Q & A with Schoolhouse resident, photographer, and mobile maker, Chris Chludenski.
C & P: You make found object mobiles and also shoot Polaroid photographs. How long have you been creating your mobiles and taking photos? Do you prefer working in one medium over another?
Chris: I’ve been doing both for about thirteen years now. I don’t prefer one medium over another but i certainly produce more Polaroids than I do mobiles. I prefer photography as an artform, as I can take it with me as I go, whereas with the mobiles I need materials and a studio space.
C & P: What are you most frequently drawn to as subject matter in your photography work? How about with your found object mobiles? Is there a correlation between the work?
Chris: I try to say something with the mobiles and express my views. Polaroids for me are much more documentary and don’t necessarily have a message behind them.
C & P: Tell me a bit about your camera collection… How many do you have? Have you used all of them? Which is your favorite?
Chris: I’ve got about 350 cameras. Mostly Kodaks, made between 1890 and 1980, and Polaroids, plus few Imperials, Agfas, and Spartus. Some working, some not. I’ve used about a quarter of them, I bet. Most would be in working order if film were available, but some are just beautiful models I can’t part with. I like that the older cameras were much more stylish, inventive, and decorative than what is produced today. My favorite is between the Big Shot Polaroid, that Andy Warhol made famous in his portraits, or the Kodak Colorburst camera, which Polaroid sued Kodak over and had production of both cameras and film stopped because of patent infringement.
C & P: Now that Polaroid has gone out of business and the film is no longer available what do you shoot with?
Chris: Fuji makes a film compatible with many Polaroid Land Cameras. Also the Impossible Project manufactures instant Polaroid film for sx-70 cameras. The film itself is flawed and expensive, but the idea to keep Polaroid alive is admirable.
C & P: Do you ever shoot digitally or do you prefer to still use film?
Chris: It depends on what I’m shooting. I have a Nikon digital camera that I use sometimes. I’ve also got a Canon 35mm.
C & P: Do you feel that digital lacks a certain quality that you look for in an image?
Chris: It doesn’t lack anything, its just a different aesthetic. A different view of the same thing.
C & P: You studied at Emerson College in Boston, did you study photography there?
Chris: I earned my BA in Photojournalism.
C & P: Do you prefer living in New York to Boston?
C & P: How has living at the Schoolhouse influenced your work? If at all?
Chris: I’ve been able to see things differently and get new perspectives.
C & P: What artists have been an influence on you?
Chris: Alexander Calder has always been a huge inspiration to me. Robert Capa. Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
The Schoolhouse will be open:
Friday, the 1st – 5PM — 11PM
Saturday, the 2nd – 12PM — 11PM
Sunday, the 3rd – 12 PM – 8 PM
Augustin Doublet will be screening his new short film Adam all weekend.
Photos © Christine Navin. Do not reproduce without permission.
In July, when I was in London, I stopped by NoBrow headquarters for a tour of their store and production facilities (and for a small shopping spree!) The space was great and there were so many amazing things to look at (I could have stayed there for days!) And even though Sam Arthur, one half of the NoBrow team, was having a very very bad week, filled with headaches (he was on the telephone dealing with finding a stolen van in Belgium, filled with freshly printed NoBrow books, when I first arrived), he kindly let me in, gave me photographic freedom to shoot anything I wanted in the space, and made the time to chat with me, enthusiastically, about NoBrow and the product they create.
This month Cheap & Plastique conducted a proper interview, via email, with Mister Arthur.
C & P: How did you decide to start NoBrow? Was it because of your love for the medium of illustration?
Sam/NoBrow: We started Nobrow because we love illustration and because we love beautiful books.
C & P: Had you been involved in any other similar projects/ventures prior to NoBrow?
Sam/NoBrow: Before we started Nobrow – Alex was an editorial illustrator and I worked as a director (mainly commercials and music videos), we had worked together on various animated projects, and although the end product wasn’t printed there was a similarity in terms of working with visual narratives.
C & P: Are you planning to expand NoBrow in the future or start any additional endeavors?
Sam/NoBrow: We are always searching for new projects to publish, doing more books and expanding into new markets is always going to be a challenge. We are going to be working with Consortium Book Distributors in the US starting in 2012 so our books will be more widely available in the US and Canada. We are also working on some translations of our books for the French market too.
C & P: NoBrow has existed since 2008. And you have had the shop and gallery for a little over a year and 1/2. Have things changed for NoBrow since the shop was opened? Are a lot more people aware of the NoBrow brand now?
Sam/NoBrow: We have had lots of opportunities pop up as a result of people coming into our shop, which is great. The idea that someone who didn’t know of us could stumble upon our shop and love our books is quite a romantic notion! However our shop/gallery was always intended to be a showcase for our products and the artists that we work with and in that way it has been really successful.
The amazing shop
C & P: Do you only sell NoBrow products in the shop?
