You state that you take inspiration from multi-cultural funerary celebrations. What are your favorite funerary traditions? I am more interested in the Aesthetics and the visual aspects of the celebrations than the traditions themselves. In our own Western culture I really enjoy looking at floral funerary arrangements, things like wreaths and other forms made entirely from flowers or ribbon. I have also spent a lot of time looking at Mexican traditions such as The Day of the Dead and Mexican Altar pieces. Altar pieces in general, past and present, are really interesting to me. I like the idea that these often ornate and very beautiful objects are made to serve a purpose beyond that of art. I pull from celebrations beyond just funerary, the main draw for me is the idea of non-artists creating extremely impressive and beautiful work for a reason that is larger than them. It feels very sincere to me and I believe that human beings have an innate desire to “decorate” as a means of serving all different life functions. Whether it is meant to commemorate, to show social hierarchy etc. I also believe this is why Design exists. I am currently looking at African and American Indian dress, Chinese New Year, and decorations for all holidays. A lot of these things stem from long-standing traditions that adapt or change over time to suit our contemporary lives. I am now adapting them for a contemporary art context.
How did you get involved in such tactile materials for your sculptures?
Throughout my Undergraduate years I was always simultaneously working on 2-D and 3-D at the same time. I didn’t feel an affinity for non-malleable materials such as wood or metal and was also looking at a lot of female artists working in the 1960’s-80’s. I started working with a lot of fabric and non-art materials because they felt more organic and allowed for connections back to my drawings and paintings. Most of the fabric I use is second-hand because I like that it already has a human history and the found objects and other materials are usually collected from thrift stores or other people for the same reason. The transformative abilities of unconventional materials are more appealing to me in that it allows for some mystery, yet still acts as an opening for viewers because often times these materials are accessible and recognizable.
What comes first - the drawings or the sculptures, or is the answer to this question just as ambiguous as the chicken and the egg?
I think drawing probably came first because as a younger person drawing materials are more readily available but as soon as I went to art school and started working with my hands, I felt that it satisfied me in a different way. Currently, I am always working on both, back and forth. They inform each other in ways that are deliberate but also sometimes surprising. I will sometimes draw sculptural forms that I have made or I find repetitive acts of mark making creeping into my 3-D processes. Now that I have started to work more towards installation, the idea of a grander composition is starting to take place where these lines are blurred all together.
Could you tell us a little bit about the thought process behind “Into the Void” and “Solitary Circle of Nothing?”
Both of these pieces were done at different times but served similar purposes. I think artists sometimes feel the need to return to the basics or reign in their vocabulary as a means of keeping everything in check. This is my way of returning to a simpler form and reducing the visual static that can sometimes get very busy. My work usually reaches a point where it is on the verge of being very maximal or too celebratory, which I sometimes worry could be viewed as becoming too superficial. I think there is a misconception that if work is too pretty or too happy it has less artistic value, and that sometimes infiltrates my work. I usually straddle the line between going over the top and trying to contain the work, these are both examples of pulling back to contain the work. By throwing out color and choosing to use grey and black, it allows me to shift my focus to things like form and texture. Even though I arrived at these pieces through a sort of self-imposed exercise they still act in a very similar way as other more colorful pieces. When installing these pieces with the rest of my work, they can act either as focal points, neutrals, or visual resting points, depending on the context. They also satisfy a desire to explore the darker side of decoration and ritual.
What are your thoughts on the ritualistic aspects of funerary traditions?
For me, the rituals themselves hold less value than the fact that a group of human beings have come together in one accord and expressed a need to satisfy something in a visual way. I am in awe of the capacity humans have for creation and why we feel the need to do it to mark important moments in a life, culture, and the world in general. Ceremonies and rituals, both happy and commemorative, tend to hold the most visual impact and that is why I think I always return to them as a resource.
Do these thoughts on ritual have any impact on your practices of research and art-making?
I think there are undeniable rituals that I, and probably many other artists, have within our studio practice. I don’t actively perform any kind of rituals that are essential to my work but the overall acknowledgement of tradition is present. I think in research I try to reference other cultures in a respectful way that is celebratory and praises the visual and aesthetic side of a culture without becoming too political and omitting commentary on any specific religion, geographic location, etc. The use second-hand fabrics and found objects that are somewhat recognizable makes the work more accessible to the very people that I am taking inspiration from. It would seem unfair to me if I were to create very esoteric and exclusive work, considering that I am drawing from non-art places. I want to celebrate what humans are capable of producing. I would like my work to become its own culture or its own world that celebrates a wide variety of human creation past and present.
What upcoming projects and shows do we have to look forward to?
I was recently named a Hamiltonian Fellow at the Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington DC. In August there will be an exhibit introducing all of the new fellows and following this will be a focus show, where I will have the opportunity to exhibit a new body of work. I am very excited about what the next step will be for my work and my career. I am also doing a storefront window installation for Station North Arts District in Baltimore, organized by MICA to celebrate their 10 year anniversary. The displays will go up in late August and early September and my installation will be in the windows of Pearson’s Florist on North Avenue.