The work presented in this exhibit was created in response to recent events. Jenny’s work is a response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. What began as a playful response to the isolation of lockdown shifted to a way to examine or question the idea of infection or threat. Roin and Dan’s work is a response to the lockdown. They worked collaboratively to create a body of work using items from Dan’s studio archives. Though they worked independently of each other, the work is meant to be presented together as a joint experiment in creative isolation. The exhibit runs between Feb. 9 and March 26.
We hope you are able to join us on February 18th, and keep an eye out for more information here in the coming months.
The final artist to take a look at is Lance Sinnema (yours truly), so instead of an interview, I will expand on my Artist Statement as well as talking a bit about the development of this particular series of work.
For a number of years now I have been interested in combining text and images that relate to landscape and our relationship with it. In the beginning this took the form of wrapping or covering the images with plastic that had text cut out to partially reveal the image beneath. Recently, the text has been integrated into the image more fully.
I believe this quote from my Artist Statement will give you an idea why I went this route, “The necessity of combining image and language to fully describe an experience with landscape is inescapable. To provide an image is to show only half the story. To tell a tale is to describe only half the visual experience. Words and images are wedded descriptors in our everyday lives. My recent work is a reworking and continued exploration of previous efforts in combining altered images and text. It is a refining of the explorative nature of language with the static nature of images.”
This is the piece I created for the Fall 2020 Faculty Biennial. Thematically it is a continued turn toward issues humanity faces as I witness a world we have turned against ourselves. My most recent works have been painted directly on the wall, reflecting the fleeting nature of our time here. The earth will abide, however our place in it is transient, and inevitably ends with the wall being painted over to make room for whatever comes next. This particular work makes use of simultaneous contrast, a visual illusion which shows the way different colors affect each other. In theory (and in practice), each color will change the way we perceive the tone and hue of adjacent colors. The colors do not factually change, but our perception of them is altered.
In this piece, the same five colors are used to depict both “climate” and “crisis”. I provided proofs (not shown) on either end of the piece that verify the consistency of the colors. Science explains why our perception is so easily fooled, and points to the importance of close observation and continued investigation to more fully comprehend the wider world. My hope is that the use of this visual trick will not only lead to a closer examination of the colors used but also of other areas in our lives where what we perceive (or read, or hear, or spread) and what is factual may not be fully aligned.
This work was created for the 2016 “Drawn to the Wall” exhibit at the Jundt Art Museum at Gonzaga University. It is the first piece painted directly on the wall with the intention of impermanence. As you can see, I was still using plastic to partially obscure the image as well as the text. There is an effort required to decipher the words that hopefully leads to a moment of further consideration about our relationship/responsibility to nature.
The text states: “Mine for Pleasure, Mine to Pillage, Mine for Profit, Mine to Progress, Mine for Plunder, Mine to Ponder”. It is my hope that the viewer considers the different meanings of the word “mine” as they consider their own relationship with nature, and the materials we collect from it to support or presence in it.
This piece was created for the Spring 2017 Faculty Biennial in the Bryan Oliver Gallery at Whitworth University. A large-scale landscape print has been simplified using Sharpies and then been overlaid with text covered plastic. The text pairs words that are opposites. The image is hung upside down to reflect a landscape in dire distress. This is another piece that was inspired by the debate over climate change, though the sentiment could be used to examine an ever-growing number of topics. The idea that there are versions of truth and we can pick and choose which we would like to adhere to is a growing cancer in our midst.
This piece was created for the Fall 2018 Faculty Biennial in the Bryan Oliver Gallery at Whitworth University. It was the first piece to more fully integrate the text and the image. I worked with color shifts and value similarities to align the two more closely. The text reads:
Brown is the water
Burned are the trees
Yellow the water
Ashen the leaves
Blackened the land
Seared for our needs
This piece was inspired by a particularly bad year for wildfires. The sky had been filled with smoke for weeks and the air often dangerous to breath. The breadth of destruction was unimaginable as I looked at the tally of blackened landscape, livelihoods interrupted and lives lost. Little did we know that this level of chaos was not an outlier, but an indication of our changing climate. Successive years have only led to a better understanding of the changing world, our place in it, and responsibility for these climactic shifts.
Thank-you for joining us and keep an eye out in the coming weeks for more artist spotlights. Our new exhibit is being installed now and we are excited to share the work of three local artists.
Following is part three of my interview with Robert Fifield.
L. Sinnema: You have 144 individual panels displayed here. Do you see them as individual objects or a larger group? Is it one large project that’s made up of individual components? Are they individual components that can be shown as a group? Do you have a preference on how they are displayed?
R. Fifield: When it’s something that I’m presenting in an exhibition, something that has my name attached to it, the bigger the group the better. If I were in a large group show and they gave me a specific amount of space and I had to choose between a larger painting or six of these, I would choose the larger painting. I think a group of 12 or 18 or something like that would be OK. I think they’re stronger when they are together, but I’ve sold several too people and I’ve seen pictures of them hung in a group of three, and they work, they look nice. I even like them individually in someone’s home, particularly when hung in a small sort of space. I think they sort of work better in that kind of claustrophobic environment.
