Michael Scoggins’s name was one of the first I heard when I started my MFA at Savannah College of Art and Design.
As one of the school’s MFA artist alumni, Scoggins gave a clear picture of how living as an artist could possibly look. I dreamt of it, telling myself, “Yeah, if only I could keep making work after I graduate from here … right?”
I still wrestle with this pressure and with this idea to be actively making and living as an artist. It is really a day-to-day failure and conquest. And Scoggins’s works on paper—created on the iconic base of American school notebook paper—speak exactly to such commonplace matters as daydreaming and the private narratives it brings.
About a year ago, I asked if I could visit his studio when I was next in New York. He invited me in and was incredibly accessible and generous sharing his work and thoughts. So, I made my second visit to his studio in Bushwick during my month of Artadia residency. We ordered in a Japanese lunch, sat on his studio floor, and talked relentlessly about ideas on art making, placeness, accessibility of art, art as commodity, identity, and more.
Michael Scoggins currently has a solo exhibition, A Day in the Life, at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Cress Gallery (October 15–December 6, 2013).
Interview edited for grammar.
Gyun Hur: Thank you for opening up your studio for me … Michael. I have followed your work in the past few years, and getting to see your work in person outside of a gallery context and converse with you about issues that concern your work was really stimulating. Your works have been consistently based on this idea of a child’s notebook, doodling. When I moved to the United States as a student, one of the immediate changes in my school life was a different visual in terms of notebook paper. I used it every day for homework, and eventually for personal notes you might pass to your friends during class or in a hallway. Could you tell me about that notebook as an underlying thread of your work? I see that it immediately makes your work accessible and inviting to all.
Michael Scoggins: You’re exactly right. One of the main reasons behind using the enlarged notebook format is to make the work accessible and inviting. I’m trying to have an immediate connection with the viewer by using something that is familiar. I’m also trying to reach out beyond your typical art-viewing audience. The portion of people [who] seek out and go look at art is a very small percentage of the population. I want to make a connection with everyone, and I believe this format allows that. There is still always the issue of accessibility to art, but I’m always striving to bridge the gap between the art world and the much larger world beyond it.
GH: So this idea of “accessibility” is something that we both talked a lot about during my visits to your studio. Your visuals, text, and references are of the ones that we as Americans are familiar with. The themes of childhood, family, political conditions, and superheroes are narratives that are very distinctive and deeply embedded in each individual’s life. How do you navigate this realm between your personal world and the public presentation of your work? I know that you have done some sculptural works in which your paper is getting folded, etc. It is nice, because that reminds me of folded notes that I used to hand out to my friends.
MS: I do tend to use imagery that is also familiar to a larger audience. Again, it’s about approachability. These are things I see and [that] influence my daily life. Sincerity in my work is vital to present the concepts. Make work about what you know and you’ll be okay. That’s been my mantra for many years now. Art should always be personal and others [should be able to] relate when they make connections from their own experiences. There is no separation between art and life. I know that sounds kooky, but it’s true.
GH: You grew up in the South, went to school in Savannah, Georgia, then moved to New York about a decade ago. How is your relationship to these two different cities? I think that our cultural and physical landscapes are getting flatter and immensely complex. No longer do we identify so much with one specific place within our narratives, however, that sense of belonging is important, I believe. I would love to hear your thoughts on this idea of place and identity.
MS: It’s funny because I feel like I’m still very connected to the South but New York is now my home. I’m a Southerner by birth, so there will always be that part of me that misses being there, and at the same time I love New York … but never quite feel like I completely belong even after all these years. I always get excited and a little emotional when I cross the Mason-Dixon [Line,] but I also feel the energy of New York … when I’m flying into LaGuardia and looking over the city. I know that I’m home. I belong to both, and that’s a good thing.
I know my practice has changed since living in New York. There is just so much stimulation that it seeps into ones subconscious and comes out in the work. Living in Savannah allowed me to mature as an artist and person. I needed that time, and it allowed me time to experiment and prepared me mentally for the move north. I don’t think I could be in New York today without that time in Georgia.
Juri Onuki and I met in 2009 while auditioning for Marina Abramovic’s retrospective The Artist is Present (2010) at MoMA.
A few dancers and I were there to meet with Abramovic to be photographed and greet one another, and Juri and I immediately hit it off. We have collaborated on a few pieces together in the past years, and each time I visit New York City we catch up on life and art making. I met up with her while I was in NYC this past July to have some lunch together and talk about a few things.
