When did you first know you were an artist?
Like many of the artists I know, I was the artist child in the family. But I believe that identity is something that is at once inherent and felt, as well as ascribed and cultivated. There are things we are told that we ARE as children because we have natural abilities in certain areas. There are things that we are good at, or that make us feel the way we want to feel, that we spend time and energy cultivating through work as a means with which to develop self-esteem and a sense of agency over our lives and identity. And then there are the things that we are drawn to, the things we desire and seek out, the things that make us feel at a heightened level, the things that connect us to some things and make us feel separate from others. The latter seems more connected to our experience of being us in our bodies in the world and that aspect seems to determine what is important to us, what we value and are willing to give ourselves over to, separate from anyone else’s expectations, experience or opinion.
Over the years, I have evaluated many times this label of artist and where it comes from. I have been faced with challenges that have forced me to make an active choice to continue to make work, to continue to occupy that space as I move through the world. It is perhaps through my realization that, as I saw and analyzed connections, I was observing differently that I inhabited that space of artist.
I remember going to a play as a small child at the Masonic Temple in Detroit and looking across the street. There stood a house that had clearly been burned out years before. Waiting outside I looked into the glassless windows of the house and saw a staircase still standing against the back wall. On three consecutive stairs grew three small saplings. This image stayed with me and, I am sure, still informs my work like so many images, observations and experiences that followed.
Favorite medium(s) you use to make art.
Drawing has always been at the center of my work though I work in whatever medium is appropriate to flesh out my ideas. I think in bodies of work, making several pieces that are, in my mind, meant to occupy a space together in order to complete each other’s thoughts. Most of the work is wall hanging surfaces of paper or wood, but some ideas have to occupy the same space as the body of the viewer, some have to be found in the world outside of the studio and some ideas have to move. I use photography as both a tool to keep my eyes and compositions sharp but also as a means for gathering reference imagery and have, at times, shot some video as a way to realize ideas.
My partner and I also work, about once a year, on an ongoing collaborative project, called Movement & Stillness. Whenever we return to that project, it helps me to clarify my ideas for an upcoming body of work and stretch my formal and conceptual thinking. She has a background in dance and performance, and brings her own experience of the world to the work. She and I agree upon a conceptual framework and a physical location or structure but then she comes to it with movement and ideas that are outside of anything that I could envision on my own. It is like an incredible conversation with the person I love and respect most in the world. It gets me out of the studio and out of my own head, pushing me beyond the boundaries of my own thinking and limits of my own vocabulary.
What are the most interesting new trends in your field? Is your work changing as a result?
Increasingly, over the course of the last decade, we have seen a reemergence of figurative work as a celebrated genre. After a long period of being devalued in comparison to abstraction, dismissed as romantic or simply about beauty or desire, the presence of the human body in visual art is being reframed through some pretty incredible, even revolutionary, work.
Furthermore, we see that the figurative work being made and celebrated now is no longer dominated by a Eurocentric, white, cisgendered male gazing at the female body as an object of desire. In my opinion, the most significant figurative work being put forward in the present moment is being produced by and of bodies that have historically been othered, objectified, oppressed or invisible: black and brown bodies, queer bodies, non-binary bodies, women presenting their own bodies, the bodies of the displaced, bodies dressed in something other than western or Christian adornments, and bodies of all sizes.
As a female-identified, queer figurative painter, this is thrilling. Artists from Kerry James Marshall to Mickalene Thomas, Ghada Amer, Zanele Muholi, Jenny Saville, Laylah Ali, Amy Sherald, Wangechi Mutu, Swoon, Clare Rojas, Catherine Opie, Nick Cave and Nicole Eisenman, to name just a few, as well as some incredible artists who are less well known, provide inspiration, permission, encouragement and a challenge to be as honest, as observant, as brave and vulnerable about who we are, where we are and what we want to be as we can.
Talk about your creative process – where/when do you get most of your ideas and how do you know a piece is ‘finished’?
Generally, bodies of work come out of a feeling, an experience or a situation I am wanting or needing to analyze, makes sense out of, let go of or gain/regain control over. When I get ahold of that core element, I then seek out spaces, structures and postures that seem to relate to that feeling, that place, and gather the references I feel I need to help me anchor those intangibles in the physical work. Photography allows me to grab at images quickly and take from them what I need later. Not overthink. I go through them, make edits and start to imagine pieces of various images layered on top of one another or in juxtaposition to one another.
