Ana Varela is a designer and architect based in London. The above collection was created in collaboration with Terrazzo Project, a terrazzo furniture design firm, for Milan Design Week. The installation featured a giant house of cards composed of the brand’s terrazzo panels.
I am obsessed with terrazzo and you can actually see it all around San Francisco in the entryways of buildings. It is a composite material of layers of cement and pieces of stone like marble and glass.
To see more of Varela’s work, click here
Hannah Perrine Mode addresses the landscape in her work, but her methods also reveal a way of seeing. Working in series, Mode’s drawings and cyanotypes revisit natural sites again and again to unpack the ways we layer our thoughts, culture and memories onto our images of the natural word.
MH: How have the painterly aspects of your work evolved over the years? Your touch seems to have gotten lighter and lighter, moving from thicker painting to lighter gouache and linear work.
HPM: A lot of my use of materials has evolved according to the space in which I can work. As an undergraduate art major, I had my own wall in a beautiful shared painting studio that was about 10 feet wide…So I spent months making 7 foot-wide oil paintings. When I lived in a shoebox apartment in Chinatown in New York, I started my drawing-a-day project in teeny notebooks in my bedroom. Later in Brooklyn, I had more space, but was conscious of using less toxic materials, which led me to gouache and watercolor. Having studio space the past few years has opened up a lot of freedom in my practice to work larger and with more robust materials, but I still end up making a lot of work outside, in cafes, at my house, on the go–and using gouache and watercolor works well for that. For example, I spent six weeks in Iceland working on a 30 piece body of work for the 2014 season of the Brooklyn CSA+D, and I knew I needed something small and packable to take back with me. When I go on hikes or I travel, I always take my small kit of supplies with me, which makes it super easy to make art anywhere.
Aside from material and space constraints, lately I’ve become a lot more interested in the role of water in my work, in a lot of forms. A big part of my current practice is rooted in exploring the idea of documenting and harnessing the transformation of water as a subject and a medium, and thinking about the idea of ice as a precious/endangered material. I’m curious about our relationship with/in landscape, the way that water informs that relationship, and ultimately the way we cultivate community and identity.
In general, I also just love the tension between translucent space and geometric shapes, between fluidity of material and solid mark-making. As a result, my work has certainly become more visually abstract over the years.
MH: You’ve been doing a drawing a day since 2013. How do you use this part of your day? Is it a place to work things out for studio projects, empty your brain, keep your skills and instincts sharp?
HPM: This is such a ritual at this point, I can’t imagine not doing this project. It has been a great barometer of my daily life, in that I know that something is off when it feels like a chore to make time. I definitely use this time in a lot of different ways–to work out ideas for bigger projects, get thoughts on paper, put work into ongoing pieces, decompress after a long day, or sometimes just draw something silly for fun. Since I’m currently in graduate school for art, and I’m currently working in much in a much more interdisciplinary way across mediums, my recent drawings-a-day have become a bit looser in approach. My rule is that whatever I do, I have to work with my hands and not have it be a digital piece. (Since I also work as a freelance designer and illustrator, it feels important to make this differentiation.)
Lately that can mean a quick sketch of a project idea, a contour drawing of a tree out the window, the process of exposing cyanotypes outside in wilderness (drawing with light!), working on a painting in my studio, or even drawing a temporary tattoo in pen on a friend’s arm.
Really though, the best part of this project has always been the ability to share my process. I don’t think that art needs to always feel like it is some finished, shiny thing, but instead is always a work in progress and a daily creative practice. Every artist works differently, but I get a huge amount of joy out of that kind of sharing and openness.
MH: Can you talk about how you use cyanotype and other photo processes in your work?
HPM: I’ve always used photography as a tool in my painting practice, but delving into cyanotype this year has felt like a huge leap forward for me. It is just so much fun. I love that the medium is literally a documentation of time passing, of material interacting with the surface of the paper, of my own physical engagement in the process. The way that cyanotypes can act as a documentation of both space, material, and time feels thrilling to me. It feels like painting with light!
I have been taking cyanotypes out in nature with me, usually on solo hikes, and exposing them in the environment, sometimes using the environment (like snow, ice, dirt, streams, sand) to do so. I have to let go of a lot of control–I’m never sure how they are going to turn out–which is both really challenging and really rewarding….and really fun.
