?
One of my very favorite pieces of your's is "This Work, Never Ends." It reminds me of samplers I have inherited from my Great aunt. Can you tell us a little bit about your motivation and inspiration behind that piece?
I made that piece for myself. It was two rectangular doilies, and I stitched "this work" on one and "never ends" on the other. They sat for a long time on the back of my armchair where I used to do a lot of embroidering. It was kind of a message with multiple meanings to myself about how work is never done no matter how you try, and also how embroidery lives on forever and grows and changes.
What are some of your favorite embroidered pieces/objects that you've collected over the years?
When you meet women from other generations whom have been involved with embroidery forever, how do they react to what you are doing?
They seem to always love it (or maybe they're just being polite). Over the years, these needleworkers are the ones who have been the most supportive, in many ways. They're generally always thrilled to see something new being done with it. In any case, I'm always greatly relieved whenever a more experienced or needleworker enjoys what I do, because I am a pretty heavy-handed embroiderer.
Do you have any pointers for beginners starting out with embroidery?
get stressed out about it being perfect or "doing it wrong." You have
to try it first and get a feel for it. No one is perfect when they
start anything for the first time, and it's the imperfections in
embroidery that often give its charm.
Your new book Embroidered Effects is a comprehensive guide to embroidery. Why did you decide to write it?
I really wanted to create a unique embroidery book that shared some of my personal techniques and what I've learned about embroidery over the last eight years. It's what I've learned, how I understand it, and my best attempts to explain it. And, I wanted it to be a little bit of everything: clear basics, lots of stitches, new projects, ways to creatively combine stitches...I have been trying to cast people under a hand-embroidery spell for years. It seems like it's working! You want to try embroidery..
More better embroidery.
I first found Esther Pearl Watson's work on the back page of BUST magazine as I stood in Border's a few years ago. I was immediately hooked on her style. Her main character Tammy was so gnarly and just begging for love. It was the perfect combo. Esther's giant, often autobiographical, paintings sprinkled with childhood memories, glitter and flying saucers just sealed my love for her work. Esther recently took a minute to answer a q&a for the blog. To see more work by Esther be sure to check out Billy Shire Fine Arts. Thanks Esther!
Your paintings tell so many stories. Do you have a narrative in your mind as you paint?
Stories emerge in everything I do. Sometimes, I will have a story in mind, other times it just comes out in the work.
Would you say that you keep your work in a series, or do you bounce around and revisit narratives and story lines later on?
Most of the stories I tell are about not fitting in. I approach stories from many directions. Sometimes I have to tell a story in sequential order (like a book) but I won't work that way. In a gallery setting, the pacing of a story is different. It doesn't need to be told completely or in order.
Much of your work includes UFO's in some shape or form (including an installation of a large pink glittery ufo), these are an ode to your Father who was fascinated with building his own UFO's. What was it like growing up with a Father with such a colorful imagination?
I love my childhood story. Life is funny, difficult, sad, ridiculous...so many opposite things at once. My dad is a huge inspiration. I am not afraid to be different or pursue my interests.
Besides your family and childhood, what are some of your other inspirations that guide the narrations in your work?
I love the details of life. Small things you see that tell so much story.
I was first introduced to your work through Bust magazine, where every other month it's reader's get a view into your character's life, Tammy Pierce, life through your comic Unlovable (which is about to be released as a book!). Did you relate at all to Tammy when you were a teenager?
I do relate to Tammy even now. Of course. I'm more Tammy than the diary I found. There are a lot of things I did as a teenager that were very Tammy. Trying really hard to act like I knew what I was doing. Trying to impress people and years later realizing it didn't matter. Trying stupid things to cover up obvious flaws.
You discovered Tammy through a Diary you found in a bathroom at a gas station. Did you ever imagine you'd get so much material from such a find? Do you remember how you felt when you first read the diary?
I am very inspired by a few materials: books I found at the 99 cent store, thrift store paintings that were thrown out with the garbage, high school yearbooks, and diaries. When I first read Tammy's diary, I was amazed at how good it was. My diaries sucked. Each day, Tammy talked about friends so that you cheered for her or yelled at her for hanging out with certain people.
Has Tammy taken on a life of her own at this point, or do you still refer back to the diary now?
Tammy is her own character, very different from the real diary. I don't look at the diary [anymore]. I can put Tammy in a setting and watch her go. I can draw Tammy standing in a public bathroom and there will be awkward moments a-plenty.
What is your favorite story about Tammy?
The school dance when she pukes on a plant.
I love drawing her from a funny angle...like looking over her shoulder. Or crawling around
on the floor.
You and your husband Mark Todd have made many 'zines and you co-wrote a book together about them. What is it for you that make zines so amazing?
Zines are great because they are made by people who love what they are doing and saying. So much so, that they go through extra time and effort to make a small print run. Once you have someone's zine, it's hard to get another copy or issue. You have something very rare and special.
Among your zines and (now book) about Tammy Pierce you've also written a few other books that focus on issues teenagers wrestle with...what were you like as a teenager?
Mark and I use our childhood as inspiration and motivation for art making. I was an "old soul" teenager, made a lot of art, and found ways to stand out with my wacky thrift store clothes.
What is coming up for you this year?
Working on Unlovable Vol. 2 and have some exhibitions in Austin, Toronto and Rome.