In These Times – Interviews with the Artists

October 1, 2020

Each month three of our Partners Gallery artists present work in an online exhibit. What follows is a condensed version of telephone interviews I conducted with this month’s artists. – Miriam Davis, Partner

“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the muse shows up, too.” – Isabel Allende

"Reaching for the Light" sculpture by Carolyn King

Carolyn King “Reaching for the Light

“I used to stand in front of a piece of work on first Friday and listen to peoples’ observations, and respond to their questions. I miss that direct interaction.”

How about we pretend you are talking with my husband Peter, who admires your work, its intricacy, its flow, and your use of natural materials. He asks if you have always worked with plant materials?

“No, I started with steel. I had a welding studio in Portland, a big place. I cut sheets of steel and welded them with large found objects from discarded machinery. It made me feel stronger to be able to work with these big, very strong materials. But after a time I found I didn’t need that anymore.”

And you transitioned to natural materials.

“When I moved here in 2000, I found myself living in a semi-rural environment, in transitional pygmy: pine and cypress. I collect pine needles, wash and sometimes bleach them; then there’s the drying and sorting. It’s a laborious process.”

Do you start with an idea or how do you begin?

“I walk and I find things. Usually ideas come from the things that I find in the woods or on a road. As I handle them they tell me how they want me to use them. It’s magic when the idea is woven into the piece.”

And this sculpture, ‘Reaching for the Light’?

“These pines are short-needled so I had to devise a way to connect them and hold them together. I used a long piece of wire and stacked bundles along the wire, wrapping them. The sculpture had to be supported by a steel rod, which I welded to the stand I made.”

How did the spiral shape come about?

“‘Reaching for the Light’ is vertical but undulating. The spiral here is open, rising, and so has a growth-like energy. A line that curves or waves can be more interesting than a straight line because it indicates movement, and a circle or square whose edges are broken always feels more dynamic, less contained. I see in this sculpture, as in much of my work, a tenuous, ephemeral balance. It’s plant-like. I see it germinating and twisting upward till in some imagined future it’s strong enough to be straight. Like us. Like life.”

"Morocco" collage by Kristin Otwell, and "Summer Sky" cover art by Christoph Niemann

Kristin Otwell “Morocco

“I've saved New Yorker covers for years because some of them are just so great. I had been thinking of doing a project with my art class at the homeless center, cutting up the covers and rearranging the pieces, but then with the virus I had to close the class. I couldn’t get going in my studio, and felt so lost and frustrated. . .am I really an artist? And I had so much time. . .so I thought of making some of these collages myself.”

Is the cutting related to the content?

“No. I just cut the one-inch squares with a paper cutter. I’ve always liked puzzles, crosswords, sudoku. With these there’s no correct answer, just what looks right. I like to work with materials that have some cohesion, so I make each collage from only one New Yorker cover. I‘m not trying to make something better than the original, just something different that makes sense to me.”

Do you work on these regularly?

“I started in March and have done about 40 now. They don't take too long, and I can actually finish something! I haven't finished anything in my studio for a long time. I don't even go out there much lately, because it's too overwhelming. I’ve been doing these collages on my dining room table.”

So you have to clean it up every day, right?

“Yeah, I clean it up so it doesn't drive my husband too crazy. He's pretty good about it.”

This piece, ‘Morocco,’ how did you come to it?

“Very quickly! I love the original cover, ‘Summer Sky,’ by Christoph Niemann. That bright blue sky, the sunny colors. It was so cold here that day! I've never been there, but I picture Morocco as being sunny and hot. The collage is basically an abstract composition, but the shape on the left reminds me of some sort of middle eastern structure, and the right side—all that gorgeous red—like winding through a bazaar. This process sort of stands for the things in my life that are falling apart. So much that we rely on and love is changing or gone, and we are challenged every day to make something of what's left. So. . .I cut the covers up, and then I re-assemble the pieces. That’s what we all have to do: figure out how to make everything work again. So it's a little piece of that challenge."

And you show the original New Yorker cover art alongside the collage you made from it.

“Yes. I feel it's only right to give credit to the artist who has made my materials!”

"Redwoods Memory" monotype by Arlene Reiss

Arlene Reiss “Redwoods Memory

“For me, for a piece of art to be successful it must evoke a feeling. A big thing for me is engaging people and stimulating their imagination and any associations they may have to it. I like to look at a painting with someone and to hear their story about it—not possible in person right now, of course.”

Well, if I can engage with you about ‘Redwood Memory’. . .it looks so different from your recent work.

“Lately I have spent time looking at older work. ‘Redwoods Memory’ was done at least 20 years ago. Where I am living, nature has been such a source of calm and inspiration. This piece has a particular meaning for me. It feels like a sanctuary. I usually don't have many recognizable forms, and when I do, I tend not to emphasize them, but there’s something about the old trunk enveloping that very dark space.”

And with the leaves piled up in front, the tree reminds me of a cornucopia.

“And the young trees coming up around it, like its children.”

You’ve identified ‘Redwoods Memory’ as a monotype.

“For me color is a driving force; it's where I start. Most of my work is in acrylic, but here, I create color differently. A monotype is a single print made from the transfer of an image painted on a smooth surface. In this case, I used an oil-based printing ink and painted on a plexiglass plate (with a pencil drawing underneath as a reference). After the colored plate was run through the press, I cleaned it, then painted it with another color and printed the image again on the same piece of paper, registered to line up with the previous run-through.”

With a print, the image is going to be reversed left to right. Are there other surprises?

“What you see on the plate is not what you get on the paper. The bottom layer of color I put down on the plate is going to be the top layer after it’s printed on the paper; also, under pressure of the press the paper can absorb ink in unexpected ways. It's one of the charms of any printing process that you don't know exactly what your end result is going to be. I love that.”

Miriam Davis
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