gabi lewton-leopold


We are thrilled to welcome Gabi back to the Interview Series with a brand new feature. This week, she conversed with Los Angeles based artist Lilian Martinez in anticipation of Martinez’ first solo exhibition in Portland, OR. Soft Shades opens at Nationale this Sunday, February 3.

In Bed,  2018, acrylic on linen, 38 x 32 inches.

In Bed, 2018, acrylic on linen, 38 x 32 inches.

Gabi Lewton-Lepold: I'd like to start by asking you about the figures in your paintings. You paint women of color in a strong and tender way. These figures take up space, often filling the frame as if they are about to burst beyond the confines of the painting (thinking in particular of In Bed). What do these figures mean to you—do you envision their bodies to be claiming space? 

Lilian Martinez: In Bed and Pastel Caves are based on newer sketches / ideas. I do feel like lately I have been thinking about occupying space more. Particularly in spaces that were not designed for me. Like many people of color, I experience nuances of racism on an everyday basis. Occupying space feels empowering and delightful to me. Possibly these personal feelings are being projected on to my work. It is important to me that the subjects I paint emanate a sense of comfort even if they occupy the whole frame. I think for me that has to do with the composition of the frame and the colors surrounding the subjects. 

GLL: The scale and purposely off proportions of your figures are really intriguing and unexpected. For me, it removes the impulse to fetishize the female form (as so much of western painting has done), and instead brings out a sense of celebration, joy, and even humor. Can you share your thinking behind pairing small heads with robust bodies? 

Portrait  (for   Le Oui  ), 2018, 4 color silkscreen print, 24 x 18 inches.

Portrait (for Le Oui), 2018, 4 color silkscreen print, 24 x 18 inches.

LM: I paint large figures because I think they look beautiful and strong. I proportion the heads to be smaller because I feel like it emphasis the strength in the shoulders. There is something playful and visually beautiful about these proportions to me. I do intentionally de-sexualize the subjects that I paint. Woman are sexualized a majority of their lives starting at a very young age. I don't want to contribute to the normalization of that culture. That being said, I don't paint with those intentions in mind. I make images that I think are beautiful and joyful. I only really start to think about why I am choosing to make this type of work after the work is completed. I paint because it's fun for me and it improves my quality of life. I feel very fortunate that the images resonate with other people, especially women.   

GLL: The fact that you paint because you enjoy it and it enriches your life resonates with me, and I'm sure with many people. I'm not a painter, but I find that if I have any kind of creative project going I feel more alive. Can you share a bit about your background and how you came to painting? 

LM: I studied photography in college. I really struggled with it because I could never capture the image as I imagined it. When I started drawing and painting it was very liberating. I felt more in control and it was really fun. I realize now that I studied photography because I had a strong desire to make images. Photography seemed like the most accessible medium at that point in my life. 

GLL: I've only been to LA once, but I can still see the light of LA—the pinks, browns, tans, and the greens of the cacti and succulents—in your paintings. How does place inform your work? 

Woman Reclined,  2018, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 inches.

Woman Reclined, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24 inches.

LM: The sun is really strong here. It can make colors look washed out and bright. I read that Matisse's palette changed when he moved to the south of France. I was really excited to get the opportunity to visit Nice, France last summer. I do feel like I could see the colors and settings reflected in Matisse's work. I think location can play a role in inspiration if you allow it. I try to find inspiration wherever I go. It's something I am always thinking about. 

GLL: In your BESE feature you speak about being a kid and feeling like didn't belong fully to being American or Mexican, that you didn't fit in completely to either identity, but as you got older you discovered that there's a "new type of American" that can take things from each culture that speaks to them. Can you talk about how your art practice combines these two identities?

LM: In the images I make I like to combine elements that make sense to me visually. These things can seem unrelated but they are relevant to my experience and my interests. I think in this same way immigrants and children of immigrants like myself integrate things into their lives that resonate with them. 

GLL: In addition to your art practice you also run a small business, BFGF, where you make and sell woven versions of your work. When did you start BFGF and can you tell us about the process of making these pieces? How do you select what images will become part of BFGF? 

Tropical Shadows , woven blanket 71 x 53 inches.

Tropical Shadows, woven blanket 71 x 53 inches.

LM: My objective with BFGF is to make functional art objects that people can integrate into their home and their everyday life. I started BFGF about 5-6 years ago. I wanted to make tactile objects. Things that you could touch and use. The images I use for BFGF pieces are digital illustrations. I started drawing digitally before I started painting. It was a good transitional medium from photography to painting. 

GLL: In both your paintings and your BFGF pieces, you often juxtapose figures with symbols and imagery that recall 90s pop culture—characters from The Simpsons, Nike swooshes, basketballs. In some works the Nike swishes are on vases or pots, which feels like a playful melding of eras—Greco-Roman influences with contemporary culture. Can you share a bit about your use of this imagery in your work? 

LM: Nike, basketball and The Simpsons are things from my childhood that I feel like still occupy space in contemporary culture. They still feel relevant to me.  I like to pair them with classical architectural elements because there is something humorous and interesting about it to me. Maybe that is part of the first generation experience. It is a remix of my experiences and my interests. 

Thank you, Lilian and Gabi!


Installation view of  Animal Laughter,  paintings by William Matheson & sculptures by Nick Norman

Installation view of Animal Laughter, paintings by William Matheson & sculptures by Nick Norman

Young Demon , 2017, oil on canvas, 26 x 44"

Young Demon, 2017, oil on canvas, 26 x 44"

Tamer , 2017, oil on canvas, 46 x 48"

Tamer, 2017, oil on canvas, 46 x 48"

Toe , 2017, oil on panel, 10 x 8"

Toe, 2017, oil on panel, 10 x 8"

Secret Joke , 2016, oil on panel, 10 x 8"

Secret Joke, 2016, oil on panel, 10 x 8"

Night Lemon , 2017, oil on panel, 10 x 8"

Night Lemon, 2017, oil on panel, 10 x 8"

John , 2017, oil on panel, 24 x 12"

John, 2017, oil on panel, 24 x 12"

Golden Crab , 2017, oil on panel, 10 x 8"

Golden Crab, 2017, oil on panel, 10 x 8"

After the Orgy , 2017, oil on canvas, 58 x 28"

After the Orgy, 2017, oil on canvas, 58 x 28"

What goes on after an orgy is not something many of us have, or will ever experience. This mysterious scenario is the setting for William Matheson’s painting, After the Orgy. The long, vertical painting focuses the action at the top third of the canvas with two figures crouch together, hands meeting, perhaps in an act of exchange. Lying nearby are two animals, only halfway visible, a coyote or dog, and a ram, only identifiable by one curved horn. A leg also juts out into the frame with a flaccid penis resting on its thigh. An object, a painting palette rendered in various grey hues hovers directly below this scene. The bottom two thirds of the painting is occupied by a field of yellow, like a bleak and hot desert landscape. Towards the bottom of the frame another leg, this time from the calf down emerges. Both legs serve to remind us that more people, although not completely visible, are involved in this story.

After the Orgy is a work interested in framing, in revealing just enough information for a narrative to begin to unfold without telling the full account. The grey painting palette is an outlier in this narrative. Without it the work tells the story of another place and time, perhaps an ancient one in which animals and humans co-exist in a special way. The fantasy of a post-bacchanalia scene is complicated by the palette, which refers back to the very act of painting and the painter himself.
                                                                                                                                                                                        –Gabi Lewton-Leopold


Face Vase (Fem.) , 2017, glaze on clay, 18 x 19 x 9"

Face Vase (Fem.), 2017, glaze on clay, 18 x 19 x 9"

Face Vase   (Masc.) , 2017, glaze on clay, 14.5 x 10.5 x 8"

Face Vase (Masc.), 2017, glaze on clay, 14.5 x 10.5 x 8"

Intimacy Vase , 2017, glaze on clay, 11 x 3.5 x 3.5"

Intimacy Vase, 2017, glaze on clay, 11 x 3.5 x 3.5"

Penetration Vase (Mask) , 2017, glaze on clay, 4.5 x 4.5 x 5"

Penetration Vase (Mask), 2017, glaze on clay, 4.5 x 4.5 x 5"

Rock Head Vase , 2017, glaze on clay, 6.5 x 6 x 6"

Rock Head Vase, 2017, glaze on clay, 6.5 x 6 x 6"

Two Face Vase , 2017, glaze on clay, 7.5 x 6.5 x 5"

Two Face Vase, 2017, glaze on clay, 7.5 x 6.5 x 5"

Humanoid Table , 2017, glaze on clay and acrylic on wood, 31.5 x 11.5 x 47"

Humanoid Table, 2017, glaze on clay and acrylic on wood, 31.5 x 11.5 x 47"

From the gallery desk, Nick Norman’s carved wood sculpture Humanoid Table appears to be just a thin, bright pink neck and bulbous head floating in space. The sculpture’s face emerges from the nothingness—red snakelike tongue slithering out, green ceramic eyes, and ears like chunks of molded shiny pink bubble gum. Each month this seat forces a frame around the work on view, obscuring the majority and focusing on only a fragment. Humanoid Table, like many pieces that have occupied this view in the past, has become that prized visitor who keeps the gallery sitters company. It offers a place for our eyes to wander and find respite from the computer screen, but it also only lets us in on part of the story. 

The sculpture takes on new life and meaning when seen in its entirety. No longer just a detached neck and head, Humanoid Table, is exactly that, a table. In fact the only human quality to the piece is the head and neck—the legs have no feet, and the table top is a flat slab. These attributes also make it a very functional object; for this exhibition it’s used to display two small ceramic sculptures also by Norman. Although Humanoid Table is far from human, it does illicit issues surrounding labor and oppression. This is in contrast to Norman's other humanoid sculptures which function as vessels—vases don't imply the same exertion of energy in the way tables do. What would it mean to use this table in your life, to bring it home and eat off of it, or place heavy objects on its back while the eyes stare out blankly? The human quality of Humanoid Table is perhaps most present when we see it as a piece of furniture working hard for its human owners.
                                                                                                                                                                                        –Gabi Lewton-Leopold

Installation view of  Humanoid Table  in  Animal Laughter.  Paintings by William Matheson.

Installation view of Humanoid Table in Animal Laughter. Paintings by William Matheson.


Annie McLaughlin shares some insights into her second solo show at Nationale, Brushing Out the Brood Mare's Tale.


Gabi Lewton-Leopold: When I look at these paintings, both as separate pieces and as a series, I think of storytelling and folklore. This comes through both in the subject matter that hints at folktales—coyote, rocking chair, smoky chimney—but also in how you use the paintings to tell stories. Often you give the viewer a closely cropped (Fire, Place; Wild Country Chimney in Yellow) or partially concealed view (50% Visibility, 100% Shangri-La), as if to just show one sliver of the larger story. Can you share your thoughts on storytelling and narrative within this series?

Annie McLaughlin: This work is very much about stories and storytelling as subject matter—the way that objects, symbols, spaces, conjure images and meaning within the larger complex narrative of culture and histories. Perhaps there are falsities in the stories, or perhaps the falsities just contribute to our larger understanding of things. This work was specifically about the idea of paradise in America, lots of perspectives and storytellers and folklore come into play within that narrative, some of them problematic, but nevertheless an important piece of context and meaning. 

Fire, Place , 2017, acrylic, gouache, and Flashe on panel, 24 x 18"

Fire, Place, 2017, acrylic, gouache, and Flashe on panel, 24 x 18"

GLL: You took a long solo road trip through the American SW not so long ago. How did that adventure impact your work? Do you see those experiences as shaping this current series?

AM: Yes—that was the larger narrative myth I pulled from here. The folk, the rural, the artist moving to the countryside, the romanticization of rural space or country dwelling that one expects to find. I did a lot of "sifting" to find those tropes. Which is to say they're present, but they aren't the only pieces of the pie. I kind of set out to look at the American West and the craft tradition but ended up relating all of the imagery to "paradise thinking," the oasis, the pastoral haven, and all of the aspects good and bad that come with that.

Photograph of Annie's truck in NW Utah during her solo road trip. More images of her adventure can be found  here.

Photograph of Annie's truck in NW Utah during her solo road trip. More images of her adventure can be found here.

GLL: I'm curious about your use of texture and patterning, which you explore in all of the paintings. The book that you produced in conjunction with the series also plays with texture and the different references that can emerge within a single painted surface. For example you write in the book, "shaggy carpet or moss or a curly haired canine" followed by a drawing that could be the surface of any of these things.

AM: The texture speaks to different things to me. I think in one way I see it as the texture of the mind's eye, the fuzziness of romantic memory, something that lacks clarity. I also see it as a celebration of paint, or the painter and the painter's role in contributing to the myth of paradise: Arcadian bathers, the exotic, the simple life utopia, and so forth. There's a long tradition in painting with that.

Designated Seat for Daydreaming , 2017, acrylic, gouache, and Flashe on panel, 24 x 18"

Designated Seat for Daydreaming, 2017, acrylic, gouache, and Flashe on panel, 24 x 18"

GLL: There's also a lot of play and humor alive in this work. Especially in the rocking horse sculpture, which appears to be all together usable until you get closer and see that it is just one slab of wood, and would be oh-so-painful to ride. I also love the title of that piece: Thank You So Much for the Rocking Horse It Really Means a Lot to Us. What are your thoughts on humor and play within your work? Do you see it as a welcoming entrance point?

Thank You So Much for the Rocking Horse It Really Means a Lot to Us , 2017, acrylic, gouache, and Flashe on plywood cutout, 36 x 40 x 6"

Thank You So Much for the Rocking Horse It Really Means a Lot to Us, 2017, acrylic, gouache, and Flashe on plywood cutout, 36 x 40 x 6"

AM: Yes! Humor is my favorite tool, I suppose. Especially in discussing history, complex myths, and cultural narratives. The subject matter for those things (especially in America) can be really heavy—humor for me can be a really great entry point in sparking a narrative. 

GLL: There's a small painting in the show of a rock that looks a bit like a potato with a little family of smaller rocks nearby. The title, The Brief Moment in the Long Life of a Rock When It Lived in a Garden Belonging to Someone, got me thinking about the absurdity of human ownership over nature. It also conjured the simple fact that the natural world came before us and will outlive us. This painting feels like a comment on the serene domesticity of the majority of work in the show—perhaps a comment on the idea that these worlds we build for ourselves to feel safe and have purpose are actually so fragile and insignificant. What are thoughts on this piece and the title? 

The Brief Moment in the Long Life of a Rock When It Lived in a Garden Belonging to Someone , 2017, acrylic, gouache, and Flashe on panel, 14 x 14"

The Brief Moment in the Long Life of a Rock When It Lived in a Garden Belonging to Someone, 2017, acrylic, gouache, and Flashe on panel, 14 x 14"

AM: I'd say that's pretty solid insight into that painting! I have this amazing favorite rock. It's this kind of pink toned aggregate stone that I found at a river in Southwestern Colorado. I picked it up and brought it into my life then, and as a possession it feels so important to me. But the thing that always comes to mind is how that rock, which I love so much and tend to think of as "mine," is probably the oldest thing in my house (along with my other rocks), and will likely outlive everything I see and know of. To me that painting grounds the work. It serves to remind us that the narrative and cultural meaning is constructed, much like the rock garden, and that in time when everyone and thing is gone, the rock will remain, and however inanimate, will inevitably be the wisest of them all regardless of whether or not there's someone to acknowledge it as such.


Emily Counts,  Remastered , 2017, stoneware, 25 (h) x 19 x 18”

Emily Counts, Remastered, 2017, stoneware, 25 (h) x 19 x 18”

There are many spaces to enter into Emily Counts’ current series Form Factor on view at Nationale. An abundance and diversity of patterning, vibrant color choices, textures, and unusual forms, make this work an ever-unfolding visual playground.

Remastered, composed of multiple stacked ceramic forms, reveals Counts’ ability to manipulate her materials in such a way that elements made from the same stuff appear completely different from one another in weight, shape, and texture. At the very top of the work sits a rectangular cube that, because it is only attached to the form below on one side, appears to be flying off of the sculpture. Its placement, as well as the soft pale green hue and uneven lined texture, gives it a nearly weightless quality. It appears as light and delicious as a marshmallow.

Remastered, as with many of Counts’ sculptures, feels like a life force. With each element making up the entirety of the organism, it holds the presence of a living thing. At its base are an array of small ceramic objects, each one different in shape, texture, and color. They peek out from beneath the large blue and red perforated rounded form, which sits under a shiny brown thick pancake shaped piece. Nearly at the top of the sculpture rests a rock shaped object painted to resemble the patterning of Counts’ childhood living room rug.

Initially, the work appears to be precarious, as if the bottom pieces which seem so small and fragile are being crushed by the weighted stack above them, but it is actually these small works that together have the strength to hold up the heavier parts. Similar to the piece at the top of Remastered, the bottom elements, which are surrounded by negative space, give the work an unexpected levity. It is this confluence of solidity and lightness that circles back to the idea of a living form. As with the human body, gravity equals presence, and lightness implies the ability to move freely. We can imagine Remastered continuing to grow and evolve, and with Counts behind the curtain making the magic happen, who knows what is possible.


Artist, writer, and textile designer, Francesca Capone shares her thoughts on her solo show at Nationale, Text means Tissue.

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: This new body of work (exhibition and book) Text means Tissue, your 2015 project Writing in Threads, and 2012 publication Weaving Language all explore the relationship between weaving/textiles and language. When did this conversation between two seemingly disparate forms begin for you?