I think of them as a large group. I think they work better together, but that’s not to say that the content is lost when seeing just an individual work. I think it’s that same understanding that they are part of a larger grouping, just like when you see one painting by an artist, like a Richard Diebenkorn “Ocean Park”, and you’re like, oh that’s nice, and then you see more of them and you’re like I get it, yeah. Being able to see them in a larger group like that shows how decisions are made, how things work and fit, and so provides more context than the individual. When you’re seeing just one, like the last time I was at the Seattle Art Museum and there was one Josef Albers “Homage to the Square” painting. You know how much I love Josef Albers and how nice it is for me when I can see any of his work, but I could imagine putting myself outside of being an artist, just being a visitor to the museum who doesn’t know much about that period of painting and looking at Josef Albers ‘Homage to the Square” and being confused and bored. I would totally get it and it’s just that the context isn’t fully known. When you look at a painting like that you get that sense that “I could do that”, and you’re not wrong, you could.
But that’s not the point. The point is there’s a whole bunch of other ones that you probably wouldn’t have done as well. Yeah, I mean, I think that’s kind of true about my paintings too. I look at these paintings and I don’t see any reason why some high school student taking their first art class couldn’t make something pretty identical, and for me that’s just not what it’s about with these.
L. Sinnema: Yeah, I agree with you on the larger presentation. Having more allows us to see the similarities as well as the variety. You use the same patterns but different colors and tones, and the patterns actually shift and do different things with each of the iterations or translations. Each painting uses color and pattern to emphasize the possibilities.
R. Fifield: Yeah, that is the best thing that I can hear from someone looking at these paintings. Again, this is something that I address in the statement, but you’re absolutely right. That is 100% what gets my face hot in the studio. When I’m choosing one of the patterns where there is a shape or group of shapes that should clearly be the focus and painting it so that result is yielded, but then using the same pattern and painting it so I see the negative space and seeing how It completely changes the appearance of the quilt pattern, and they’re tough to recognize as even being the same pattern because of those colors. For me they are very much little exercises in color interaction.
I work with a fairly tight group of colors, and I mix up new colors every once in a while, but I think in the whole 144 paintings there’s probably only 60 maybe 70 colors total. This sounds like a lot until you realize how many shapes there are, so that has been kind of exciting just to see what I can do with this range of colors. How they change when they’re next to each other. How their identities are altered and then how the shape is altered. Both of these kinds of things.
I was describing these to a friend who plays the saxophone, and I was describing how these paintings felt to me, and I said they really feel in terms of music like I am playing jazz standards or vocal standards or country standards, which is such a big part of the tradition of music. Playing standards and how you sort of riff on and alter what’s going on in the standard, and I said that to me the kind of standards I feel like I’m playing are like a 1950’s vocal pop song whose vocal harmonies are really tight with minimally invasive instrumentation. These little pleasant tunes performed well with not a lot of studio trickery, in terms of the music studio or in terms of my painting studio.
L. Sinnema: It’s great work. I love seeing them all out of the studio and in a space that is a little bit bigger and gives them a little bit of room but keeps them confined as well.
R. Fifield: Yeah, Donna came out to see the show and she looked at it for a little while and then turned to me and she’s like “this is really nice Rob”. I thought, well, wow. Oh thanks. I haven’t heard that high praise in a while from you. Thank you. It’s so nice when the people who you know well, respond to it.
We hope you enjoyed Robert’s work and what he had to say about it. Check back in a few days for our final artist spotlight for the 2020 Faculty Biennial.
Following is part two of my interview with Robert Fifield.
L. Sinnema: The last thing you were talking about touches a little bit on one of the questions I had about specific patterns, so can you give us some titles or some names of patterns. Are there any patterns that you’re using here that have deeper meaning, or more specific meaning?
R. Fifield: There are some more specific ones used including blocks from the freedom quilts. I think there are eight blocks in the freedom quilts, which were traditional quilt patterns that then had their meaning adapted to signify particular things on the Underground Railroad. I believe the monkey wrench pattern, which was a traditional quilt pattern, was then used to signify on the plantation when it was time to get ready.
The flying geese pattern, which is triangles that point in four directions, in freedom quilts three of the directions would be the same color and one would be a darker color. This would make a really visually attractive quilt, but depending on how that quilt was hung outside of someone’s home, people who are fleeing slavery would know to head North, South, East or West. So several paintings that I have in the exhibition are that traditional flying geese pattern painted to reference freedom quilts.
The painting that is the most central in the exhibition is the only painting that’s not for sale, and it was one of the first paintings that I did in this series. One of the first, 15 or 20 I suppose, but it had been on my mind for a long time. The quilt pattern is the Crown of Thorns, referencing Christ and his crucifixion. It’s painted kind of off white like the color of parchment paper, bright red and black, and painted in a particular way so that it looks like the 3-dimensional model of the coronavirus. So the composition references both the Crown of Thorns and coronavirus and this time that we’re going through, and how these paintings, every one in the exhibition, was started after we had to leave work last year when we shut down.
