The tableaux I create are inspired by relationships. They evolve from personal mythologies. I work with vintage, printed fabrics and found embroideries made by women of previous and more modest eras. I act as a collaborator, modernizing their traditional work and altering its original purpose. The fabric becomes the foundation for a fantastical exploration. - Orly Cogan
AT: As an artist working within fiber for over twenty years, what first interested you in utilizing vintage and found fabrics as the base for your work?
OC: Some of the first materials I worked with in early childhood were fiber based. I went to a Waldorf School where toys found in the classroom were made from natural fiber materials to nourish the senses. I learned to knit and crochet in the early years of grade school. There is a nostalgic kind of intimacy connected with fiber materials. It has a history everyone can connect with and inherently appreciate the human labor that went into the creation. Growing up my mother collected old samplers and quilts. The samplers often had moral sayings, warning to girls about being polite, tidy, “pure" and the like. My mother appreciated the labor that went into these pieces by nameless woman and girls and enjoyed the messages ironically. I majored in painting in art school and years after graduating I happened to take a one day workshop at The Museum of Folk Art which my mother had signed herself up for but last minute wasn’t able to attend so I took her place. That day I created a quilt square fairly quickly and with the extra time I had I embroidered between the seams a little nude figure. As it came naturally to mix yesteryears quaintness and conservatism with my own brand of sex-positive feminism with a dash of post modern perversity. The elderly women in that class were enchanted with my piece and the rest is history. Thereafter I started thinking about connecting my love of narrative with the homey feminine materials I grew up with using the wit of feminist social commentary. As time went on my stories became more political and personal. Some figures are portraits, others are playing rolls within the story line. The layering of thread drawings resemble children’s coloring book illustrations along with areas of dense needle work and complexity.
AT: As a pioneer in not only fiber art, but contemporary feminist art, what motifs and themes have become priority in the narrative of your work?
OC: Embroidery to me had a history that was based in a kind of patriarchy where giving women needle and thread to pass the time beautifying the home was something good for idol hands and would keep them out of trouble so to speak. These women may have spent hours working on a doily to go behind the back of a chair so the chair wouldn’t get stained from sitters sweaty heads. There was a repressive sexless grannie identity associated with hand work or a kind of cute craftiness about embroidery, it wasn’t considered high Art with a capital “A” when I was coming of age even with the woman’s movement of the 60’s and 70’s. I began to research more about woman’s long tradition of art making rooted in craft practices and I knew I was on the right path to continue with my work in the evolution of craft from a domestic practice into a higher form of feminist art.
AT: Your new solo show, Don't Call Me Princess, was inspired by your daughter and continue your narrative of the complex dichotomies of femininity, how has this new selection of work developed and evolved? Are there new themes you are exploring?
OC: The work is expanding in scale and I’ve incorporated a bit more overtly political elements in some pieces for this show. In particular in one piece which will be on view at The Brattleboro Museum (October 2018 - March 2019) titled POW (Power of Woman). It’s message is positive with several portraits of strong women, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stacey Abrams, Judy Chicago, Alice Neel and Freda Kahlo to name a few.
American women have grown up with fairy tales in our heads, and somehow that “happily ever after” idea is instilled early on. With my own daughter I saw how strongly princesses infiltrated her play, although she had no direct exposure to Disney movies or theme parks. I edited the few fairy tales we had, changing the sexist stories to empowering ones for my child’s ears. Whenever I went out with my daughter, people would call her “princess.” It was meant as a nice thing to say, and for a while she and I took it as such. But as she grew older, she rejected the title. She would frown and respond, “I’m not a princess, I’m just a regular girl!” I hope my work inspires people, to question, to see the humor in things, to recognize the beauty in the mundane and to continue the dialogue .
AT: What is something you would like to accomplish with your work in the future? Anything you would like to explore or experiment with?
OC: I am starting to explore the process of making my narratives a bit more ambiguous and introducing abstract elements with more texture that comes off the picture plane. Also I’ve been experimenting with mixing ceramics and other found materials in my site specific installations. I’m pleased with how much exposure my work has received recently and I hope for more such opportunities through varying venues.
Paul McCloskey was born in Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, Ireland and is now living and working in Gorey Co. Wexford. Paul attended the National College of Art and Design (N.C.A.D) Dublin). He also attended De Montfort University UK and was awarded a Master’s Degree in Fine art (MFA) in 2010. Paul is a professional member of ‘visual artists Ireland’. He has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally throughout the UK, London, Venice, Paris, Macedonia and New York.
AT: Growing up and currently residing in Ireland, how has being surrounded by this beautiful landscape transformed your work?
PM: Without a doubt the varied landscape in Ireland from north to south and east to west is beautiful, however it’s the light that’s really special, fleeting, varied and fluctuating light often transforming a familiar landscape into something new and changing one’s focus on varying aspects of a scene. Highlighting the seemingly ordinary and transforming it into something extraordinary. A simple break in clouds can transmute a scene with endless variations.
