Colleen Maloney, Lynda Harwood- Swenson, Karen Klee Atlin, Barbara Shaiman, and David Traylor talk about their new work.
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
Colleen, the vibrancy and kinetic qualities in your new “messy, unplanned” serigraphs is not lost in your more methodically executed painted paper collages. What connections do you see between these two series?
For me there is an ever-present quality of not knowing what’s ahead when I create a piece of art. I actually try to keep the mystery going until a piece is completed. Surprises exist in all my work but at different stages. In the painted-paper collages they happen early on when I have no idea how eventually collaged pieces of my painting will be assimilated. Some of the papers I recently used were made more than 10 years ago. For the serigraphs I make preliminary sketches and color studies so there’s quite a bit of planning. Then I work on all 10 pieces at once so the surprises occur with changes of color sequence and screen placement. I love color and pattern—they are common to both techniques and help impart vibrant, kinetic qualities.
Colleen, after the last few years of producing predominantly painterly monotypes with the benefit of an etching press, you’ve broadened your recent work to include more drawing and painting from home. In what ways has this necessary refocus inspired you to consider future work?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot—what’s ahead for me in making art? What started out as a substitute class to fill my time until I could get back to printing, now has a validity I was not expecting, My painterly monoprints were often mistaken for paintings—sometimes even watercolors. I was essentially painting with a press. Now I’ve been forced to work without one and it is exciting. The press helped me keep my work loose but also harnessed my penchant to be controlling. As I move forward my goal is to learn more about painting and practice, practice, practice. I just need to figure out how to match the camaraderie I so enjoy when printing at Pratt Fine Arts Center
Linda, you broke the mold last year with your ingenious cyanotype, solvent transfer and handwork series that continues to be refined, as in That Golden Moment showing at Davidson Galleries, and expanded, as in your Untitled cyanotype on vellum with thread. How might you continue to push the cyanotype medium?
I love using the photogram/cyanotypes as my base layer–they are so fast and fun to make and serve as a sort of antidote to my etching practice, which is so labor intensive. I’ve been working on using different substrates and hope to experiment more and use the transparency of the vellum in some new ways. I’m heading to a residency at In Cahoots in Petaluma, California, for September and hope to expand my work during that time.
LInda, you talk about reflecting the both the positive and negative aspects of these uncertain times in your themes. You also incorporate touches of mystery. What was your thinking in creating Immune and Grovel?
A. My thinking for Grovel and Immune was about building an open-ended narrative for viewers to interpret. The organic shapes in the upper part of both pieces came from two plates and started as painterly spite bite marks, which then evolved into more graphic elements through several layers of aquatint. I wanted to use the negative space below to build a tension between the images of people, the mocking woman and the crawling man, and to play with scale. It was all very experimental and became more weighted as the coronavirus emerged.
Karen, your striking colombine series is both dramatic and a little mysterious, in keeping with your theatrical theme. Would you elucidate more about these four drypoint prints?
I researched some of the visual aspects of commedia dell’arte, in particular the stylized attitudes and poses the characters would assume on stage. For this series, I wanted to focus on one of the female characters and, with no one else handy, I decided to try to pose for the drypoints myself. I am not a performer and I found it extremely difficult and uncomfortable to catalogue my own movements for the camera. However, since I had been using photos of my family for the rest of the work, it seemed only fair that I be made use of too. My stage was improvised and props were made or found in the studio and it took me a long, uncomfortable time to accept the camera as the viewer.
Karen, the harlequin characters of classic Italian commedia dell’arte theater have evolved from the 16th century forward. What personal significance, if any, are they imbued with for you?
One bit of research that I found described the early plays to be highly improvisational. The actors would know the beginning of the play and where the show would end but the intervening action was improvised and changed with each performance. I felt, looking at images and thinking about the lives of my family, that we know where we start and can guess how it will end but the arc of life in between those two events can be chaotic, the people we choose to be with can be provisional, and the roads that we follow random.
Barbara, your new stoneware sculpture, which you say represents a transition away from previous environmentally-based work seems to retain references to land and water while moving in a performative direction. Can you explain a bit more about this synthesis?
When Karen Klee-Atlin and David Traylor, two artists I greatly admire, invited me to be a part of a show they were planning which focused on Theater and the Circus I wondered whether my environmentally-based work would fit the theme. I then realized that though my sculptures referenced the natural world they also had a performative aspect, and a series of small rock forms that I’d been working on for some time also reminded me of juggling balls. I have always been a fan of theatrical spectacle and incorporating that interest into my work is very appealing.
Barbara, your vibrant Friendship series in collaboration with Marita Dingus is almost literally the melding of two halves. How did you develop and execute these pieces?
A. Marita Dingus, a highly acclaimed Northwest artist, and I have been friends for many years and we previously collaborated on a collage book for a show at Seattle Center and a few other projects. Marita had an artist residency at Pottery Northwest this past winter where I was doing my work so it was natural to collaborate again. I made the two ceramic wall pieces which I saw as landscapes and Marita magically converted them into heads with under-glaze and mixed media elements. In this context the heads are clearly in the tradition of theater with their elements of face painting and costuming.
David, what was the thinking behind your collaborative show based on the concept of theater embodying and illuminating the human experience in an entertaining way?
The initial premises for the collaboration were to find a theme that could be inter-disciplinary, allow for a wide range of expression using a wide variety of media and would be a lot of fun. We had originally planned on a variety of things, including our own work as painters, photographers and sculptors but also inviting a juggler, an opera singer, an accordion player, a carpenter/ fabricator and a seamstress to the mix. We had envisioned construction of a “crankie” (an old- time moving panorama accompanied with storytelling and music), staged photographic vignettes (using costumes from the Madison Wisconsin opera), a colorful display of banners and pennants and interesting. provocative ceramic sculpture, prints and paintings.
All of this held together with references to the classic commedia della ‘arte zannies (masked actors) and lazzies (traditional comic plots). Commedia dell’arte is and was a radical and revolutionary art form. Begun in the Renaissance, it was a way to subvert the fixed cultural, economic and political orders enforced through medieval times. Due to our current times, it seemed like an appropriate thing to do. Unfortunately, our times caught up with us and due to a cascade of limitations due to the pandemic the output of this collaboration was reduced in scale.
David, your beautiful “Zanni” pieces seem like stage performers in that they’ve “made up” in bright colors and have moving parts. Tell us more about them (beyond their materials) and how you make them work.
I really have thought of these Zanni paintings/constructions to be like performers and actors in the sense that they are mutable and changing and due to the colors and patterns, to be somewhat hidden or diffused. I marvel at how actors can change identities virtually in front of your eyes using only the simplest means like facial expressions, gestures or a