It was a really important marker for me and really solidified that these were to be a record of the passing time of uncertainty, of isolation, and of so much difficulty as well as being confronted by our own mortality. During the time we’re living in this pandemic and how strange it was that collectively it wasn’t just that I had an experience where my mortality was called into question, but everyone did, my friends, my neighbors, my family, we were all sort of dealing with something pretty heavy and un-processable simultaneously. I think this made it so hard for all of us because you just wonder, I’m not feeling well about this, I’m not doing well with this, who do I turn to? And the answer is other people who aren’t feeling good about this. It made it so hard because you want to talk about these kinds of feelings you’re having but also not overburden friends and family who are feeling the exact same things. And for me, making these paintings was a way to sort of mark time and to be productive and to attempt to make something that, like quilts, are here for warmth and comfort and stability.
L. Sinnema: You have 144 paintings here. Are you continuing to make more? Will you be painting these for the foreseeable future?
R. Fifield: Yes, in in some form or another. I have 75 more panels in my studio right now that I’m working on, so there you go. I think I’m kinda onto some other ideas, some other thoughts that I’ve been testing out here and there at school. It’s kind of going slow, but that’s usually how I operate with testing those things. I take my time so that I can do it right before I go into production mode.
I think what will happen is that I’ll start working on another kind of project and then this will become like 75% of my work, and then it will slowly get push aside over the next few years. I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t eventually have 400 of them.
Thanks again for joining us and check back again tomorrow for the third and final installment of Robert’s interview.
Welcome back. Even though the doors have closed on the 2020 Faculty Biennial, we have a couple artists left to highlight while we get things ready for the next exhibit. Over the next few days, you will be able to take a look at the current work of Robert Fifield as well as read through what he had to say about it. We hope you enjoy.
L. Sinnema: I sent you a of the list of things that I would like to talk about. Some have to do with technical things and others have more to do with content or quilting or connections between painting and quilting. So, let’s start at the top and work our way down. Firstly, let’s talk about techniques we see in the work that you have here and the work that you’ve been making for a while.
R. Fifield: Yeah, quite a while now.
L. Sinnema: You use multiple painting techniques. Much of what we see is the use of tape to mask areas and help create the pattern, but you are also airbrushing through materials to transfer texture in places. We see a lot of visual textures and layering of paint and color, and then there are places where the painting seems a little bit rougher or painterly maybe?
R. Fifield: That’s not a bad term, to describe it as rougher or painterly.
L. Sinnema: What can you say about these different techniques and how you use them and combine them together?
R. Fifield: I think that most painters do this mixing of technique, mixing of different types of application of paint and for me there really isn’t much sort of substantive difference. The difference is kind of in surface appearance more than it relating to any kind of particular content with how I apply paint. I know other painters where the application of the paint is part of the content but for me it’s a little less that way.
I remember at an exhibit several years ago, maybe four years ago, maybe longer, Meredith was asking me the same question. How are these paintings that have more precision different from these paintings that are rougher? And I think I really disappointed her when I said there’s no difference. Gordon said they are not the same, and so he accused me of being a liar, but I just don’t see any difference in them in the way that I don’t see any difference in oil or acrylic or watercolor.
My content can be reached in multiple ways and so, to me, that’s why these techniques are of less importance. I can use one manner of painting or another to derive the same content, and so it means that the application is not what is driving the content.
L. Sinnema: The work that you have here and a lot of the work that you’ve done in the past, whether people are familiar with it or not, has a very direct relationship to quilts and quilting. Why translate quilt patterns into paintings? What is it about quilting or the quilt process that you’re interested in presenting or speaking about in your work?
R. Fifield: Yeah, I addressed some of this in my artist statement. What has interested me in quilt making, not that quilts were invented in America, but I think that the quilt tradition that exists in America has been visually, so vibrant, so strong I think it speaks to me. It represents the best parts of the American spirit of being frugal, waste not want not. Of using these little bits of fabric that are left over from making clothing or curtains or other things for the home, that nothing was thrown away. That these are still used for making something incredibly beautiful and more specifically useful.
I think there is a kind of efficiency when it comes to quilt making in that way, and efficiency in terms of painting and design aesthetic is something that I’m very conscious of, very interested in. Seeing compositionally how one shape can do multiple things in a composition in the same way as these leftover bits of fabric have another life, stitched together in these quilts.
I like the sort of generally understood content of quilting, which is when you gift a quilt, it is a huge act of kindness and love and that, as I said in the statement, it is an extension of the maker’s arms and their embrace whenever you’re using the quilt.
It was eye opening as an artist who grew up where and when I did, being my race, gender, etc., and falling in love with Mid-century hard-edge abstraction, and then seeing these quilts from the 1800s, and being like oh wow, they did this a long time ago and likely better in some ways. Seeing quilts from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and being like those are as good as Ad Reinhardt paintings, or seeing quilts and being like, oh man, that’s as good or better than Frank Stella or Josef Albers, or so many others.
So for me, that was a kind of revelation to see, with my interest in the Bauhaus, which was still a time when women like Anni Albers, Joseph’s wife, who wanted to take painting and drawing, but because she was a woman they pointed her towards textile design, towards weaving, where she absolutely excelled, not because she was a woman, but because she was a brilliant artist and would have been a fine painter. Anni was also pointed to printmaking, which was something that women were allowed to do there (at the Bauhaus), and for me, seeing her work and then seeing the kind of design principles that she was working in and then seeing other artists from the Bauhaus, including her husband, seemingly wholesale ripping her off and earning respect in the art world for the work they were doing, and being like oh man, so much of that was Anni.