Sam/NoBrow: We stock all of our own products, even some that aren’t available online, but we also stock products that are from producers and brands that we love and are ourselves inspired by.
C & P: Who is in the office on a daily basis?
Sam/NoBrow: Alex and I are always in the office unless we are away on business, and then we also have 3 full time staff members and that includes whoever is working in the shop.
C & P: How often is someone printing in the basement?
Sam/NoBrow: We don’t have the resources to be printing 24/7 unfortunately, but we usually have a new print edition every 6 weeks on average.
Silkscreening studio in the basement of the building
C & P: Do the illustrators silkscreen their own pieces, does NoBrow print the publications, or is it a collaboration?
Sam/NoBrow: We always print the editions – otherwise it wouldn’t be a Nobrow Small Press edition.
C & P: Are there other publishers in London doing something similar to what NoBrow is doing? Do you ever collaborate with other independent publishers?
Sam/NoBrow: Not that I know of – we work with lots of collectives and small presses but not so much with other publishers. We love publishers like Bongoût and Le Dernier Cri who operate in Europe, but there isn’t anyone quite as well established as these guys in the UK.
C & P: How about elsewhere in Europe? I saw the work of a Berlin based group called Bongoût at last years New York Art Book Fair who were selling similar wares (collectible silkscreened art books/objects). Do you know of them?
Sam/NoBrow: See above answer!
C & P: Do you sell NoBrow product anywhere in the USA?
Sam/NoBrow: We sell in places like Secret Headquarters in LA, Desert Island in Brooklyn and quite a few other cool independent comic books stores – next year we’ll be distributed by Consortium Book Distribution in US and Canada so it will be much easier for stores to get hold of our books.
C & P: Have you done any art fairs (like the Pick Me Up Contemporary Graphic Art Fair in London, where I first saw your work) in other cities?
Sam/NoBrow: We’ve done lots of shows and fairs all over the world (well mainly in North America and Europe) for example in the last 12 months we’ve been involved in shows and festivals in Angouleme, France, Toronto, Canada, Helsinki, Finland and we’ll be doing something in Madrid, Spain in November and also be at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Arts Festival in December.
C & P: The colors used in printing your publications have a unique look and feel about them and act as a common thread between all of the NoBrow library, making a group of NoBrow books look like a cohesive collection, despite the illustrator’s style. Is there a specific reason for your choice of colors? Was this color palette chosen because of any other publications/publishing houses that you admire? How are these super saturated, intense colors accomplished in both the silkscreen process and with the larger runs on the printing press?
Sam/NoBrow: We use a spot colour printing process with many of our large edition books that are printed with offset litho as opposed to silkscreen. The process is similar in that the colours we use are premixed and overprinted rather than made up of CMYK which is the more conventional way of printing things.
Sam showing me the difference between the screenprint version and the offset version of The Bento Bestiary book by Ben Newman
C & P: How do you decide whether to print a limited edition of hand silkscreened books in house versus a run of 3000-5000 at a press?
Sam/NoBrow: We can take more of a risk with the hand made books as we are only printing 50 or 100 copies – also it may be something that can only be done with silkscreen. With the large edition stuff we can do more complicated bindings as we are using industrial production methods.
C & P: Could you talk about the process of working with an illustrator on a book? Does it vary from artist to artist?
Sam/NoBrow: It varies quite a bit from artist to artist and project to project. Sometimes we have seen something that is already finished and we work with the artist to adapt it to a book for us – other times we are approaching an artist with a project in mind, in which case we are all starting form scratch. Some artists like to have some direction or an editor to bounce ideas off, where as others are much more likely to bury themselves away. Everyone works in a different way and we try to find the best system for each project in order to get the greatest end product: a beautiful book!
C & P: What is the most involved/complex project you have ever undertaken in NoBrow’s print shop?
Sam/NoBrow: We did a really cool concertina book with artists Jock Mooney and Alisdair Brotherston – the complicated thing was getting the maximum length from the paper stock. This meant printing in two sections on one sheet and sticking them together – and then folding them. Sounds simple it was real brain teaser!
C & P: How do you find the illustrators/comics that you publish? Are most of the NoBrow stable friends and/or acquaintences? People who have submitted work through your website? Or people that you have scouted out at schools and in other publications? Are they mostly British illustrators?
Sam/NoBrow: Again – this is probably our most commonly asked question – it’s different for every single artist. We have met some people via friends but these people are in the minority, for the most part we have approached people when we have seen their work and have loved it. Generally this is because we have seen their work online or in a book or magazine or even on some food packaging! Often people send us examples of their work or links to their websites and we always try to check these out even though we don’t always have much time. It’s important for us to always be looking at new things.
C & P: How many illustrators do you work with on a regular basis?
Sam/NoBrow: It’s not an official thing, sometimes people ask if we represent artists/illustrators and we don’t. However there are at least 20 illustrators that I can think of that we have worked with more than a few times. Hopefully this number will increase as we go into the future.