Juri always has something exciting in her updates, meeting this artist or that musician in the city, seeing performances that are out of this world; she often exclaims, “I love this city. I can’t imagine being anywhere else, although gosh…it’s really hard here.”
Originally from Ibaraki, Japan, Onuki studied at George Mason University and the Merce Cunningham Studio. Currently based in Brooklyn, she has performed and worked with numerous conceptual artists, choreographers, and dance and art institutions. In this conversation, I speak with Juri about her making process as a dancer, an artist, and a choreographer.
Gyun Hur: Juri, thank you for stopping by [my Artadia installation] in Dumbo. You and I have been in touch for awhile, and I am always encouraged by the fact that we both have been trying our ways to continue working as artists. The ways that you have been carving your creative pursuit has been rather unconventional as a dancer. You have been involved in projects with Marina Abramovic, William Pope.L, and many other artists. Could you tell me more about your projects, gigs, and self-initiated choreography projects?
Juri Onuki: Thank you for having me at your installation site, Gyun. It’s quite lovely, and it’s always so nice to see your work that contains such delicate and sensitive beauty. Yes, I am very aware of that my creative pursuit and experiences are so unique compared to other dancers. First of all, I like art. I go to museums, music shows, dance shows, restaurants etc. Especially living in New York City, there are [so many spaces] filled with people’s creative ideas. The stuff I like and am inspired from are coming from all different media. Dance just happens to be my outlet to express myself.
Speaking of projects, there are two choreographers (RoseAnn Spradlin and Rebecca Warner) that I am working with now as a dancer. In this specific type of situation, you learn movements that the choreographer wants. Working with Abramovic and Pope.L was also along these same lines. I’m honored to be in works by these amazing artists. I also love collaborating with artists from other media, my most recent collaboration was withJon Santos who is a designer and DJ. We did an audience participation-based performance piece calledSocial Mirroring which focuses on the first two minutes of a social encounter, but we extended that moment into an hour! [Laughs.] I love seeing the birth of news ideas when I’m collaborating with different artists. It’s always surprising and satisfying. For my own choreography, I’m trying to make a dance or two a year. I produced/curated my own show last year, which [incorporates] both dance and video art. I presented my work, Panorama, in that show too, and it turned out to be very unique show. It was very hard work, but I wanna do it again. Also, I am at the very beginning stage of making a new piece which I am presenting in a private event.
GH: Your work navigates between the language of dance and movements, the conceptual understanding of body as medium, which then translates into visual/conceptual art. I remember your very first choreography piece at Get This! Gallery, and it was powerful [because] I saw a young dancer who was becoming…more than a dancer. You were an artist, a choreographer who sensitively expressed this idea of contraints, space, and body through this piece. What are some of choreographic interests of yours? How have you been growing as a dancer, a thinker, an artist?
JO: You just explained me so well! I’m glad you liked the piece that I did at Get This! Looking back, it all started from there. I am a very visual person, and I have specific visuals that I want the audience to see. Recreating those images from body and space is always a challenge. Also, the texture and mood of the dance has to be believable, so I often relate my inspiration toactual personal experiences or fantasies about certain things. Real feelings! My current choreographic interest is to make a group piece. I’ve only presented solo works, so I would love to have more bodies.
I hope I’ve grown as a person. Each experience in my past gave me so much and I’ve learned a lot. I’m still learning, but I think in some ways I’m smarter and more efficient now; I’m able to think wider.
GH: You have been in Atlanta a few times with my projects. What are some of your impressions of the city Atlanta—I know you love New York City. How is it also living in NYC? I thought so much of you when I was watching Frances Ha. Do you imagine being in NYC for most of your life? And, to this thought, what is that idea of ‘studio space’ for you as a dancer? Perhaps the entire city? Do you feel a need of private space at times for your body and thoughts to evolve?
JO: I like Atlanta a lot. I went to college in Virginia, so the South grew on me. I love southern food, and Atlanta can provide me with amazing grits! I felt like [downtown Atlanta] is clean but has some emptiness, which I find very interesting. I think it’s because I am so used to seeing waves of people in NYC. I always like seeing the trains and red bricks [in Atlanta] too. There are many beautiful, abundant spaces that I would love to see some art happening [within]!
Living in New York City can be tiring, and if I have a chance to get away, I do. Certainly it took me a while to get used to the pacing of the city. Like you saw in Frances Ha. It shows real pain but also the beauty of living here. I’ve realized that the reason why I still live here is for the people. I would like to be involved with this creative community as long as I can. But who knows if I am going to be here rest of my life? In a way, I am flexible to be anywhere anytime.