Francesca Capone: I started experimenting with weaving and writing during my time on the Jacquard loom at RISD. I began exploring how the repeat function of the loom could affect the metrics of the poems I was writing, and my framework for working in this way began. In 2009, I started interning and studio assisting for Jen Bervin, who has worked with text and textiles for many years, and whose thinking deeply influenced me. The more I reflect upon this question though, the more I start to convince myself that it's actually ingrained in me, as well. In the house I grew up in, my great-grandmother's ruby pink embroidered Italian alphabet sampler takes a prominent space in the kitchen. My mother makes fine leather gloves for a living—gloves, this particular garment that clothe the hands, which are so deeply emotive of language. I've found that expression through textile is actually a part of my family history, though I came to it on my own.

Francesca Capone,  unsaid, unsung, unstrung  (THKC), 2016, cotton and reflective thread on wood, 24 x 36"

Francesca Capone, unsaid, unsung, unstrung (THKC), 2016, cotton and reflective thread on wood, 24 x 36"

GLL: The two most recent projects, Writing in Threads and Text means Tissue involved many collaborators—for the former, writers responded to your work and with this current series, writers responded to the question you posed about the connection between textile, language, the body, and femininity. I imagine that weaving in the studio is a solitary exercise and that making a publication with many contributors is a welcome counter. Can you talk about why collaboration is important to you?

FC: That's very true. I don't want to be a lone weaver speaking only to herself. In my experience, the best art happens in the push-pull of dialogue. I want to know what other people think, how they feel, I want to feel challenged, comforted, and inspired. I want to make work that is generous, and share the opportunities I have to create platforms for the work of others, not just my own. Collaboration always makes things more interesting, and the more I involve my community, the better the work is. I feel so fortunate to know so many talented artists and writers, and being in conversation with them drives the work I do on my loom.

Cover of Francesca's book  Text means Tissue,  which includes over 30 contributing writers

Cover of Francesca's book Text means Tissue, which includes over 30 contributing writers

GLL: Looking back at your weavings from Writing in Threads (shown at 99c Plus Gallery in NYC), it seems that you've moved towards a more focused, pared down direction in both form and color. In Text means Tissue, you take the form of the written page as a starting point to develop your imagery. How do you see the weavings from these two series as connecting and diverging from one another?

FC: I made two weavings inspired by the aesthetics of the written page in 2012 while I was at the Haystack residency, and then put those ideas aside until most recently. These two weavings were a jumping off point for my formal choices in Text means Tissue. In 2014, while I was working on Writing in Threads, I focused on generating a wide variety of woven forms, fibers and colors, since those weavings would then be "translated" by different writers. I tried to create aesthetic diversity for the written outcomes. So the work didn't really evolve in the way that the Text means Tissue work did, because I was always trying to make something completely different every time. With Text means Tissue, the intent was to create weavings with a similar process to how I might sit down to write something. I wanted to create the experience of being in front of an empty page, with just my mind, and whatever was passing through it. It's quite a meditative task. I'd start weaving a blank substrate (usually in a white, black, or ivory yarn—neutral or "blank" colors), and wait to see what passed through my mind, and then record it in the weaving. One formal objective I kept in mind while weaving was empathy, creating spaces for the eyes and mind to rest. The back and forth of the lines that appear in this work is inspired by boustrophedon, which is the form that western writing took before there were spaces and lines as we now know them—this occurred in Ancient Greek, among some other languages. Boustrophedon means "as the ox turns," and it is a natural conceptual and formal fit for the movement of a woven line.

Francesca Capone,  There's a knot where I was picked pure  (KM), 2017, cotton, metallic thread, reflective thread, and polyester rope on wood, 36 x 24"

Francesca Capone, There's a knot where I was picked pure (KM), 2017, cotton, metallic thread, reflective thread, and polyester rope on wood, 36 x 24"

GLL: I love the material choices in these works. You go from super natural fiber, non-dyed cotton to very "futuristic" appearing materials—reflective thread, metallic cord, and Mylar. How did you come to combine these materials in your work?

FC: Material choices are a kind of vocabulary. Weaving can have a misconception of being an antiquated craft, but it's really just like any other medium—there's always new ways to reinvent it, and make it feel relevant for today. Through my commercial work in the textile industry, I'm exposed to the newest innovations in fibers as part of my day to day. Weaving with the materials that have come on the market more recently makes me feel connected to this moment in time. I especially love mixing old and new, and finding ways to integrate the futuristic stuff with other fibers that are tried and true, like wool and cotton. Our culture is all about new new new, but really it's impossible for all objects to be new—the new objects just layer onto the old, and I find this strange and fascinating.

Francesca Capone,  I'm trying to tell you something about how rearranging words rearranges the universe  (MH), 2016, cotton, reflective thread, and Mylar on wood, 24 x 18"

Francesca Capone, I'm trying to tell you something about how rearranging words rearranges the universe (MH), 2016, cotton, reflective thread, and Mylar on wood, 24 x 18"

GLL: You have a chair in the exhibition that is a collaboration between you and furniture designer, LikeMindedObjects. For me, this piece is a reminder that textiles are often functional. Do you often make functional weavings? How do you think textiles change when given these different contexts and purposes?

FC: Though I have designed functional textiles, the chair is really the first that I've handwoven. There's something really special about it I think—and it was palpable through the whole process. My interest in making the chair was purely conceptual. I wanted to create a situation where the idea of a textile supporting a body was conveyed quite literally, since a big part of the show was exploring ways that textiles have supported the lives of women. I felt really connected to women's history as I was weaving it. I was reminded of women in antiquity, and I was humbled by the consideration that before the industrial revolution, there was a cotton industry of women in America who hand wove fabric for sheets, clothing, dresses, pants—everything. I wove fabric on an enormous AVL loom during a residency at A-Z West in Andrea Zittel's weaving studio, accompanied by two other weavers, Ricki Dwyer and Elena Yu. It took me three full workdays of non-stop weaving to make the fabric for the chair. I used a flyshuttle to efficiently weave 60 inches from selvedge to selvedge, a swinging the shuttle for every pick. Nowadays, nearly all fabrics are made by mechanical looms. It's easy to disregard labor when something is machine-made, making textile objects feel disposable, not at all precious. In contrast, it feels really special to sit in the chair, since it was woven with the same amount of care, time, and thoughtfulness as the weavings on the wall. I really hope that people feel connected to Elsie (LikeMindedObjects) and I when they sit on the chair, and I hope they feel supported. 

Francesca Capone + LikeMindedObjects,  I don't know how people have enough time, I feel like I am falling through mine  (ML), 2016, cotton, glow in the dark cord, reflective thread, and metallic cord on bent steel, 41 x 41 x 32"

Francesca Capone + LikeMindedObjects, I don't know how people have enough time, I feel like I am falling through mine (ML), 2016, cotton, glow in the dark cord, reflective thread, and metallic cord on bent steel, 41 x 41 x 32"

GLL: The notion of design and functional objects also reminds me of your day job as a textile designer at a large sportswear company. Can you talk about how these worlds collide in your daily life and studio practice?  

FC: My studio practice and my commercial work are pretty separate, most of the time. As I mentioned before however, my awareness of contemporary material culture is heightened because of my commercial work, and this undoubtedly influences my palette of yarn choices. My studio practice is driven by my personal experience, my relationships with other poets and artists, and my conceptual interests in language and textile. In contrast, my commercial work really has nothing to do with me as an individual, aside from harnessing my ability to research, my taste in textile, and my technical knowledge—it's more about the consumer that I am designing for. It's almost like using two completely separate parts of my brain, and as time passes, it's become much easier for me to switch gears. I think the way that I use my hands really helps define my studio practice—I touch every thread of every weaving that I make and I push type around in InDesign to carefully make the book—it is all very slow-going, a lot of thoughtfulness and time goes into it. My commercial work takes great focus, but it happens in a fast paced, collaborative design environment, and then the fabrics are all machine made, so the processes and outcomes are significantly different. I think there's a lot to be learned from trying to distinguish this space between art and design, personal work and commercial work, and I find opportunities for intersections to be challenging and exciting. I think that is why the chair is my favorite piece in the show, it raises a lot of questions in this arena.

Installation image of  Text means Tissue

Installation image of Text means Tissue

GLL: This may sound a bit off topic, but I'm so curious about how you organize your time! You are so insanely productive and driven, working in many different arenas—weaving studio, book designing, writing, and working a demanding day job. How do you stay focused?

FC: I think for this show I might have pushed my multitasking to the limit! I was pretty reclusive for about 6 months, so I could get all the weaving and editing done. Really it comes down to awareness of the limited hours in the day, and attempting to divvy it all up into everything you want to do. It's exhausting to burn the candle at both ends, but I've been fortunate in that both ends of the candle are interesting to me, so it feels good. I think the desire to keep making keeps me focused.


Please join gallery artist Elizabeth Malaska and Nationale Assistant Director, Gabi Lewton-Leopold for a PADA panel discussion alongside: Stephanie Chefas, gallerist; Rory ONeal, artist; Michelle Ross, artist and teacher; and Peter Simensky, teacher and artist at Blackfish Gallery. The panel will be discussing important questions surrounding emerging artists in our community, such as: What are the forces shaping the development of Portland's emerging artists? How do arts professionals in Portland negotiate the trick dance between creativity and commerce?

Saturday, January 21, 2017
Blackfish Gallery
420 SW 9th Ave

The talk is free and open to the public!


Gallery artist Jaik Faulk discusses his fifth solo exhibition at Nationale (!), "I feel alright with azaleas around." 

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: This is the first series you've shown at Nationale that focuses solely on the still life genre. We've seen elements of this in other series—abstracted paintings of objects or flowers, but they are typically accompanied by a healthy dose of the figure. What brought you to this space that focuses completely on painting objects with a clear nod to the still life tradition (skulls, flowers, vases)? Do you see it as a departure or as an extension of your past work? 

Jaik Faulk,  Dark Skull and Bottle , 2016, oil on linen stretched over panel, 18.25 x 21.5" 

Jaik Faulk, Dark Skull and Bottle, 2016, oil on linen stretched over panel, 18.25 x 21.5" 

Jaik Faulk: Man, this question actually has thrown me for a loop. I was going to be wishy-washy and say it's a little bit of both (an extension as well as a departure) in some ways. But I will say firmly that it is an extension of my previous work. 

The big difference is that these paintings come from direct observation. I constructed these little arrangements and still lifes with painted bottles, handmade flowers (as well as flowers I've gathered from my neighborhood), and skulls that I have collected and painted. My work up until now has always resulted from collected images—painting as a direct response to the archive I've amassed in numerous sketchbooks and carried about. They've aged and torn and become discolored and I had always found it to be a nice little secret world to pull from. At some point I found myself searching and searching this archive and nothing grabbed my attention. I felt like I had hit a brick wall with that method of working. So, in response I began creating these little studio sculptures and arrangements. I set them up and lit them—moved them a bit here and there and began tinkering with these things in a more tangible way. I've toyed with this sort of thing for quite awhile but somehow it stuck this time. I guess I have such an attachment to portraiture and the figure that it was hard to allow myself to let it go. 

I find something very measured and nuanced in working this new way. It's really spooky how a studio practice can evolve and take you to places you never could've imagined. So there ya go: Extension vs Departure ?? Who knows. I could make a case for both, I guess.

A cardboard flower arrangement in Jaik's studio 

A cardboard flower arrangement in Jaik's studio 

GLL: It's like you took all the 2D imagery you usually work from in your sketchbooks and made it 3D in your studio—as if all the elements you collected and set up for these paintings were sketches in themselves. Your studio become your sketchbook and where you'd normally pull magazine fragments, you collected real objects. Something kinda magical about that idea. Can you talk more about your studio process with this series, what your setup is like and what materials you used. 

JF: In the studio I have little clusters of arrangements all around so each angle that I am painting from varies. These objects and things are ever-present, they create a vibe in the studio that I've always wanted to be in the work. Many a time I found myself saying "ah I wish I could just have a show in my studio, or I wish I could open my studio up to the viewers." Perhaps I thought that the thinking and logic in my paintings would be more apparent that way? But I'm not sure if that's the way it works. 

It is very much a painter's studio; very lived in and worked in, I love being in there. At some point in grad school someone said that it was exactly what they had imagined an artist's studio to look like, or that maybe it was "the studio most likely to be a real artist's studio." I love to see visitors respond to it, there is always something they gravitate towards that grabs their attention. Their thoughts on the objects, the space, the paintings are so informative. As I said, I love to be there and it's a nice little space that I've carved out for myself to think in and to paint in. 

Studio flower made from a plastic bottle

Studio flower made from a plastic bottle

GLL: This is perhaps your first series without of figures. The paintings Wolf Mask and Mask with Punk Wig could be seen as figures, but you've been sure to tell us in your titles that they are in fact objects, not living beings. Through this naming they lose their menacing quality and become more artificial. Was that your intention? 

JF: Yes, in the naming I did want to point out that they are artificial. You are exactly right that I wanted to strip them of their menacing quality and in fact, a great deal of all these things are artificial. 

They are flowers I made out of plastic and are sort of maquettes of flowers and arrangements that I imagine to be unreal or hyper-real. I wanted to use them as objects, as things to paint for purely formal reasons. With Wolf Mask for example, I really wanted to paint the hair and I was curious as to what I would need to do to achieve that. Mask with Punk Wig was much the same—I saw the teeth as a challenge. I thought to myself, "what could I do with that?"

Mask with Punk Wig , 2016, oil on canvas stretched over panel, 18 x 20"

Mask with Punk Wig, 2016, oil on canvas stretched over panel, 18 x 20"

GLL: The teeth are one of my favorite moments from this series! The pop of color and texture is so good and satisfying. I was also wondering about symbolism. Dutch still life genre (or Vanitas) was all about symbols—the skull and flowers as markers of time passing and impermanence of this life and pleasures that will not last. Was that part of your thought process conceiving of this series? Were you thinking about mortality?

JF: I do think of the Dutch still life tradition and Vanitas painting, but I hold it all on the periphery. I've done a bit of research on its history but to be honest, I felt that I was ruining good paintings by reading too much symbolism into it or adhering to the specific coded language those old fellows were using. I like that meaning to be there, and perhaps to discover personal meaning in these works, or to develop a personal language with them is more valuable than adopting a coded language. 

Mortality, oh yes. I was thinking about mortality, but again, only at the periphery. I've been to way too many funerals in the past year or two—many loved ones and people way too young, so I could see the skulls being a reflection of that. My brother is getting married in January, and I told him his wedding needs to hurry and get here so I can dress up for something fun.

I guess also on a lighter note, if the funerals have taught me anything, it is that life is too short to not paint what you want. I've always loved skulls and they do carry such a heavy weight symbolically that I've steered away from painting them. However lately, I've been looking at James Ensor and I felt like seeing how he embraced painting both skulls and masks—that gave me permission to do the same. As I get older I am learning to enjoy my little eccentricities.

James Ensor , Squelette arrêtant masques , 1891, oil on canvas 

James Ensor, Squelette arrêtant masques, 1891, oil on canvas 

GLL: I see that in my own life too, that growing up doesn’t get rid of insecurities, but it does make it easier to embrace those aspects that used to make me uncomfortable. Can you tell us a little about azaleas? What do they mean to you in terms of place and cultural or personal significance (as implied with the first person title)? And I may be wrong, but they seem to only make an appearance in one of the paintings Still Life with Gold Cup, and even in that work they are more white and light pink versus their signature hot pink. 

JF: Azalea's are a little bush or shrub that is very common in Acadiana (Cajun South Louisiana), where I live. I actually didn't paint any. The little flower in Still Life with Gold Cup is some other unknown flower from my front yard. It fades pretty quick after clipping so I had to work pretty fast to paint those flowers. 

Back to the Azalea's though, I thought maybe it would be too obvious to paint them, so I didn't even approach the idea. However, I love them, their presence in our neighborhoods down here gives me a specific sense of place. I see them everywhere riding my bike, and this combined with the bungalow architecture and porches I find endlessly fascinating. They do have a hot pink color and I'm not sure that they fit in the category of classic beauty, as they are a little "weedy." They pair well with linoleum counter tops and Salvation Army furniture. “Southern Bohemian Beauty” I would call it—beer rather than wine. 

Photo from Rick Olivier's 1976 Bayou Lafourche azaleas series

Photo from Rick Olivier's 1976 Bayou Lafourche azaleas series

GLL: "Southern Bohemian Beauty" —love that, and that's exactly the picture I have in my mind of you working in your studio. I've never been to the South but people always talk about how the pace is different. Do you think your studio practice and your work have changed since moving back to Louisiana? 

JF: Yes, I do believe both my practice and my work have changed—evolved, more so. I can't say if it is outwardly visible, it may be more subtle, but I know that I look at my work differently now. I expect different things from any particular piece. I've had much more time to get to know my work rather than the work of others. Who's doing what and where, and which way the art world was swaying; these were things that I paid more attention to in Portland and San Francisco. Now I am at a place where I am able to ignore extraneous noise.

I am getting to a point where I can view older pieces of mine through the lens of new works and say, "oh ok, that's what I was doing there, now I get it." And "ah-ha! that's why that piece works!" If I had to give specifics, it would be something to do with the lame fundamentals of painting. Quite often it is in analyzing the structure of a painting, the visual depth or the arrangement of things, visual cues. Silly little things that make paintings work. 