C & P: Whose collection of vintage Japanese toy monsters is displayed throughout the store and office? When did you begin collecting these? Do you have a favorite?
Sam/NoBrow: Alex is an avid collector of Kaiju Japanese monster toys – it’s his collection and he’s been collecting for at least 10 years. I love anything Godzilla!
Japanese monster collection
C & P: What is your favorite thing to do in the neighborhood?
Sam/NoBrow: I love a pint in The Griffin over the road from our office and lunch at the Hoxton Grill is always a treat! If I want to go somewhere a bit more colourful – DreamBagsAndJaguarShoes on Kingsland Road is a great night out.
C & P: Are there any other galleries that you frequent in Shoreditch? Elsewhere in London? What are your favorites?
Sam/NoBrow: I’m always a sucker for The Tate Modern – it has to be the best art gallery in the world. In Shoreditch – Seventeen Gallery, 17 Kingsland Road, always has interesting stuff and there are loads of galleries on Redchurch Street and also Leonard Street that have great shows.
Ben Newman and Sam Arthur sitting at the conference table in the office
More cool stuff in the office
House of Gold: An exhibition of work by Butter was hanging in the NoBrow gallery when I was there in July. The NoBrow gallery is currently showing an exhibit of works by the artist, Ben Newman, who I met during my visit. Ben seemed super nice and is a fabulous illustrator/artist, go check out his work if you happen to be in London!
Work from House of Gold exhibition
A few of my photographs of Sam Arthur and the NoBrow space will be in this month’s issue of Form Magazine, available at the end of October.
Nathan Wasserbauer interviewed by Heather Morgan for Issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique.
Nathan Wasserbauer is a painter, living and working in Brooklyn, NY. His work comprises vivid geometric abstraction, evocative of architecture, digital transmissions, kinetic spaces.
Heather: You talk about the excessive consumption of our society and your childhood robot toys and comics being elements in your work. Are robot toys the bright side of that coin?
Nathan: You could say that robots are a starting point. So are dinosaurs and superheroes and all the things you’d expect a kid might draw. We’ve come to a point now where themes from popular culture can be cited as artistic influences. When I was a little kid drawing Godzilla breathing fire, I’d make the sound of the fire while I was drawing it, when it hit the tank I’d do the explosion sound. I even hummed the music from the films. Adults would sit there and be entertained. I love watching kids do stuff like that now that I’m an adult. When you get older and you come to realize what an exploding tank really might entail, you’ve left the starting point. Part of being a grown up is realizing that there are wonderful things you cherish from your past, but there are also negative things like fear and aggression we bring from childhood into our adult lives. Sometimes we act on these impulses, and it makes you wonder if there really is such a thing as an adult.
Heather: Considering the dual nature of your themes, do you aspire to uplift or present a dark hidden meaning?
Nathan: I think there is some slapstick in my work, which is a kind of cynical humor and healthy in appropriate doses. If I’ve really done my job well, a viewer might find some mystery there and then their imagination takes the baton. In my opinion, anything that moves a person toward investigation and curiosity has great uplifting potential.
Heather: You are also a musician and a martial artist. Do these pursuits influence your work?
Nathan: If I’m doing animation there might be some music. Overall these things get me thinking why does that make that tone? What’s the overall structure? Where does it have weight and where does it release? In martial arts you get a sense of how the human body works, with all its strengths and limitations. There’s certainly an aesthetic tradition with martial arts forms, movements, weapons and such.
Heather: Your acrylic paintings are very tactile. Tell me about your drawings, which achieve a very different aspect. Do you have different ideas for drawings versus paintings? How
do they inform each other?
Nathan: The color and light in the paintings give the objects weight. The light is somewhat internalized so the structure pops out in a bombastic kind of way. Painting is more a summation for me. Drawing, however well I plan it is always an input stage for me. The nature of simple tonality creates more atmospheric effects, light is externalized, and you figure out new vocabulary as you carry on. Eventually, you hope the best bits find a way into the paintings.
Heather: Tell me about the process of creating your images. Do you begin with drawings? Or do you organize your ideas around color?
Nathan: I begin with drawings on paper. I sort of create components and find ways to collage them together. Once I’ve got something I hadn’t expected, I might draw on top of that and add some new component. It’s like inventing grammar for a new language. In regards to color it’s about intensity and proximity. Either process might lead the charge depending on what I’m going after.
Heather: The digital age is a major theme in your work. What appeals to you about “old school” media such as oil paint and various printing techniques to create your imagery?
Nathan: There is a tradition of alchemy associated with drawing, painting and sculpture that I’m fascinated by. Gesso is ground bone, pigments come from earth, insects, plants and some need to be treated and enhanced through chemistry. When you consider the longevity of these materials, the work that goes into these techniques and that artwork is meant to outlast its creator, it puts things into a very real and constructive perspective.
Heather: Tell me about the influence of Italian painting on your work. How has your residency in Rome impacted you?