The biggest struggle I have with making these quilt paintings is that I’m not a quilter. I am not good at sewing. The biggest problem is being a white male who has some kind of, albeit small, voice in my art community, and I’m not trying to elevate quilts into art making, because they’re already there. I’m not trying to use my privileges to give voice to quilt making in a different context. I am using these patterns because they are part of a shared American experience.
Does that make sense? Like that’s something that if I were having this opening or any opening with these quilt paintings, to me that seems like the most biting kind of question that somebody can ask. I don’t know that I would have an immediate answer for, “what business do you have doing this?” But for me, I think the business I have doing this is that while I don’t make quilts, it is still part of our shared American experience. Yeah, in the way it’s a little more charged with using this kind of patterning and quilts and stuff, but for me it seems similar to sort of ask the same question, “how dare you paint a still life with apples and a bottle of wine?”, when you didn’t grow the apples or make the wine. I mean that’s not what it’s about. And yeah, for me, it’s just using those incredibly interesting patterns that have a kind of geometry, and a mathematical precision that is surprising and really interesting as well as the kind of narrative qualities that quilt titles have. Things like Indiana Puzzle or Rd to Arkansas or Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin or next-door neighbors, you know, all these really great traditional quilt pattern names.
Thank you for your interest and check back tomorrow for part two of Robert’s interview.
Today is our second look at the illustration presented by Ben Necochea and his responses to a few questions I had for him.
I asked Ben about the media he used and his working process, and he had this to say, “This is a digital illustration created in Adobe Fresco, Illustrator and Photoshop using an iPad and a MacBook Pro. My process begins with ruminating over a concept and then translating those thoughts into doodles. I don’t spend a lot of time refining sketches or detailing things out on paper. Many times, these doodles exist on meeting notes, scratch pieces of paper or throughout my sketchbook. I will also search for resource images from the internet or my local surroundings and collect them on my phone. I try to capture images of textures, colors, or imagery that may or may not be used, but that I can have access to on the fly. Once I have gathered what I feel is a good start I begin creating the piece digitally. This piece consisted of using Fresco, which is a mobile app that allows you to create vectors as well as bitmapped imagery. As I build the piece, I continue gathering, doodling and researching through the entire process to help me develop the final piece. The ability to transfer files easily from paper to digital and from mobile to desktop has created a much more fluid workflow and allows for a lot more experimentation and adjustment through the entire process.”
Ben’s statement had a lot of good information about this piece and its content, and I had a few follow up questions. First, I asked him about the season we see represented in this image, and its significance to the content, and he responded, “The scene is set in winter and the intent was to remove the cactus from its natural setting and place it in a location not commonly associated with it. The concept was to express its reliance upon the cedar for existence by placing it where it doesn’t seem to belong and yet is able to continue thriving and bearing fruit.”
I was also interested in the mix of subtle gradation of color and tone and harder linear elements and flat sections of color, and asked Ben how he balances these elements when creating a composition? “In an effort to maintain the illustrative style of the originals I created light washes and added heavier outlines to define the objects and create texture. Because of the heaviness of the lines, there is a struggle in maintaining a visual balance as the heavy line work can be overpowering. By using lighter washes in the sky and snow, I feel I was able to create a balance with the texture heavy tree.”
I was also curious if this poster is the beginning of a series of images, and this is what he had to say, “I would like to complete a few more images following the Loteria theme and illustrating various Christian metaphors. I don’t know if I have the determination to create a whole set of 54 cards, but it could be a great long-term project. In the short term I would like to create a few more, but experiment with creating a faux four-color halftone look on the card in order to capture the look of the original cards.”
And finally, I asked Ben what he plans on working on next, more traditional graphic design work or creating graphic images for gallery presentation? “Now that I am at Whitworth and I have the opportunity I would love to create graphic design pieces that are more suited for gallery showing than the corporate setting. Plenty of artists have been doing this in the past from Alphonse Mucha, to Warhol to Barbara Kruger, and their ability to marry image and text to communicate a message or emotion has influenced designers like me for a long time. I believe that there is a fine line between art and design and there is nothing wrong in blurring the line or crossing over in order to create something new and exciting.”
Thanks so much for spending some time getting to know Ben and his work. Again, if you would like to see more, use the link below.
Welcome back. Today we take a look at the piece exhibited by Ben Necochea. Ben is the most recent addition to Whitworth’s Art Department and will be in charge of the Graphic Design program. Along with an image of his artwork, today’s post includes Ben’s Artist Statement.
“…and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree,” – Romans 11:17
The image of grafting a foreign plant so that it might flourish from an established root system of another has been embedded in my mind for a long time. To compare myself to that grafted plant and to understand that once grafted, I partake in the privileges that flow from that union, makes me appreciate that I am no longer struggling to survive on my own. It is a beautiful relationship in which the trunk I am grafted into does not change me into something I am not. It simply nourishes and strengthens me into giving fruit that I was originally designed to produce.