MH: Can you talk about the current themes in your work? You’ve mentioned water, which you’re dealing with both conceptually and materially.
HPM: I’m curious about the way people create concrete representations of abstract ideas about place. How do we connect with certain places as home, as geological landscape, as spiritual refuge, as geographical territories? How does this mold our identities? What happens when our physical space changes, and how does our sense of belonging shift in turn? What are spaces in which we can be vulnerable with each other? How can we harness human technology and strategies for intimacy to help us understand big questions about geological time, climate change, communication?
Lately I’m much more interested in distilling an experience instead of recreating a representational image. What are methods that artists use to pull the sublime closer and help us relate on a more digestible scale? Some of these methods include map-making, documentation/record-keeping, and the flattening or expanding of space through color, material, and installation. All of these strategies are rooted in navigation, ritual, and mark-making as ways to better comprehend the word around us–traditions that humans have been practicing for thousands of years.
A lot of what I do is rooted in the Northern Romantic tradition of depicting the sublime in nature. There are thousands of beautiful pieces of art that create space for the viewer to meditate on the artist’s connection to the sublime, but I’m more interested in exploring ways that I can take a more concrete, perhaps scientific approach, through documentation. How this kind of documentation manifests depends on the medium, but it hinges on the way we create record of experience.
Especially in our current political climate, I’ve been thinking a lot about how how storytelling and memory is embedded in landscape. This has been coming up a lot with water, specifically in ice; scientists use ice cores as a way to study a layered record of the environment at the time the ice formed. What if we think about this memory in a more intimate, human scale? How does our humanity inform collective memory in a landscape? I also just love the way that working with water allows for the abstraction, chance, and a certain letting go in my more recent work that has been really rewarding.
MH: How does a shared social experience, like in your Memory Exchange project, feed the way you make abstract work?
HPM: I think of my art practice as having two different prongs. The first is my solo, more introverted practice of being in nature and making art there and in my studio in relationship to these introspective, sometimes meditative experiences in wilderness. The second part of my practice is more social, and is about creating space for exchange and is more rooted in storytelling and connection with other people and community.
That said, I think that both of these parts of my art making are grounded in vulnerability, with the environment and with each other, as a way to generate empathy, and even perhaps wonder. With our current political climate, I think that finding space for this is more important than ever.
MH: You’re currently enrolled in graduate school… How do your find your work changing? What kinds of unexpected things are happening?
HPM: It has been a really intense learning experience so far (I’m still in my first year), and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity and the time to have this kind of intense focus on my work, and such an amazing, intelligent, talented community of students and professors to engage with. Although the underlying thread of a lot of what I’m interested in is the same (landscape, community, etc), my work has changed a lot–in the methods in which I’m making it and my exploration of materials. I’ve always been interested in viewership, the act of looking, and in understanding the natural world around us. I often end up pulling things apart and putting them back together again, thinking about how we can reconfigure things to see them in a different way (evident in both my Faultlines and Landmarks series). My grad school experience thus far has also been apart taking apart my own practice, examining the pieces, and then putting them back together again in new and exciting ways.
Jackie Im, the co-founder of Et Al Gallery, and a fellow Mills alumna, gave a lecture in the fall about curating and something she said totally blew my mind: that art is not very good at solving problems, but it is really good at asking questions. I think that the most significant shift in my practice has been making art, not a way to find answers or present solutions, but instead as a way to ask the questions themselves.
Jenny Kiker is a botanical artist based in San Diego.
Jenny’s creative process starts with a combination of drawing from observation and imagination. She lets the subject inform where the line wants to go and how it wants to feel. Color is the emotion in her work. The ink is free to deepen and soften, just as color would in nature.
“To me, art creating with reason will never feel cold. It will remind you we are all connected.”
Jenny has grown Living Pattern as a way to connect herself and her audience to the still delicateness of nature and to themselves. It is a learning process that changes day by day.
“If you’d like to refer to me as @livingpattern, you absolutely can! It has grown to be my pen name.”
To see more of her work, click here.
*Bio from artist’s site.
George Shiras was an 19th-century American conservationist and the father of nightime wildlife photography. Wetplate exposures with trip-wire magnesium explosions as flash were the technologies of choice at the time, and add to the interest in Shiras’ scenes, giving them a sense of sound and motion. His images captured an eerie, unaltered wilderness that was seldom seen in a time of romanticism in artwork regarding nature. All of his photographic plates are now part of the National Geographic archive.
