Education: BA, 1993, Grays School of Art, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland; MFA, 1995, School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Exhibitions: Art Basel (Kassel, Germany), Rockelmann & Partner (Berlin, Germany), Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (Bentonville, AR), Laumeier Sculpture Park (St. Louis, MO), Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (FL), Boston Children’s Museum (Boston, MA), 808 Gallery, Boston University (Boston, MA), University of Buffalo Galleries (Buffalo, NY), Southern Georgia University Gallery (Savannah, GA), Elmhurst Art Museum (Elmhurst, IL), Illinois State University Galleries (Normal, IL), Anya Tish Gallery (Houston, TX), The Tetley Center for Contemporary Art, (Leeds, England), CAFKA Biennial of Art in Public Places (Kitchener, ON, CAN), Indiana State Museum (Indianapolis, IN), Cleve Carney Gallery, College of Du Page (Glen Ellyn, IL), Milwaukee Art Museum (Milwaukee, IL), Young World (Detroit, MI), DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (Lincoln, MA), Helen Day Art Center, (Stowe, VT), Disjecta Contemporary Art Center (Portland, OR), Columbus College of Art and Design, (Columbus, OH), ICEBOX Crane Arts (Philadelphia, PA), Bedford Gallery, (Walnut Creek, CA), Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, (Austin, TX), Art Gallery of Mississauga, (Mississauga, ON, CAN), The Chicago Cultural Center (Chicago, IL), The Museum of Contemporary Art, (Chicago, IL), The House for an Art Lover (Glasgow, Scotland), gallerA1 (Edinburgh, Scotland), and The Highland Institute for Contemporary Art (Inverness, Scotland).
Artist Statement: Ecstatic Life
My work seeks to explode the possibilities for painting. I want to push against its immense history, to use its’ essential power (color, surface, mark, image) to infiltrate other media/material to create hybrids, to procreate without reserve, and in some mangled Darwinian way continue to exist forcefully in the universe, even if it’s existence is more like something out of an absurdist play like Ionesco’s ‘The Rhinoceros’.
I work with inflatable sculpture as the surface for painting to live and breathe, becoming a tattooed skin of sorts on a kind of hybrid body. These sculptural paintings also become performance costume and once kinetic, lumber through the landscape on twelve sets of legs. I find the inflatable form compelling, as it exists in two states - both as flaccid skin and taught volume - metaphors for our bodily processes: inhaling/exhaling; taught/wrinkled skin; flaccid/erect organs etc.
I want humor to be up front and personal in my work and I like to think of the things I make as absurd self-portraits. I use humor, empathy, and play as a foil for the monumental scale and abstract pattern. My work has been very influenced by watching my three kids grow up. They seem to evolve in parallel: from bounce houses, soft toys, and cartoons; to sci-fi, rock-climbing, dating, and dancing; work and life keep pace with one another. I make work about ecstatic life!
I look for moments where body-scape (human, animal and alien) and landscape (land, sea and outer-space) meet in my work. I want people to recall the sense of wonder when looking at natural phenomena like mountains and clouds, or human inventions like the Macy’s Day parade, or the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but that they also sense something else in the experience. Something that rides the line between a tongue-in-cheek reference to Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ and Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” … I’m a bit of a sci-fi geek. These inspirations also get entangled with other curiosities that run the gamut from expandable foam, politics, cake frosting, feminism, lumpy bodies and aliens of all kinds, to neon pink, graffiti, and daft punk.
I use painting as a form of embodiment rather than representation. I am interested in using the physicality and imperfections in the surface of each form where color and shape get conflated. The painted marks camouflage the form, often in ways that make each more incongruous. Color complicates the shape by altering our perceptual understanding of it. I think of color as linked to the visceral physicality of the body, rather than only a visual experience, it is an interconnected system. Color is an animal instinct that grows out of our ancient, pre-historic genetic coding for survival. Bright colors create a deeply ingrained alert in the body, whether assessing danger or pleasure, we know we have to pause and pay attention. So I use that aggressive pay-attention-to-me physicality as both warning and persuasion in the work.
I believe that in our current political and global moment, art matters more than ever! It is a way of being hyper-observant – awake and aware. Art is both poetic and abstract, political and critical. It reflects on the zeitgeist, engages in the vibrancy of life through an entirely different lens than most people get to use. However, I do think contemporary art takes itself way too seriously. …. so much so, that we lose viewers. Therefore, I am interested in creating democratic access to my work by utilizing a deliberately egalitarian and generous collection of humorous, visceral, and empathetic connections between the viewer and the object, and formal entry points for multiple communities to engage with the work. The audience is an active participant in the exhibitions and performances I produce. They push against the forms, touch their surfaces, laugh at their incongruity, and sometimes enter into or dance within the forms themselves. In short, they complete the work.