To really grasp the concept, I imagined two extremely contrasting plants; the nopal (prickly pear) and a red cedar. The nopal, as a member of the cactus family survives in desert climate with little to no water and yet, the paddle and its fruit are edible and were a prominent staple for me growing up. The red cedar is slow growing, long lived and resistant to decay, which makes me think of a solid foundation upon which to grow. As I began creating the imagery the influence of family and culture came to mind. I thought of Loteria, the bingo-like game I grew up playing with my siblings and how with simple illustrations it was used to teach reading writing, history and social values.
This card is a visual statement of being grafted into a solid foundation in which one can flourish. Whether it is faith, family, culture or location when we are embraced in truth by those who have proceeded us, we are encouraged to produce good fruit without being changed into something we were never meant to be.
Along with the above statement, Ben also had this to say about the opportunity to exhibit in the Bryan Oliver Gallery, “I am thankful for the opportunity to create work that is not client based. It has been over 20 years since I got to show work in a gallery, so this was actually fun to do and I look forward to doing something like this again. When designing for clients you need to follow the parameters and the desires of the client while attempting to instill your own voice, style, or aesthetic in the work. This project allowed me to be completely free and in charge of the subject, the message and everything in between. It was a bit daunting (even with just one piece), but worth the experience and is adding fuel to the desires of doing more things like this in the future.”
If you are interested in seeing more of Ben’s work, check out the link below, and come back tomorrow for part two of his interview.
Welcome back for part two of Gordon Wilson’s contribution to the exhibit. I will be stepping aside once again and letting you enjoy his work and words.
The current paintings were completed during an ongoing sabbatical making use of preliminary work completed on location in Italy and Germany. The paintings are the result of personal experience and response to specific places including reference to history and those living in those environments. Most of the work was completed in the studio and involves reordering and reflection on past images to better express the response to place.
As part of the sabbatical proposal, the work benefits from manipulating images as part of the process. This includes altering basic elements–contrast, color temperature and intensity. Images, sometimes from different locations, are combined in many of the paintings to influence the composition of the final images and to express the intended meaning.
I have been experimenting with photo transfer and trying to understand why a photo in a painting–particularly of a person, has the ability to create tension and content. I have 5 paintings currently in the Art Spirit Gallery small works exhibit, two contain photo transfers. I have other unfinished paintings with photo transfers. I would like to include two similar portraits in the same painting, one painted and one photo transfer. The process I have been using is an acrylic transfer using photos and acrylic polymer.
All of the paintings included in this exhibit have been painted on canvases gifted to me by artist and mentor, Ben Moss. The canvases all came with some sort of surface preparation. Some were toned with a single color and others with textural brushstrokes in a variety of colors. In some the influence of this preliminary work was subtle while in others the preliminary brushstrokes and colors are evident in the finished paintings.
Thanks for joining us, and as a reminder, Gordon is represented by the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. You can see more of his work on their webpage.
Hello again. Today we will take a look at the paintings Gordon Wilson presented in the faculty exhibit. I am going to take a step back and let the paintings and Gordon’s words speak on their own.
I have been fortunate to travel numerous times to France as a part of Whitworth’s semester-long Art In France program. In 1992 I began plein air painting after being introduced to Jeffrey Hessing and Jim Ritchie in Vence, France. Since then, my work has been primarily painting, including painting in Vence at Jim Ritchie’s villa and later in Germany, and Italy.
Four of the last five summers were spent in Orvieto, Italy. Prior to this I painted in the south of France for a number of summers. Once I discover a place that is rich in visual experience and content, I find it important to continue to mine that space for material for paintings. Becoming more familiar with an area allows for a growth in understanding and observation.
After my first experience in Europe, I became attracted to places that combined landscape and cityscape with history. When seeking a painting location, the number one consideration is composition, but I am also looking for meaning–some sort of story-telling element/content element. Painting on location provides a front row seat to the subject. The painting experience is direct and influenced by all surroundings. One can feel connected to that specific place and express that experience in the painting. These plein air paintings are usually completed on location over a space of a few days.
Part of the plein air observation process is observing those living within each environment. Those Paintings with a figure include a particular environment and a person related to that environment. For instance, in one painting, my wife’s German friend, Simone, is explaining the location of Croatia to my wife using two spoons. Behind Simone is a well-known Munich cathedral and a German train station, two locations referenced in the conversation. Because of the pandemic, travel has not been possible, so I have been going through images I have from the last several years, looking for both rich visual experience and the potential for content in combining images. The next paintings will use manipulated and combined images from this storehouse of images.
Gordon is represented by the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. You can see more of his work on their webpage.
Hello again. We continue our look at the piece presented by Julie Gautier-Downes.
I asked her to describe the content of her work in paragraph and this was her response, “I unpack my experiences with dislocation, loss, and longing in my installations, sculptures, and photographs. My studio practice explores the emotional resonance of abandoned domestic spaces. In photographs, sculptures, and installations, I lead viewers on a journey through abandoned or distressed homes, creating both the visual and emotional experiences of the places I explore. Each method offers a different angle of inquiry that feeds my pursuit of connection to absent figures. As I was feeling trapped in photography’s limitations of two-dimensional renderings of space and object, installation and sculpture offers the freedom to give viewers a more precise sense of a recreated place and the things I find there. The work shares environments that might be not easily accessible, both physically and emotionally, to my audience. I photograph and reassemble these distant, disused spaces to give them back importance. My work follows me through the exploration of themes that animate and questions that arise about the abandoned houses of others who were, for whatever reason, made to abandon them.”