Unlike visual artists, most choreographers here rent space to rehearse. It costs money. So space grants are really big deal. I really do need my own space and to be in a studio to things to start, but I wonder if I have a studio available to me all the time, how much [more] productive I really can be. For now, I’m paying for space for a certain amount of hours [when I need it], and that gives me both more of a sense of commitment and a better idea of time and deadlines. It works.
“My studio… does not have any windows.” Drew spoke about his studio as he was hustling to gather wood panels and stands to make a pseudo table for our lunch, picked up from a Thai restaurant close by in Brooklyn.
“And I never had a meal in my studio— as you can see, it’s pretty rough.”
I met Drew Conrad for first time this past July while doing a residency in New York. He has shown at Get This! Gallery over the past years, and recently had his debut solo show in NYC with Fitzroy Gallery, Ain’t Dead Yet. His sculptural installations appear as ambitious, mysterious, and dark. These constructed and then destroyed structures demanded a specific narrative understanding from me.
We spent a few hours eating noodles and rice together in his studio, and conversed regarding his recent series of works, upcoming show Backwater Blues at Get This! Gallery, living in NYC as an artist, construction of history, places, memories, and much more. A few days ago, I visited Get This! Gallery to shoot a few photos of Conrad’s show. The works, now transported into a white space, were breathing very differently from Conrad’s dark studio in Brooklyn. His works were incredibly photogenic. The standing sculptures’ dark, almost haunting, hues were sort of eminating against cold white gallery walls, and the warm bulb lights were dancing around the sculptures as if seductive lyrics.
Gyun Hur: Drew, thank you so much for opening up your studio to me! Your structures are looking so fantastic. This series of constructed, fragmented sculptures are for the upcoming solo show with Get This! Gallery here in Atlanta, Backwater Blues, and also a continuation of your last solo show with Fitzroy Gallery, NYC, Ain’t Dead Yet. There seems to be a poetry in your exhibition titles, and knowing that these form a continual series, they intrigue me. The constructed houses are worn out, old, with a strange sense of history to them. Could you tell me a little more about your current work regarding these structures? Is site of the gallery (NYC to Atlanta) changing your approach, context of work?
Drew Conrad: I sometimes feel like finding the proper title for a show is one of the most arduous tasks. It takes me a lot of eraser marks and rejected phrases in finding the perfect verbage to encapsulate a show. In regards to my current work, Ain’t Dead Yet and Backwater Blues represent a continuing series that is based upon decaying architectural, interior and exterior spaces which manifest in the form of a fragmented house.
The context of work has slightly shifted from Ain’t Dead Yet to Backwater Blues, but I wouldn’t say it has been dictated by the changing of show locations. I do understand that my work has a ‘southern’ tone to it and heading south will only magnify that more, but the new body of work really stems from a direct response to the previous work shown at Fitzroy. Ain’t Dead Yet had vitality through blinking arrow signs, record collections, sound looped megaphones, and even a marquee photo of Elvis at his final encore. Backwater Blues is me taking a slightly more somber approach. Gone are the blinking lights and sound pieces. Elvis has returned, but in the form of his grave sight at Graceland and the chandeliers sit heavy on the floor rather than suspended from the sculptures. The sculptures in Backwater Blues are essentially the missing companion pieces for many in the former show. The two shows still feel one in the same within the aspects of construction and the overall handling of materials, but focus on different themes and moods.
GH: There is a sense of constructed history. What are some of your choices of materials and process? Specific items, like picture frames, are placed to provoke certain visual codes, memories. They are brilliantly beautiful and old and new and nostalgic all simultaneously.
DC: The sculptures are created from completely new materials, consisting of wood, fabric, lighting fixtures, and household oddities which are then deteriorated and destroyed through multiple methods, so this idea of constructed history is an undeniable part of my process. I fabricate every part of the history and aging in the sculptures, from the rust on the nails to the dirt on floor. It is truly is a filthy job that in the end gives me complete control over the visual experience rather than relying on reclaimed lumber and items which are already imbedded with their own past. In regards to photos and other items that find their way into my pieces, they are culled from wide range of sources. They serve as signifiers to overall themes within the work. Some are more direct than others. Taxidermy might introduce the general idea of the exotic, while a grouping ofpaintings, Blue Boy and Pinkie, might lead to more art referential explorations and can be directly tied to my childhood. All the sculptures are built with that constructed history in mind, culled specifically from my experiences and past, and the American historical landscape. Ideas of the dust bowl, the Gilded Age, the Deep South, and current pop culture all surface within these pieces. They are a bricolage of items made to evoke the exploration of memory, nostalgia, and Americana.
