You have a ton of different projects - what are your studio habits like? Do you work on multiple projects at a time?
My hands are constantly working to keep up with my mind. I try not to impose a specific number of projects on myself at one time, but somehow I naturally end up overlapping series and methods of working. I have dealt with anxiety my whole life, so while I’m always striving to achieve a balance, I do feel an urge to keep more than one thing going at once. When I hit a mental block with one work, I can play with something else for a while.
Can you talk about your collage works? Where do you get your collage material?
Collage is something I started seriously exploring only recently. Returning to the medium with a fresh eye is something really special. It allows me to work fast, I grab scissors and cut immediately when something catches my eye, using the cut line as an editing tool and a drawing tool. Actually, I use my sewing machine in the same way, sketching out curious shapes and then pairing them to speak to each other in an interesting way. The visual texture found in discarded magazines is a treasure trove of material. Mostly, I source snippets of images that can fool my eye. I like how the 2-D surface is an inherent great equalizer. Scale is completely disrupted when you isolate samples of an image, so texture becomes the focus. I know artists who work exclusively in collage quite successfully, but I use it more often to create a visual vocabulary that I can later jumble and layer as part of a more complex piece.
These pieces are an homage to figures in the long history of pathologization and medical/social fetishizing of intersex persons. I was inspired to create work in this vein upon reading Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, by Anne Fausto-Sterling. Levi Suydam was a 19th century resident of Connecticut whose body was critiqued and interrogated for political gain. Saint-Hilaire and Bell were researchers who focused on “abnormal” (ambiguous) genitalia. The works are acrylic with ink transfer, ‘drawn’ on using a burnish tool and worked back in with an eraser. I haven’t worked in etching so far but I’m entertaining the idea of incorporating it into more additive processes.
Do you feel like there’s a switch in your mental processes when you are working with separate materials as parts of a whole in comparison to drafting a image directly to paper with a pen or any type of mark?
I can’t say that there is a hard line of distinction between my methods of working. For my practice, I see it all as playing a role in birthing ideas. I don’t know if it speaks to an inability to compartmentalize or simply my refusal to dictate a hierarchy in craft. I dothink at this moment there is great pressure on emerging artists to make a name for ourselves with a singular method of craft, almost as a shtick. We value becoming “that guy who paints birds on buildings” more than considering what it means to push the boundaries of our own work. Living in a time when it seems everything has been done forwards and backwards, putting pen to paper can be a radical act.
What do you think the benefits of working in groups of multiples are?
Working in multiples relaxes the sense of an image’s preciousness, and allows for spontaneity in a way that proves to be more difficult when concentrating on a single piece. Like many artists, I am my harshest critic. Working on more than one piece at a time helps combat overworking an image and loosing the sense of earnestness and accessibility that I appreciate so often in art.
You work with a lot of textiles - how is that process different for you? How do you decide what material will be more appropriate for a project than another?
Trial and error. Arriving at a visual solution is the purely intuitive part of my practice. I choose material based on instinct, but I suppose I think mostly about contrast, color relationships, and tactility. I try different things (gluing, painting over, peeling off, stitching back on…) and eventually, when the work feels like more than the sum of its parts, I step back. Paintings are like relationships, what feels like the right approach with one can prove disastrous in another.
Can you talk about Body Theories?
Body Theories were made to re-imagine my works with ink transfer on muslin from my BFA thesis show, Where We Are Both & Neither. I wanted to keep embroidering with transferred elements on fabric, keep the scale intimate and make them plush, to be easily handled. I was thinking a lot about comfort objects and our tendency to look for ourselves in others. They are like my version of the strange companion dolls marketed to girls that you can customize to look like you, even down to the placement of freckles. I wondered what it would be like if we carried mirror images of how we felt our bodies looked. The Theories are inherently abstract, but you can hold these in your hands.
Can you talk about the Hysteria paintings and their accompanying partners with gender themes from 2010?
Hysteria has origins in the Greek word hystera, meaning womb. The paintings are asking the tongue-in-cheek question of “what would a hysterical uterus look like?” I was interested in the long history of hysterical illness as a medical theory to explain supposed irrational or erratic behavior, and the persisting association between the “feminine” and the emotive. I’m fascinated with the relationship between our anatomical and our emotional selves, but the color palette I developed at the time put me in a more playful direction aesthetically.
Tell us about your paint with fabric pieces - the colors are so rich.
These are what I like to call painterly pastiche works, meaning paintings that rely on relationships between literal bodies of material—surfaces differentiated by color and texture. I’ll often source imagery from my collages or gouache paintings, changing the scale and amplifying the texture and contrast. I let the forms have a conversation.
What are you thinking about and inspired by these days?
I’m inspired by people with stories to tell. Louise Bourgeois comes to mind, but so do the Baltimore City kids I teach art to during the week. I was raised reading, and I love poetry by Eileen Myles, and a lot of non-fiction. I mine the free bookstore for vintage gems like “Gender and Disordered Behavior.” I collect articles on genetics, biology, sexuality, memoirs of gender-variant, trans* and intersex persons, articles from the website autostraddle, and work by peers. I am inspired by handmade oddities and small gestures of kindness.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new series marrying embroidery and painting that I started while in residence at Vermont Studio Center. I have a few projects in the works, but whenever something becomes a sure thing, I post it to my blog.