Practically speaking, I use PVC coated canvas tarpaulin and ripstop nylon as my materials because they are cheaper than traditional fine art materials, and when you work at the scale I do, you really have to take cost into consideration. On another level, I use readily available materials because I want the philosophical underpinnings of my work (democratic access) to be embodied by the material itself. So, using PVC coated canvas tarpaulin (the material house painters use to protect floors), Rust-Oleum and Montana spray paint, duct tape, kids backpacks, and personal blower fans, becomes one way to do that. And on a third level, I am interested in the magical, transformative alchemy that happens when these relatively unconnected, and very mundane materials are brought together to make my particular version of painting and sculpture. In terms of its timeliness, and as I mentioned above, I link my material choices to both a desire to connect with multiple communities whether art-trained or not, and to an implicit critique of the elitist nature of some sections of the art world (it’s intellect, it’s excess, it’s imbalance, etc.) which is also a reflection of a more global critique of power and authority. However, I also use it because the PVC coated canvas holds air particularly well, and the paint sits on the surface in a very satisfying way, to create ecstatically colorful, monumentally cartoonish, and uncanny figural sculptures.
I make a lot of drawings and sketches of possible silhouette shapes that might become sculptural objects. I don’t make models or macquettes but usually go straight to the full-scale object. There’s always an unknown component to the forms as I make them because going from flat to volume isn’t a science (the way I do it anyway) so I usually consider the piece a success if there is a surprise when it gets inflated and if there is something that happens in the painting of it I didn’t expect. This creates an energy or presence that is beyond me/beyond my control when I look back at the work. I get bored pretty quickly so I often change the way a piece is installed each time I show it such that I see it with fresh eyes and I get a few varieties of form or presence within one piece.
I value each part of my process immensely for different reasons. There are four parts in my mind – drawing, constructing, painting, and performing/installing/ site-ing:
1. The thinking through drawing period is less physically taxing and more peaceful in some sense. It is a place for a combination of intuitive shapes and mark making to occur, for observed fragments of things from my surroundings to be made, for cultural source material to be appropriated, and quirky pairings of shapes to be invented. This discovery process, with a simple pencil and paper, is the bedrock of the work.
2. Constructing the form itself is an incredibly laborious, physically challenging, and often mind-bending task to ‘see’/ imagine how the pattern pieces will come together into the final form. The sewing happens on the concrete studio floor because the material is relatively heavy so it’s literally back breaking work. I sew the pieces in panels that become each side of the form (left, right, front, back, top, bottom). Each facing side is usually constructed to have a particular silhouette that matches, in order for there to be a symmetry of sorts (often interrupted) in how the piece comes together as a volume. However, the image I have in my head is not a static thing, and the process of construction is constantly being tweaked – sections are gathered, folds are added, limbs or extensions are grafted on, etc. I need the invention to continue happening as I sew the form together so the adding of pieces, the subtracting of others, the extensions that get inserted become a really important continuation of the play that is implicit in the work and it keeps things surprising. These forms are never quite known to me until the last seam has been sealed and the fan turns on. I should say, that sometimes I am not totally enamored with the forms essential shape, but I know that in the next step of the process that can be wrestled with using paint.
3. Once construction is complete, the painting and color invention on the surface begins. This happens over a number of layers and over the course of a number of days, to let each layer dry. Each pass of paint is a relatively quick process, but a deadly one. I wear a full respirator mask and enclosed goggles. Sometimes the form is gathered flat on the studio floor and painted while deflated, and at other times the piece is inflated in my yard and painted using stencils, and ladders to reach high enough. I also often turn the fan on/off to inflate/deflate the form while painting. This increases the number of folds the spray paint picks up to complicate the surface of the form, and camouflage its shape ostensibly. The painting allows me to pull sections of the form out into the foreground of the visual encounter and push other areas back to recede into the background of the encounter. The shape can change immensely just because of the location and intensity of the painting on it. In this way, I’m often able to resurrect a form that I am not particularly persuaded by and surprise myself in the creation of each new work.
4. Now we have a painted form – a being, if you will. The final part of my process is to decide how these forms enter the world. Is it through humorous eruption into song and dance, or obnoxious scale relative to site, or squeezing, stacking, piling into space? This contextual component of the work is a moving target depending on the parameters of the exhibition or event. The forms I make do not need to be installed the same way each time they are shown, but some do exist as relatively static objects (even though they quiver with air) while others exist as wearable sculptures for the body, and often they can be interchangeable. I must make the decision during the construction process as to whether they are wearable or not as it changes the way they are made. If the form is to be worn, then I must make entry points for the body to fit.
Disclaimer: All work represents the views of the INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS & AUTHORS who created them, and are not those of the school or museum of the Art Institute.