Louisiana has afforded much more time and space for my work. It feels very healthy. Also I get to have lunch with my brothers just about every week. It has been a very long time since I was able to do that.


student juried exhibition fall 2016.jpg

Congrats to Gabi, who co-curated the student exhibition at OCAC ending on November 20.

The juried OCAC Student Exhibition offers a glimpse at the new artistic directions of OCAC’s degree and continuing education students. Innovative approaches, stylized techniques and personal imagery contribute to pieces ranging from utilitarian to conceptual to autobiographical.

Gabi Lewton-Leopold | Assistant Director, Nationale
Taryn Wiens | Co-Director, S/PLI/T


We had a chance to catch up with Christian Rogers about his new work now on view in Read It and Weep. Thanks to Christian for his honesty and humor!  

Christian Rogers // Read It and Weep on view at Nationale through July 25, 2016

Christian Rogers // Read It and Weep on view at Nationale through July 25, 2016

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: Can you talk about your move from abstract collage to this current, figurative series? 

Christian Rogers: My shift from abstract to figurative was a result of about a year of reflecting on what I was "really trying to express" versus something much less obscured or hidden by abstract gestures. I've always made work about men and my interactions with them but they were heavily distorted and deconstructed to the point they were no longer recognizable. I've realized that I was more concerned with formalist ideas at the time and I needed to find ways of making the content more visible. So naturally, bringing the subjects to the foreground solved some of my issues. I'm still trying to find that in-between ground. 

GLL: Do you feel like the "abstracted gestures" of past work served as a protection of sorts? And with these more narrative pieces, they are freer but at the same time more vulnerable? 

CR: Oh totally! When looking back I realize I was using abstracted forms in an attempt to avoid talking about what I really wanted to make work about. At the time I thought I was using them as a way of luring people into the painting before telling them what it was about. Since then, I feel much more open about who I am and am more connected to my subjects. I'm still trying to work through a lot of these topics. Like, how personal do I make it? How literal do I make it? Is a title enough? 

To Know Him Is to Love Him , 2016, monotype and acrylic on newsprint, 22.5 x 26"

To Know Him Is to Love Him, 2016, monotype and acrylic on newsprint, 22.5 x 26"

GLL: You mentioned before that you took a break from painting to focus on drawing before making this series. What brought that on and how did it influence this new work?

CR: I took a break from painting because I found myself putting the cart before the horse, which often resulted in a lot of stress and anxiety about painting. So, for a semester I chose to only draw and limit my materials. Not having to worry about materials or cost or "what if I fuck this giant painting up" was a relief. I could make lots of mistakes and not worry. Drawing also allowed me to be fast and free. The small drawings in the show are the most playful and least fussy. Some of them are my favorite. I also incorporated some collage elements into them. They serve like writing prompts for starting a drawing. I've most recently started taking the drawings and silkscreening parts of them to start a painting, like in Kyle for instance. I'm playing more with building the casual drawings into the paintings. We will see where it goes. 

Untitled VI , xerox and ink on paper, 12 x 9"

Untitled VI, xerox and ink on paper, 12 x 9"

Kyle , 2016, monotype, silkscreen, and acrylic on newsprint, 26 x 22.5"

Kyle, 2016, monotype, silkscreen, and acrylic on newsprint, 26 x 22.5"

GLL: Can you speak about your first experience working with the Financial Times as your medium? What intrigues you about that specific publication and how it responds to your work both in subject matter and formally? 

CR: I first used the Financial Times a few years back. I found a couple of issues in Portland. They no longer distribute to Portland for some reason. I was using it as a surface to make abstract drawings using oil stick. Besides the pale pink color, I liked how as a material it inherently had tangible information that could ground whatever I created in a specific place and time. Since I was making abstract work at the time, I liked how it anchored my marks in specific time. When looking at a drawing, you were also looking at the events of a specific day. I could know when something was made within a week of its creation. Now when I use it, I still like thinking about how there are countless, sometimes world altering, events happening parallel to me making my work. It's a humbling thought. There is also a serendipitous quality to working on the Financial Times. In Slip It to Me you can see the title of the piece appears as part of an ad. It's a little sexy and a little vulgar. I like it.  

Slip It to Me , 2016, monotype and acrylic on newsprint, 26 x 22.5"

Slip It to Me, 2016, monotype and acrylic on newsprint, 26 x 22.5"

GLL: Yes, I love that "slip it to me" moment! Because of how you incorporate the newspaper, you are able to appropriate the language and visuals of pop culture and current issues in a way that feels, as you put it, "serendipitous" and not forced. It's also humorous at times. Can you talk about Donald Trump and this series? I see him in Slip It to Me as he appears in the paper, arm lifted in a “Heil Hilter” stance. 

CR: Ya, the newspaper is a great way to add pop culture/current events into the mix. It's whimsical and a little scary at times. And Trump, he's everywhere! He's popped up many times in the paintings—often getting painted out because he drives me crazy. In Slip It to Me he lays on the table like an object, maybe like a little statue. He's like some of the objects in the paintings with table "offerings" that I don't like, like the avocado in Pink Man with Avocado Offering. The objects were kinda metaphors of things someone could offer you physically and spiritually, some of them desirable and some not so desirable. 

GLL: Yes, about the “offerings,” I'm really interested in how you use objects—flowers, fruit, vessels—as symbols. Do they all hold specific meaning? If so, do you borrow their significance from art history? 

CR: The objects and flowers can be read as part of a long history of this sort of imagery in painting. Specifically, I think of Dutch still life painting. In those paintings—I'm specifically thinking of Wybrand Hendriks's Flower Still Life in the Portland Art Museum's collection—every flower has a meaning, every fabric, all the way down to the one dirty fly perched on one of the flowers. It's so voluptuous and sensual, but then there's a dirty fly there to fuck up your hot moment with this painting. And perhaps the realist part of the painting is the nasty fly just hanging out. I love it! So gross! In my work, I'm not THAT invested in a universal meaning, but rather a mix of gestural meaning and symbolism. The meaning is more personal than universal. Like how a cup of water means life, flowers mean sex or body is more universal, whereas the avocado is more personal. I hate avocados. 

Wybrand Hendriks,  Flower Still Life , 1810/1830, oil on panel, Portland Art Museum Collection

Wybrand Hendriks, Flower Still Life, 1810/1830, oil on panel, Portland Art Museum Collection

GLL: How about your figures? They appear like symbols in how they are almost "unspecific" or anonymous. Do you feel that way about them, or are they more individual than that for you? 

CR: Most of the time the figures are someone specific, but as they get worked over, printed painted and drawn, they become more like a composite of men. You can see that many of the marks from the painting of "Kyle" are borrowed from the earlier drawing. The initial small drawing/collage was based off of a photo someone sent me. I then merged part of the drawing with the painting using a silkscreen method because I thought the long torso was similar to Kyle's body type. But like in Avocado Offering, the figure is obscured to the point that he reads more like a universal man. And like in life, some guys are more memorable than others, or the idea of them is better than the details. 

GLL: Can you talk about how you think about and approach perspective? I'm specifically thinking of the wonderfully skewed perspective in Avocado Offering.

Untitled (Pink Man with Avocado Offering) , 2016, monotype and acrylic on newsprint, 22.5 x 26"

Untitled (Pink Man with Avocado Offering), 2016, monotype and acrylic on newsprint, 22.5 x 26"

CR: Perspective is something I've been thinking about a lot. Your questions about the table is a consequence of how I build images. I still utilize collage. Sometimes in paper form as well as digital. The collages sometimes create funky perspectives and sometimes when I work digitally the bodies become more elongated and awkward. In both situations, I think it's more about depicting the psychology of space or someone. It's meant to come across as awkward or "not right." Both the forms and color are meant to have more visceral effects than contain literal information. 

When people ask me about "perspective," they are often concerned with how I position myself to my subjects. I often make work in 2nd or 3rd person. It's often the perspective of an artist looking at their subjects or the perspective of a camera man. IDK how I would ever paint myself in 1st person. That might be getting too personal. Lol.

GLL: Haha, maybe it’s something to experiment with! My last question is about NYC. I also left Portland to study in New York, and found that the city had a profound impact on how I view and think about art. How has the city shaped and influenced your work and painting practice? What are your favorite and least favorite things about NY?

CR: Moving to NY was a VERY humbling experience. Obviously Portland and NY are VERY different. In some ways better and some ways worse. But as far as my work goes, moving to NYC and doing grad school at Hunter was a great way to shake up what I was making in Portland. I feel like after a few semesters, I've learned to become more critical of my own work and I started to question my own motives and process. Before NY, I think my work was very linear and there was a clear start with a clear finish when making it. Now, I find myself reworking ideas over and over until I get sick of them. 

This might sound strange, but I feel like I'm living more. It's nuts here. I am always on the go, seeing things, meeting people, working. This pressure-cooker type environment has done a lot for me in terms of production and energy. It has also caused me to go prematurely grey! But all of it is worth it. The opportunities are endless and so are the boys ;-)

And as far as school goes, I've been very blessed to work with artists like Carrie Moyer, Drew Beattie and AK Burns. They have done a lot in terms of shaping how I look and approach making work. I think the grad school setting has made me a lot more skeptical of art. I tend to not only question what it is I do and why, but also every other artist making work. As art becomes more commodified, I feel it's necessary to question all and everything being made and consumed, especially in NYC. 

My least favorite things about NY are: rats, weekend train rides to Brooklyn and litter! Yuck! That's one thing Portland does not put up with! But my favorite things about NYC...
1) The food here is amazing.
2) The history that is all around you when you live in a city that is a couple hundred years old. Time is a very humbling thing to think about.
3) The amount of amazing museums and quality shows that are open to the public. I see amazing art every week and it's great what that energy does for your mental health. And lastly,
4) The access to artists. You can reach out to almost anyone here and they'll respond, big or small. For a city that can feel so lonely at times, there is also a great sense of community if you know what you're looking for.

Untitled III , 2016, xerox and ink on paper, 9 x 12"

Untitled III, 2016, xerox and ink on paper, 9 x 12"


Gallery artist Ty Ennis discusses his current series Stupid Man with Assistant Director, Gabi Lewton-Leopold. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ty! 

Installation view of  Stupid Man , on view through June 20, 2016

Installation view of Stupid Man, on view through June 20, 2016

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: In this new series, there’s a move away from your colorful works on paper that are often very detailed, to more abstract, mainly black and white acrylic paintings on canvas. What advantages did the latter medium give you? Why the shift in style and medium?

October 7th // Man Crushing the Dead , 2014, acrylic on paper, 15 x 11"

October 7th // Man Crushing the Dead, 2014, acrylic on paper, 15 x 11"

Ty Ennis: The advantage of the black and white acrylic was that I was able to work more loosely and I didn’t have to make color choices. With a small child and next to no studio time, I couldn’t rationalize spending hours simply deciding what colors I might use for a composition. I had also decided I was going to get back to basics with this work. I mean, High School basics, when painting was simple and free and fun and all the supplies were supplied by the school. I took it back even further and limited myself to just black and white. It was liberating. I was finding myself at work looking at the clock just dying for it to be time to clock out so I could get home and paint. I don’t remember that ever being the case with my studio practice. Art has always been a difficult endeavor for me. A real struggle. The style and medium choices allowed me to get more work out quicker, and I had agreed with myself to not be fussy but to just be myself, and if the piece I made on any given studio day was a keeper, but had some faults, we’d look at it later on and see if it was still needing adjustments. Almost every piece was set aside and in the end, I had grown to love each and everyone of them just as they were. This was a truly magical studio experience for me. Like I said, liberating.

GLL: What was the first painting you made for this series? 

TE: The first painting I produced for this show was a portrait of Ken Griffey Jr. It did not make the show, but served as my studio mascot.

The Kid , 2015, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8"

The Kid, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8"

GLL: I find something deceptively effortless (and I mean this in a positive way) about the work, a looseness, a sense of freedom. But when you really examine closely, you can feel how thoughtful and well-crafted they are. For example, the heron in The Clairvoyant. It’s composed of loose brush strokes but it’s so well-rendered and captures the serene and quiet beauty of the bird. Or, the cleverly obscured rabbit holding a tray in Zip's Drive In. What's your process like? Do you make sketches, and plans for each painting or is it more spontaneous?

The Clairvoyant (Blue Heron) , 2016 , acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12”

The Clairvoyant (Blue Heron), 2016 , acrylic on canvas, 16 x 12”

TE: I never do sketches and I don’t say that in a “I don’t need to” sort of way. I often find that if I sketch something out, I have difficulty in reproducing it and get all caught up in loving the sketch more than the piece itself. So, I avoid it completely. The heron came easy, the rabbit was the result of absolute frustration. So, I guess I approach each canvas with my fingers crossed.

Zip's Drive In , 2016, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8"

Zip's Drive In, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8"

GLL: Does your printmaking background inform your painting practice? Do you think there’s a relationship between the two or do you see them as completely different methods? (also interesting that you painted a version of the Goya print)

Goya,  Capricho No. 4: El de la rollona (Nanny's Boy) , 1799, etching, aquatint, drypoint

Goya, Capricho No. 4: El de la rollona (Nanny's Boy), 1799, etching, aquatint, drypoint

TE: Printmaking absolutely informs my work and even though I haven't set foot in a print studio in more than a decade, most of what I know about art I learned from printmakers: Tom Prochaska, Yoshi Kitai, Jayson Wynkoop, and Emily Ginsberg. 
I work in layers like a screen printer and from light to dark like an etcher. In the past when working on paper, it has been difficult, with ink, to go back in and rework things, pen or brush moves are much more deliberate. With acrylic on canvas, I feel I have unlimited moves. A painting is never ruined and prints so easily are. You go back into a drawing or print and paint something out and you just highlight your imperfections. Some of these paintings in this show are paintings on top of paintings. Hell, Iggy Papa is a painting on top of a painting on top of a painting on top of a painting. And yes, I love that Goya print so much! It’s an example of a perfect piece of art in my opinion. It resonates with me deeply and on many levels and since the first time I saw it back in a history of printmaking class I took with Morgan Walker at the Gilkey Center at PAM fifteen years ago, the image has just been clawing at me. I finally let him/her out. There are a few “covers” in this show. El de la rollona is one of them.

El de la rollona (Mama’s Boy // After Goya),  2016, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8"

El de la rollona (Mama’s Boy // After Goya), 2016, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8"

GLL: Can you talk more about your process for deciding on specific imagery for this series? We’ve got the gingerbread man, Sam Sheepdog, Iggy Pop, and so forth. Do they represent important influences on your life? Do you see them as symbols or relics from your past?

TE: I said earlier that I don’t do sketches. Instead, I take a lot of notes, I write things down on post-its and type ideas into my phone. With that information, I start to see patterns and recognize reoccurrences. From there the information starts to grow and become more concrete in my mind and I start to visualize how things “might” look. It all starts to act as a daisy chain, where the images/ideas begin to play off of one another and start the process of becoming one unified composition/show. There is always a common thread. With that being said—and hopefully not further confusing the matter—the characters I chose to present are all characters I have a deep connection to. They could have all be titled as Self Portraits really. I did a series of gingerbread man drawings a few years back for a project with Matthew Kyba.

Untitled , 2014, graphite and ink on paper, 7 x 5"

Untitled, 2014, graphite and ink on paper, 7 x 5"

They really did feel like self portraits at the time, so naive, dumb, waving, and vulnerable. I was feeling really bad about myself at that time and this little figurine May had bought me was really mirroring my emotions. Sam Sheepdog is an old Looney Tunes character that clocks-in each day to go head-to-head with Ralph Wolf, who is essentially Wile E. Coyote. They greet each other in the morning... ”Mornin’ Sam” “Mornin’ Ralph”... and then put on their daily performance, Sam continually catching and punishing Ralph, in his attempts to get the sheep Sam protects. At the end of the day, they clock out and a new dog and a new coyote relieve them. I was thinking a lot about work here and the way in which I show up every morning as my “work-self” and put on a performance of sorts. I play a dumbed-down version of myself day-in and day-out, so I can come home to my family and my studio where I can actually be my true self again.

Clocked In (Sam Sheepdog) , 2016, acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11"

Clocked In (Sam Sheepdog), 2016, acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11"

GLL: This new series also has many obscured faces (Iggy Papa, La Buffoon, Cowboy Shadows, El de la rollona, Clocked In (Sam Sheepdog), etc). Your subjects almost become more mysterious, and perhaps less specific because of this. Can you talk about your thinking behind the faces in the show?

TE: Once again I’ll refer to the Ken Griffey Jr. piece that is not in the show. In the very early stages of this body of work, I was working on drawing Ken Griffey Jr.’s Upper Deck rookie card from memory. An exercise to simply get me back into practice, I drew a handful of them in ink on paper and then decided that I liked the image so much I should paint a final version on canvas. I did this portrait in black and white and then hung it on the wall of my studio. I had put so much time and energy into this one piece that I kind of returned to point A and really had no idea what direction the work might go. Portraits of childhood heroes or portraits of present day heroes? I did a large colorful portrait of Charlie Parker on paper and another portrait of Griffey playing in the field and again, was right back to point A. I was listening to Lou Reed’s The Bells a lot in the studio at this point and decided that I was going to do a portrait of Lou Reed from that record’s cover, straight up in black and white just like the Griffey one. I hung it on the wall next to the Griffey painting and I had my first two paintings. Only problem being, they had NO soul. I kept coming back, seeing these paintings and just kind of dying of boredom. I took the Lou Reed painting and masked his face behind fishnet. I kind of liked it. I kind of hated it. I got frustrated and just ruined it. I blacked it out. I thought back to my last show, JKJKJK, and remembered the crude figures from that show and some of the textures I was getting from working loosely, and a light bulb went off. I remembered how much I loved working on them as well and decided that was the direction I was going to take with this work. 

