A Brief Q&A with Robin Arnitz, Cynthia Hibbard, Karen Klee-Atlin and Jodi Waltier

Shift’s Second Saturday Events have given our exhibiting artists an opportunity to connect with an audience through artist talks, panels and demonstrations. In our current social distancing times, we decided to offer an alternative with a brief Q and A with our monthly featured artists.

Robin, In your previous two shows you painted the figures faceless – in Milk Drunk you’ve given us such an extraordinary and fully painted portrait – is this a new direction for you?

Thanks for the compliment! In the pieces that omit the figure, I wanted the viewer to concentrate on the surrounding objects and leave the figure’s temperament a bit more open. In “Milk Drunk,” I wanted to be very clear that the mother figure is exhausted. I believe that exhaustion is expressed best in the face. Painting the full figure may in fact be a new direction for me. I gained what I wanted to practice technically from the previous series such as how to communicate personality without a figure and how little I need to render to communicate effectively while maintaining visual interest. I’m ready for new challenges!

Robin, you are really busy being a full time mom, how are you finding time to paint? Milk Drunk is a big painting!

I am insanely busy balancing work, art, and being a full time mom during Covid. I’m also incredibly sleep deprived. My one year old is unfortunately still getting up multiple times throughout the night and skipping daytime naps. Cutting as much as I can from my to do list is key. DoorDash and Uber Eats are making a fortune off of me. I’m also working at a snail’s pace, getting in maybe an hour or two of art in a week. The piece has taken me months to do. I’m actually OK with this. It makes me value studio time and gives me a chance to really see the painting clearly each time I sit down with it. Not creating art would be like detaching a limb from my body – I simply can’t do it. So I make time for art.

Cynthia,You often seem attracted to mixed media. Any favorites and why?

 I’m one of those artists who is most attracted to process. I like to go to art fairs, not just to admire the greats but also to find new and quirky techniques that people are trying and then look up everything I can find out about them. Luckily, in our digital age, Goggle is an all-knowing God and You-Tube a free university. So the temptation to greedily try everything I discover is in my face every day. I like it all. Watercolor is a soulful practice for me that I don’t do enough of but there is a long list of things I haven’t tried but want to get to—drywall sculpture, hand-built clay, pochoir and painting in cement come to mind. I like to tell myself that I am jealous of every medium I’m not engaged in at any moment.

Cynthia, I know you often travel and do that in conjunction with an art project or workshop. How are you channeling this impulse now?

I do go places when I can and so many people just assume I have the travel bug. The truth is if I never visit another tourist site that I haven’t seen I don’t much care. I say, take me directly to the museums, driver—please—or onward to the residency, art fair or workshop. I tend to be a solitary person so life in the pandemic—minus traffic and airports and those precious museums—hasn’t changed for me much. I am loving my home studio in addition to my downtown studio and making art out of debris from my garage, along with my usual painting, printmaking and collaging. I sort of hate Zoom for meetings but love it for art classes and that has been a joy too.

Karen, you wrote in your statement that you are interested in overlooked and obscured beauty and the work in Pond surface definitely resonated with that thought. What other places of overlooked or obscured beauty have you used as subject matter?

I’ve always found inspiration and beauty in homely, useful, work-a-day objects. A few years ago I did a series of watercolor prints that focused on traffic cones. These are humble but important objects, necessary warnings of hazards and, particularly when slick with rain, with their orange-ness reflected in the wet pavement, they seemed, to me to be beautiful. I also did a series of woodcuts that featured crab-pots on docks prepped for the voyage out. These black metal nests of carefully looped lines and brightly colored buoys spoke to me of the efficiency of their design and application. In both cases, these objects are meant to be highly visible but not necessarily in an aesthetic manner. They are beautiful to me because their forms have been refined to suit their function.

Karen, I heard you are teaching online. How is that going and what are the special challenges of that? 

I’ve been finding that online teaching goes really well as long as the tech co-operates! The classes run much like my in-studio classes with a kind of open forum where participants share their work and insights, learn new techniques, and discuss projects. I’ve taped my iPhone to an easel so that I can share what is happening on my work table as I do demonstrations and we all hold up our work to our cameras so we can get feedback from the others. While I really miss seeing everyone and their work in person I think that this provides a surprisingly rich environment within which to learn

Jodi, this new work looks intriguing and I sense we are seeing only parts, can you give us a hint at what (might?) be the final product?

Well, these current iterations shown here were supposed to be exercises towards something different (I am waiting on access to a printing press for the other thing-due to covid-19 not sure when that will transpire). That work was to be large scale and also involves ink, fabric and paper. Please stay tuned.

 Jodi, you have such a talent at seeing the art in all kinds of “stuff”  what is the weirdest thing you’ve ever used to make art?

By far not the weirdest thing, but still a great story…here goes – I was an undergraduate in a beginning art class and we were charged with creating a concave/convex structure in any medium. I had no vehicle, and little cash and it was winter and harder to source discarded materials from outside of my immediate vicinity, so I chose toothpicks because they were the most bang for the buck I could source at the time. I took a cardboard rectangle for the platform and set out to glue the picks side by side until I could create a swimming pool style skateboard ramp that undulated and conformed to the concave/convex requirements. It was a clever, crisp modular piece that displayed an avant-garde lean I was happy with. It was curing on my desktop of my dorm room when I went to sleep and when I awoke, all that was left of the piece was a flattened mass of picks under my roommates boyfriends leather jacket where my final project had been. I was deflated. My grade was going to be horrid. It never occurred to me to take it in and try to explain how the ‘dog-ate-my-homework’ had actually happened to me, and I didn’t want to carry this ’thing’ across campus and into the class so I just went to class without it. Best thing I ever did. I arrived at the art room, found an empty desk, and was standing next to it taking off my wet hat, scarf and gloves, doing my best to refrain from looking at all of the marvelous completed works surrounding me on the other students’ desks and still trying to formulate some kind of reasoning I would give for why my desk would have nothing on it. I had taken off one glove and because they were leather and wet, they had a bit of structure to them and some of the fingers had gone in on themselves and some hadn’t and when I dropped the first glove on the table it had this groveling-like grasp going on with it that I admit, was kind of cool. I was taking that moment in when the professor and his entourage of interns comes sweeping into the room, greets us and proceeds to examine the various projects laid out. He finally comes to my desk, and I had yet to seat myself and he looks at my desk, perks up and says really loud, ”Class, everyone come over here right now. Whose project is this?” he inquires, not noticing my other glove still firmly stuck and drying onto my other hand. I gesture with the other gloved and and nod. “This is the perfect example of a concave/convex structure” he says. “You my dear, get an A!” Hah, if only I was mature enough to remotely comprehend the significance of that moment in my career…it took a few decades of finding out who I was not to return to that event and embrace it.