I asked Julie how this particular image connects to her wider body of work, as well as how her work has continued to develop since this piece was created in 2014 and she had this to say, “This photograph is from a series called “At A Loss.” In this work as with most of my conceptual work, I think of my work as a portrait of a person through what they leave behind. This work is about absence and the missing figure. I hope the viewer will think about the person who occupied the house and the challenges living in such a location presents. Separate from the history or mystery about the occupant, I hope the viewer will enjoy catching the fleeting beauty of these structure as it decays. When I was making this series, I often returned to a location over and over, each time the house would be a little more worn down, until eventually it would completely collapse. That process of discovery/rediscovery and of returning to one seemingly forgotten place gave me a feeling of purpose. In making this work, I sought to share these forgotten spaces, that once provided shelter and comfort, to remember what they once were before they fell apart.
Since 2014, my work has changed in form, but remained the same in concept. I suppose it feels like my work has progressed on the same trajectory of inquiry. I have continued to share the same types of domestic spaces following a loss or trauma. In 2014, I was starting to recreate abandoned spaces in three-dimensions, but over the past six years I have done this more, with more success. I honed my construction skills and matured in the way objects were presented. I created whole rooms, pieces of rooms (such as one wall or corner of a room), and more recently miniature dioramas. I incorporated other media (painting) and technology (light boxes and projectors) to recontextualize the 3D houses. However, in each of these forms, I continue to offer clues to the missing figure and a moment in the domestic decay.”
Thanks for joining us as we took a closer look at the work presented by Julie Gautier-Downes. My final question for her had to do with what she was working on at the moment (late 2020), and here is her response, “I have found the pandemic to be really hard on my creative process. During the first half of 2020, I struggled to keep the Richmond Art Collective functioning and juggle child care. In August, I started a Master’s of Social Work program; taking classes has kept me busy.
In my creative practice this past year, I have found myself returning to the utilitarian art forms (sewing, quilting, knitting, etc.) that I loved during my adolescent years. I have found myself being more attracted to the process of making as opposed to the process of storytelling. Though not conceptual this process has offered me a needed break from the daily stress of the pandemic.
Currently, I am working on collecting materials for a new series of dioramas. I hope to have some time over the holidays to start making some new work.”
For those interested in seeing more of Julie’s work you can find her online at
Welcome back. Over the next couple of days we will take a look at the piece presented by Julie Gautier-Downes and what she had to say about it as well as other things she has made. But first, her Artist Statement:
“Where we are going there were no lit-up houses only dying ones.” -Eugene Richards
In any given landscape there are moments, which tell a story about a place and the people that dwell there. In a metropolis or a ghost town these moments of loneliness and abandonment that can be looked over or forgotten. It is in these spaces that there is an opportunity to see and understand the world in a different way. By exploring, collecting and photographing the world as an archaeologist or detective gives intensity to the seemingly banal and ordinary.
The absence of the human figure in the work provides a space for the viewer to project themselves into the desolate and abandoned environments that are captured. By pairing photographs of these deserted and abandoned environments with found personal items it provides fertile ground for narratives to emerge. The items collected are items one might find in a family album or desk drawer and provides a strong connection to the missing figure.
The types of spaces that are captured range greatly from the haunted skeletal frame of a failed dream house to a forgotten city by a manmade sea that has a vibrant past. The ghostly representation of the locations exposes moments of quietness, sadness, and abandonment. In some cases, these places are desolate due to a tragedy or economic down turn and the images and collected items speak to the way in which it happened.
It is the universality of loss that allows the viewer to find the beauty in these abandoned spaces and objects. With the hope that it enlightens them to see how sublime life is and how connected we are to each other.
I asked Julie if she could share any other specific information about the location of the structure we see in this image, to which she replied, “This photograph was made in the Eastern Sierra on Highway 395 just south of Mono Lake. I saw the house while I was driving back from Bodie (an abandoned town from the Gold Rush) in Northern California. Other images from this series were made in the disused towns around the Salton Sea and in the Mojave Desert (specifically the Morongo Basin eastern San Bernardino County).”
When I asked Julie what is it she wants a viewer to take away from this image, she had this to say, “I hope the viewer will take away a sense of longing or quiet contemplation. This image shows a house that has been left behind in this idyllic mountain landscape. Because it is an exterior view, the house is mysterious, the viewer is stuck on the outside. This inability to enter the space to learn more, offered me a lot of room to build a story through the other images I juxtaposed it with in the final series, “At A Loss”.
For me this image is as much about the beauty of the landscape and the structure’s decay as it is about the ideas I hope to share. I showed this work in a show in Santa Cruz a few years ago, during the reception, I once heard someone telling others that this image was a digital composite because it was too perfectly captured and printed. I found that funny, but I did not correct him. I spend a good amount of time editing a digital image (or printing in the darkroom) to recreate the conditions I captured it in or the way I saw the scene. As I tell my students, our eyes are much more powerful than our cameras, so we have to be careful in the exposures we make and in our postproduction of the images. For me, the process of capturing, editing, and printing an image is a formal art process. After the image has been printed, I build a narrative through the images I select to place side by side to create a series.”