GH: You have been here in NYC for about 10 years now. Coming out of the University of Georgia, staying in Atlanta a bit, could you tell me a little bit about your decision to move up to NYC, a journey of standing on your own feet as an artist in that city? And, how it is for you to coming back to Atlanta with a body of work that shows so much of your growth and ambition?
DC: I have one of the age-old cliché stories of moving to New York to become an artist. It begins with graduate school and ends with sobering up to focus on my art career. And yes, there was a lot of getting lost in the downtown nightlife in between. It wasn’t until about three years ago that I decided to focus on putting my art career first. I had this overwhelming urge to create something bigger than myself—something that would at least make me feel like I gave it my all, even if the art world never noticed. It was pretty much a self-imposed do or die situation.
I got a studio in Brooklyn and took that phrase “something bigger” quite literally, and so I started building a 12-foot tall sculpture, which became Dwelling No. 1. It was the first free standing large scale sculpture I had ever built. Once I finished it I knew I couldn’t stop and all the sculptures that would follow would ended up becoming the show Ain’t Dead Yet, hence the title. Over the course of these ten years, I’ve been represented by Get This! Gallery in Atlanta. I have had the fortune of being the inaugural solo show in the two previous locations, and now I will be returning for a third solo show, once again, in a new space. I am happy to return to Atlanta after a few years of hiatus.
Mark Wentzel was my former professor and a thesis advisor at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His sharp ideas and inputs to architecturally frame my thesis work continue to be essential in ways I think about my own practice.
His wife, Jen who also is an artist, and Mark have invited me over for dinners a few times and have offered generous spirit of conversations and life. Out of curiosity of where he was with his work and ideas, I invited him to participate in this lunch project, and he welcomed it. I was quite excited.
Formerly known with his chair piece “XLounge”, Wentzel’s works wrestle with this idea of functionality and aesthetics of art objects, addressing relevant social issues for us to ponder. His show at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center “Morale Hazard” (2009) also questioned this hypothetic/real situation of collapses of systems that we constructed for ourselves. To read more about “Morale Hazard,” here is an Art 21 blog regarding Mark Wentzel’s work. http://blog.art21.org/2009/05/27/holla-from-hotlanta/
xlounge (2006) #markwentz
#moralehazard (2009) #markwentzel #aca
When I asked Mark what food to bring, he had one of the simplest requests - coconut soup and spring rolls. I got to his house and he led me to downstairs studio. We crowded a small table with bowls and wrapped spring rolls and started to eat. Mark quickly started the conversation regarding this idea of ‘food’ as a diffuser amongst relationships built with other artists. This constant social negotiation, unless stemmed out of early friendship, with other individuals can be a tricky thing. I think that’s why we need to eat together often like family would.
Gyun Hur (GH): Your point regarding 'food’ is interesting. You mentioned how 'food’ becomes a diffuser in a sense amongst people since it is an accessible denominator. In a sense, that is why I love eating with people, something so instinctive about food while we may be conversing regarding our emotional and intellectual ideas. We, artists, are interesting - yes, we have this strange relationship with our own 'ego’s and finding ourselves to navigate in the midst of this art world can be trying, rewarding, heart breaking, and enriching. Anyways, could you talk a little more about your project with food and community in Detroit? Even just drawn as an idea on a map, I find it really interesting.
Mark Wentzel (MW): Yeah, food is good stuff. Perhaps because food is highest on the list of basic human needs and the preparation (cooking) of food has a lot to do with our evolution as the dominant species (for better or worse) it makes sense that when it’s sort of put in the position of social currency it works well. Acquisition of taste, nutrition, palate refinement and all that aside…maybe food is that third voice in the conversation that keeps things in perspective relative to basic necessity. In some cultures the phrase “have you eaten” is used in the same way as Americans would say, “how are you doing.” This makes a lot of sense. Besides, you can’t monopolize a conversation so much when your mouth is stuffed with chicken confit, or chicken feet, or chick-fil-A. So my proposal for a specific neighborhood in Detroit uses food as form of creative currency. It’s more of a curatorial concept than an individual art idea that brings people together, in a rough but promising area of the world, over food to generate creative ideas. But more later on that…hopefully.