Man with Monkey  (L) &  Spanker  (R) from   JKJKJK  , 2012

Man with Monkey (L) & Spanker (R) from JKJKJK, 2012

I painted Lou Reed’s face in this fashion and he was no longer Lou Reed, he was a reflection of my own frustrated self and the painting now had enormous weight and things came very freely. The plan became to be myself. I’m not a portrait painter. I’m not an illustrator. I’m a painter. With this show especially, I wanted to be a painter. I took the Griffey piece down from the wall and extracted a whole tube of violet paint across his eyes, the eyes that I had just spent hours getting perfect. And somehow, it brought the dead painting to life. For me, at least.

La Buffoon , 2016, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8"

La Buffoon, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 10 x 8"

GLL: You often draw imagery from your childhood growing up in Spokane, WA. How has it influenced this series? 

TE: Spokane is a merit badge I wear. The heron, the cowboy, the buck skinner, the fast food rabbit, they are all icons from my own personal experience. My own upbringing. In talking about Sam Sheepdog and my day job where I put on this act of portraying my work-self, what comes with that is also this realization while working with large groups of people that I don’t have many common interests with my co-workers, we don’t recall the same things from our youth from living on the same earth for roughly the same amount of years. I’ve seen so many instances where two, three, four, five people just mesh. You set them at a table and they have these long conversations where their recollections from childhood are almost synchronized. I’ve come to realize that with my co-workers I like some of the same music, but I can never remember the movies from the 80’s and 90’s that are quoted, I can’t join in on the Star Wars conversations that happen, far too often by the way, and I can’t relate with most people’s travel stories. My childhood was spent in Spokane and inside my own head, daydreaming, wandering. I had interests of course, I skateboarded and played baseball and ice hockey, I read, listened to music, I watched movies, but I didn’t retain much from any of these things. I could write a novel about listening to Pearl Jam Ten in sixth grade or Wu-Tang in the eighth and all of the places in which I listened to them, but I can’t recite more than three or four lines from either, and I listened to them a lot. A lot. And Wu-Tang I still do. Same goes for Elliott Smith and his albums later on into college. From all of these experiences, what I have retained are the experiences themselves. Little vignettes where the music served as a soundtrack. That doesn’t translate into a universal conversation that you can bring to a table, it’s way too personal. This has isolated me. It has made me unique, I suppose, but ultimately, lonely. Spokane was my WORLD. I can’t help but return to it when I sit down and try to process things or express myself. It’s the stage everything played out on for me. I know myself. I know Spokane. I don’t know much else. I think a person’s place of upbringing is monumentally important. I recently read that Ingmar Bergman once stated that regardless of where he was born and raised he would still be the Ingmar Bergman we know. That’s bullshit.

GLL: Much of this work and your past work, is deeply personal and seems to grapple with ideas and perhaps misconceptions on what it means to be a MAN. How does masculinity and the struggle for finding that identity play into this work?

TE: It’s a tough subject for me to talk about. That’s probably why it comes up in my work so often. My work is where my most intimate and personal conversations take place and they’re still encrypted. I’m 35 years old and I’m still learning how to speak. I read a lot, I surround myself with our language, I try to immerse myself in it so that I can express myself clearly and eloquently. I want to SPEAK. But, I just trip on my tongue. I think I grew up with a learning disability that I was completely unaware of. I don’t have a clear and tight grasp on things. So much of being a MAN is being able to communicate clearly, stand up for yourself, set good examples, and be strong in the process. To inspire. Then there’s this other aspect where you have to be physically strong and good with your hands and not make mistakes. You have to be witty and on point. A good MAN can’t ask questions. He has to know the answers. He’s gotta be in tune with nature and know how to tie all of the knots. Set up a camp. Dig himself out of snowdrift. Swim himself to safety. He has to be good with power tools and automotive shit. He has to protect himself and his family and not show sweat. He’s gotta be prepared for the big one. He has to fend off intruders. The list goes on and on and on. And each of these things has to be handled with the utmost confidence. My understanding, is that in our society, if you’re not into certain things and don’t know certain things, then you’re not a man, and I’m left feeling unmanly all of the time. My masculinity is challenged daily. I’m still getting bullied at 35 on a regular basis. My work is from the perspective of the flashlight holder.

GLL: I think that comes through because along with that idea of masculinity there is also a softness, a tenderness and even a sense of humor to this series that seems to counter that need to be a “tough guy.” It also feels personal and universal at the same time.

TE: We need to laugh more. We need to laugh at the “tough guy” more. Fuck the tough guys. It has gone too far, they’ve had their turn. My daughter lately has been telling me, “Be happy, Papa!” I have no idea where she got this, but seriously, happiness needs to be the universal theme. It’s got to be. 

GLL: There are big vinyl letters on the wall that say your name and then “Stupid Man” below. Can you talk about the title Stupid Man? Is it meant to be self-deprecating?

TE: Yes and no. I have low self esteem, I’m insecure, I suffer from social anxiety, I grew up wetting my bed and sucking my thumb. I was called a pussy and a fag a lot as a child and even when I first moved here to Portland in ’99 I had people yell, “fags” at my roommate and I from their car window as we walked down the street. I’ve never felt masculine or manly in the slightest. I have always been afraid of men and feel that my work comes from my feminine side. I guess none of this has to do with being “stupid,” but it has to do with being misunderstood and judged. I mentioned earlier that I often trip over my tongue. I am not comfortable with the words that come out of my mouth a lot of times. I feel I poorly represent myself with my speech. I don’t have a large vocabulary and my dictionary app is my best friend. You would be surprised by some of the words I’ve looked up over the last six months. I know that I am not, but I often feel stupid. My geography, world history, and politics are bad, I am working on these things now at 35, because none of it stuck in my teens. I feel behind. In addition to all of this, my heroes are intellectual, activist types. The ones that stand up for themselves, liberate themselves. Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, who both appear in this show for example. They embrace their femininity and give the middle finger to the Man’s man. Last summer, when I had finally figured out where this show was going and what themes I was working with, when I was actually able to envision how this work might appear, May and I were at our friends’ house for dinner and The Bells came on. It begins with the track Stupid Man. A beautiful song about a deadbeat dad that only Lou Reed could write. I remember as it came on telling May that my show was going to be titled Stupid Man, and we just laughed.

GLL: You showed two studies or “failed” paintings during our group studies show in February. One was of a woman (though the canvas was sliced down the middle) in a long dress and heels. After thinking about that piece I realized that there are no images of women in the final show. Was that a conscious decision to remove the female subjects to focus on notions of masculinity?

Study for Woman with Black Gloves , 2015, acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11"

Study for Woman with Black Gloves, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11"

TE: You know, the figures in this show with their distorted faces and sexually cross-dressed attire are for the most part sexless. Only the buck skinner is a man, and that piece is from the perspective of the deer really, or the sickened child as the man’s spectator. In Cowboy Shadows, the real protagonist is the shadow. Those paintings are apologies of sorts to my father. And in other ways to my girlfriend and our daughter. I’m sorry I can’t be the Man that they might sometimes call upon. I’m sorry I was never able to impress my father or get his attention and that, as a result, that relationship fell flat. That my daughter has no grandfather as a consequence. It’s okay though, I’ve learned to live with it. Those conversations with her are going to be very difficult though. The figures in this show, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, they seem to have similar takes as mine on the subject of masculinity and I don’t think they would take any offense as being seen as women. There are no MEN in this show.

Mick Rock,  Bowie, Iggy and Lou, Dorchester Hotel , 1972

Mick Rock, Bowie, Iggy and Lou, Dorchester Hotel, 1972


We recently caught up with Delaney Allen to discuss his current show A R T I F A C T  now on view at Nationale through May 9, 2016. 

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: Your current series A R T I F A C T takes on many themes and subjects, from costumed self-portraits to dramatic landscapes. Although we’ve seen these elements before in your earlier projects, there seems to be a deliberate move towards artifice and manipulation—digital collage, use of a green screen—within these images. Is digital alteration important to the series and to the overarching narrative?

Delaney Allen, Figure 1.14 (Self Portrait), 2016

Delaney Allen: Upon first examination, the intention is for one to enter into this world with a sense of mystery or bewilderment. Acting as a larger, overarching theme, the creation of something unknown, yet familiar, exists throughout A R T I F A C T. Manipulation is present but is a lesser, casual theme.

Speaking more towards manipulation, those devices were tools that I used like the application of camera itself. Utilizing those elements granted me the means to further the series in the way in which I am accustomed to working—individually without assistants (on location or in the studio). It also allowed the installation of new characters into the body of work, dissuading possible repetitiveness from reoccurring throughout. Those small facial glimpses were important, but the factors into their creation were less so. Once that revelation of digital manipulation is known concerning the creation of some imagery, the viewer can change their approach to the series. Eventually, that investigation and process came more as a means to problem solving and expansion than anything else.

GLL: Art historical references come across in the series—images referencing Dutch still life, Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism, among other influences. How do you see this work in relation to these movements of the past? 

DA: I referenced those movements as I began to frame the series. They were specifically key in building the still life imagery. When still life painting began, as in the early Dutch paintings, it started with flowers or kitchen items laid out on the table. At that point, they were referred to as fruit or flower pieces. With that, it became vital to adopt the idea into A R T I F A C T to lay the groundwork for building the fictional history. 

Figure 3.2Figure 3.3, and Figure 3.8 were direct responses to that early investigation. But with those familiar elements in place, I looked to move beyond a direct acknowledgment, feeling a need to blur the lines of art history. Figures 3.2 and 3.3, at least to me, show tendencies towards Cubism specifically.

Delaney Allen, Figure 3.2 (Still Life), 2016
Delaney Allen, Figure 3.3 (Still Life), 2016

Pablo Picasso’s still life, Mandolin and Guitar became a prominent fixture of reference when I began to dissect the images and build them back up again in the frame. Looking at Mandolin and Guitar, one can identify the similarities within my still lifes as I attempted to flatten and distance portions of the images. The same can be found in Figure 3.8 and its association with paintings like Georges Braque’s The Studio (Vase before a Window).

Pablo Picasso, Mandolin and Guitar, 1924

Georges Braque, The Studio (Vase before a Window)1939

Using mundane objects found within the studio, Figure 3.8 emulates the Cubist manner of breaking up and flattening of the image through color and line.

Delaney Allen, Figure 3.8 (Still Life), 2016

At the same time, those photographs, as well as others throughout the series, pull from the “New Formalism” movement occurring in photography at the moment. Artists such as Lucas Blalock and Daniel Gordon became aides when needing to look away from what one might consider straight photography. Although most New Formalism photographers give away their hand at play, I collected the ideas that their work is based on and implemented those in a less detectable way. While their photographs typically display the use of digital editing, I tried to minimize the moments in which I gave details away using similar processes.

Lucas Blalock, Strawberries (Fresh Forever), 2014

GLL: In many of your studio self-portraits, which are often filled with layered and textured fabrics, you allow us to see the materials used to create the work—tape, unprinted edges of fabric, the studio wall, your foot peeking out beneath fabric, and so forth. These moments take us out of the fantasy and expose the process. Why do you choose to include these elements? 

DA: With the studio portraits, I implemented certain elements and techniques when producing the work. Those components range from the flattening of the subject into sections of the background, veiling or masking occurring that mimicked some of the more abstracted landscape photography in the series, digital manipulation and smaller moments exposing the process like you mentioned. With the disclosure of those smaller moments specifically, my intention was to show the artist's hand in a way that would possibly direct the audience, at times, to questioning what they are seeing.

Beginning with the title of the work—A R T I F A C T—my objective was to build this fictitious community and history. But playing off the ideas of fact versus fiction, and even more pointedly, the belief in the history of photography that what we view is truth, I aimed for entry points that could allow for a sense of confusion or questioning that authenticity. We’re naturally taught to believe what is placed in front of us is truth. Knowing this, I purposefully designed and executed small giveaways hidden throughout the series that could discount that idea.

Delaney Allen, Figure 1.10 (Self Portrait), 2016

Expanding beyond the self portraits, these elements develop throughout the body of work. Still life images mixed physical and digital manipulation. Photographs would be dissected, at times applying new affects through rephotographing the imagery before doing any digital manipulation. Figure 3.4 exists completely as a level of manipulation to Figure 3.3

Delaney Allen, Figure 3.4 (Still Life), 2016
Delaney Allen, Figure 3.3 (Still Life), 2016

The image is solely a layer built in Photoshop that was applied to the still life. With its inclusion, it references that artist's hand previously mentioned. Landscape images contain these components as well. Paint applied in post-work allowed me, as the artist, to further control the environment that I built, as well as giving clues into the unnatural world that was assembled. Ultimately, what is displayed as fact will contain an either sizable or minuscule fiction.

GLL: Self-portraiture has long been a strong theme in your work. You’ve done so much to hide yourself, from covering your face in fabric, to now, in this current series, actually superimposing another face on your body. I can really feel the tension between presence and erasure of the artist within A R T I F A C T. What are your thoughts on the importance of self-portraiture within your practice? 

Delaney Allen, Self Portrait No. 1, 2011

Delaney Allen, Figure 1.6 (Self Portrait), 2016

DA: The importance of self-portraiture is huge in my approach to making. Dating back to when I was introduced to French auteur theory as an undergraduate studying film, I found issues with the amount of authority and collaboration in film and who, ultimately, could control aspects of the final product. I slowly began the shift away from filmmaking and towards photography, eventually settling on the mindset that self-portraiture, to me, is a truer form of individual art-making.

Who ultimately owns a photograph in regard to its finalized outcome? When considering portrait photography, does the truth lie on the sitter or the photographer, or does a combination lead to a partnership? Questioning these involvements within photography has been the root of how I fashion my practice, specifically in my handling of portraiture. With A R T I F A C T, the management of the sitter/photographer issue led the work to a slight blurring of lines when incorporating new approaches and techniques. Spending months scouring various fashion magazines, I amassed dozens of assorted aspects of the human body with the idea of assimilating them into the series. Ultimately building this fantasy-driven community from scratch using my frame as a template. With this unique approach, I retained control of the figure while allowing the slight, unveiled components to build individual portraits for the series.

As mentioned, with the presence and erasure of the artist, the concept of blending found imagery with self-portraiture granted the series the illusion of a society built out of the artist. If I explicitly used myself, my facial features in each portrait, A R T I F A C T would have suffered a limited narrative, failing to root the viewer in the environment. Purposely masking figures, incorporating others faces and collaging of images, allowed for a development within my particular history of self-portraiture.

GLL: Along with self-portraiture, the natural world is a consistent subject as well. At times they act as contrasting elements, and in other images they meet (specifically in Figure 1.1Figure 1.3Figure 1.14). What are your thoughts on how these different subjects coalesce in one body of work? 

DA: It was predetermined while scouting and shooting to pursue and demonstrate, through scenery, the themes constructed around the series. The inclusion of the abstracted photographs mimic the shrouding apparent within the portrait work. Shot in Oregon, California, and Texas, images such as Figure 2.6 contribute to the collapsed frame, allowing for a disorientation apparent in the work. Although working in a more straight photography means, A R T I F A C T ’s abstracted landscapes place the viewer into the unfamiliar with slight, albeit abstruse, glimpses into the perceived world.

To a lesser degree, the series further recognizes the imaginative world through Figure 2.3 and Figure 2.11. The inclusion of these two images deliberately presents a broader look into nature, fighting against the disorientation of the other images and giving pause within the work. Each image, photographed in Utah and Wyoming, were investigated for their unworldly look, and ultimately implemented into the creation showcasing a more vast look into the perceived world.

Delaney Allen, Figure 2.3 (Documentation of Landscape), 2016

Actualizing the addition of self-portraiture into natural scenes acted as the biggest strengthening for the series as the editing process began. These images, like you mention with Figure 1.1, 1.3, and 1.14, were thought to be the foundation of the work when I began the series. This endeavor was crucial to the development of a conceivable world connecting and uniting the images as a whole. Necessary to the evolution of building a history, these photographs were first generated as varying landscape imagery sans figures. Shot at dusk or night while traveling throughout the deserts of the Western US, experimentation with flash photography’s effects within the frame, led to the materialization of the final images. After collecting photographs shot in nature during various trips, I moved into the studio to photograph each figure that would ultimately resolve my initial vision. The incorporation of each figure into the selected backgrounds supplemented the series, securing constructed, snapshot-like photographs lending plausibility to the group of people.

Delaney Allen, Figure 1.3 (Self Portrait), 2016

GLL: We’ve seen the inclusion of sculptural elements in this show and Getting Lost in 2014. What was the initial impetus for going this direction? Do you have plans to go even further towards installation-based work?  

Delaney Allen, Figure 4.3, 2016

DA: That specific direction was a challenge I set for myself at the start of the new work. From my first series in 2010, until now with A R T I F A C T, I’ve tried to include a minor twist in my approach, creation, and completion of each body of work. I wanted to add to my toolbox as an artist with the inclusion of sculptural and painting elements. I needed that test to decipher something different.

