As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Marci Washington. See the full studio visit and interview with Marci and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
We visited Marci in her backyard studio in Berkeley. It sits just behind her home, a kind of garage/storage space that got converted into a cottage. It’s comfortable and functional, with an open feel to it. Marci is full of gusto— she talks with her hands, takes on all kinds of facial expressions, and she’s funny as hell. She enthusiastically moved through our conversations, at turns awkward and eloquent, but always unguarded and real. We talked about a lot of things, but her affinity for the landscape of the English moorlands, particularly within the context of Romantic Literature, really struck me. Those rolling, uncultivated hills covered in low-growing grass, shrouded under heavy fog and moody skies have wholly captured Marci’s imagination. And it makes sense that they have— much of what interests Marci is mirrored in that rugged, desolate scenery. In various Romantic and Gothic works of literature, the moorlands often represent mystery, mysticism, liberation, turmoil, and passion; they frequently echo the psychological state of the characters, and reveal their greatest desires and fears. Marci’s current work references not just the physical landscape of the moors, but also speaks to themes found in a lot of this kind of literature, and the universal emotions that are evoked—all those feelings and ideas that run wild with mystery, awe, darkness, terror and beauty. I think Marci is after a particular kind of mood that toes the line between terrifying and thrilling, creating a response that’s simultaneously overwhelming and invigorating. All of this plays into her sensibilities as an artist, but also as a person: her love of Edward Gorey and his eerie illustrated books, her unflinching need to feel everything very deeply, her leanings towards the bizarre and unique, and her fondness for the not-entirely-explained. It’s pretty damn amazing that come November Marci will be showing work in England, not far from the wild and lonely moors that have taken up so much of her imagination.
As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Claude Collins-Stracensky. See the full studio visit and interview with Claude and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
Claude’s studio is in a commercial building in Downtown, Los Angeles right where two fairly busy streets intersect. It’s a few floors up, and as soon as Klea and I stepped out from the elevator doors Claude’s Vizsla dogs greeted us with wild tail-wagging enthusiasm and then lead the way into the studio. It’s a huge corner space with tons of natural light streaming in through the wide windows that lends an almost limitless feel to the room. I took a few minutes to wander around and take it all in— the dogs tumbling about together in play, the dust particles fluttering in and out of the hazy afternoon light, and the many projects underway, all of them in various states of completeness. At any given time Claude is often at work on multiple endeavors, taking time with each to experiment, re-think, tinker and tweak. His studio is a like a research lab where he plays around with concepts and materials, creating mock-ups and models, and then tries to bring these ideas to life with his hands. There is a bit of a “mad scientist” in Claude— he approaches his work with unfettered imagination and whimsy, totally unafraid to scheme and dream big, and he seems almost possessed by a rampant curiosity about the natural world and how it works. At the core of Claude’s practice is a preoccupation with physical systems and processes and the innate dynamics of different materials, and the ways in which these forces and elements can interact to bring about a new consciousness of one’s surroundings. Embracing a range of mediums, his practice often plays with perception and aims to expand his viewers’ visual experience and spatial awareness to create impressions that go beyond an everyday understanding of the world. I got the impression that the wheels in Claude’s brain must always be spinning at top speed, never at rest, always at work on questions, always in a state of assessing and hypothesizing. Which is kind of funny, because he comes across as super mellow… but I didn’t let that easy-going vibe fool me!
As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Monica Canilao. See the full studio visit and interview with Monica and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
Monica’s studio is in a huge space in Oakland shared by other artists, performers, and musicians that together have created quite a vibrant, enterprising community. In order to get to her studio we had to go up a set of stairs and climb through an entryway draped with layers of fabric, which then opens up into an attic-like room where Monica works. Crawling through that entryway was like moving through a space-time portal and getting dropped into a fantasy world that can only be described as a mash-up of my glamorous grandmother’s closet and the treasure trove of those renegade dwarves in the movie Time Bandits. I was a bit dumbstruck, to be honest. It took me a minute to gather my wits and to begin speaking in full sentences again, instead of just “oohing” and “aahing” and pointing at things. As we settled in, Monica made us delicious “cowboy coffee” in her makeshift kitchen, and then we got to talking. Essentially, Monica is a doer and not much of a talker— don’t get me wrong, she likes to chat it up, but she doesn’t seem that comfortable discussing ideas head-on, instead she expresses herself anecdotally, weaving stories in and out of conversation, letting you read what may or may not be between the lines. She likes to keep her hands busy and her body moving; she’s definitely action-oriented and is all about joining forces with other artists. When we visited Monica she was busy installing work for her collaborative show with her good friend and fellow artist Bunnie Reiss at Lopo Gallery, and so we visited her at the gallery, too. The work there was truly collaborative, and spoke to what Monica is all about— shared experiences, the re-telling and re-shaping of stories, found materials, and the power of visual terminology.