# # #
Precise design series of his zodiac animal device caught my attention, which led us to converse regarding functionality vs. aesthetics more intensively.
GH: This idea of “vice vs. virtue” and how 'vs’ exists as in-between-er deeply permeates in your work. Your series of sculptures and designs suggest this wrestling between functionality and mere aesthetics and existence as pure sculpture. As a sculptor, as more of a maker rather than a romantic dweller in an image (yes, did we not refer that to painters - ), you are engaging this process as a conceptual thinker and a physical maker. Could you elaborate more on this idea, especially regarding your vice (12 zodiac animal series?)
MW: What I like about the phrase vice versus virtue beyond quaint alliteration is that while it normally sets up a relationship of opposites, good vs. bad, it can also be a sequence of almost synonymous terms. All three of these terms can act as comparatives, by virtue of this, in vice of that, this versus that, setting up an opportunity for neutrality rather than polarity. So the bench vice as a physical sculptural object came to mind as a mitigating form, sort of like the nail fetishes in the Congo of African, that has a certain diffusive agency. When realized these will be large scale, functional cast iron works representing seven of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. They are interpretations of the bronze fountainheads created by the 17th Century Italian missionary Giuseppe Castiglione for the Qianlong Emperor at the Old Summer Palace, the ones that Ai Wei Wei replicated recently…from there the story gets a little more complicated. (insert mouthful of cantonese noodles).
After talking intensively about this urgency about wanting to finding an 'answer’ in our act of making, I took some time taking a look at his sketches. This particular space of Mark’s was filled with sketches, graphic mottos, and writings for projects to be actualized. And these notably recognizable structures were to be built, positioned in contexts that would reverse their assumed functionality, asking questions back to the audience of what we are looking at. “Objects” in public space allow works to be accessible - and this accessibility, this democratic way of accessing works and ideas is important to Mark, important to me. And in that idea, we dwelled a bit conversing.
GH: Your space, in a way, your entire house is fragmented/divided in an interesting way. Even this basement studio space is in a way full of layers. Entrance is a guest room sort, and this current sitting space in which you share with your son August and a lot of your sketches and texts exist. And then behind a black curtain, there is a physical space with tools and machines which you share with Jen. And then the space leads to a bigger space outside. Your way of structuring this (as it is still evolving) architecture in a way hints me the way that you are processing ideas - framing ideas, problem solving situations, negotiating relationships, etc.
MW: My spaces, I guess is more accurate. Partly due to circumstance, but yeah, I have a very compartmentalized work environment. I think this is probably pretty analogous to how my brain works, but it also accommodates different aspects of my work, computer rendering, idea generation, small and larger scale fabrication, studying, along with my family life. These different rooms, I guess five in all, each play a different role in thinking about and making art, but they also allow me to integrate my family relationships, my wife is a clay artist and my son has enjoyed laying some pretty serious marks down on a stack of matt board scraps. Yes, so we have a bunch of independent spaces, each a work in progress in itself.
We also talked about August (Mark’s son)’s paintings, his incredible brush marks. As an artist, to be a parent and see much part of yourself in your child… must be an incredible thing.
With the simplest set of food (a small bowl of coconut soup and spring rolls), we had perhaps the most complex conversation about what actually 'making’ means to us artists - makers and thinkers. And a deep concern how art is supposed to function in the midst of our normality was apparent in his work and thoughts. And perhaps Steve Aishman’s text regarding Mark’s show “Morale Hazard” echoes exactly that:
“ Subsequently, his gallery talk was filled with people who had largely diverse interest, like people who were interested in art, people who only wanted to talk about the economy and some people who were just interested in muscles cars.”
Cannot wait to see his next project in person. Thank you, Mark, for making time to share your thoughts and studio space and also the most thoughtful words for this blog post. Thank you, Tin Drum Cafe, for free lunch for us and a gift card!
Next artist is Yana Dimitrova who moved to NYC from Atlanta after her schooling. It is going to be another good one! Stay tuned -
I met Namwon Choi when I was in my junior year at the University of Georgia.
She recently had moved to the States then, and one of my professors introduced us to each other, just merely because we both were ‘Korean - women - art - students.’ And he was not too off in his projection of how we would connect.
We usually meet over meals to catch up on things as friends and artists, and this was a good opportunity for me to actually visit her studio and intentionally talk about her practice.
Currently, Namwon is a MFA candidate at Georgia State University. Past two and half years, her figurative paintings have been forming in ways that are more physical, and perhaps less literal. She is battling with yes, 'physicality’ of painting and imagery of figures. In the midst, her insertion of materials like broken mirrors, glass panels, and copper plate becomes another form of painting that depicts a different dimensionality.