*All images from National Geographic Magazine
Helena Emmans is a silversmith and multimedia artist living and making work on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. You can see more of her paintings, spoons, jewelry and textile work on her website.
*All images from artist’s website
The above works are from Pastine’s Invisible Women series and Iraqi Casualties series. Though both were done years ago, they still feel incredibly relevant, especially after this first week of the Trump presidency.
My Invisible Women came about from my continuing investigation into the invisibility of woman’s work. For this series, I use full page adds I find in the New York Times. I block out most of the photograph and text through a process of burnishing the page with a 9B graphite pencil, leaving, untouched, the accouterments women wear. Often, I weave my graphite through patterns in the clothing, imbuing them with an ethereal, disembodied quality. The resulting page looks like graphite-leaf with the untouched images embossed on the surface. The women are rendered invisible, and the work of covering them mimics the repetitive and often unseen efforts of household tasks.
In this series, I focused on pages from the New York Times that carried stories on Iraqi civilian casualties in the Iraq war. I used a 9B pencil to block out most the photograph and text in order to recontextualize and transform the content of the news story, thereby shifting control and cultural output. I repeatedly drew over and over the page, creating a depth and density so palpable that the page asserts itself as a physical object rather than an abstract carrier of information. Through this process and its result, I hope to shake loose the shrugging indifference perpetrated through the disconnect of lived experience and disembodied information.
To see more of her work, click here
Pastine has a solo show of more recent work, Curiosity, currently up until February 25th at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in SF.
*images and text from artist’s site
Tomashi Jackson was born in Houston, Texas and raised in Los Angeles, California. She holds a MFA in Painting and Printmaking from the Yale School of Art. She earned a degree of Science Master of Art, Culture, and Technology from the M.I.T. School of Architecture and Planning in 2012. She earned her BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art in 2010. To see more of Tomashi Jackson’s work click here
*Images and text from http://tomashijackson.com/
Michal Chelbin is a photographer living and working in Israel. Her compelling and, often, disarming portraits depict individuals ranging from circus performers to juvenile prisoners. Her work has taken her to small towns in England, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine. No matter the setting, Chelbin is able to achieve a stunning intimacy with her subjects, rendering them “strangely familiar” (the very fitting title of her first photography book).
To see more of her work, click here.
San Jose painter A’Driane Nieves exemplifies the ways in which art transforms lives. Self-taught after years of channeling energy into writing and activism, Addye paints to channel the complexity of moment-to-moment lived experience. She invites you to witness a process of constant self-reckoning that’s generous, political and intimate.
MH: To start, in an interview you talked about painting as a form of self-care. Can you talk about how you started painting in the first place, and what you were looking for when you started?
AD: I was the middle schooler whose 7th grade art teacher took one look at my still life drawing and said “It’s okay, you’re a great writer, so visual arts doesn’t have to be your ‘thing’…,” so while creative expression has always been a part of me, the visual aspect of my artistic voice wasn’t something I discovered until I was 29. I didn’t set out to do that either, it pretty much found me.
When it did, I was a single mother to two kids, a full-time college student, and newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My therapist suggested I find something constructive to do with my hands as a form of self-care. I went to Walmart to buy hooks and yarn to take up crocheting, but also ended up purchasing some cheap brushes, small canvas boards, and student grade paint on a whim. It took me about two weeks (and abandoning crochet) before I picked up a brush and started playing with the paint. When I did, I honestly wasn’t looking for anything other than a distraction; something to quiet my brain, and keep me from feeling the full weight of the loneliness and agitation I was experiencing that day. I spent almost an hour pushing acrylic paint back and forth on the canvas, smoothing and spreading it with my hands, mixing and blending the colors together.
When I finished, I noticed my mind was indeed quieter, my anxiety had subsided. I was calmer. I felt peace and I felt safe, which surprised me. It was like falling apart in a safe space, like my therapist’s office, but different. I remember feeling like I had unconsciously unloaded the full weight of all I was carrying inside out on the canvas and..it could take it, it could take ALL of me.
That Saturday afternoon in 2012 laid the foundation for what has become my primary means of creative expression. It started off as a form of self-care in my treatment plan and wound up completely replacing writing as my default medium, which I didn’t anticipate five years ago.