Check back tomorrow for more from Julie, and for those interested in seeing more of her work, she can be found online at
Welcome back for our final look at the work of Katie Creyts. Along with looking at her final piece from the exhibit, Katie answered a few more of my questions.
When asked about her use of watercolors for preliminary work rather than other materials, as well as the translation between watercolor and glass Katie responded, “I use pencil and watercolors to draw and paint out ideas for some work, though it is important to note that I don’t use them exclusively.
First off, I like the touch of these two mediums and the way they look. They don’t assault the viewer with heavy greasiness and importance. They can be ethereal, here and gone. Watercolors have a variety of properties with each color – staining, opaque, transparent, granulating – I like what they do. They relate to glass easily because you can glaze them, meaning you can overlay colors to create new colors (like how fabric plaid mixes) or deepen colors. You also can use resists, like tape, frisket, or colored pencil which relate to the etching I do on glass. Also, I have really painful arthritis in my CMC joints (from years of being a glassblower) which is very sensitive to drag – watercolors don’t bother that at all. Glass is really expensive, and there’s a lot of risk. The watercolor helps me think about color reactions and issues of opacity and transparency.
I don’t feel like I have rules in studio practice, though. Last night I was working fast and big with India ink on paper packing material. It depends on what’s percolating in my brain.”
I also asked Katie about the process of making one of her final pieces and the use and importance of opaque glass in their creation, and she had this to say, “These pieces tend to make us of opaque glass pretty exclusively. This may be unexpected for those how associate glass work with windows in cathedrals.
When I create a narrative piece with specific imagery, I want the etching to show. Because these works are not windows or light boxes, transparent stained glass is too dark to show the imagery. A lot of the powder colors I use are transparent and they are sifted on to white opaque glass. I am not opposed to transparency, I think it makes a good metaphor for the “here, then gone” wild elements of my work – it just wasn’t right for these works. In the Forest Allegorypiece downstairs (and also on her website), there’s a doily and the Clark’s nuthatch in transparent glass.”
I asked Katie to explain what is going on in “Lead/Follow”, and this is what she shared, “The ram in front is called a bellwether. The bellwether is similar to a eunuch in that it does the bidding of the shepherd in a language the sheep can understand, like the eunuch has sway with the people but doesn’t threaten the emperor’s power. This is also weird to me because a bellwether is a metaphor for Christian pastoral care.
So, we have a bellwether (notice the gold lustered bell on his collar), who is a prized and trained castrated ram, jumping off the bridge – and causing all the sheep to do the same. There’s a metaphor in there.”
Thanks for joining us as in taking a closer look at the work of Katie Creyts. Before we go, I asked Katie what she has coming up next, and this is what she had to say, “I’m working on some more ideas surrounding animals and Covid. I am looking at Aesop’s fables with their moralizing nature, and tweaking them with contemporary themes. I am in a small group show at the Saranac Art Projects in April 21 and I hope to have a couple more works completed for that.”
Today we continue our look at the work and words of Katie Creyts. The following image is a preparatory work that Katie has shared with us so that we can get an idea of how her compositions develop.
When asked how her working process begins, Katie had this to say, “Here’s a sample narrative – there’s usually a trigger, something I read or saw, or heard on the radio. Now, people who know my work, are passing articles and ideas on to me. Yesterday I received an image of a buck passing in front of my friend’s car with Christmas lights strewn in his antlers. I keep this idea in my archive.
Late on Saturday night I called my husky dog, Jezebel, inside. She came in blinded – foaming at the mouth and disoriented. Then the smell hit. The punch of skunk oil was everywhere. She had been sprayed at close range, in her face. Ungracefully, I wrestled her to the shower and tried to wash it away. She winced, slipped, and shook off until we were both stinky and soaked; her thick coat would need to shed this out. Despite my best efforts to clean and Febreze her and the house, it stank as I sat at my computer on Sunday prepping for Monday night’s class.
My house has become my refuge from the chaos of the COVID-19 virus, a place where I think I can control the narrative and keep myself safe and calm. However, Jezebel brought the wild inside our shelter. The threshold was brashly breeched, and the offender, though absent, was clear. The all-too-common “conversation” between skunk and the dog made its way into my living room. Though the skunk escapade was just an unwanted interruption, it triggered thoughts about the intersection of domestic and wild.
If one scans the news, one can find current articles on viruses and their relationship with wild creatures, domestic animals, and humans. Headlines include, “Pangolins Found to Carry Related Strain”, “Tiger at U.S. Zoo Tests Positive for Coronavirus”, “11 Deadly Diseases that Hopped Across Species”, and “COVID-19 Coronavirus Epidemic has Natural Origins.” These stories purport that conditions humans impose on creatures are creating variables that are leading to disease. Zoonotic diseases are not new; anthrax, salmonella, and giardia are more commonly known versions. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome nCoV-19 is novel and the pathogen may be linked to industrialized farming. In China, both wild and domesticated animals (civets, pigs, pangolins, cats, cows, buffalos, goats, sheep and pigeons) are farmed and then sold live, creating a vitriolic “conversation” between animals and their consumers. In the western United States, we have herds of wild bighorn sheep dying of pneumonia contracted from their domestic and vaccinated counterparts, as well as concerns about humans contracting Chronic Wasting Disease from deer and elk. Here in Spokane we have a newly opened restaurant called “Hunt” serving rabbit and elk that is farm raised. Do wild elk commingle with the farm raised herds? As we sequester, we enjoy hearing stories of wild animals coming into town, but is this good for them? Is it all a tale of consequence? Can less industrial human impact create a jubilee year for animals? I have a lot of questions to explore and expound upon.”