After a playful entrance to her studio with my Tin Drum lunch bag (see the video post below), I gasped as I entered her studio.
That was my first reaction.
Something intense and grueling was going on in her studio. Confrontational eyes, physical marks, wings, and shadows in her paintings were about to just burst at me.
We quickly opened our lunch bowls - Mango Stir-Fry and Masaman Curry this time. I like noodles, but you cannot really go wrong with rice and some good savory sauce on top. We finished the food pretty quickly.
When I shared about this artist project idea with Namwon, she bursted out in laughter. She said, “it’s brilliant! You should subtitle the project, 'Does art feed you?’” 예술이 밥 먹여주냐?
There is a saying “예술이 밥 먹여주냐? Does art feed you?” in Korean. It is a sarcastic saying that being an artist is not a practical, sensible choice. Typical parents would tell their children exactly that.
She is right. I should subtitle it that -
So the conversation started with a usual this and that as friends would talk. It was, in fact, challenging for me to put our lunch in context of me really getting to know Namwon’s work. Often, I would alter our conversation saying, “so… your painting there…”
And here it goes - a few things we talked about!
Gyun Hur (GH): Namwon, in the past few years of your MFA pursuit, I have seen your paintings evolve. Let me trace back to your thesis in Korea. Although I never saw your older paintings in person, your figurative paintings in print struck me as something that was familiar (we understand figures, and each figure was stacked up to create a landscape sort), yet your fused techniques and aesthetic sensibilities were quite provocative. I see that same provocativeness in your current paintings as well. One thing that stands out to me is an intensity of 'gaze’ that you depict through eyes in your paintings. That particular painting is quite confrontational with your eyes pinched. Could you elaborate more on that?
Namwon Choi (NC): Now, who would have guessed the word 'provocativeness’ can be applied on my paintings? I mean do they really go together even? What I mean by that is, it’s a surprise, a nice surpirse that something that I would have never guessed or intended … and from that point, the conversation begins. The gaze painting, I titled it “ - o ” which means below zero, below ground level as a metaphor of whom I am now. Also as an Asian woman artist in America, inevitably certain reading of me is applied and it will be. I had no control or choice on the appearance that I was given, so here I am, take it world!
# # #
The conversation goes on.
One thing that I appreciate about having Namwon around as a friend and an artist colleague is that we can talk about specific struggles as a minority woman artist. Again and again, I run into pre-assumptions and expectations from others, outside of my understanding and intention, and I find that limiting and frustrating at times. I find that African-American artists are really refining their voice as artists with references of the past and present, yet we Asians do not talk about our struggles much. We do not know how to talk about it. Really. Namwon and I attempted -
GH: We talked about 'feminism’ in a sense that could be relevant to contemporary young women of colors. And as I remember, our conclusion regarding these specific frustrations of being women, being specifically 'oriental’ women - that it perhaps gives us more room to have empathy and understanding. What have been specific struggles for you as you enter more intensively in this art world? What do you find in your paintings, a spiritual revelation sort (as we talked about)?
NC: Well, first of all, it is too early for me to say what my experience as an Asian woman artist in the contemporary art world is about. It is more like a 'life hits you with a brick’ experience, I would say. And so as a woman, we take that as a 'women-only-matter.’ However, I recently realize it is not. Everybody is dealing and fighting on his/her own battle. Thankfully, I am from a country overcoming a tremendous hardship and the spirit of it runs in my blood. I am fighting my own battle soley in my studio everyday and if that is called as 'one to one combat,’ or a 'confession,’ that would be fairly well described.
GH: I want to specifically ask you about the painting of your hair and scalp. It is revealing in a sense that you are exposing perhaps one of most unseen and vulnerable parts of your body that is not literal - a top of your scalp?! And each hair strand is divided in a way as if fingers (figuratively) were trying to find a way that hair was supposed to fall… it is quite a beautiful painting. Could you tell me a little more about this painting?
NC: The scalp painting is my interpretation of Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows.” My reading of that particular painting was that the wheat field was not just there dumbly waited to feed the crows, yet the power of the germination of each tiny grain scares the crows away, as if exorcising demons. So one morning, I brushed my hair as I always do and I realized that act ('everything is going to be alright act’, if you will), a patting on my head with my own fingers as if my mom did when I was little, was somehow very comforting. So I parted my hair just like the path in the middle of the Wheatfield in the Van Gogh painting and all of sudden, the color contrast of the scalp and dark hair seemed like yelling at me, 'Do a painting!’