In my drawings, figure, surface, lines, geometry and color simultaneously interrupt and support one another. Within three-dimensional space, objects and architectural surrounds are constructed to promote a physical and evocative connection with the body of the viewer. The work is not about representing a location but instead about presenting what is found there. The bodies exist in a situation as much as they do in a location. They seek to ground themselves in the “places” they occupy through their hands, feet, through touch and strength. But they are also nowhere. And so, at times the body is also absent from the structures I build. Intersecting lines, partial views of the body and planes of dislocated material produce windows into this experienced place. When both the formal language and the sense that I have presented a part of that feeling or experience or relationship – that “place” – as honestly and accurately as I can in that, that a piece feels resolved and I can move on to the next.
Do you also teach or are you strictly a creative artist? Who was your most influential mentor and why? How do you see the role of being a mentor?
I will admit that I am skeptical about the word mentor when it comes to my creative practice. My general feeling is that if you follow someone else too closely you will either end up getting lost or be disappointed. I have certainly had important teachers, both in and out of an academic environment, that have exposed me to experiences or ideas that have opened my thinking or pushed me to reassert my values in and out of the studio.
When others’ voices, or even my more self-critical voice, are too present in the studio, I find it hard to start, to move, [and feel] unclear about why I am making the choices I am making. I far prefer to go out in the world and gather and then be a solitary worker bee in the studio, protecting that productive space and inviting voices in my own time.
I am certainly moved or pushed by the work of others that I see. But more often than not, I go to music and words to propel my work forward. Outside of the studio, I underline passages with a push pencil so that I can return to them when I feel unsure. In the studio, I may have the music of a particular artist on that provides me with the right atmosphere, tempo or feeling, sometimes even singing the kind of words I need to hear or making me move a certain way through the space. When I am not playing music I “watch” documentaries in the studio. Rarely do I actually look at the screen, but there is something about receiving factual information, in a storytelling telling sequence that I can follow, that I find both comforting and rewarding. I love the learning that happens almost by osmosis as these films play in the background but there is something about having a toe in the act of listening that helps me keep a toe out of my own head. In other words, I invite these “voices” into the studio to keep me focused on doing and to keep me company on that line between emotional openness, impulse and rational decisions that I need to hold to keep moving forward in the studio.
What are you working on now?
We have a busy household and maintaining the studio work/life/family/day job balance is something that has to be consciously and constantly attended to. I am proud to say that I make work consistently and, while I could say “today I worked on” or “this body of work is,” ultimately the work is one endless continuum. It comes out of my ongoing process as a person [who is] seeking to understand herself in the world. I am comforted by this notion and it honestly relieves the pressure or internal judgment about whether the work is new enough, different enough, or enough in some quantitative way.
When I look back through my work, there is so much incremental change and it is all moving in a direction. I cannot fully perceive that direction and it does not help me to judge the pace with which I progress in it. I have to trust the process of working and I am a Mid-western worker at heart. The work is the constant so I have to believe that as long as I am making, something will happen, something will be “good,” ideas will change and grow and improve … as I will.
I show work regularly and am constantly navigating the business side of my studio practice with the making. Thankfully, there is a natural cycle I move through every year that allows me to compartmentalize these two very different modes a bit. I am also part of an artist representation program called Art Shape Mammoth, which is a non-profit committed to supporting artists by providing them with exhibition opportunities, access to community and creative public exchange. I am transitioning into doing some writing for them this year, in addition to being one of their represented artists, and that is a part of myself that I am excited to engage with in a focused way again.
I am also participating in Riley Johndonnell’s initiative, the Paint the Town Yellow campaign and exhibition with an exhibition and events throughout Kingston from March through May.
How has being in Kingston enhanced/inspired your work? What do you like best about living in Kingston/being involved with MAD? How long have you been here?
My family moved to Kingston in the summer of 2017 after a decade in Brooklyn. We were seeking a different rhythm, more immediate access to nature and a home to cultivate and call our own. It is a giant transition that we took head on and, as we realize that it is a long-term, still unfolding process, we are also trying to be patient with ourselves through it.
It is an opportunity for growth for all of us, and that is exhausting and exciting all at once. My daughter just being able to explore the outdoors alone has been an incredible benefit. She played in the snow with her friend for hours the other day without us and that simple joy would not have been possible at our Brooklyn apartment.
The move has also enhanced the quality of my life as a maker. Being able to build out a home studio so that I can establish a new live/work balance and not having the stability of my studio situation subject to landlords, shrinking spaces and rising rents is freeing. It also allows me to have more fluid movement between time with my family and time in the studio, which gives me a sense of consistency and integration in my practice that I have long desired.
There seems to be a wonderful, diverse active artist community in Kingston, which certainly influenced our initial choice to move here. I have only scratched the surface of it so far but it seems vibrant, active and supportive. We are excited to meet more people, see more work and continue to build our lives here.