AT: When discussing your oil paintings, your palette has such a vibrant contrast between dark and light that seem to just spark on the canvas. What inspires this energy on the canvas? What inspires your color palette?
PM: Certainly my trilogy series ‘The Alpha’ ‘Reloaded’ and the ‘Omega’ have strong light and dark contrasting elements, in this series I wanted to place emphases on the emerging light to yes highlight the ordinary, the luminosity of light and color is central to all the work, light being used to reflect birth or life; for without light there is no life. but more importantly to suggest a personal growth towards enlightenment towards an awakening. The dark into light is very much a spiritual representation for me. The Awakening trilogy is consciously addressing the three parts of the whole, mind, body and spirit.
AT: You have worked in both abstraction and figurative, do you prefer one to the other? Does one provide something the other does not?
PM: I prefer to abstract the subject rather than meticulously represent what is in front of me, my work is mainly based on landscape, this is the starting point based on a accumulation of memories, interpretation and surrounding views. Landscape gives the viewer an initial
starting point a familiar focus which invites them in, once in then the work is open to the viewers interpretation based on their own memories, emotions and mood. Abstraction allows for this emotional interaction both for me the artist and the viewer. However process is
primary for me, the act of doing of allowing is where the magic happens irrespective of the subject.
AT: Your newest work, the Omega Series, combines your abstract painting style with that of 3D rotating cubes, allowing the viewer to experience the paintings from an entirely different perception. What inspired this shift towards 3D?
PM: The Omega 3D is the third and final installment of the Awakening series, here I decided to work in three dimensions as a way of representing the Divine or spiritual aspect of my work, suggesting that the spiritual is all things, in all directions at once. I worked on the cubes to challenge myself to resolve pictorial complications not just on a 2D surface but to think in 3D as I worked and also to hold the spectator’s interest hopefully enticing them into my visual world. The suggestion of heaven and earth in constant struggle, merging yet separable, solid yet amorphous all suggest the multidimensional nature of the spiritual, the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, the struggle within, between the conditioned self and the divine/spiritual self.
AT: What other artists have inspired your work or artistic education?
PM: I admire many artists, but the Irish painter Jack Yeats was certainly one of my earliest inspirations. I like expressive works that convey an atmosphere or mood. However, Mark Rothko’s chapel series of paintings convey a quiet spirituality and are very powerful in their simplicity.
AT: Going forward, what are some of your goals for your art? Anything you would be interested in experimenting with?
PM: I’m currently working on a new series again based on landscape, where my pallet is considerably brighter and fresher, I’m constantly looking to convey that seemingly ever elusive magic and wonder of nature, to show that we are all one and of the same, connected to the world around us. The process of creating is a spiritual act for me, to paint with truth, one must ﬁrst be truly present. Everything happens in the present moment, painting reinforces this truth for me.
View more of Paul McCloskey and his recent projects.
AT: Born and raised in Humboldt County, among the Redwoods, this landscape seemingly impacts your work. How has it shaped you as an artist and inspired your pieces?
JD: I think the natural landscapes influences my work indirectly. I enjoy living in a place that is fresh and green with clean water and salty sea air. But I don't gain any direct inspiration from it. I have a pretty strong humanist bias and have always been more drawn and inspired by humanity and the things and systems we create. This place does allow me the space to engage when and how I want and sort of retreat into my studio for contemplation and deconstruction of ideas,
AT: Touching on your geometric wood panels, what is your favorite part of creating these works that (I think, personally) are so naturally aesthetically beautiful?
JD: My favorite part about creating these panels is that you're never done. I am pretty obsessed with variation and how changing one element can totally change the trajectory of an entire piece. For me, it's really a practice in minimalism of vocabulary. I am really only working with one angle. The interesting part to me is in enjoying the interplay of creating complexity with a single thing or finding stasis and enjoy the thing for what it is.
AT: I understand the wood is reclaimed. How do you go about choosing your pieces to work with? What is the process like for you in the creation of these works?
JD: The process involves a lot of discovery. It's all reclaimed wood and I'll start just cutting into pieces and finding some cool grain here or some interesting knots there. If I don't like a piece of wood, I'll just throw it in the green waste or use it for kindling for my fire.
There have never been a movement that does not include art. Even in recent political history, we can see that. We had Shepard Fairey's portrait of Obama. We had a well spring of art pop up for Bernie Sanders. We had a piece of uninspiring corporate trash logo from Hillary Clinton and I would argue that 45 pulled off a piece of performance act. When we see something beautiful, we have a sense of being compelled to stop, I personally have a sensation of my chest being pressed upon. It's in that moment, where we grasp the threads of transcendence. Either consciously or subconsciously, we are taken out of the mundane for a moment. That's where the concept of art is really exciting, dangerous, and revolutionary. We can quite literally stop someone dead in their tracks. We can cause people to imagine something different, something outside of their current reality. It's an invitation to follow those threads of transcendence into the depths of transcendence. Whether that's a deeper exploration of self, another or larger social issues or ideas.
What medium I choose to work in for these projects is really not a lot more than feels right. Whether that's making a wood piece, a painting, a video, mixed media, creating a zine, making stickers, or a t-shirt.