GH: Your paintings are teasing the audience in a way where paintings become a sculptural dimension that creates a shadow. That is quite powerful while perhaps it diminishes the image? Painting at the end of the day is meant for an optical illusion for us to believe in an alternative reality, and you are creating this shadow that distorts that idea.
NC: I like it when my paintings get challenged (in other words, dealing with limitations) by the excitement from the making of different objects with different materials. It is difficult to achieve the presence of three dimensional art work gives in painting. No matter how hard I try to make a hole on canvas, it is a still flat canvas. So I borrowed an old Chinese shadow puppet show idea by painting images on a clear glass and let the painted images cast their shadow. That way, painting becomes beyond two dimensional as if it takes you to where you can sense more than what has painted. These are hands painted on a a clear glass linked and connected ever so tightly, but look again, they are wings!
....and there, I surely saw wings.
Thank you, Namwon, for making time for this conversation, and thank you Tin Drum Cafe for sponsoring our lunch and also giving the artist a gift card!!!
Next artist is Mark Wentel. Stay tuned!
“So how is it being back to your studio? It took me awhile to get back to the normality of my life back in Atlanta, but it’s been good. So good to see you again, Katherine.”
Katherine and I hugged as I was entering her studio with a bag of Tin Drum noodles.
Katherine Taylor, Atlanta-based painter, and I spent a month of May at the Vermont Studio Center (VSC). While we were aware of each other’s works and presence, this residency was the first time we got to know each other as artists and friends over meals, drinks, and studio visits.
Her body of work subtly evokes an inevitable fragility of landscape, time, and memory. Collapsing landscapes, whether natural or man-made, create a haunting space that hook the viewer’s eyes and emotions deeper into her paintings. When I saw a few small studies of her ‘swimming pools,’ at VSC, I could not stopping thinking about them. I thought to myself, 'there is something deeper in that space. Katherine’s paintings want me to stay in that space…’ I wondered to myself, 'isn’t it strange that that empty space seems to hold so much, something very familiar inside of me?’
#studies #swimming pool #space #collapse
#pad woon sen noodle with chicken (thailand) #katherine’s lunch
#sing chow men noodle (singapore) #gyun’s lunch
I pulled out the Tin Drum noodle bowls and we immediately started talking and eating. Spending a month together at a residency where we ate together all the time, it was natural. We knew how this was supposed to roll.
Gyun Hur (GH): Katherine, this idea of 'space’ is very captivating and almost provocative in your paintings in my opinion. Could you tell me a little bit about your obsession with reconstructing this space, a sense of permanence vs. impermanence in your work?
Katherine Taylor (KT): I am obsessed with the implications of memory in perception of space, and how individual emotions and experiences may shape the way we negotiate our environments. I can see this in the landscape when permanence is desired to solidify something ever changing. I think this intersection between constructed and deconstructed spaces are human responses to controlling or accepting impermanence.
As we were almost swallowing the noodles (I was a little hungry), our conversation continued. We talked about our experiences at Vermont Studio Center, recapturing our time there that was not purely the studio-based enlightenments. We both had to acknowledge that the environment at the residency pushed our sense of privacy and social negotiations. So much of our projection of ourselves and others play a role in functioning as a being, and I had some confessions to make, and so did she.
It was interesting to find out that Radcliffe Bailey and Katherine Taylor went to Atlanta College of Art around the same time. So did Christina Price Washington who is also a close friend and a wonderful artist I know.
What is it about that time and environment that produced these distinctive artists that I know of? I mean, Kara Walker also went to ACA around that time, as everyone knows, and I became very curious about that time and schooling. Imagine all these artists as 20 somethings, hanging out in their classes.
GH: We talked a lot about this idea of 'becoming an individual artist’ that was engrained in you as a young art student at Atlanta College of Art (ACA). It means that no matter what the outside force and pressure may be, that you learn to secure yourself as an artist with a drive and vision. It may mean that you become assured that you yourself have more than enough sources within you for what it takes to be an artist. What are those drive and resourse in your work?
KT: Well, it is true. I think that ACA did an amazing job of ensuring our little artist psyches were well individuated. And for myself, I spent a number of years developing my practice out of the sheer pleasure of learning more and know more, so my investment in art making was not completely solipsistic. Having said that, I return to this core awareness of puzzling over how I know what I know, since it’s so dependent on perception, especially when reality and experience are incongruent in image.