Nathan: I mentioned the materials already. Much of renaissance and baroque painting is meant to memorialize, and/or glorify. The fact that much of the subject matter involves violence, sexuality and such an effort is made to make tragedy beautiful, well, that’s epic! But when you take away the opera of it all, the fact that light and color finds consistency from the renaissance to futurism also gets my attention.
Heather: Who are some of your favorite painters, living or dead?
Nathan: Last year I was in Italy and really took a look at Filippo Lippi and the things that guy did with layering color are amazing. Here’s a list: Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Julian Stanczak, Paul Klee, Lucian Freud, John Romita Jr. (he drew Spider-Man and X-Men when I was a kid, and still does.), Mark Rothko, Hieronymus Bosch, Sol Lewitt, Robert Longo, Al Held, James Turrell, and Timothy Hawkinson.
Also Herman Melville (Best known for the whale thing, but he wrote Bartleby the Scrivener! Artists who’ve had jobs other than studio work to pay the rent can relate to this.)
Heather: Do you think that looking at paintings influences you as much as the massive amount of visual information (advertising, movies, internet, etc…) we are exposed to on a daily basis? Your work comments on this “problem”, as well. Are you telegraphing your mental billboard?
Nathan: I think only looking only at art to make art leads to a sort of creative inbreeding. It’s important to me to view paintings and be able to enjoy them outside of my own studio practice. Outside research is pretty crucial. I would say in earlier work there was more telegraphing. Now some material has become less penetrable upon initial investigation. Dave Hickey once told me “You work too hard. Leave some out. Let the viewer do some of the work.”
Heather: I have heard it said that every painter has one picture that they make over and over and that a good artist has several. Do you think that you have one or more images that you continually reinterpret, reinvent? What are they?
Nathan: There is a lot of stuff that Bernini did that I’m after, from individual sculptures to those grand city plans, architectural projects and colonnades. That spiral movement you find in baroque art or Chinese dragons. A lot of monumental ancient architecture and ruins come into play. Chinese landscape painting is also something I keep coming back to. The simple architecture of Italy and the American southwest, the way light and color break them down compositionally, when you reduce that to post painterly abstraction, and then multiply it again, you end up with endless possibilities. Think of the roof tiles as just one component.
Heather: Do you envision yourself remaining in NYC, or will you run off to a villa in Tuscany/cave in South America/Moon settlement someday? If the latter will you take your future phone with you?
Nathan: I enjoy New York City and I feel fortunate to live here. It’s nice to go away for a refresher, but I’m pretty glad to come back here. Life is long though. If I could spend part of the year in Italy and part here in NYC that would be great, but given a choice I’d stick with here for now. If I went to a moon colony I’d hope to take communication. I can’t envision cutting myself off.
Heather: Tell me about what you are working on now.
Nathan: In the studio now I’m working on vast space compositions, landscape and aerial perspective, and I’m considering the archeology, and in some cases anthropology of the subject. So a whole world with its own language and history could emerge! I suppose this work could be a prequel or sequel to the last body of paintings I’d done. Some of my drawings to be shown at Fountain are taking on the role of artifact, or fossil, or a look at the smaller components of larger compositions. Some drawings are working with different grounds, silverpoint and watercolor, referential to rare or unknown material composition. So stay tuned for some scenic viewing art lovers!
Nathan will be showing at Fountain Los Angeles this weekend with Cheap & Plastique.
Heather Morgan interviewed by Nathan Wasserbauer for Issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique.
Heather Morgan, painter and bon vivant, completed her B.F.A. in painting at Boston University, making up the “expressionist wing” of the school for the arts and haunting the underground music scene. She received her M.F.A. in painting/printmaking at Yale University in 1999. Morgan spent five years in East Berlin cultivating fluency in German, exhibiting and publishing work with Karoline Mueller at Ladengalerie, one of Berlin’s oldest galleries and a proponent of representational artists of the former GDR. Morgan was most recently represented by Jack the Pelican Presents in Brooklyn. She currently lives and exhibits in New York.
Nathan: I feel like your subjects are aware that they are being viewed, and that in some of your larger paintings, there is a gathering, not too crowded, that involves some aspect of theater or performance, cabaret, burlesque, and that we are just seeing part of it. Perhaps, a scene from a film? Do the paintings, as a whole or the individual characters depicted therein, have an extended narrative for you in any way (even if you don’t feel obliged to paint the rest of the story)?
Heather: The performance is identity, the act of being someone, a gender, a construct. The images are cinematic and theatrical to illustrate with splendor the idea that living is theater, a kind of madness. There are extended narratives, whole lifetimes of pain and pleasure. Sometimes I have more specific details in mind that fuel what is depicted, but the viewer is free to concoct their own stories.
Nathan: Describe your time in Germany. How does it influence your work? To what extent does German expressionism play a role, if at all? Do you see yourself in a tradition of painting?… or is that not a necessary consideration in order for you to proceed with your intentions?