At times, it feels artists can become stagnant in their growth as makers. We make a new series, some success or recognition comes, and we either feel comfortable with reapplying that approach, or are fearful to probe and develop beyond that. I assess each new series with a mindset that the application of an unexpected element, can and should arise, confronting the artist as well as the audience. With A R T I F A C T specifically, it moves beyond just the sculptures and paintings to include the understanding of digital editing, and ultimately an understanding of myself. Can I make these images I’m seeing in my head a reality with the incorporation of editing techniques I’ve never tried? Am I comfortable wandering into the woods alone at night for a photograph? Will waiting until the sun sets in the middle of the desert enable me to get the picture I’m envisioning even though I’ll be hiking back to the car in the dark? The entirety of these elements led me, I feel, to making the most challenging work I have to this point in my career. With that being said, I would expect for each subsequent body of work to examine these issues again. At the moment, I can’t see having a straight sculpture-based show in the future (but don’t hold me to that).

Delaney Allen, Figure 1.5 (Self Portrait), 2016
Delaney Allen, Figure 3.7 (Still Life), 2016
Delaney Allen, Figure 2.1 (Documentation of Landscape), 2016


Past Nationale reader, Merchant-in-Residence, and beloved Portland author, Jon Raymond is releasing THE COMMUNITY: Writings About Art In and Around Portland 1997-2016 tonight at Publication Studio. This is a project dear to our hearts as I had a couple great conversations with Jon this past fall about him getting started on this monumental task and Gabi ended up helping him assemble the project. If you've read any of her fantastic artists interviews, you probably want her to write a book of her own next!


We recently caught up with Seattle-based artist, JD Banke about his current show at Nationale, THE MEANING OF LIFE IS LIVING

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: THE MEANING OF LIFE IS LIVING, the title of your current show at Nationale, is a bold and seemingly simple affirmation that can be so difficult to heed in our daily lives. Can you talk a bit about what it means to you in relation to the work on view?

JD Banke: It's a play on words in regards to one of the still lifes in the show and the tradition of vanitas painting. I was imagining some Dutch master in some long ago time laboring for years on a masterpiece painting of fruit and a skull, and I thought it was funny that somebody would spend so much of their life making a painting about death. I try not to take art making so seriously and I thought the title should mirror the attitude of the paintings.

Feast for the Eyes #1 , 2015, acrylic on wood, 22 x 14”

Feast for the Eyes #1, 2015, acrylic on wood, 22 x 14”

GLL: Your paintings remind us of how prevalent symbols are in our world, and how easily a simple sign can create a specific meaning. There are overt ones in your work like: logos, four leaf clover, playing cards, magic eight ball, and so forth. The symbols you use are often times also cliches or characters: Bart Simpson, Santa Claus, an abstract painting, or a human skull. There’s humor within your work partially because you use these familiar signs and mixing of “high” and “low” cultural references. Can you tell us about your interest in signs and symbols and how you view them within your work?

Feast for the Eyes #2 , 2013, acrylic on wood, 38 x 48”

Feast for the Eyes #2, 2013, acrylic on wood, 38 x 48”

JDB: I'm interested in visual trends and what is cool on the Internet. I used to find joy in being a person who was using unique symbols; I found a small sense of individuality or something I could say was uniquely me. Then I came across work online that was doing similar things, and I lost that sense. I was oddly upset for awhile. I find myself thinking about originality and how it’s perceived and decided that I don't want to be original. I want to use cliche symbols and tropes to express my thoughts. 

If I like a symbol visually, and can use its meaning in an odd way, I'll use it. I like the idea of having a weird visual alphabet to create with. Recently, I started including my own work into the symbol catalogue. In the Romeo and Juliet diptych they both have the word "yeah" painted on them with the colors inverted. Yeah was a painting I made in 2012, and it seemed appropriate for Romeo and Juliet to be saying that, so it’s in there. 

Romeo , 2015, acrylic on wood, 16.75 x 14” &  Juliet , 2015, acrylic on wood, 16.75 x 14” (right)

Romeo, 2015, acrylic on wood, 16.75 x 14” & Juliet, 2015, acrylic on wood, 16.75 x 14” (right)

GLL: Speaking of text, I'm interested in your practice of painting text and then redacting the words, so only fragments or the shadow of what was there remains. What does this act of erasure mean to you?

JDB: For me redacting the text can mean one of two things, or both: compositionally, if the text wasn't working and needed some blocking out of the letters to look right, I'll cross stuff out and write it again. Or, I most likely spelled something wrong and Googled the word then wrote it in correctly. 

I started having ideas about writing and so I started writing down those words, and that eventually turned into poetry. I like that slow cumulative process. If I don't feel like painting, it's nice to have another medium to play with. Sometimes the writing and painting overlap and it just clicks.

GLL: Although this work is clearly influenced by the still life tradition, they also have a very object-like presence, partly because they are panels that protrude five inches from the wall, and also due to your thick application of paint. This is in contrast to the traditional still life or vanitas painting which was intended to be a “window onto the world” rather than an object itself. Is there a conscious intent to subvert boundaries between mediums by creating "sculptural" paintings?

JDB: Yes, the thickness of the panel is intended to be a subversion and blur the line between painting and sculpture. I construct my own panels, and this gives the freedom to play with space the same way a sculptor or installation artist would, but it's still painting. It's fun. This show at Nationale is the first one where none of the paintings have been on the floor.

Sure , 2015, acrylic on wood, 12 x 8” &  Untitled , 2015, acrylic on wood, 19.5 x 14”

Sure, 2015, acrylic on wood, 12 x 8” & Untitled, 2015, acrylic on wood, 19.5 x 14”

GLL: You mentioned in the past that your paintings are partly about the obligation you have to being a part of the (art) world that you’ve chosen to participate in. Can you tell us more about what you mean by “obligation” and how it informs your practice?  

JDB: I feel more obligated to be aware of the art world rather than to be an active participant in it. I make references to it often, and without my awareness of it my work doesn't have as much of a context. But I like the idea of making fun of the art world because so much of it feels like a dog and pony show soap opera, which I kind of love. I see it as this weird fantasy world that I could be a part of some day if I make good paintings.

GLL: Nationale currently has your painting, Dog  Stroller in the backroom gallery from your series “Chairman of the Bored.” The series features a hooded, slightly mysterious character in a camo jacket shown in various public settings: park, shopping mall, museum, and so forth. As with all of your work, it seems to represent a revolt against our homogeneous, capitalist world. Who is this character you’ve created and what is he here to tell us?

Dog Stroller , 2015, acrylic on wood, 15 x 12"

Dog Stroller, 2015, acrylic on wood, 15 x 12"

JDB: The camo guy is this weird manifestation of myself. He does things that I have done, will do or have dreamed of doing. He's trying to tell people to get a grip and chill way out. 

JD Banke:  THE MEANING OF LIFE IS LIVING  on view at Nationale through December 31, 2015

JD Banke: THE MEANING OF LIFE IS LIVING on view at Nationale through December 31, 2015


Amy Bernstein and Patrick Kelly reflect on their work and current exhibition, The Liminalists, now on view at Nationale through December 4.

Amy Bernstein & Patrick Kelly at the Disjecta Art Auction in front of Jeffrey Kriksciun's textile // photo by Katie Bernstein

Amy Bernstein & Patrick Kelly at the Disjecta Art Auction in front of Jeffrey Kriksciun's textile // photo by Katie Bernstein

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: I wanted to first get a little background on how you two know each other if you had ever thought of combining your work in this way?

Patrick Kelly: We met working at Stumptown, but we never really worked together here in Portland. I remember hearing that Amy was an artist, and I don’t even know if I had seen any of your work. I feel like I had, but I just remember various times we’d meet up at other events and have small conversations. I remember that when I started making these kind of works, Amy was one of the people I tracked down to see them, she and a couple of other people. I saw these particular individuals almost as points of validation: like, if these people approve, then I’ll keep pushing this. I don’t know if I really ever thought before about putting our work together.

Amy Bernstein: I don’t think we ever thought about working together, but the coolest result of this exhibit has been all of our conversations about how and why our work does work together. Just getting to work with Patrick has been such an honor for me; we’ve been colleagues and friends for such a long time. Most of our conversations before were sort of casual shoptalk, just shooting the shit, you know “what’ve you got going on? What are you thinking about?” Pretty classic stuff but not exactly “let’s collaborate” or “let’s see what from having our works exist in the same space.”

GLL: You did studio visits?

PK: Yeah, leading up to the show. It was funny; she and I had been sort of working respectively, for quite a while, developing these bodies of work. In a way these conversations we were having, it felt like they should have already happened, or had been waiting to happen for a long time, and this show finally realized them. Sometimes it feels like you need something to bring those conversations to light.

Amy Bernstein & Patrick Kelly: The Liminalists at Nationale

Amy Bernstein & Patrick Kelly: The Liminalists at Nationale

GLL: That leads to another question: you both have these distinct bodies of work, how did they develop?

PK: Many years ago when I started working on these drawings, the initial starting point was a point of frustration, of trying to build and design these horrible sculptures that just didn’t work. I was trying to force and mash these disparate materials together.

GLL: What were they made out of?

PK: A lot of it was black plastic, rope, and earth. It was that of creating a movement or traction of earth, of earth being pushed around. It was a horrible process. When I tried to redesign them, I started drawing them with pencil to plan out what was going to happen. Then I realized I was getting a lot more of a response, actually physically drawing these ideas—capturing movement with a pencil.

GLL: And when did you start using the template, or what do you call it?

PK: It’s been called a template, a jig, a guide, so many different things, which is really funny. I’ve never really given it a name. It’s not necessarily a very precious thing, so I never really thought of it as having a name. They are shapes that have been designed from quick gestural sketches and then cut out from foam core. The contour of the shapes are then traced repeatedly with pencil as I shift and rotate it minutely across a page.

GLL: But each piece uses a different one?

PK: Oh yea, definitely, and there are multiple ones in each piece.

AB: I think that the similarities of the way in which our work developed, which is maybe always the way it is when you are making work for a long time, is coming to a point when you realize that the process itself is problematic. I used to work on pieces for such long periods of time that they would become buried under other pieces. The work couldn’t be what it wanted to be. I think about language a lot, and writing, and the language of painting. I think about the visual language and trying to make your own. Making a language can take a very long time. It isn’t this way for everyone. But for me, I was putting it all in the same place rather than letting the words, or the symbols stand by themselves, so all this white space started to creep in so that these kind of quantifiers could have a space to exist. They needed it, and they responded to it, and then they could talk to each other in this space, so that’s how these kind of works developed. I think that oil paint can do anything, it’s such an amazing recorder of time, or of a moment. And for the surface to be incredibly smooth, it becomes an even better recorder.

Amy Bernstein,  Vowel Sounds , 2015, oil on canvas, 28 x 26”

Amy Bernstein, Vowel Sounds, 2015, oil on canvas, 28 x 26”

GLL: You both talk about time, and there is something very time based about both bodies of work. There’s a feeling of accumulation and process but in different ways.

PK: Yes, even when I was initially beginning these pieces, the idea of how much time you’d dedicate to something cropped up; at that point, I felt it was really a problem for me because I felt like I didn’t have an understanding of what that would mean. When I started making these works, that was a part of the challenge because they are so time consuming: how much time could I devote to this? This was not just physical time but also a certain mental space. How much could I devote of myself to make this work? I really wanted to push myself to keep testing that idea.

GLL: This brings me to a question about the title of the show and the idea of the Liminalists as a reference to the creative process. It makes me think of the ongoing debate about when and where creative impulses happen. One camp argues that it’s about time dedication and hard work, while the other side says it’s more mysterious than that and that it often comes from outside of the self. Thinking about the Liminalists and your studio practices, how do you feel about those two philosophies?

PK: I think we both might be from the camp of work and dedication (laughs).

AB: I think it’s both. You need the time to spend sitting and thinking, to get to the place in your brain where these things live, where the need is to make them. And you need this in tandem with the actual hands-on making.

PK: I also think it is a little of both, and it’s ambiguous to say which one weighs more. Sometimes the physical work isn’t happening yet, because you are still looking for inspiration, but once you find it, the mind quiets down and you can really devote a lot of time to that work, to the physical craft. But yea, I think it does sort of exist in this ambiguous state and when you are an artist, you can’t really define when one stops and when one begins.

AB: I can’t get there only in my mind, as much as I would like to, as much as I’ve tried. I’d love to get there in my mind and see a piece and just make it, but it never works that way for me. I have to make something and there’s going to be all these other things that happen in the making of the thing that I can’t control. It’s taken my whole life to let go of wanting that control.

In terms of the title itself of the show, I think that part of it is a play on words, in referencing art history and the Minimalists. But the idea of liminality itself has to do with the place between language and thought. That impetus is also where making comes from, and so I think that’s what we were thinking about a lot.

PK: A lot of conversations were that of, if you strip away language, what is it that you are still communicating? You are kind of lost in that. Each time we venture into a new piece, we are at that beginning state.

Patrick Kelly,  Carbon trace 24 , 2015, graphite on paper, 42 x 30”, Private Collection   

Patrick Kelly, Carbon trace 24, 2015, graphite on paper, 42 x 30”, Private Collection


GLL: Have you always both worked in abstraction, or is that something you came to later?

PK: No, further back in my life I was a very representational painter, highly realistic, lots of detail. I would say this sort of abstraction is a recent thing in the span of my life. But it’s interesting; this is one of those bodies work that developed outside of the way you have been trained. Like, ok you’ve gone through all this school and finished graduate school and struggled for several years, not knowing what to make because you are finally removed from the community from where I started. It became a body of work that really came from myself, from myself searching. It was void of influence, or at least of a direct influence of an immediate community.

AB: I was a figurative painter when I started school. but at the same time, I always think that all painting is the same.

PK: Well, it really is. I would agree with that, it really is all the same.

GLL: How do you see that?

PK: Well, the materials are the same—it’s still paint. I think that the painterly strokes that Amy works with and communicates with are the same things you would use to communicate the idea of a rendered space or a three dimensional form. Which is funny because in those arenas it’s almost like a visual trick. You can look at a painting of a landscape, for example, and think to yourself: oh that tree looks like a three dimensional form, but it doesn’t really have the feeling of a three dimensional form, and the color next to it sets it back in a space that looks three dimensional, but doesn’t necessarily feel like it. It is essentially, an abstracted three dimensional space. It’s all still the same language.

GLL: Yes, but do you think that maybe these abstract works are more open in a sense? In terms of that visual language, you are allowing for more interpretations and those kind things that come along with abstraction versus giving someone a rendered space or form.

AB: I think people rest on the things that they can recognize like a figure or a room, and maybe in this sense, they can become maybe a little less open because they aren’t always looking at the paint as much. And of course, these created spaces are loaded, psychologically and emotionally in all kinds of ways, as in the ways we relate with any depiction of our world: I know what it feels like to hold my body like that, or stand in a room, or lie next to my lover, or see a bowl of fruit lit like that, etc. Or maybe I never saw it before and now you are showing it to me (but this is part of what art does, right?) But honestly, if you think about Vermeer or even Ralph Pugay, a fantastic artist that works here in town, those are psychological spaces that those artists create with figures. The paint is part of it too, but my work is different in that way. But when I think about Frank Auerbach, or Manet, or Alice Neel, all those painters that use this juicy, psychologically charged medium to convey emotion, I think it’s about the way that they use paint more so than...

PK: ...than what they’re rendering.

AB: Yea, and that’s what they are conveying more than anything, and I feel that I’m doing , or trying to do, something more like that.

PK: If you look at the history of painting, it has always been about the application of paint. That’s the thing that set successors apart from the people that came before them. Certainly, certain subject matter has been jarring for what they are, but movements in painting are always based on the application of paint.

Amy Bernstein,  An Intellect’s Love , 2015, Oil on canvas, 20 x 18”, Private Collection // Patrick Kelly,  Untitled , 2015, graphite on paper, 13 x 10”

Amy Bernstein, An Intellect’s Love, 2015, Oil on canvas, 20 x 18”, Private Collection // Patrick Kelly, Untitled, 2015, graphite on paper, 13 x 10”

GLL: Amy, we spoke before about how you often work on the ground to get rid of the hierarchy of shapes and spaces. So, speaking of abstraction, my question is, how is orientation important to you in the final work?

AB: I do work a lot on the ground because I don’t want the work to be affected by gravity. But, I think somehow these works still got a little affected.

PK: What exactly do you mean by being affected by gravity?

AB: Every time I work in a way that I exist in my body, with my feet on the floor and the work on the wall, I eventually start making the world around me. Things start to move to the bottom of the picture plane and all of a sudden, it’s like the real world, and that’s not what I want at all in this work. So, I have to work on the floor because gravity always seeps in. I don’t want to make the physical world in my painting, so I have to work on the floor.

GLL: So, you don’t want that horizon line...

AB: Exactly, well, not really a horizon line, but the way things are weighted, a top and a bottom, a right and wrong, an up and down. Even when I look at the work and make a decision while the work is on the wall, gravity happens again and confounds me. I don’t want my characters to be affected by those rules. Gravity is so inescapable, it turns out!

PK: It probably is like one of the most inescapable things!

AB: But you’d think in my painting it doesn’t have to exist, but it does, it gets in there. I have had people turn my paintings different ways. I think of them as being oriented a certain way, because for me they do something for me that way. I want to not care if it’s oriented in a different way, but I probably do.

PK: Yea, you probably do.

