Where are you from originally and where do live now?
I was born and raised in Michigan. Monroe is in the downriver area about 30 miles south of Detroit, and 15 north of Toledo, Ohio representing the rust belt and the auto industry. The town itself notable for the home of General Custer, La-Z-Boy, and a nuclear power plant. I studied art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and went to graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. After my MFA, I returned to the area and taught at the University of Toledo for seven years. I love Toledo-- it has a thriving art and music scene with great artists, students, and galleries. Just ask anyone from Toledo, it is a great place to live and work.
How did this series come about?
In May of 2011, I participated in an artist residency at MIRA in Martignano, Italy-- part of the Puglia region which is located in the heel of the boot. I set out to approach the architecture there in a series of studies on paper. My work has always incorporated elements of architecture and the constructed environment, but this series took a much more literal manifestation. I was there for over a month and was impressed by the layers of history and traces of culture evident in the structures. The work is inspired by ideas of the perspective of the buildings and street vignettes that I observed, meant to represent the feel or essence of the Italian Architecture, but not meant to capture or represent specific locations or particular buildings. I was inspired by how design and ornamentation was clearly displayed in nearly every visible surface from windows, fencing, tiles, and painted walls. I hand-cut stencils of patterns, motifs, and architectural elements that I noticed all around me. The series became about 30 pieces that were all completed at the residency during this process. I worked in layers organically and intuitively responding to the environment.
The vibrant colors in this series really stand out. Where these actual colors you saw while in Italy? If not, what was thinking here?
Thanks, yes these were colors that I observed in Italy. The light and colors were amazing. Pinks, rusts, olive greens, bright cerulean blues, and many surfaces with whitewash or patinas. I tried to capture a sense of the color, but also influenced by my palette more or less while I was working. am a huge fan of color and use (some say abuse) color as a driving formal and symbolic element in my work.
Photo by Melissa Gill
These are paintings but they look like they could be prints. Is traditional print making a source of inspiration?
My background is in printmaking. I work mostly in painting and in printmaking and often times mix both in my work. When I approach a painting often times it is similar to how I approach a print. I love the process and it seeps it to the formal elements for sure. I work in layers and cut stencils when I paint, so yes it directly inspires the work. I used acrylics here able to quickly work in layers and like the flat look that it achieves. Printmaking as a process is essentially a matrix and some sort of ink applied with pressure. When I paint I like to remove evidence of my hand and work through the surface. Using stencils and rolling on the paint allows that visual connection to printmaking.
You moved from Michigan to a small town in Arkansas. Have there been things that have surprised or even inspired you in your new home?
I made the move to follow a tenure-track job in teaching. I teach at an awesome small liberal arts college Lyon college in Batesville, Arkansas. Being from the midwest with a very nurturing close knit group of artists friends and colleagues, I was hesitant and unsure of what would come of making the move to make a small more rural area in Arkansas. To top it off it is a dry county.
But, the surprises have all been pleasantly positive and it has been very inspiring. My students here made the transition pretty easy as they are as amazingly talented, sincere, and hard working as my Toledo students were. Teaching here as also allowed for traveling-- I was helped with a professional development grant to do the Italy residency and next year I will be taking students to Germany.
I work relatively distraction free and do not have to work at living and avoid the sort of hustle that I know some artist struggle with in bigger places. I feel (or hope) an artist can make it anywhere by getting your work out there with the Internet and to show all over you can mail you work anywhere. The artists we have met (my wife is an artist also) here are amazing and generous and as serious as anywhere. I have felt very welcomed and as we are trying to make things happen for ourselves in nearby Little Rock, Arkansas and Memphis, Tennessee we have been truly impressed by the artists that are willing to help us create opportunities.
In my formative years I felt the midwest had a sort of chip on its shoulder about culture. I was inspired much more by the underground or indie cultural vibe of Toledo, Ann Arbor, and Detroit with a much more DIY aesthetic. People assume this area is devoid of culture, I was a bit guilty of that myself but the Mid-south, the Delta, and the Ozarks definitely have their own significant culture in music and art it is just a different type of culture. It is what is just underneath the surface of all these places that inspire and have similarities. Artists might be fewer and farther between here, but they really stick together.
Segment No. 9
A good deal of the work in your portfolio is serigraphy - what is that?
Serigraphy is a fancy way of saying silk screen or screen printing. "Seri" meaning silk and "graphic" meaning writing. I love serigraphy and use it in my traditional prints and also in my paintings as layers. I love the immediacy and the flat more bold, graphic look achieved through it.