Heather: I was mining Dix (ha ha) and Beckmann long before I moved to Berlin. The Expressionists fired up my interest in painting in the first place, fraught as that work is with tension, an ecstasy of agonies. Living in Berlin brought something very different to my work. I learned to speak German, I lived in a squat in the former DDR, staying out all night (this was in 1999, before the Euro, before the current tidal wave of Americans). I fully immersed in painting the life of a young Berliner. As hip, sexy and damaged as the city itself. Today I find myself much more interested in beauty than the expressionists were, more in tune with the giddy excess of the Weimar Republic. Beauty being the surest means to strike terror into the heart.
Nathan: “Unflinching yet vulnerable” is how you’ve described the women in your work. Does this speak to fulfillment or longing, some of each?
Heather: Both. There is a complicated situation suggested here in the emotional availability of these figures. Their aggressive stance barely covers their desperate yearnings. You can have them, but you can’t hurt them. Or is it the other way around?
Nathan: Do you see the people in your paintings as part of a smaller community or is this a larger happening? Could this be Berlin, Paris, London?, or is this a New York City exclusive and it could only happen here… only now?
Heather: The subjects of my work are life-at-the-margins characters, people whose failings and eccentricities are most visible. Every city has its own scene, its own special poison in the water. In capturing that I hope my work reflects the here and now, wherever I am.
Nathan: Describe a studio day. Models? Lighting, preferred time of day, depending upon the subject? What are your minimum requirements? Do you make drawings, or do you take your ideas straight to the canvas?
Heather: During the day, awash with sunlight, promise, and the usual existential unease, I like to do small works – figures and objects painted from life. Later in the day, I get ideas for new work, which I might sketch in pen on a scrap of paper or more fully flesh out with a collage. In the evening, I can start to get a bit manic and then I can really start working, no models, not much light. I draw a pretty detailed underpainting to start a painting, often wiping part or the whole thing away several times before it is finished. In that sense, a lot of drawing goes into it. I also do a lot of writing and listening to music, from which I get a lot of ideas.
Nathan: If you could do a big group portrait and could choose whomever you wanted to include, who might be there? People living, dead, famous or not, writers, artists, acrobats, politicians, engineers… They’d all set up in whatever setting you needed to create what you wanted, and say right, go to it! (or you could travel to them if you like).
Heather: I would have loved to have painted David Bowie during his Berlin years or as Ziggy, Jarvis Cocker at the height of Pulp vanity, and a slightly older and jaded Marlene Dietrich in her seamed stockings. But I was not there in that moment with those people. I am here, these kinds of characters are all around and I am painting them.
Nathan: Do the people in your paintings gradually change over time, along with you? Have you made the work partially autobiographical?
Heather: I am curious about that myself, as in some ways I have changed very little. Still the same overgrown lady child, wild leanings and love of messy hair. Of course, we all inch toward decrepitude and I look forward to including that in some of my figures.
Nathan: You do a Heather Morgan Self-Portrait every year. How long has the annual self-portrait tradition existed? Do you think ahead with each year to what kind of self-portrait that will be, or is it less formal than that?
Heather: It is an entrenched classic of two years. I am interested in what pattern may emerge. Over the course of last year, I found myself talking about it quite a bit in advance, but that was probably just a clever ruse to get people to buy me birthday presents.
Nathan: The women in your paintings search for enjoyment despite world strife. Do you see them as grateful to be alive and therefore celebrating?,.. or have they grown indifferent? Are they just telling us to relax a little?…
Heather: These ladies are terribly ungrateful for whatever gifts they may have, life itself can be such a punishment sometimes, and indifference is the worst symptom of that. But they extend a heartfelt and daring “fuck you” to death and really, thereby, embrace the whole thing. Who can relax when there is life to be lived?
Nathan: Talk a bit about what brought you to this body of work, and perhaps give us some hints about what we might see next?
Heather: I have been circling the drain of these themes for my entire life as a painter. I am always looking for new ways to express them, which has led me to some different ways of working, including some very fruitful collaborations with writers, photographers, and other sources of inspiration. I am of an exploratory mind about the present work, and so I have no preconceived idea about where it is going.
Heather will be showing at Fountain Los Angeles this weekend with Cheap & Plastique, she will also be showing work this Sunday in Williamsburg at the Truck Yeah event in front of Crown Victoria Bar, 60 S. 2nd Street, at Wythe, from 12 — 6.
Images from a C & P studio visit with Miss Morgan here.
Photographed Browns studio in London when I was there in July for Print Magazine. It was fun to hang out at the studio for the afternoon & explore/snoop around all 3 floors of the amazing space (studio & Jonathan’s home). I really enjoyed seeing Browns fabulous work in person. Jonathan Ellery was incredibly nice and has pretty damn good taste, in both design and music. Browns seems like a great place to work! See more of Jonathan and Browns work here. Pick up the current issue of Print for a Q & A with Mr. Ellery, or see the Q & A on Print‘s blog here.