AT: What is something you would like to accomplish with your work in the future? Is there anything you are interested in exploring further?
JD: I am most intensely focused on creating revolutionary political movement. I am passionate about contributing to a society that honors and respects the needs and perspectives of the largest amount of people, not just the incredibly wealthy. That's what will inspire and push my art practice. That means taking on a variety of projects. From doing small group shows, to creating propaganda for causes or being the art director for an upcoming political run for a candidate that I believe in. The artist is perfectly situated for our times. In general, artists are looking towards the edges, trying to shine a light on the unseen or under represented, seeking the strange, the commons. That relationship and sensitivity to the nitty gritty, ugly world is a profoundly real force. We not are a thermometer of society, but we can be the thermostat.
AT: I love the use of your color! Some are subtle while others are very bold. Will you explain more about the dying process and the inspiration behind your color?
CZ: I paint my dyes onto the thread with a paintbrush after they are strung and before they are spun into rope to give the finished piece a marbled, organic effect. I think that gives me more control over how the color is applied and how saturated that color is. I love neutrals and simultaneously also love bright pops of color, so creating different pieces allows me to switch it up depending on my mood. I collect color inspiration from art, nature, and everyday objects. I'm always saving photos of good color combinations for later use.
AT: What are some of your future aspirations for your work? Is there any medium you are interested in working with or project you want to explore?
CZ: I love collaborating with other artists. I am currently working with my friend and ceramicist Alyson Iwamoto to combine her pieces with my rope. I end up creating pieces I never would have otherwise! I would love to continue working with others to make something new.
View more of Cindy Zell's work.
AT: You live and work in Portland, Maine. Are many of your pieces inspired by these landscapes or do you derive more from your travels?
AH: I’m always seeking new landscapes, but I never try to paint a particular location in the studio. My process is spontaneous and reactionary, I do not force my subject matter but instead let the painting form organically. I paint from memory and need time to reflect on a sight’s nuances before it shows up on my canvas. I tend to paint places I know intimately, I am able to better capture the essence and palette of the sight while still keeping the subject matter open.
AT: Your inspiration from nature is apparent in your work. Can you tell us more about this inspiration throughout your work?
AH: Nature breaks my routine. When I’m in the middle of nowhere I focus on my immediate fundamental needs instead of thinking about what my schedule is like three weeks out. There’s no freer feeling than being so far out in the woods, desert, mountains, etc that you feel like the only human for miles. There are a lot of similarities between my studio practice and being out in the middle of nowhere, I’m able enter a focus mode that is beyond my control. A free and primal feeling comes over me that’s hard to find in my otherwise comfortable Portland lifestyle.
AT: Have you always been interested in creating abstract landscapes? Or are there other genres you have been interested?
AH: I’ve tried to stray from the landscape but it always shows up on my canvas. I’ve explored further degrees of abstraction with no allusions to the landscape, but I’ve always felt that body of work lacked passion or context. I’m not sure what it was missing but it did not get me nearly as excited as my recent work.
AT: Your palette resonates with earthy tones, but also has pops of bright colors. Do you try to depict the direct color represented to you by the landscape or do you enjoy taking liberties with the colors?
AH: I take as many liberties with color as the piece will allow. My palette gives the painting context and pulls the work deeper into abstraction. I tend to ground my work in earthy neutrals and quickly abandon local color thereafter. This gives a painting the necessary structure for further color exploration. Sometimes I wind up exploring with color a bit too much and have to reign it in by layering neutrals over bright colors, which gives the viewer glimpse of the painting’s history.
AT: Your work is usually made up of planes of color. Are these shapes something you sketch to then add color or is your work more of a free form process?
AH: My process is free form, spontaneous and ever changing. I always begin my studio time with a few 10-minute warm ups to get my mind in the game and my hands a little looser. After 20-30 minutes, I move to canvas. I start each piece with a quick 10-20 second pencil sketch to get some shapes on the canvas. My brush has a mind of it’s own in filling in these shapes, sometimes I create new shapes with the brush and other times the sketch holds true. I work in short bursts and add only a few shapes and marks at a time. Its crucial to step back and see how a work in progress is developing to prevent overworking. Some of my favorite pieces only have 1-2 layers of paint - I’m a sucker for paintings that have a sense of immediacy.
AT: Finally, I always like to ask what are some of your future goals with your work? Is there anything you interested in exploring?
AH: My theory is that if the work is good, opportunity will come, so the integrity of my work always comes first. I’m flying out to San Francisco next week to see the Matisse / Diebenkorn show at SFMOMA, so I’m sure that will ignite a fire in the studio. I have my sights set on an artist residency in 2018. I’m considering a few programs, but I’m also wildly attracted to simply sleeping on BLM land and keeping my field easel by my side. Spending a month in a very different landscape would do wonders for my work. I’ve dreamed of exploring Iceland, Joshua Tree National Park, or the Badlands for quite sometime now.
Check out more of Amanda Hawkins work.