I asked Katie to provide a little more information about “Wilderment”, and she responded with this, “I wanted this piece to appear sweet and inviting to the viewer with some sort of strange plants and textures to land on. The ram is opaque, like the rest of the landscape – belonging to it, but implicated because of his size and power – which maybe makes him seem like a “bad guy”. The sheep are sort of sparkly and innocent wandering into the scene. What happens next? Probably the ram gets infected with a flu from the immunized lambs and the wild herd he came from needs to be culled. I don’t put this in the work – it’s too depressing, but I do like setting the stage for what could happen next.”
As a reminder, here is Katies Artist Statement for the exhibit: These three works are explorations of the domestication of nature. The domestication of sheep and goats is uniquely tied to Christianity, a rich metaphor for following the teachings of Jesus that piqued my curiosity, as domestication and wild sit in binary opposition. The idea of “nature” in visual representations being utopian and human impact being dystopian. At once decorative and domestic, the material and processes of glass enrich the narrative representations in this work with colors, textures, and patterns to draw the viewer in. Then, upon drawing the viewer in, it is my hope, to prick their intellect with the peculiar line between domestic and wild in which we exist.
We hope you enjoyed this second post about Katie and her work. Tomorrow we will look at the third and final piece she presented in this exhibit.
In preparation for this series of blog posts, I asked each of the participating artists to respond to a variety of questions. Over the next few days we will take a look the work of Katie Creyts and read what she had to say about it.
When asked to speak about art in a general sense, Katie responded, “The social role of art creates empathy and unique and interpretable perspectives in a time of uncertainty. Inchoate feelings can resonate through interpreted narratives, color, texture, and symbolism. I like to think of the artist as a “chien de garde” for humanity; peripheral, alert, and keen. One who crosses disciplines, growls and chews at ideas and presents work for others to do the same.”
And when asked about her work in particular, she provided these thoughts, “It is my contention that animals are now inadvertently, and to their peril, moralizing us as our lifestyles push them to the brink of extinction. An example is the bear. In the tales from 1600s it is a wild emblem of fear, in the 1800s it is a domesticated circus clown, in the 1900s it’s a teddy bear and a Coca Cola marketing gimmick, and now the bony polar bear is a symbol of climate change and extinction. The metaphor we so enjoy is being extinguished by the reality of genuine exigency. As much as I’d like to say that my works like “Bluff” or “Tickle and Lick” are fictive; they are drawn from my real and vivid fears. How can we be so tangled up and complicated as to not see both the beauty that is them and the brutal arrogance that is us? I also have included the sugary glass painting entitled “Selkirk”. In 2017, the featured woodland caribou lost its habitat in the lower 48; the last herd extinguished was so close to us in the Selkirk range. We push cultural needs on the natural and alternately want authentic and idyllic nature to be available for our pleasure. It’s an ecological, cultural, and personally, a spiritual crisis. Conserve them, then damn them. I am called to live respectfully and restoratively because I believe God creatively bodies forth in all living things. How do I fix this using my gifts and resources?”
“My work follows an illustrative tradition as I create tableaux using objects and characters out of glass. I work with glass not only because I enjoy the challenges of the material, but also because the material itself shifts from a liquid to a solid. This process seems to underscore the shapeshifting nature of storytelling and the glass color has candy-like qualities, bright and glossy or sugary reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel’s woodland discovery. I also have interest in textiles and patterning that brings the out of doors into domestic spaces, from the designs of William Morris to Marimekko. These play a secondary role in the image making process, providing texture and backdrop to the scenes.”
You can find the artworks mentioned above on Katie’s website:
Following is Katie’s Artist Statement for the exhibit: These three works are explorations of the domestication of nature. The domestication of sheep and goats is uniquely tied to Christianity, a rich metaphor for following the teachings of Jesus that piqued my curiosity, as domestication and wild sit in binary opposition. The idea of “nature” in visual representations being utopian and human impact being dystopian. At once decorative and domestic, the material and processes of glass enrich the narrative representations in this work with colors, textures, and patterns to draw the viewer in. Then, upon drawing the viewer in, it is my hope, to prick their intellect with the peculiar line between domestic and wild in which we exist.
And here is her response when I asked the following question, could you explain the use of pattern in “Habitat”? They all appear familiar. Why did you choose these particular patterns?: “They’re domestic patterns, like lace and delft – the outside brought inside, and fences. The wild sheep is facing imagery of domestication. Fences, roads, and rails present terrible obstacles for these animals.”
We hope you enjoyed Katie’s work and words, and keep an eye out for part 2.