I went to Philly last weekend on a mission to celebrate my birthday and eat lots of delicious foods (mucho success!), take some photographs (mo’ success!), see some art at out of the way, artist-run galleries, like Flux Space and Little Berlin (total fail!*), and do studio visits** with a bunch of the artists at Space 1026. Things did not work out exactly as planned at Space 1026 but I did manage to get a tour of the space and a peek into a few people’s studios. Thanks so much, Leah, Bonnie, and Thom!
SPACE 1026—THE COMMON SPACES:::
(years of buildup of silkscreened prints makes for lovely texture!)
SPACE 1026—THE STUDIOS:::
Leah Mackin’s studio, see more of her work here.
Bonnie Brenda Scott’s studio, see more of her work here.
More about the studio and gallery space at Space 1026 here.
*I made the mistake of assuming their gallery spaces would be open and trekked out to their slightly sketchy locales. Disappointed that both were closed, next time I know to call ahead and schedule something.
Cameron Michel is an artist living and working in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I visited him in the studio that he shares with Raul De Nieves in the Monster Island building last month.
Q & A
C & P: You share a studio with Raul De Nieves, do you ever collaborate on pieces? Do you feel that working in such close proximity to one another (and in a somewhat small space) influences each other at all? Even though your work is quite different I do feel that there is (maybe) a similarity in the the process of making your work– obsessiveness, layering, accumulation.
Cameron: Raul and I haven’t really collaborated on any individual pieces, but I would say that we collaborate more or less on ideas that involve our processes. We’ve been sharing a studio for around 3 years, so we’ve seen each other just about every day within that time and anyone that you communicate with on a regular basis is going to be an influence on you. He is an inspiring person in my life and is someone that I feel I can relate to when approaching art. We might be a little crazy.
C & P: Do you ever feel that working on a piece is therapeutic for you?
Cameron: Definitely. I don’t really understand what I’m doing, but I do know that it makes me feel better and much happier. It teaches me that you don’t have to know how to do anything, but if you just do something a positive outcome will occur. Action seeks good fortune.
C & P: As far as process goes could you describe a typical experience of making a collage piece? Do you sketch an idea (either on the computer or by hand) before you start building the collage? Do you curate the elements that you want to collage first or do you continue to add random things as the piece progresses? Or is it a bit of both?
Cameron: Usually I’ll find random images from my camera, found photos, books, etc and work with what I’ve got. I used to print all my material in the darkroom when I worked at a University in Manhattan. That was great, but I’m switching it up now. I’ve always made the collages by looking at a blank canvas in front of me and just putting one piece on at a time until it is covered. There isn’t really a game plan. I like to kinda just shut off and let myself go on auto-pilot. I’m not really concerned with what photos I’m working with because the photos are just color and texture to me.
C & P: Do you usually work in a large scale or do you also make smaller mixed media pieces?
Cameron: I’ll work on various sizes.
C & P: Do you utilize a copy machine (or laser printer) when creating the elements of the collage, to create the mirror-images that so many of your pieces feature?
Cameron: I haven’t used any copy machines yet, but have some fun things coming up in the future that will involve large scale photo copies. I’ll get multiple images usually by printing them in the darkroom. The mirror thing is in the past for me now. I can’t stand it when people make mirror images in photoshop. It seems really cheap and easy. I like mirror images that are constructed like the the anatomy of living species. When each side appears the same, but is totally different.
C & P: Do you usually work on board? Is each collage a stand alone piece or are they generally created to work together more like an installation?
Cameron: Sometimes they stand alone and sometimes they are part of a bigger world.
C & P: Your collages have a highly reflective surface quality. Do you paint onto the collages? Use resin? Is the shiny surface a result of whatever substance you use to hold the collaged elements together or are you consciously creating this plastic-y surface texture?
Cameron: There will be paint, taxidermy, glitter and resins added to the works usually. I’m not a big fan of glass on pieces, but anything goes.
C & P: Your work also frequently includes found objects. How does an object find its way onto the canvas? Again, is it planned or at some moment does it just occur to you to add a pearl necklace or a resin coated leaf to the work?
Cameron: I guess anything that goes into the pieces just finds their way there because it makes sense to me for it to be there. If I had a million dollars there would be much more interesting things floating around on them. I’ve been leaning towards science lately and soon will be working with a few scientists using really different materials. Materials that are truly mutating.
C & P: What are your favorite materials to work with?
Cameron: I’ve basically worked mostly with hardware / art store type materials, but I would say that my most favoriate materials to work with are living species. That is something that I could possibly be able to talk about down the road.
C & P: Collage enables one to create juxtapositions that do not occur in the natural world, is this what attracted you to the medium?
