Now Featuring Eva Struble
Eva Struble paints the many ways we inhabit the world, touching on themes from social rituals to psychological spaces. Using the landscape as a site and a springboard, Struble explores labor, leisure, dreams and relationships in layered, cumulative images.
MH: To get started, I wanted to ask you about your process of painting itself. You use techniques of layering, printing and some collage-like motifs. I can’t help but think of it as a process of accumulation and happenstance, rather than something that builds to a pre-planned climax. What is your process actually like?
ES: Flexibility and a “dialogue” with the material as a project grows is important, as is setting up surprises for myself through the process. Right now I’m making a huge installation at the Japanese Garden Pavillion in San Diego’s Balboa Park. I’m using discarded garden plant waste, which will be painted, woven and hung. This is fun for me since I’m unfamiliar with the material and have to become a student of it to make the piece work. When I went to grad school in 2004, almost all of the forty or so painters there at Yale were working in paint on canvas or panel. Interdisciplinary work, and working with different surfaces has been a relatively recent undertaking for me.
MH: Your Emblema series tickled me. I’m reading SPQR, Mary Bead’s history of ancient Rome, and Roman politics and excess are bursting with tempting analogies for the United States today. Can you talk about what emblema are, and how the series came about?
ES: When I moved to California from New York in 2011, driving up and down through the Central Valley, and back and forth from hiking trips, I tried to identify all the crops and trees I would glimpse in passing. I started looking at a lot of archival fruit display images from events like the Panama exposition in San Diego. I grew interested in fruit and vegetables as a source of local pride and as another way landscape manifests itself in a domestic setting, or even as a kind of installation art. It’s hard not to appreciate art made out of whatever is at hand, and in this case, fruit became a material for sculpture i.e. columns made of oranges (below).
I pored over all the images of food displays I could find. I have books of Thai fruit carving (encouraged and funded by Thai royalty for more than 500 years—even children learn it in school) and other traditions of fruit displays. The cruise and wedding versions of these displays are a natural extension of this interest, and the kitschy display of waste to show wealth is both ridiculous and somehow charming to me. Reading that Roman permanent mosaic displays, emblema, would also signal a wealthy family’s material status through images of food was an interesting parallel to our present.
MH: Who are the figures in your recent work, the domestic paintings from this year? They remind me a bit of the anonymous people who populate architectural renderings.
ES: Those figures were almost all based on my own shadow, but depending on the day they represent different people in my life and different selves, as in the selves we perform or “release” in different settings and relationships. I also wanted to visualize the trace a body or experience might mentally leave on a place, the echo or eeriness in a mundane place where a friend or lover once was, where an intense interaction took place, etc. The paintings were based on places I walk through at work, or around my house and the locations were like boring stages I wanted to illuminate by with some psychological intensity I suppose. I’m not sure if that’s how they appear to the viewer.
MH: How do you research for your paintings and your practice in general? I often think of painting as a very interior process, linked to immediate surroundings. Your work feels personal but not interior, and like it involves a synthesis as part of a research process.
ES: I research the work through physical experience of place (for example, taking a historical “cruise” of polluted Newtown Creek), talking to people, through regular old archival bumbling in libraries and historical societies, online reading, and material experiments.
Over the past ten years my work has always related to the place where I live, but certainly there are other factors that impact it. Boring ones, like, I’m a relatively tall person, and I like making large enough work that it physically tires me, that I feel it in my body. I also like the action of making a problem for myself, and figuring it out, and repeating this over and over, even if that is just making a color problem, or a space problem in a painting. Sometimes the “research” doesn’t seem to clearly connect to the method of painting, which is a continual thing to work on resolving, or just keep doing in its imperfect form until it resolves itself through sheer quantity and tirelessness.
MH: Can you talk about your recent book, Daily Labor, and the collaborative process of making it?
ES: I try to balance my interests in material and play with interest in being a student of the place where I live. I’ve worked a lot alone in studios, but I like to be involved with people in my work too; who can I learn from, what other perspectives I can hear?
I’ve tried this is multiple ways and sometimes the collaboration is unintended. When I was visiting superfund sites in 2007 I was detained by Homeland Security for hours for photographing a tree outside of a chemical plant, and they took my camera with my source images. That social interaction shaped the work to some extent.
In recent years, I’ve done some printmaking workshops in the community on one hand, but this was always in my role as a teacher—not exactly collaborative. Making Daily Labor was humbling because I wanted to make a collaborative illustrated novel, and realized I had to change my method once I got into it. Of course, it brought up many questions: If I’m making “community-based” work, what is my community here? What does it mean to make this with people whose first and usually second language is different than mine, on a collaborative project? Is that truly collaborative? Maybe collaborative isn’t exactly the word. Because I worked with the CRLA (California Rural Legal Assistance) and talked through different iterations of the project with them, (which actually began as a mural!), I felt confident about bringing a different perspective on—or different representation of—problems they working on in a very practical way.
If the CRLA takes a case, and sues a farm for example, for lack of water, shade, bathrooms, or worse, for sexual assault on a worker, what would it contribute to read words from that worker about their life in general, illustrated? If that book existed in a different context from the CRLA’s outreach, and if it overlaps with art, what does that do? I spoke to day laborers and ag workers in San Diego with a translator (despite living in Spain for nearly two years, I quickly realized my Spanish has atrophied) for the project, made ink drawings for the book, and was lucky to print it with Colpa Press in SF. They did a great job, but I’m still not sure how I feel about the book yet. I think I will know later if it was successful if I keep building on it, and make something related, but better, in the future.