AB: Yea, I do. I read this wonderful idea that I want to take on as my own but I can’t because I’m just not being honest. You know there was that awesome aboriginal show over the summer (No Boundaries: Aboriginal Australian Contemporary Abstract Painting, presented by PICA) and those artists were like, “put this piece on the floor,” because the way that they orient space is just so fantastic, and they don’t cater or work in any of our western pictorial constructs of making a landscape to explain your experience at all, which I thought was the most fantastic thing in the world and which I wanted to do so badly. But honestly, I know someone who owns one of my paintings and has turned it a different way and every time I walk in the room I’m like “ehhh...that’s not right.” But, you put it in the world and it’s not yours anymore.

GLL: And Patrick, with your work you are definitely working on the wall.

PK: I am, yea.

GLL: Physically, it would probably be difficult to work on the floor.

PK: It kind of would be, but honestly when I’m making these too, I am kind of twisting and bending so many different directions. It’s really kind of strange. Sometimes if I find my body in a stressful situation all of a sudden, I’ll switch to the other side and find another position. Once a work is completed, I’ve always enjoyed the fact that there is not one fixed spot in which to view it, for the fact that under certain amounts of natural light affecting it’s constantly changing.

GLL: Which brings us back to the idea of time.

PK: Right.

GLL: But in terms of orientation, you know from the beginning how a piece will be placed on the wall?

PK: Yea, I don’t ever really turn the page when I’m working. I haven’t really gotten to that point because I don’t know the reason why to do that, other than just to do that. Usually, I orient a page and say this is how I’m going to work, in this format. It’s interesting when Amy was talking about trying to rid yourself of gravity, because I’ve really tried to do that as far as keeping these images floating in space to almost feel weightless, outside of the fact that they also feel very heavy, very dense.

GLL: And these newer pieces on black paper, almost feel like a piece of a larger one or a zooming in.

PK: Yes, somewhat, getting a little bit closer in. Maybe a little more terrestrial. The black paper was really started as more of a curious thing of seeing what could happen.

Amy Bernstein,  We’re Creatures of the Wind , 2015, oil on canvas, 20 x 20”, Private Collection //  Patrick Kelly,  Traverse , 2015, graphite on paper, 15 x 11”

Amy Bernstein, We’re Creatures of the Wind, 2015, oil on canvas, 20 x 20”, Private Collection //  Patrick Kelly, Traverse, 2015, graphite on paper, 15 x 11”

GLL: This brings me to a question about Amy’s latest painting, with the black background, what are your thoughts on that newest work?

AB: I think after awhile you work in a certain way for a long time, I think of people like Morandi who painted still lifes his whole life and they are just so sublime, so fantastic, they hold something that is so otherworldly. This time that we are in right now is so fast, which I think is hard sometimes for making art because developing language is a slow, slow thing. I think I had the impulse, I need to not work on this white space because it is limiting me, but then I think about people like Morandi, and the fact that I haven’t even begun to even touch the surface of what could possibly be in this white space, in this sensitive void record, but I wanted to make something that filled the hole—and so I filled white with black.

GLL: Do you think it’s somewhere you’ll keep going?

AB: I don’t know, I’m not really good at knowing. I kept thinking about this the whole time making this work, that I just can’t get there in my mind. I can’t do it in my mind, I have to make the thing. It’s the only way to work toward where it will go, and I’m absolutely positive it’s influenced by all my ideas and thoughts about the world, but I have to make the thing to find out. Other people don’t work that way; they have a complete concept. But I don’t entirely believe that either. I don’t entirely believe in a watertight concept. I don’t think that works.

PK: I don’t know either, it’s hard to judge if that really is happening that way or not for some people.

AB: I have a sneaking suspicion though that with anyone who is making anything, that the transformation something goes through while it’s being made is probably pretty drastic. And then the end product holds so much more than anyone ever intended, especially if it’s a powerful piece of work.

Amy Bernstein,  Untitled , 2015, oil on canvas, 24 x 22", Private Collection

Amy Bernstein, Untitled, 2015, oil on canvas, 24 x 22", Private Collection

GLL: The idea of darkness as a meaningful space, or a political space, has come up in a few of these artist interviews. I started thinking about your work, Patrick, and wondering if you think about darkness, and if so, what does that mean for you?

PK: Now, I don’t really think so much about the idea of darkness. Originally when I was conceptualizing these I was thinking about darkness and the void that exists there. Part of it is that staring into the abyss or staring into shadows of something that is void of light, like light of this physical world. What happens as you start staring into a void is that it becomes a reflection of yourself. You start looking at a picture plane that is not existing here, but feels real and you start creating imagery, creating shapes, you almost start creating light that is going to exist there. I feel that that part, where you get to staring, is actually pretty critical for us as humans, especially for our entire development from where we’ve started from to where we are going. There’s a part of me that feels it’s very necessary to have that, to have that bit of darkness. I think it has to be there.

Patrick Kelly,  Untitled II , 2015, graphite on paper, 24 x 18”

Patrick Kelly, Untitled II, 2015, graphite on paper, 24 x 18”

AB: Which I think also goes back to the title of the show, you know. The liminal space is a dark one.

PK: It is definitely. In a way, those dark spaces are the places where you have to create what exists there because maybe there is nothing there at all, but you can’t tell.

GLL: There are many conversations going on between the two bodies of work, but the one thing that really stands out is the fact that both bodies give us that time and space, and it feels really generous. It’s work that the more time you spend with it, it keeps changing, keeps giving more.

PK: I definitely want people to consider it that way, because it is such a long journey for myself, moving physically from one piece to the next. People can’t be there with me while I’m making the work; they can’t be in that mental space, but hopefully the images encourage an experience that opens them up to these ideas.

AB: That is definitely the goal. As someone who feels that way about the work that I look at, you know, that it’s work I feel like I will look at for my entire life, that would be amazing. That’s like, my life’s goal for my work, what I would want, something someone would want to come back to. That would be amazing.

Post-interview follow-up question with May Barruel (Nationale owner/director)

GLL: How did you arrive at the idea of pairing Amy and Patrick's work?

May Barruel: It was one of those moments when I was laying in bed, either had just woken up or couldn't sleep, and I had a vision of their work being paired together. I've always been drawn to how sparse both of their work is, how minimal and yet intense, and I wanted to put that vision into reality in a gallery setting. As different as Amy's bright colors and Patrick's blacks and greys can be, I had a sense that their work also had a lot in common. I was attracted to both the stark contrast, and the similarities of their work, and wanted to see where that conversation could take us visually.

Once we started planning for the exhibition, I knew it would all come together because of their shared enthusiasm and dedicated studio practice. From the start, I always envisioned that Amy's and Patrick's pieces would be paired together in the gallery, for the public to see that conversation, as opposed to grouping each of their work in two different areas. I couldn't be happier with how the show turned out. It has infused the space with a sense of both calm and euphoria.

That's all for now—thank you Amy, Patrick, & May!

That's all for now—thank you Amy, Patrick, & May!


We continue our artist interview series with represented artist William Matheson, who offers us here insights into his process and thinking behind his current series, Night Was Already in My Hands (on view through October 19).

William in his studio at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA

William in his studio at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: The title for this show is taken from a poem by the Japanese Modernist poet, Sagawa Chika. Can you speak about how the line in the poem came to be the title of the series? How do you feel it informs the work? It's interesting too, recently I was talking with Elizabeth Malaska about her titles, many of which come from poems, and she spoke about how she felt a kinship between poetry and painting; that both mediums can talk about our world and create their own in the same moment.

William Matheson: Poetry is one of those things that I only read occasionally, but every time I do it seems to directly enter into the paintings. I’d say more regularly I read novels, and of course, because I’m in grad school, there is always lots of art theory/contemporary art literature. But I always really relish the brief intervals of time that I spend with poetry, as it can provide a pretty rarefied form of inspiration. This has to be stated as a bit of a generalization, but I think poetry and painting share a certain type of resistance and opacity. Both can deal with a type of intimacy that can be hard to find in other mediums, something that exists halfway between reality and something else, something stranger. They’re both also rather precarious and slippery. I guess this definitely relates to the mixture that Elizabeth mentioned, of existing halfway between our world and another. There’s a great quote by Wallace Stevens where he says, “To a large extent, the problems of poets are the problems of painters, and poets must often turn to the literature of painting for a discussion of their own problems.” The two mediums have a long history together, they seem to have necessary overlaps in how they construct a space to interact with.

I just recently discovered Sagawa’s poems and I was just immediately taken. Her work seems to straddle this really interesting line between sensuality, in terms of how she describes details from nature, and this almost overwhelming sense of doom and angst derived from being human, from having to exist. There is also something very simple and refined to her work, which I deeply admire. I chose the last line of the poem because it tonally related to the paintings and what I wanted from them, and also because it’s the most ambiguous line in the work. “Night was already in my hand” exists on this interesting spectrum between unsettling—if we take the “in my hand” in the poem as a negative, almost like something subterranean or internally corrosive—and powerful, because it’s the first line in the poem of possession, of having control over what occurs. I wanted something of this kind of ambiguity to be present in the show, a struggle of sorts.

GLL: The poem paints a very bleak scene, and like the poem, there also seems to be a theme of darkness, or evening, cast over the paintings. Does this ring true to you?

WM: Darkness is such an interesting thing currently. I was just reading Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 last year, which is a book I have mixed feelings about, but one of the main topics is how night, as both a diurnal occurrence and a potential political/creative position, is being totally eradicated contemporaneously because it exists in opposition to capitalism. It’s something that cannot easily be utilized or monetized because it is essentially a space for inactivity and dreaming. I won’t make this a discussion or critique of capitalism, because I don’t think that’s what this body of paintings is about or is trying to achieve. But this idea that Crary outlines, the possibility of the end of night by light pollution, the end of sleep from advancements in drugs, even the end of the dreamer, I think it’s really charged.

I’ve always been quite night oriented in my rhythms and lately, I’ve found night to actually be a fairly crucial position for me in my work, rather than just the time and space when I’d create and think most fruitfully. Night and darkness entail a sort of resistance, an embodiment of the mercurial. I like that night is readily associated with returns: the return of the past, the return of the dead, the return of deep subconscious emotions, of things unseen and unexplainable. It has an uncanniness or unpredictability to it. So, I think that’s where a lot of these paintings come from, or what I was thinking of while making them. Many of the works are populated with specters and other embodiments of this sort, like the hazy figures in Autumn at the Feet, or the wobbly dreamer from Afternoon or the feet and lemon in Self Portrait with Lemon.

Afternoon , 2015, oil acrylic, and dye on canvas, 26 x 18"

Afternoon, 2015, oil acrylic, and dye on canvas, 26 x 18"

I had a great studio visit with the artist Keith Mayerson recently where he brought up Foucault’s idea of the panopticon in relation to everything I was just talking about. The panopticon is a type of centralized prison arrangement that is designed for constant surveillance, where no one can tell when he or she is in fact being surveyed. Basically it’s a system that runs on uninterrupted visibility, of constant watchfulness and light. If we think of night, creatively, politically, socially and metaphorically as a way of subverting being seen and surveyed contemporaneously, of retaining the position of being dreamers in some way, well I think that’s great, and that’s a position that I want to be present in the work, even if it may be very quiet or indirect.

GLL: While I've definitely thought of sleep as an unpredictable and maybe even sacred space, separate from the waking world, I've never thought of it as a political space. I'm wondering how you see protest entering into the discussion. I think this idea of quiet moments and spaces is especially relevant and important in today's world where we are constantly confronted with modes of communication and distraction during our waking lives. It is only in sleep and moments of great self-discipline (say in the studio or meditation) that we can get away from it all.

WM: I think that there is, or can be, a protest aspect to painting—of indulging in what could be seen as a sort of dream manifested formally, something far removed from what is demanded currently of people. Painting has an odd temporality to it still, with all of its ancestral connotations. So, I think that time spent on painting in the studio (this could easily extend to other mediums in different ways) is a bit like sleeping, going inwards and trying to resist in some way or another.

It makes sense that we're so embattled with sleep and inactivity, because on an evolutionary level it's so ridiculously vulnerable. For example, if you went back 50,000 years, sleeping may well have been one of the most dangerous and easily preyed upon parts of our existence. So, on a biological level, we may feel hostility to this time and space that entails complete lack of control. But I think highlighting this vulnerability, retaining it, and being honest about the fear that lack of control brings is very important too, especially for the arts. And this can definitely entail resistance.

I also don't want to sound like a lamenting culture critic here, because contemporary life is far too complex to simply wring your hands at, and many of the things I'm alluding to come with enormous benefits. But it's getting harder and harder to approach this state of being in 'night', with computers and cellphones demanding time in both the studio and all throughout the night, and to find some sort of actual 'darkness' in all of its varied connotations, with growing light pollution.

GLL: Your previous show at Nationale, Sunless, also featured ghostly, hollow-eyed figures but there seemed to be more of an interest in landscape with that series; perhaps a more horizontal use of space, where as this show is more vertical. What has changed in your thinking and practice between these two series?

Skull In the River , 2014, oil on canvas, 18 x 24", Private Collection (Portland, OR)

Skull In the River, 2014, oil on canvas, 18 x 24", Private Collection (Portland, OR)

WM: Sunless was definitely a more representational/colorful/poppy show than Night Was Already in My Hands. I think of the paintings in the current show are more internal and abstract, both formally and in other less describable ways, than Sunless was as a whole. If I remember correctly, I was trying to imbue many of the paintings from the previous show with a digital quality. Many of them were appropriated from online sources—video games, screensavers, things of that ilk, so the paintings held onto some of that odd, hyper colorful, verging on absurd energy that was in the references. I think this kind of determined the landscape quality as well: the images that the paintings were derived from maintained that format.

The works in Night Was Already in My Hands are for the most part not taken from direct sources, so that may explain a bit of the shift from horizontal to vertical. Also verticality is typically associated with the portrait, which has more intimate, internal connotations. I definitely think that this body of paintings, compared to the last, has a more introspective, quiet goal.

GLL: The paintings in this show are either on pre-dyed colored canvases, or on canvases that you dyed yourself. What attracts you to working in this way? When you start with a colored canvas, does it act as a welcome restrain/frame, giving you some parameters in which to work?

WM: Like many painters, working with different surfaces/restrictions/presentations can be really rewarding for me. The usage of pre-dyed to self-dyed canvas definitely becomes an avenue for containing and potentially constraining the content. I think the pre-dyed colored canvas comes from wanting to engage with flatness in a very direct way, to create a very literal tension between the painted sectioned and the pre-dyed section. These works become a bit like an image on a screen or an illustration in a book. They don’t have complete autonomy in the same way that a more fully rendered/completed painting would.

With paintings like WK (the Architect’s House) or Afternoon, where I dye and paint the initial layer, I’m looking for different type of conflict. These surfaces read less like a book or screen and more like something organically growing or decaying over time. These paintings are darker too, and I think relate to the mercurial aspect of night that I previously mentioned. Part of that comes from materials used; in WK, the lighter stained areas arise from bleach and water poured onto the dyed surface, and in Afternoon, some of the hazier areas are created by spraying a very watery mixture of paint and dye through an airbrush.

Throughout many of the paintings there’s an attention to space, and especially compartmentalizing the space in which the painting realities exist. So both the self-dyed and pre-dyed canvases become a way to navigate different versions of this.

WK (the Architects House) , 2015, oil, acrylic, dye, and bleach on canvas, 41 x 33"

WK (the Architects House), 2015, oil, acrylic, dye, and bleach on canvas, 41 x 33"

GLL: There is, for a lack of a better phrase, a signature mark that is repeated throughout your work. It's an arch of solid color, for this series it is done in white. At times, it seems to be used as a highlight, say on the collarbone and cheek bone of the figure in Smiling Etruscan Bust, other times as in Autumn at the Feet, it serves as a pause, a comma, that interrupts the color field. What's your thinking behind this mark?

Smiling Etruscan Bust , 2015, oil on canvas, 26 x 20"

Smiling Etruscan Bust, 2015, oil on canvas, 26 x 20"

WM: I see the arch as a sort of personal signature to be sure. It originated a couple of years ago, while I was at a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. I had made a semi-grey, blurry painting of two polar bears fighting, which was starting to have nods to some of Richter’s blurred paintings, and I started thinking what I could do to upset the mood that was becoming prevalent in the image, because it wasn’t working, or it felt derivative. So, I placed this bright blue poppy arch right between the two bears, and it seemed really funny, and changed the tone of the painting quite substantially. In retrospect it oddly allowed it to contain more conflict.

Two Bears Fighting on Thinning Ice , 2013, oil on canvas, 24 x 32”

Two Bears Fighting on Thinning Ice, 2013, oil on canvas, 24 x 32”

Since then it’s become a way to upset what could become heavy handed paintings, like Autumn at the Feet, or a way to add movement and rhythm in other works, like Smiling Etruscan Bust. The arch has something of a spatial quality, a bit like a miniature entrance, but it is never large enough, or rendered enough to be complete. I always hope there’s a certain sort of tension to it, halfway between something cartoonish and something more mysterious.

It’s usually made by squeezing the paint tube right out onto the canvas. I suppose in this manner there are also ties to certain forms of digital painting in the mark, I’ve always felt that it has a sort of digital register in its application, as it can appear a bit like something made in Photoshop or Illustrator. Sometimes I over do it and put too many arch-like paint lines in the works, and those ones can start to feel gimmicky. But if used moderately, it can become an interesting tool to break the space and mood up in strange ways, to add another dimension.