As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Annie Vought. See the full studio visit and interview with Annie and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
Often on our way to studio visits or coming back from them, Klea and I will get into big, questioning conversations about life. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it’s true. In part, I think it’s because we are either warming up for or winding down from encounters that frequently take on a philosophical, ruminative tone. It’s also just how we like to talk to each other. As we drove across the bridge to Annie’s North Oakland home and studio (where she lives with her lover, performance artist Scott V.) we were having one of these conversations— specifically about secrets and how everyone has them. Our car-ride conversation wasn’t about Annie’s art, but about halfway through our visit with her it dawned on me that unintentionally it was a very apt preface to her work. Annie takes fragments of written correspondence – from handwritten letters to text messages – that she has found, received, or written, enlarges and reworks the text on large paper, and then meticulously goes about removing the negative spaces with an X-acto knife. Because of the precision involved, Annie changes her X-acto blade after every five or six cuts, so she can easily go through close to 500 blades just to finish one piece. When I asked Annie how she goes about choosing her source material, she said she’s most interested in text that reveals “those in between moments” of humanity and language in which she can identify subtext — typical and commonplace communications at first glance, but that somehow express a human frailty and an underlying element of truth. We talked about how personal many of these correspondences are, and her willingness to expose herself and others through them. So much is revealed inadvertently— in hesitant language, in the pauses and empty silences between words, in muddled expressions, and overwrought sentences, and it’s these details that Annie seems to be after in her work. As we sat out in Annie’s lovely garden talking, with her big dog Moses lazing nearby in the sun, I kept thinking about how full of secrets we all are and what rich and complex inner lives we lead. And yet we can’t help but lay ourselves bare through language, in everything we say and everything we leave unsaid.
Noah Becker graciously allowed Beautiful/Decay into his Canadian studio to view his new body of work. Becker is about to open a second studio in New York this September for the fall 2012-13 art season. This is a correspondence studio visit, Beautiful/Decay requested the photos and they were provided by another photographer. Although the paintings are clearly portraits, Noah describes his newest work as figurative instead of portraiture. I recognize a few of the faces but generally the paintings aren’t obviously people we should know, and because they aren’t it follows that they can’t be portraits in the traditional meaning of a portrait of a specific person. Noah presents us with a romantic vision of elegant people, people who are good at living! Wish I was one of those, ha. Some of the folks feel like 70s’ rock stars or maybe authors from the 30s’, and I think I recognize some of Velasquez’s Spanish Renaissance princes. When asked Becker mentions “stillness and time frozen in a moment,” which is a way to talk about the strange nowness of consciousness, or possibly he’s saying the point of modern life is to be elegant in the absence of direction. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you might as well do nothing with style.
As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with installation artist Chris Fraser. See the full studio visit and interview with Chris and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
When we visited Oakland-based artist Chris Fraser at his studio at Real Time & Space he first asked us to take off our shoes, then he turned off the lights. All of sudden, as I stood staring at a blank wall, feeling vulnerable in my not so glamorous socks, a bit of magic happened. Sharp lines of light cut through the darkness, drawing out a luminescent triangle where seconds ago there had only been an empty corner and bare walls. I moved closer. The dark room seemed infinite and the glowing triangle like a doorway. I had the urge to walk through it and the sense that I actually could, and that something extraordinary was on the other side.
Many of Chris’s site-specific projects are interventions into already existent architectural spaces in which he uses straightforward techniques to create unexpected optical experiences. Essentially, he employs the principle of the camera obscura to manipulate the way light enters a room. By strategically creating holes and slits in walls, he is able to coax and direct light into specific directions and shapes, transforming once familiar surroundings into fantastical, poignant spaces.
Experimentation is key to Chris’s process, and he thrives off the chance to create within different environments. Earlier this year, he had the opportunity to work in two distinctive spaces: a small box-like room at Real Time & Space, where he was an artist-in-residence, and the dining room in a soon to be demolished house in Cow Hollow that was opened up to multiple artists for Highlight Gallery‘s inaugural site-specific project, 3020 Laguna Street in Exitum. In Chris’s careful hands both rooms were reimagined, becoming portals to another world.
Steven Charles has a show of new work up now at Stux Gallery in Chelsea. Although he was friendly meeting Steven for the first time was a little unsettling. It felt a little like I imagine spiritual seekers felt like when they met the Maharijji in the 1960s’, like meeting some strange saint. I met him through Aaron Johnson who told me Steven was one of his favorite painters.
During the studio visit Steven and I talked about how he was working as a janitor, but just a couple of years ago he was selling paintings for six-figure sums. He was another victim of 2008, but he didn’t seem bummed out. In fact, he was just going along, and to use another Maharajji idea, he seemed very present. His painting method involves creating something to react to: a painting could start by splashing paint on a surface or by gluing a kid’s sock to a board. Click read more to see his work in progress.
Rebecca Manson, one of the current sculptors in residence at Cal State University Long Bech [CSULB], told me I had to drive out to the campus to see what Christopher Miller was working on in his studio. So, with my full trust in her hands, I took the hour long and then some drive from Los Angeles to Long Beach to scope it out. And when I got to Miller’s studio I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It was a painting machine, but one made out of organic materials like bamboo instead of steel, with markers hanging from strings stretched 5 ft high. The whole thing was powered by several fans that would cause the pens to sway back and forth across a massive sheet of paper, which was taped to the ground. Christopher then had various obstacles placed around his painting surface that the pen could work around. For instance, there was one sculpture composed of about 50 triangles that restricted the motion of the pen as well as one of Rebecca’s ceramic pieces that blocked out certain areas of the paper to create an ever -evolving, uniquely beautiful, and chaotic masterpiece. I especially love how you can really feel the heart of Christopher’s piece when you see it in person, since every single element is either hand painted or constructed. Even the strings that are holding the pens have little paper accessories attached to them, which remind me of tie-died Mondrian mobiles. Christopher is still working on this particular sculpture and can always use donations of various painting supplies like inks and markers to help progress the work. If you’re interested in helping him out, you can send him a direct email at Chrismmiller[at]hotmail[dot]com. Watch a video of the piece in action after the jump.