MH: How do you balance painting as a form of self care vs. painting as a form of expression and art? For example, I journal daily to calm my own mind, but it remains private, and doesn’t even serve as a “sketch,” as it were, for more public writing work. The public work I do is enjoyable, but in no way is its primary purpose self-care.
AD: When I was focused primarily on using painting as a form for self-care, I would make some pieces on cheap canvas boards to experiment, but I really relied heavily on my art journal/sketchbook. I still do, actually. I also use it to do “morning pages” as Julia Cameron suggests in The Artist’s Way. I put all my brain clutter in there, and while I may share an image from it on Instagram, I rarely show anything that’s in it publicly.
MH: I really enjoy the movement in the paintings in your series Losing It from 2016. Each image has an energetic circular motion, kind of like a barrel-roll, which seems like it could be joyful or violent. Can you talk about this series?
AD: I think that’s a pretty accurate interpretation of this series–that it could be joyful or violent, because honestly it’s both…and everything in between! Since my work is influenced by abstract expressionism and relies heavily on emotion and intuition, I wanted to create a series that expresses the rawness and nuances of our emotional responses to what we encounter. I’m intrigued by what the impact of those encounters looks like internally, and how it alters us biologically, emotionally, subconsciously, mentally, spiritually…if you were able to look inside of me with a camera or microscope as I experience life/racism/trauma/sexism/mental illness/motherhood/aging/etc. what would you see? That’s what I want to make visible to the viewer in my paintings.
In this series specifically, I’m focused on showing emotions in all their nuance, rawness and vulnerability, and also how they move through us as we process them. Each piece is a reaction to a trigger or stimulus. The reactions range from rage at white supremacy and systemic oppression….to medication being released in my system…to the mix of shame/guilt/relief/confusion/shock I felt upon hearing the results of a genetic test…to the joy I feel when I watch my autistic son overcome a challenge or meet a milestone on his terms. Each piece is like a snapshot of that unfiltered emotional or biological response. When working on paintings for this series, I’m going for big, definitive, but fluid movement, so I use materials and tools that help me apply and move paint swiftly across the surface and extend or stretch my whole body as I paint…especially my hands. From a sensory perspective, having my hands in paint as I create pieces for this series helps ground me while whatever I’m feeling or thinking flows from me to the surface I’m working on.
MH: You have a series, Art As Protest, that is explicitly about the violence of institutionalized racism in America. Can you talk about using art to address pain that’s so enormous and complex?
AD: When Trayvon Martin was killed it was like a wake up call for me, and writing about the pain I felt as a Black woman and as a Black mother of Black and Brown boys in the wake of his death was all I knew to do. Eventually, however, writing or talking about the pain I felt over it became inadequate–I found neither were able to grasp the depth of my anger or articulate how hopeless I suddenly felt.
I finally painted a small abstract piece in my sketchbook that helped me process my reaction to his death and the verdict. I titled it For Trayvon. That was the start of a shift away from using words to respond to or process my reaction to racism and injustice in this country. For me, as a writer, using words to capture what I’m feeling around this issue became futile, because what I’m feeling is so raw, primal, intense, and yes enormous and complex, words can’t grasp it.
As a painter who makes expressionist, intuitive based work, addressing the nuances of this problem and sharing my experiences as a marginalized person through a visual medium can begin to hold it. Using visual art in this way also frees me from constantly having to explain or justify my reaction or experience. I find that while people may have a visceral reaction to these pieces, they’re more likely to sit with whatever it is their feeling and use it to confront themselves on this issue instead of immediately lashing out in defensiveness. For me as an artist and a marginalized person, it’s just a safer, freer, healthier, more constructive way to address it.
MH: Writing seems to be a central part of your creative process. How does that form of self-expression intersect with (or diverge from) the expressionism in your paintings?
AD: Writing has been a way for me to process my life experiences and understand or discover dormant parts of myself since I was 13. In the past, Even when I first started painting, writing was still my primary means of expression and the first tool I turned to in my creative process. I’d paint, but I’d still need to write to process.