Cameron: Ya, that is part of it. The photograph as art has always been tough for me to accept. I’ve always looked at the photograph like it is just a push of a button and what ever is in front of that lens you get. When I took photos when I was younger I would always try to paint with light and shoot about 16 shots per negative. It has always failed for me. I need to investigate what I’m doing for more than a second of time. Who needs to paint if you can make a better image with a camera? So I look at photos as if it is paint.
C & P: Where/when do your ideas for a piece take form? In dreams? Are they psychedelically-induced? Are these places conjured in your subconscious? Are the places that you create in your collages places where you would like to exist? Places where you might like to escape to?
Cameron: I’m not really sure where the ideas come from, but when I look around things look like them. They are symbols to me.
C & P: Do the pieces tell a story? Is there a narrative?
Cameron: Definitely. Every element feels like a symbol that references something else. They are not literal, but sometimes they tell me stuff that I didn’t know at the time. It makes more sense to me much later. Nobody could possibly know what they mean unless I went through the piece with them. Since they are made up with my own symbols then it must look like gibberish.
C & P: Did you go to art school? If yes, for photography? Painting? Illustration? None of the above? How long have you been making collages? Has your artwork always looked similar to how it looks presently?
Cameron: I didn’t go to any art school, but I took a photo class in High School and a few art history classes at a school in Atlanta. I worked mixing chemicals at Parsons University for a few years. I wouldn’t say that Parson’s photo department could be considered an art school though. I would go to lectures at Yale and SIARC (Los Angeles) because anybody could sit in. You could walk around and see whats going on in their studios when nobody was around.
C & P: Who would you say your influences are? Artistic and otherwise? What inspires you on a daily basis?
Cameron: My biggest influences are my friends. I’ve always thought that If the people around me are truly inspiring, interesting and capable of love then I’ll be ok. I get really inspired when I meet someone that is a true badass on their own terms, who can understand that the things we do can be beautiful and important to culture and not for the self.
C & P: I know that you and Vashti collaborated on the cloud installation at Glasslands Gallery last year (which is still up) do you often work together on artistic endeavors (in addition to making music together and running the gallery Live With Animals*)?
Cameron: Yep, we usually work on everything together.
C & P: Have you produced any other large scale installations like the one that you did at Glasslands? Is this sort of work something that you might be interested in doing more of in the future?
Cameron: We’ve done some pretty large installations outside of that one. We have some large scale stuff in the works for later this year.
C & P: Are there other artistes in the Monster Island building that you work with? You showed me a mask that you had made that was used in a Micki Pellerano performance piece. How often do you two collaborate? Do you also work on music for Micki’s performance pieces?
Cameron: Running a space in Monster Island you find yourself working with a lot of other artist in the building and artists visiting the building. It is great and creates a healthy dialogue. I met Micki when I was 18 in Florida and he is a very inspiring friend of mine. I’ve worked on various films, performances and art shows of Micki’s.
C & P: What can you imagine doing if you were not an artiste/musician? How long have you been making music and creating art? Do you feel that your music influences your art and your art influences your music? Any thoughts on this musician/artist connection?
Cameron: I think I’d be a scientist or a mental patient. I’ve been the patient, so if the art thing goes away I’ll try the science.
No, I don’t think that my music influences my art and I don’t think that my art influences my music. Different pants.
C & P: I read in another interview (online) that Crass album art collages influenced you to begin making art… is this true? Do you still listen to Crass? Do you see them as an influence on both your art and music? lifestyle?
Cameron: I got into the idea of Crass when I was fifteen and I romanticized that idea of making art and music in a collaborative way with a message that means a little more than personal gain in a misinformed society. The week I started making collages the Crass art came to NYC and in person it is full of color and beautiful. It looks all punk because they had to photo-copy that stuff to get it out cheap and fast. Even though I don’t consciously prescribe to what they had going on I’m sure it is somewhere walking around in my body.
C & P: Tell me one thing about Cameron and Vashti that not many people know!
Cameron: Cameron is a girl and Vashti is a boy.
*Article on Live With Animals Gallery here.
This interview appears in issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique, available here.
RAUL DE NIEVES is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He creates installations, sculptural objects, paintings, performance pieces and is the founder of a band/performance troupe called try cry try. As the frontman, Raul comes off as a cross between crispin glover (at his most strange) and a more handsome, less nasty, gg allin. Raul’s try cry try performances themselves remind me of what a technicolor, glitter-filled, re-interpretation of a vienna actionist “action” might look like.
One of the first times I ever noticed Raul was when I was locking up my bicycle outside
of Glasslands Gallery before a Golden Triangle show, he was covered in red body paint
from head to toe, wearing a monochromatic red outfit, also dismounting his bike. At this
precise moment I decided that I needed to know more about this man! Over the years every
time I have seen Raul out on the town he has amazed me with crazy get ups and intense performances.
C & P: A lot of your work seems to not only be about creating paintings or objects but also about creating specific environments in which to view them. Are these two aspects of the work developed interdependently or does one idea come to you first, therefore influencing the latter? How important are the objects and the surrounding environment to one another in your installation work? Or, do you even make a distinction between the two?