GLL: Can you tell us about your consistent interest in mythology and references to figures from antiquity?

WM: I find myself constantly turning to ancient references because of the interesting mixture of art historical canonization and uncanniness that exists within their parameters. Almost any art history course covers the myths, artworks and artifacts of the Etruscan, Grecian, and Roman periods; the images they produced come as close to being foundational human images as any, at times seeming like universal embodiments of creativity/humanity. They’re so loaded.

But, like a mask, or a doll, these ancient busts and sculptures are inanimate and have a certain vacancy to them, a long, somewhat inaccessible material history. I was just reading a short interview with the artist Carrie Moyer and the way she describes her attraction to ancient busts, masks, and armor is really well put. She says it exists as a search for “forms that were nearly recognizable…that generated a preliterate force.”

So, I think it’s that odd balance between familiarity and something inherently removed that continually attracts me to them.

GLL: There are two paintings in your current show, one titled Country Witch and the other, City Witch. The latter is very abstract with solid blocks of blue, black, gray and yellow, while Country Witch is much more figurative—it depicts a face made of differing tones of blue. What is the significance of the witch? What does that figure mean to you within this series and do you see the major differences between these two witches as meaningful?

City Witch , 2015, oil on canvas, 25 x 20” and  Country Witch , 2015, oil on canvas, 22 x 18”, Private Collection (Portland, OR)

City Witch, 2015, oil on canvas, 25 x 20” and Country Witch, 2015, oil on canvas, 22 x 18”, Private Collection (Portland, OR)

WM: The Witch, like the bust or the doll, is such a fascinating character because there’s something inherently archaic, or old fashioned to her. Like I previously mentioned, there’s a certain uncanniness to these figures, a vacancy, so to speak. They’re figures/beings that are not animated or real, but they still have a deep psychological resonance and an eeriness/romance for lack of better words.

There’s a great drawing that I often think of by the early 20th century outsider artist August Natterer called Hexenkopf. In the work, the boundaries and perimeters of a quaint Grandma Moses-esque town comes to form the head of a giant, grinning witch's head. As a drawing it’s both funny/playful and simultaneously deeply disturbing. If I remember correctly, the drawing was created right before the beginning of World War I, and the act of casting the witch, a pagan figure, as the embodiment paranoia of what was a fairly industrial/mechanistic age is really interesting. Like, how can the witch possibly be used to address contemporary uncertainty or fear then and especially now? There’s almost something futile about the character. Also, there are of course the kitschy Halloween associations (I’ve actually made some small witch paintings based directly on cheap costume masks), and the disturbing narrative of the persecution of otherness. They’re creatures of the night too, like any character with horror associations, which ties into everything else. I guess I’m attracted to the witch because she represents an odd combination of elements, something halfway between a kitschy joke and something more tragic.

August Natterer,  Hexenkopf  (The Witch's Head), 1915

August Natterer, Hexenkopf (The Witch's Head), 1915

The titles, funnily enough, actually come from that old children’s story, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse. I think the story goes that each mouse visits the other in their respective homes, and the country mouse can’t understand or adjust to the city, and in the city mouse’s case, the country. I think I really just liked using that narrative reference for the titles because it’s a bit of joke, but actually it does make sense that the city witch would be more alive and simultaneously fractured.

GLL: Who are some of the artists you think about often? What have they taught you?

WM: Always a fun question. I guess these would be the artists/filmmakers/writers I think about/am inspired by now, in no particular order: Peter Doig, Michael Armitage, Marcel Desgrandchamps, Ted Gahl, Victor Man, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Clarice Lispector, Jose Donoso, W.G. Sebald, Roberto Bolano, Carl Dreyer, Chris Marker, Laure Prouvost, Jon Rafman, Rachel Rose. God and I feel like I’m definitely leaving people out.

I don’t know if I can neatly summarize what these particular artists have taught me though. I’d probably need to type page after page for that, which would inevitably become a bit of a ramble.

GLL: What's next for you in the studio?

WM: Actually, most of what I've been working on currently has taken place in video. I've been wanting to make film/video work for years now, and going in to my second year in grad school, with access to great resources and the input of my peers and professors, well, it just felt like the exact right time to push myself to find new ways of conveying my interests. 

This obviously doesn't mean that I'm going to stop painting, but for the next several months I'd love to find new ways of dealing with all of the themes that are percolating here in this show: night, returns, dissolutions, specters. It's been both daunting and extremely exciting and rewarding.



The last time we saw Sarah Mikenis was at the opening reception for Everything We Ever Wanted, our summer group painting show. Soon after the opening Sarah headed off to Maine for her residency at Skowegean School of Painting & Sculpture. Now back on the West Coast, she shares some of her insights and work from her productive and eye-opening summer. Thanks for letting us in on this special place, Sarah!

Sarah's studio at Skowgegan

Sarah's studio at Skowgegan

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: Have you ever attended a residency program of this type before? 

Sarah Mikenis: I attended a four-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center in 2011. While very different than Skowhegan, working in a new environment away from the comfort of your home and studio, meeting and working alongside talented artists from around the world, and having space and time to concentrate on your work were present in both residencies.  

GLL: How were your days and evenings structured at Skowhegan?

SM: On a typical day I woke up and had breakfast sitting outside by the lake around 8:30. I made an effort to walk up the hill to upper campus and start working in my studio by 9:30. I worked in the studio in the morning until breaking for lunch on upper campus at 12:30 or 1.  After lunch I might stop by the library porch and browse a book or just drink coffee and chat. Then back to the studio to work for the rest of the afternoon. Everyone on campus had some job during the summer, so two afternoons a week I worked in the fresco workshop cleaning tools, mixing plaster or pigments, or helping prepare the walls in the fresco barn for new large paintings. Also, once a week for five of the nine weeks we had individual studio visits with one of the resident faculty members.

Dinner was down the hill by the lake at 6. After dinner was dependent on the day: I might spend the evening in the library relaxing and reading books, watch a DVD in my room, or head back up to the studio to work late. There were a lot of evenings spent hanging out and drinking beer in the Common House. Some nights there might be video screenings in the Fresco Barn, and Friday nights were lectures by visiting or resident faculty artists. Saturday nights there was usually a dance party, and other evenings there might be a special event like a Red Farm dinner with a visiting artist or an opening with wine and cheese in the Fresco Barn. 

GLL: What was your most challenging moment/time during the program?

SM: I think the most challenging part of the residency might have been the lack of solitude for me. There are challenges to being out of your comfort zone, away from your family, your partner, your apartment, your studio, and your usual way of doing things. But as an introverted person, being thrown in the middle of 65 participants plus faculty and staff for every meal and every event, and having a roommate for the first time since college, was certainly challenging. Of course that feeling of being slightly uncomfortable and being constantly surrounded by artists is what creates this amazing, buzzing, vibrant environment and makes the entire experience of being at Skowhegan what it is, and I find myself really missing all those interactions and exchanges now that I’m home.  

Last Month's It Girl , 2015 oil, spray-paint, acrylic, and Flashe on canvas, 66 x 40"

Last Month's It Girl, 2015 oil, spray-paint, acrylic, and Flashe on canvas, 66 x 40"

GLL: Now your most rewarding/exhilarating….

SM: By far the most rewarding part of the experience was the friendships that I formed and the truly incredible generosity of everyone that I met.  Generosity is a word that I continue to come back to again and again when I reflect on my time there. I found it in many forms, from people being so generous with their time, energy and ideas in studio visits, to the commitment of the resident faculty to the participants, to my roommate and friends going out of their way for me with acts of kindness when I was dealing with some personal things while there.  

GLL: What was a surprising/unexpected aspect of the experience?

SM: I wasn’t expecting to find such a heartfelt emphasis on community while I was there. The individual artist and focus on making work were of course extremely important, but building relationships and seeing the class as being part of a continued support group for each other became an essential part of the experience.  

GLL: Did the time and environment lend itself well towards experimentation within your practice?  If so, how did your work change?
SM: I think working in a new studio, in a new environment with new people inherently changes your ability to approach your work in a different way. Plus, having all day to work without worrying about school or work or cooking or cleaning just simply allows the time and space to think and physically work through more ideas than is possible while in school.         

When I got to Skowhegan I knew I wanted to get working right away, whether or not I had the perfect idea of what to get started on. I had a vague idea that I wanted to make abstract paintings that looked like purses. The result was three pieces that ranged in their representation of purses from quite literal to much more abstract, but all of the pieces took my work in a direction that became more sculptural and object-like than any work I had made before. Suddenly I was finding ways to bend, fold, braid and cut canvas into different shapes, and play with the materiality of paint to create surfaces that felt like leather, metal or paper.

Leaving the constraint of the “purse” and thinking more broadly about fashion, the construction of garments, and the conventions of painting, I made three more works that continued to explore a tension between painting and sculpture.  I felt really free and excited about ways that I could cut, fold, and reattach the canvas to itself, make a painting that looked wrinkled, or a painting that was bulging and stuffed. The paintings that I showed at Nationale in June in Everything We Ever Wanted were still lifes painted from objects I constructed out of foam, papier-mâché, fabric, and paint. I feel like I’ve come full circle in the past year in some way as the paintings themselves have become more like constructed objects that also still play with illusionistic space.  

Untitled , 2015, oil spray paint, Flashe on canvas, 44 x 30”   

Untitled, 2015, oil spray paint, Flashe on canvas, 44 x 30”   

Pink, Red, Wrinkled, and Stuffed , 2015, oil on canvas, 60 x 50”

Pink, Red, Wrinkled, and Stuffed, 2015, oil on canvas, 60 x 50”

GLL: Can you tell us more about your interactions with the other artists?  Did you find some kindred spirits and what was their work like?

SM: Interaction between artists was happening all the time, whether it was conversations at dinner, talking on the library porch, or impromptu studio visits with one another. We also had other more structured time to talk to each other about our work.  I mentioned that we had weekly individual studio visits with resident faculty, and we also met with one of the visiting artists for an individual studio visit. Twice during the residency, at week four and at the end of the summer, there were open studio days to walk around campus and see everyone’s work. Halfway through the summer the painters began a Painting Happy Hour as a good excuse to have a cocktail before dinner and exchange group studio visits. We also began another small informal group that exchanged studio visits centered on our shared interest in fashion and the various ways fashion informed our work. Resident faculty Sarah Oppenheimer’s partner Noga Shalev is a clothing designer, so we had the opportunity to see her studio as well as take part in a fashion shoot with some of her newest designs.  

There was an incredible diversity of practices among the residents. During the first week we had a marathon slide show where all 65 participants presented their work. I remember sitting in the Fresco Barn, being so blown away during those slide talks at the talent and intelligence gathered together in one place for nine weeks. That being said, there were several artists that I shared particular affinities with for various reasons, three being Sophie Grant, Linnea Rygaard, and Anna Queen.
Sophie Grant recently finished her MFA at Hunter and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Sophie is an abstract painter, and although her work is different from mine I found we shared a lot in common dealing with creating tension between illusion and collage. Sophie is really masterful at playing with and confusing what parts of the painting are painted, what parts are collage, what is cut out or what is behind versus in front. We shared an interest in color and pushing our palettes to be a little bit “wrong” in some way. We really enjoyed sharing thoughts on how we thought about materiality of paint and application of paint.  Sophie is currently working with pours and staining and creating shimmery surfaces. She was also experimenting with creating shaped canvases while at Skowhegan, and taking the canvas off of stretcher bars completely to explore hanging and draping the canvas in different ways. 
Linnea Rygaard is from Sweden, and makes larger than life abstract paintings heavily influenced by architectural spaces. Her paintings work with perspective and pushing perspective in ways that created at times a believable, but also impossible space. Her work also plays with design and pattern, although in different ways than I work with pattern, and the paintings oscillate between tight, rigid, almost trompe l’oeil areas to really loose, luscious, painterly applications of paint. 
Anna Queen graduated from MICA and currently lives in Maine. Anna’s work incorporates found materials; mostly building materials found in hardware stores, as well as ceramics and fabricated pieces. I was particularly drawn to the way Anna utilized light, reflections, and transparency, and combinations of colors in her work. She played with arrangements of materials as well as expectations of materials and gravity, like making cast concrete appear as if it were crinkled paper.   

GLL: Did the experience change the way you think about community and studio practice?

SM: The support and encouragement at Skowhegan really reinvigorated my belief in the importance of community among artists. There is a built in community in grad school that is really comfortable, but Skowhegan felt like a call to action for getting outside of that school group and finding ways to build community at home in Eugene and Portland. It definitely poses a question for myself about how I can reach out and develop relationships around me, what are other ways to interact besides gallery openings and artist talks, and how can I be more generous with my time and energy?

Also, since we’re talking about community, please take a moment to check out Upon returning home after the residency, Jeff Prokash, a fellow participant, learned that during his absence his brother, Tim, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Participants, faculty, and staff have donated work on this site that is available for purchase to help the Prokash family and Tim’s treatment. 

Untitled , 2015, oil, acrylic, and Flashe on canvas, 43 x 56”

Untitled, 2015, oil, acrylic, and Flashe on canvas, 43 x 56”

GLL: What was your favorite thing to do on your “down time”?

SM: On a beautiful, hot day there was nothing better then walking a couple steps from my cottage to the lake, swimming out to the dock and lying there for an hour or two. Also, sitting on the library porch, drinking wine by the lake after dinner, doing yoga on the sun porch in my cabin, and Saturday night dance parties.  

GLL: Maine: Give us three words that describe that place for you.

SM: Fireflies. Loon calls. Space.

Lake Wesserunsett at sunrise

Lake Wesserunsett at sunrise

GLL: As you move forward with your last year of grad school, what parts of your experience at Skowhegan do you take with you? What lessons/mantras/ideas are in the forefront of your mind?

SM: There is a weird pressure lurking in the back of my mind right now that this is my thesis year in grad school so it is time to really buckle down and make work I “understand” or “good” paintings for my show. I think one of the most important lessons I will be holding onto this year is embracing that feeling of not knowing, of being slightly uncomfortable, of not fully understanding something while I’m making it. I remember a conversation with my roommate, talking about how some of the paintings I was making felt really dumb and ugly, and she very wisely reminded me that those dumb, ugly things, the things we fear, or are really unsure of, are probably the best things happening in the studio.


Daniel Long shares a few insights on his current series at Nationale A Peanut in a Suit Is a Peanut Nonetheless while at his fellowship at Lighthouse Works on Fishers Island, NY. Thanks, Daniel!

Daniel’s show will be up through this coming Monday, 9.14.15.

Daniel Long,  H.H ., 2014, oil on panel, 38 x 50,” from the series  I Hear A Symphony  (2014)

Daniel Long, H.H., 2014, oil on panel, 38 x 50,” from the series I Hear A Symphony (2014)

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: For your 2014 series I Hear a Symphony at the Portland Museum of Modern Art (PMOMA) you directly referenced paintings spanning many years and styles. With this current series, you seem to extend and also depart from that project. How do you see the two series as connected and separate? What has changed in your thinking and your process?

Daniel Long: I see them connected as they both ride the line of collage. Both shows and for most of my work start from having a source. The images I create are re-representations, appropriating imagery. With I Hear a Symphony, I was inspired by a quote from Francis Picabia, “If another man’s work translates my dreams, his work is mine.” With the current show, I am still applying my ways of hijacking imagery and calling them my own. All my work has my clumsy hand, which adds to the image that makes it mine. For A Peanut in a Suit Is a Peanut Nonetheless, there were more ideas of collaging in that I used different sources at times to create the paintings. Also, in terms of putting images onto a surface. This show honed in on more so the technique (masking and cutting) and what I was getting the paint to do. My ideas of process was redirected. I have learned a lot by making this show in that I want my work to have an exploratory nature rather than looking executed. This was my first attempt to make paintings with such a rigorous process and I think a certain freedom was lost. I am not saying I knew exactly what I was going to be doing every move of the way, but my other work there is an immediacy that was not there in the works recently presented. I had a lot of fun making these paintings and getting them where I wanted them to be; using the airbrush gun is a whole lot of fun. I am trying to find a nice balance between this freedom but also having this intention.

Daniel Long,  Concrete Turned to Stone , 2015, acrylic on panel, 48 x 35″

Daniel Long, Concrete Turned to Stone, 2015, acrylic on panel, 48 x 35″

GLL: Can you speak a bit about your source imagery for this particular series? What is your process of collecting these visual influences?

DL: I like books with pictures. A lot of the imagery from my current show comes from an Ancient Egypt book. Another image came from a Valentine’s Day card I got at an art store. I, like most people, use the internet or Instagram for imagery, but it feel better when an image is discovered and you can hold it in front of your face. I’ve always collecting images and I have no real system. There are loose xerox’s around my studio and files upon files on my computer desktop. I was talking with my mentor and he suggest I get organized. This is something I will be working on.

A wall in Daniel's studio

A wall in Daniel's studio

Nationale: Do you view your paintings as a place to express covert meaning through symbols/iconography? For this series I’m thinking particularly about the two-headed snake in two of the works. Is this Apep, the Egyptian deity of chaos and destruction? If so, do you see his symbolism as important to the work?

Daniel Long: There are coded meanings, but primarily I want there to be multiple meanings where a viewer can put whatever associations they have onto the imagery. The two-headed snake yes is representing some kind of duality, not specifically chaos or destruction. With that image, I went to thinking about Robert Mitchum’s hand tattoos in Night of the Hunter. One says “Love” and the other says “Hate.” So, it is this thing where something cannot be or exist without the other. It isn’t important that it is coming from this Egyptian deity, but it becomes this visual language and symbol.