Over the last 24 months though, that’s changed. I think it started with being unable to articulate my commentary and emotions about injustice in written form and expanded to pretty much every other area of my life. I’m finding the more I paint, the less I need to rely on writing to process or communicate. Writing has become something I find restrictive, which feels both odd and freeing to admit, but I don’t think I’ll ever abandon it completely. I’ve been studying Cy Twombly and Basquiat’s use of writing in their paintings, and am feeling inspired to integrate my words into my visual work..
MH: After a few years of working, how has your painting practice changed and evolved? What are some important lessons you’ve taught yourself?
AD: When I first started, I focused primarily on just blending two or three colors together on canvas–everything kind of just ran together. A lot of it was chaotic, most of it very simplistic. I also didn’t have clear intentions about what I was making, since the focus was primarily on self-care/experimentation rather than communication. Early on I didn’t invest in really learning anything concrete or in using quality materials as I do now. I didn’t have a desire to “speak” through what I was creating–I relied on writing for that.
After Trayvon died, though, and I couldn’t really process what I was feeling in words, I decided to become more intentional in the images I was constructing; that pushed me to start really studying art and discovering what styles resonated with me, and scouring YouTube/the internet to learn how to develop different techniques, like layering and adding texture. I started thinking about how I would construct a piece, what I wanted to say, and sketched most ideas before putting them to canvas. I’ve taught myself how to integrate intention into my practice while using the intuitive nature of my process. I’m also learning how to be raw but exercise some form of restraint in my work–that’s really difficult for me, but I want to be smarter in both my approach and execution.
I spent all of 2016 diving deep into discovering what kind of work I want to create and what themes or ideas are important for me to communicate, and what I hope my art does for the person viewing it. None of that has been easy, but it’s taught quite a bit about myself.
MH: How do you make space as a mother the being a practice like painting? It’s hard enough to do on its own once our adult habits and competencies feel ingrained, but I know that your boys are also relatively young and so must require a lot of you.
AD: Honestly? I steal moments. Sometimes I can steal a lot, most of days I can’t steal any because life with kids is just that consuming. I develop my practice and work in the cracks and crevices of the time I have every day while my older two are in school, and my youngest is occupied with toys or the television. Most days, my three year old is standing next to me in the studio painting a corner of the piece I’m working on in that moment.
Initially I felt a lot of guilt about taking time from them during the week and on the weekends to create, but I let that go once I realized that for me, it’s far more important that they see me not just as their mother, but as a whole person who does what she loves. I want them to know that I have interests and passions outside of being a mother and I want them to see it’s possible to be a parent and not lose your identity to it. There’s a lot of discussion about women having it all and can women artists balance art and motherhood…without getting into how the dynamics of race/class/privilege/access to resources play out and intersect for women on this issue, I will say that at a very basic level, I think that doing something that is strictly for yourself is imperative.
My hope is that by taking time to paint, submit, and exhibit my work, my boys learn how to discover what they’re passionate about and use it to take care of themselves as they navigate life. This is incredibly important for me to do as their mother because they are of color and because they are neurodiverse. (Two have autism, one has ADHD.) So yes, pursuing painting both as practice and career while being a mother requires more of me than I have to give some days, but I make as much space in my life as I can for it because it’s what helps me be a whole person. I’m a better mother to them when I do.
MH: What artists do you find exciting right now? I can see why Basquiat and Twombly would be important touchstones right now.
AD: Those two definitely are as I look to integrate my writing and more figures of people into my paintings. Others include the women of the abstract expressionism movement (especially Joan Mitchell and Alma Thomas), Carmen Herrera, Titus Kaphar, Mickalene Thomas, of course Kara Walker, Kesha Bruce, Jonni Cheatwood, Nava Waxman, Jaeyeol Han, Jasmin Charles from the music duo Chargaux, Pava Wulfert, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and photographer Anthony Hernandez…I also have friends who are creating really beautiful, powerful, feminist work through their collages, paintings, and photography: Leslie Fandrich, Christa Myers, Karen Walrond and Alisha Sommer. And finally, my favorite contemporary painter: Nakoto Fujimura. I’m obsessed with his paintings, writing, and process.
From his website:
Steve Kim is an artist and illustrator. Born in Seoul, Korea, he immigrated to the states at the age of two and currently resides in Oxford, Mississippi. He received his undergraduate degree from Art Center College of Design in 2006 and his masters from Claremont Graduate University in 2010.
You can see more of his work here.
*All images from artist’s website