Raul: The work comes first of and grows into the form of installation, allowing the viewer to become part of the work and experience.
C & P: There also seems to be a distinct interplay between geometric and organic elements in your work. Often times the linear geometric patterns seem to lead into or frame the organic forms before the two become intermingled. Can you talk a bit about the role or interplay of these two aesthetics and how you hope they function together in the work?
Raul: I find geometric forms organic, lines and circles are a play on one another.
C & P: Is an element of absurdity or non-functionality important in the sculptural objects and installations you create? For instance, creating an object in the form of a shoe that cannot actually be worn as a shoe.
Raul: Absurdity is a way of looking at life. A shoe is a simple design turned into aesthetics. Most of my shoes come from obsessing over their design, allowing myself to make unwearable shoes helps me overcome the fear of finding the best shoes, not in my size. Allowing myself to make wearable shoes give me the pleasure of desire fulfilled.
C & P: How long have you been incorporating found shoes into your work? And how did the platform shoe, in particular, end up finding its way into your work?
Raul: The first time I incorporated shoes was when I walked out the door, height is everything!
C & P: How about beads? When did you start using them? Are the beads in your sculptures special beads or do you buy them at the bead store down the road?
Raul: I first started taking suitcases of beads back from New Orleans and incorporating those into my work. Now, if the need arises, I do buy beads from bead stores online.
C & P: What attracts you to beads as a sculptural material?
Raul: When using beads to build an object, the object slowly transforms into a huge piece of plastic and this appeals to me.
C & P: How much of a role, if any, does fashion play in your object-based work or performances? How about in your daily life?
Raul: Fashion is a way of life and I love living a fashionable one.
C & P: As I mentioned above I have always been intrigued by your dressing to impress (or perhaps dressing to frighten small children) on nights that I have seen you around town. One outfit that sticks in my mind consisted of a leopard print leotard, purple tights, with the amazing (and pretty damn original) accessory of a pregnant belly, somehow, ingeniously tucked into your very form-fitting clothing. When you wear these “creative” outfits do you feel like you are performing? Do you often dress like this, even when not going to art-related events? Do you consider dressing up (in extreme outfits) to just be part of who you are?
Raul: To me its a daily form of self expression.
C & P: Do you feel that art = life?
Raul: Outside of the box, yes.
C & P: As far as influences go, which artistes, living or dead, do you feel a kinship/bond with?
Raul: JOY (aka Jason Fritz Michael) & Friend Ship, best ever!
C & P: Your work reminds me a bit of Yayoi Kusama’s art, with the obsessive patterning and accumulation of objects. Has she influenced you at all? Are you a fan of her work?
Raul: I love her! Woman power!
C & P: Does your Mexican heritage influence the style of your work?
Raul: Yes, my work is a life experience and my heritage is one to be treasured.
C & P: I have seen you performing in a Ryan Trecartin video piece. How did this collaboration come about? Are you friends? What other artists do you collaborate with?
Raul: I met Ryan on Friendster long ago, we were pen pals. We met once when I came to New York and since then we have collaborated on several works, he is one to be amazed by.
C & P: Does working in the Monster Island building influence you? Is it inspirational to be around so many young and creative people on a daily basis? How did you end up in this space? Were you friends with Cameron and Vashti before they established the Live With Animals Gallery*?
Raul: Moster island is a pool full of amazement, it breaches music, art, and life. Vasthi, Cameron, and I met in San Francisco, at the Painted Bird, on that same visit I met Micki Pellerano and they invited me to come to New York. They have since given me the best experience in life one can give.
C & P: Have you shown at other NYC galleries in addition to Live With Animals? Where else have you shown in the U.S and abroad?
Raul: I show with Newman Popiashvili New York and have had shows around Europe, Mexico and the U.S.A.
C & P: Is making art therapeutic for you?
C & P: Can you tell me a little about your performance art in the band try cry try?
Raul: We put on shows themed around various topics such Hollywood, reading a letter written to a friend, etc…. We are dramatic. We also make a mess and could possibly get an audience member dirty.
C & P: What can you imagine doing if you were not an artist?
Raul: Being an artist.
*Article on Live With Animals Gallery here.
Paintings in the background of the 2nd, 4th, and 5th images by Cameron Michel.
Cameron Michel studio visit coming soon.
This interview appears in issue 8 of Cheap & Plastique, available here.
i did a studio visit* with raul denieves, cameron michel, and vashti windish, who all share a studio in the monster island building in williamsburg, this past week. as i prepare some probing questions for them have a look at some of their lovely work**:::
studio visit post SOON!
* i am hoping to do more studio visits with the folk of monster island, as the space may not be around forever and I feel that it is an important cultural landmark in the neighborhood!
** the images of the artist’s work featured in this post are pulled from various gallery websites
related posts: studio visit with wolfy of kayrock screenprinting.