We talked for hours. Near the end of our talk, I asked Katherine about her relationship to a studio space.
GH: Your sensibility of 'space’ seems to permeate in your studio space as well. From our conversation, it almost feels like your entire studio space becomes a physical manifestation of your psyche, which then becomes incredibly private. Could you share about your relationship to your studio space and how your residency experience allowed you to redefine what that studio space means to you?
KT: Well, I had a lot of time to prepare fo my stay at VSC, so I was able to whittle down what was necessary and portable. As a result, I had to also be comfortable with this notion of leaving my actual studio behind in order to rebuild it in another place. That all sounds terribly dramatic, and it was funny for me, too, because I was consciously trying to make it an easy transition. That all being said, I suppose the “studio” for me is really a state of mind. And of course, as you mentioned, I think that is present when I am in the space. In other words, the boundaries, rigor, discipline, and respect for art making are what you carry with you.
Katherine Taylor is currently working on her next exhibition with The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA) as a fellow of The Working Artist Project (WAP).
To view some of her works, go to:
Katherine Taylor http://www.ktaylor.net/
Marcia Wood Gallery
Thank you, Katherine, for making time for this project and Tin Drum Cafe for free lunches!
Next lunch is with Namwon Choi, a 3rd year MFA candidate at Georgia State University. Stay tuned!
Last week, I called Radcliffe Bailey, my former professor at the University of Georgia, and asked him, “so what would you like for lunch?”
Radcliffe quickly replied, “oh you know… anything is fine, really.”
Radcliffe Bailey’s name holds an immediate weight. Throughout his career of art making, Radcliffe has been creating visual lyrics of his people, history, and myth in forms of painting, sculpture, and installation. Radcliffe’s work reveals one of the most sensitive and poignant grasp regarding specific context of black history and Atlanta. Deeply rooted in his community, friends and family whom he grew up with, Radcliffe resides in Atlanta with his studio and house. I visited his studio for first time right after my undergraduate, and as a 20 year old something, I remember being in awe of scale and sophistication of his space.
I was now back in his studio again with a bag of Tin Drum noodles. I really had no specific agenda other than eating and conversing with him.
“So… hey, what do you need me to do? Do you need me to pull some works out or something?”
“Oh no. We are gonna just eat and talk. Is that ok?"
"Oh, yea. Let me pull out some bowls then.”
The specific choice of what I may bring for lunch did not seem to matter so much to him. So I ordered in two noodles: Pad Thai and Cantonese Noodle. We sat down and awkwardly opened the lunch bowls and started eating. I kept in touch with him in the past years and would catch up over casual coffee sips, but this constructed setting of ‘eating together’ was something that we both had to warm up to. Eventually we started to talk as we normally would.
“So what are you up to?” Radcliffe asks.
“Oh, you know…”
I talked about past few months of traveling and working, attempting… and realized from our conversation that such 'an attempt,’ this transient and mobile navigation between projects and people is just a continual thing, it’s not just an emerging artist’s status of 'I’m trying to figure out.’
Our lunch lasted about 3 hours.
Really, it was a long conversation over due wrestling with ideas of art making, business of art, residencies, names of black thinkers and artists like James Baldwin, a new landscape of the city Atlanta in its demographics and food, my father, his father, my nephew and his children, travels and friendship, flying to Milan to just walk and talk with a dear friend, coming back to Atlanta to negotiate your role and responsibilities, galleries, New York City, Hong Kong, music, democracy, 80s, white flight, immigrating, moving, growing up, Atlanta College of Art, High, people, general public, accessibility of arts and culture, infrastructure, fragmentation (or segregation), race that matters, identity of the city, curators who are friends, artists and more artists, San Diego, The Heat and the Spurs, observance… on and on.
#black artists #black thinkers #contemporary african art
#race #community #role
#hat #pride #presence
At the end, I asked Radcliffe -
“So I will be doing this next few months, bringing lunch boxes to artists’ studio space, that space that may be sacred and private to them. Or it could be otherwise. I want to be sensitive to that as I visit each studio, you know… what is that 'studio space’ for you?”
“Ah… it is where I can sit and think and ponder. Where I can put things, where I can lay my books. It’s wherever I go. I get to a hotel and open my watercolor set and make that into my little studio. It cannot really leave you.”
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Here is a beautiful article regarding Radcliffe Bailey’s work and context.
Lunch #2 is with Katherine Taylor. Stay tuned!