Daniel Long,  Thirsty , 2015, acrylic and Flashe on panel, 48 x 36″

Daniel Long, Thirsty, 2015, acrylic and Flashe on panel, 48 x 36″

GLL: Can you talk about your relationship to painting in general? Your past work was more sculptural/installation based. How did painting become more important to you?

DL: I see all my work as paintings because that is the language I use. The sculpture, frame, or whatever it is, is in the background and I move things around as I would with paintings. So, I am using these formal elements as I would in a painting. Anne Ring Petersen speaks of this idea in her essay Painting Spaces. She describes entering a painting both visually and physically with the painting’s relation to space—not as illusion-ism but as something physical and tangible. I am still very much interested in these ideas.

GLL: Although you are working in a very old medium you are able to bring it into the present. I see this through your choice of materials (airbrush, Flashe, etc) and the process of rolling the paint and then layering on top of that base to create a different type of surface. I’m interested in that rolling action. Do you see it at all tied to the abstract expressionists and their use of house paint and non-art materials? Something very utilitarian about it…

DL: I have always used whatever materials are at hand. Because of that I have openness in my creative output. The rolling action makes this texture that I like because once dried and then airbrushed it gives this effect like it is a rubbing. It picks up whatever is around. I like this because of it being so indexical. Debris from my body, from my studio show up in my work, which to me is not a flaw but rather points to saying, I was here.

Daniel Long,  Key Turned , 2015, acrylic on panel, 24 x 24″

Daniel Long, Key Turned, 2015, acrylic on panel, 24 x 24″

GLL: How long have you been working with airbrush? Why were you drawn to it for this series in particular?

DL: I got the airbrush compressor and gun like 2 years ago? I bought it from a fella who needed to make rent. It was kinda busted so it was fun trying to figure out what it all would and could do. After buying a new gun it was such a surprise. My practice is fun and exciting and I am always looking for new ways of making. I do not want to ever just make oil paintings or only make airbrush paintings. I want to collide all the paints.

GLL: It seems that the airbrush softens the image, there’s a kind of blurring that happens that connects it to photography for me. Also, the way you blur some areas while bringing others into focus through the use of Flashe and acrylic is really interesting and reminds me of photography as well. Do you see any connection between your paintings and photography?

DL: The blurring of these images speak to my ideas on how I see painting as a flexible medium. I can see how photography could play a role in that my images exist in printed form. Whether a photocopy or whatever, my sources I print out to have a reference so they exist as a flatten image. There is a lot of simulacra happening in my process. Things exist, and then exist in some other form, and so on. I would say my work is more so connected to collage.

Daniel Long,  The Hair Stood up on My Arm , 2015, acrylic and Flashe on panel, 48 x 36″

Daniel Long, The Hair Stood up on My Arm, 2015, acrylic and Flashe on panel, 48 x 36″

GLL: Did you think a lot about how the eye will see these different materials while making the work?

DL: Yes. I was interested in how my paintings painted with oil or acrylic photograph so poorly. Their presence is completely lost and it is really frustrating to see in slides and such, but then these airbrush paintings look so sharp digitally, whereas in person you have to be at a distance to have the image be tight. I became really fascinated with this flip-flop of viewing images in person vs. online.

Daniel with his exhibition,  A Peanut in a Suit Is a Peanut Nonetheless

Daniel with his exhibition, A Peanut in a Suit Is a Peanut Nonetheless

GLL: Can you talk about where the titles come from and how they add to the work? For me, their vague and poetic nature, rather than acting as an explanation, add to the mystery of the work. They keep it open.

DL: Titles are important because it is a way to set a tone. It gives the viewer permission on how to see the work. I take my titles from everywhere. I like for them to be open and non-directive. I am inspired by music lyrics I am listening to at the time, themes and language in gay culture, or anything that can give me a laugh. I like for the titles to have multiple meanings. My titles are not really coded nor an explanation, but rather it is like how Philip Guston speaks of painting. When the air arbitrary vanishes and the paint falls into place. It is when the title and painting have this harmonious vibe.


We are pleased to introduce Nationale’s artist interview series!

Our inaugural interview is with the always fascinating, Elizabeth Malaska. Gabi Lewton-Leopold, our Assistant Director, spoke with Elizabeth recently about her ongoing series When We Dead Awaken, the first half of which she showed at Nationale in November 2014. We are looking forward to the second installment to be shown at Nationale in fall of 2016. Thanks for chatting Elizabeth!

Gabi Lewton-Leopold: Can you speak about your current series and about the next half, which you are working on now? Have you had any new insights or realizations working on the second half?

Elizabeth Malaska: Conceiving of this series, I was really inspired by thinking about the Surrealists and art as social protest and being very disturbed by domestic and foreign policy, especially the rash of shootings that were happening around that time. The Newton shooting had recently happened, which was just sort of surreal in itself. Thinking about the Surrealists and how I could respond in kind today, is what started the series. I am always looking to incorporate my love of, and how I constantly refer back to, art historical painting, looking for a way to weave that in. My work always comes from a pretty staunch feminist standpoint, so developing this idea about talking about guns and gun control and culture of violence related to guns in America gave rise to this idea of the female figure with the gun, which seemed like an interesting idea to explore, especially because it is such a stereotypical, cliché image—the bikini babe with the rifle on the calendar in the mechanic’s shop. I like things that are extreme like that because I feel like they present a pretty big challenge to take on: the pull is so strong for it to get sucked into that extreme rhetoric; can I co-opt that image and use it to my own ends?? These different threads coalesced into this idea about the post-apocalyptic scenario, and then a lot of stuff crops up along the way. I’m working on the second half now. When I started the series back in 2013 I conceived of the big paintings all at once then, and so I am working from maps or notes of pretty fleshed out paintings. It’s not like I’m stuck in time but…

GLL: So you’re saying you mapped out everything, even the ones you are working on now?

EM: Yes, but I’m also very open to things changing, it’s not like anything is set in stone for me, I’m really excited about the ideas that I came up with then and I’m excited to be making these paintings. The way that things are developing now has to do a lot with technique and the literal way that I make the paintings, the way the process of layering, the way I use materials together, the marks I make. I feel like my work has been going in a direction of greater realism and tightness, although I don’t like that word. I guess specificity, maybe like a classical technique incorporated with abstraction, I’m always going to incorporate abstraction and contemporary techniques, but in conjunction with that I’m becoming more and more interested in very traditional classical techniques and incorporating those as well, so that the range of mark making is pushed wide.

GLL: That leads to another question I had, thinking about your series before, the first show at Nationale in 2012, looking at the figures especially, they are definitely changing and becoming more classical, but you still have those architectural moments and interiors.

EM: I was looking at old work today, and I can get really caught up in technique and forget that the figure can happen in 30 minutes instead of three months. It was a reminder to not forget about that. Maybe a figure will happen where three quarters of the figure is wash and the arm is super detailed…

GLL: which is really interesting in the figure in You Will Become Me, with the blending of the two styles.

EM: Right.

GLL: You are making six more paintings?

EM: I’m working on three more large ones, two more medium sized ones, and at least half a dozen small ones. Right now I’m just working on one painting but that’s the map that exists, that I will achieve, even if I have to kill myself in the process!

You Will Become Me , 2013-2014, oil, Flashe, spray paint, charcoal, and pencil on canvas, 48 x 58 ½,” Collection of Scott Musch, Portland, OR

You Will Become Me, 2013-2014, oil, Flashe, spray paint, charcoal, and pencil on canvas, 48 x 58 ½,” Collection of Scott Musch, Portland, OR

GLL: Can you talk a little about your process, the source imagery, and the role that drawing plays?

EM: Each size of painting happens differently. For the large paintings I definitely start with pretty detailed drawings and the source material comes from all over the place. I do a lot of image gathering and then literal collaging, and then collaging within the drawing. I like to take images out of books. I also do a lot of image research on the computer, pulling a lot of images together—sometimes I want them to work seamlessly and sometimes not seamlessly. That’s for the large ones. The medium sized ones happen way more fluidly than that. With the two medium sized ones in the last show, I did little sketches in my sketchbook, but not a really precise drawing. It’s funny, with the drawings I try to occupy this space in between knowing what I want to be there and kind of not looking at that thing very much. They (the drawings) act as some sort of defining boundary, but I don’t want to be looking at them too closely because then you just end up making a painting that looks like you are painting from source material, which isn’t interesting—just show us the source material. Using drawing to definitely create a map of the territory, but doing a lot of exploring in a lot of the un-mapped territories as I go along. The way I structure the drawing has a lot to do with mapping out areas, these areas are known and often that has a lot to do with repetition, and they are very labor-intensive, say the wood paneling on You Will Become Me, or say there will be a figure here, or there will be a vase here, or a plant here. But the way that thing happens is very determined by the process of painting itself. I have an idea about how I want that figure to stand or what I want it to look like but it’s totally open too, and those parts are always oil because it’s so much more of a plastic medium than the acrylic. It’s like these super slow labor-intensive parts and then these explosions of improvisations on a theme.

GLL: So the wood paneling is an example of the more planned out area.

EM: Yes, and it’s super repetitive. I probably spent at least two months working daily to do that, looking at reference material and also just listening to podcasts and zoning out. Like a mantra, repetition. In contrast to say the dog or the figure in that piece. The figure even more so than the dog, the figure and her firearm because her body is abstracted in some places but the gun is even more abstracted. She was painted through a processes of glazing, which happens slowly, but as the glazing came up to more of the surface things started happening quickly, body parts started moving around and getting painted out, parts were taken away and the figure went into a sort of a chaos, intentionally so. There’s a lot of control, sometimes an uncomfortable amount of control for me, I feel like I should be more loose, but it is what it is. I think I’ve had adopted this idea of a late 20th century artist being somebody that is very spontaneous and all these certain things, and part of my process through this body of work has been an acceptance of how much control, speed in terms of slowness, and technical abilities, how important those things are to me, to my work.

GLL: Have you always had that control in earlier works?

EM: No, it’s been becoming more and more important for me.

GLL: Why do you think that is?

EM: I think that I’d reached a point where I wasn’t able to communicate the point that I wanted to in a modality that was more exclusively about spontaneity and emotional responsivity. It just didn’t go as far as I wanted it to. It wasn’t as interesting as I wanted it to be.

GLL: Back to the protest idea, well, first of all I feel like, depressingly so, there’s been so much that has happened in terms of gun violence in the last couple years since you began this series.

EM: Right, and the staunch refusal by certain aspects of our society to do really anything about it.

GLL: With that in mind, do you feel that the series is at all hopeful?

EM: It has to be, although it’s not immediately apparent. I’m definitely not just a nihilist. I think that the hope is in some kind of idea of uncivilization. I’m only vaguely familiar with the philosophies of uncivilzation, but it is basically saying that the societies that we’ve created are so messed up that ultimately they need to be torn down for something else maybe more healthy for human beings on the planet to take root. So I think that there is hope for me in the female figures who possess power despite their circumstances; they are not victims and they have control. Maybe not ultimate control, but given the circumstances they possess a powerful degree of control.

GLL: And there is something hopeful in that. There is also something hopeful to me about Pause to Give Thanks That We Rise Again from Death and Live, it feels like an end and there’s something very peaceful there, although there is that darkness.

Pause to Give Thanks That We Rise Again from Death and Live , 2014, oil, Flashe, spray paint, charcoal, and pencil on canvas, 35 ½ x 32,“ Collection of Arlene Schnitzer, Portland, OR

Pause to Give Thanks That We Rise Again from Death and Live, 2014, oil, Flashe, spray paint, charcoal, and pencil on canvas, 35 ½ x 32,“ Collection of Arlene Schnitzer, Portland, OR

EM: It is darkness. That’s something I’ve thought a lot about in my work, the darkness in it. I don’t see darkness as something to be afraid of, but as something that contains potential and a lot of richness. And I also think about how darkness has been associated with the feminine, and it’s interesting to me the cultural attachments we have to darkness. Part of what I am thinking about and want to explore is those stereotypes, and maybe see them in a little bit of a different light.

GLL: Can you speak a bit about your titles? Where do they come from, how do they inform the work and who is that “we” that you use so often?

EM: I love titling. Titles almost always come from stuff that I read. Poetry often. I think of painting and poetry doing really similar things, in that they are able to create worlds that talk about our world but also can point to actualities that maybe don’t exist in reality, emotional or metaphysical realities. Poetry feels like a very natural place for me to go and I really enjoy it. Titles definitely come from poetry and potential titles are things that I keep running lists of. I have pages and pages of possible titles to help myself.

GLL: So, when you are reading, a line will stick out and you’ll pull it out?

EM: Yes, something just strikes me or seems succinct in a way or talks about the body and feminism, and I know I’m going to use that at some point.

GLL: Who are some of your favorite poets?

EM: I love Diane di Prima; Michael McClure was a teacher of mine in undergrad and he was super influential. I return to the beat poets a lot, I wouldn’t say more obscure, but I’m not so into Ginsberg or Kerouac but McClure or Amiri Baraka. One of the titles in the show came from H.D. I have these great anthologies of 20th century poetry by Jerome Rothenberg and there’s just a ton of people in there, more obscure people.

GLL: And the “we?”

EM: I use the “we” to pull viewers into the narrative and I want also to implicate. What I’m trying to do is create an image that activates the viewer’s psyche and body, to some extent that is why I use the female figure. So, the “we” is a re-enforcement of that and a way to promote that.

GLL: Really a call to action, in a sense.

EM: Yes, inclusion and implication both those things, as strongly as each other.

GLL: Then there’s the “you” in You Will Become Me.

EM: You will become Me and We Have Been Naught, We Shall Be All…

GLL: Implication also carries over to the idea of protest too.

EM: Yes, that’s true.

GLL: When you talk about the Surrealists, are there any particular paintings or artists that stick out in your mind? Or, not even just Surrealists, are there any paintings in your visual bank that have stuck with you for a long time and influenced what you are doing in different ways?  

EM: I looked at a lot of Surrealist works when I was doing research and starting this project. A lot of it went in one eye and came out the other. The stuff that has stuck with me was in there before—Leonora Carrington, I think about her work a lot. And I’ve been thinking about Frida Kahlo’s work more recently, too. The Surrealists are interesting too because they are a group that has been so co-opted by culture. Also, Max Ernst, I’ve always found interesting, pretty impenetrable but I’m always attracted to his work and as equally repelled by it, too. I was looking and thinking about the Analytic Cubists a lot, Juan Gris especially and Georges Braque, whom I love and whose work I think transcends Cubism. His paintings of his studio, I’ve loved those paintings since I saw them in my teens. And one in particular I want to say it’s Studio V, and there’s a big bird that’s sort of traversing across the space of his studio inexplicably, and the painting is very brown. It’s just gorgeous and I was thinking about that painting a lot when I was making Legacy of Ruin. That painting, like some Matisse paintings, has been in my psyche since I saw them 25 years ago. They are the meat and potatoes of my painter’s imagination.

Georges Braque,  Studio V , 1949-50, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 69 ½,” MoMA, NYC

Georges Braque, Studio V, 1949-50, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 69 ½,” MoMA, NYC

Legacy of Ruin , 2014, oil, Flashe, spray paint, charcoal, and pencil on canvas, 48 x 62”

Legacy of Ruin, 2014, oil, Flashe, spray paint, charcoal, and pencil on canvas, 48 x 62”

GLL: Thinking about Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo, they both use a lot of self-portraiture, is there a reason you steer away from that in your work, especially since you use the female figure often and it would maybe seem second nature to use yourself as the model? 

EM: I do a lot of self-portraiture as a practice, just as a daily drawing practice. I feel like I’m already narcissistic enough as an artist that I don’t need to make paintings of myself. But everyone is always like, “Well, I thought that painting was of you!” but that wasn’t my intention.

GLL: Do you think that’s a product of being a female painter? That people tend to assume that?

EM: That’s interesting. I never thought about it that way, but yes of course, probably. People are just predisposed to see you as narcissistic and self-reflexive because you are a woman. But I also see it in a lot of artists’ work, that you just can’t help but put yourself into your work.

GLL: Totally different question: mentoring and teaching, do you think it has changed your own practice at all?

EM: I think it is part of what has driven me more towards technique. It shifted my gaze towards technique and once my gaze was there it was like, oh shit, there’s so much here for me to explore and use.

GLL: Do you feel that technique is always a tool that will broaden your ability versus the opposite?

EM: No, I don’t. I think it has to be used wisely. I think I can use pretty hardcore classical techniques but not get stuck in the rabbit hole of just decoration or surface, because of my foundation in the improvisational, reactionary, let’s fuck it up now approach—that’s my training and all the technique I have is stuff that I taught myself. I think it’s really hard if you get front loaded with that technique, because you get taught to be so super careful and scrutinize everything, and then it’s really hard to break out of that. But I also think it’s a really important foundation for people learning to have some technique, but I think it has to be super balanced and reserved, so that you don’t just get stuck in that because technique without the elements that bring it into the contemporary is just dead—without the chaos, or the unknown, or the uncontrollable. Like Odd Nerdrum. I guess you would say he has the contemporary in his totally disturbing subject matter, but the contemporary for me doesn’t manifest in any formal ways in his work. It doesn’t gel in the now for me, and I’m not interested in it at all, it’s just empty.

Studio photographs of Elizabeth are by Gia Goodrich.