Q&A with William E.Marsh, Karey Kessler, David Traylor, Anna Macrae, and Miha Sarani

A conversation between the artists exhibiting in Lost and Found and Krista Schoening 

KS: Billy, this show was inspired by your writing.  Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the ideas for this body of writing?  How did you come upon the dynamic of “Lost and Found” as an important part of lived experience?

WEM: Although I cannot take credit for the concept of “Lost and Found” (that was David’s), as I came to meditate on it as a part of the human experience, I found that it is a notion that is woven deeply into how people live, that in “Lost and Found” we see an essential rhythm of existence.  In using the lens of lost and found to think about dichotomies such as “nothing and everything,” “where and nowhere,” “structure and form,” and “land and sea,” I found numerous pictures of how we might frame life and living so as to move closer to developing a holistic vision of what it means to grow and flourish in this world.

KS: Has seeing these works that your writing has catalyzed influenced your ideas?  What has it been like to be such an important part of this collaboration?

WEM: Working with these four artists has been a great honor and privilege, and I have appreciated, deeply, the multiple directions that seeing and experiencing the art for the show have taken me in my thinking and writing.  The synergy has been enormously illuminating, and certainly pushed me to think and write in a myriad of new ways about the many phenomena that comprise human existence.

Karey Kessler, From the Stillness and From the Thunder

KS: Karey, I am interested to know more about your process for creating these works. How do you arrive at these topographies? What about the words? Does the fictive terrain of your paintings suggest a meaning, or do the meanings determine the marks you are making, forming the terrain? Are these fictive maps drawn from your imagination, or are they referencing places that exist? How do you source material for the words you use in these works?   

KK: There is a back and forth between mark making and labeling that happens when I’m creating these works. I start out by using ink and watercolor to make an assortment of dots and lines and pools of color. And then those marks start to have meaning for me — they evoke a feeling or a thought or a memory and then I label the marks with those thoughts. 

I keep a running list of words and phrases from poetry books, novels, science texts and Jewish texts that I draw upon when working on a piece. 

KS: Karey, I read your work in a couple of different ways: On the one hand, I see these as a sort of anti-map that counters my desire to see things explained, written down, defined, and therefore controlled in some way – in this sense your work pairs a seemingly fixed topography with words that resist being fixed to a point in space by the nature of their meanings. On the other hand, these seem to suggest connections between ideas and terms that I wouldn’t have visualized before. The juxtaposition of these words and marks create new poetic associations in my mind. Do you see these works as building meaning or eroding it? Or, referring back to the title of this exhibition, are these about losing or finding? Or both? 

KK: Not surprisingly, my answer to your question is that I see my work as both building meaning and eroding it; as both losing and finding a sense of place; and as pinning down unmappable ideas and at the same time eroding the boundaries between the known and unknown.

It’s interesting that you mention the word “anti-map.” I’ve been thinking of my maps as “counter maps.” In the fall of 2019, I participated in the SciArt Bridge Residency for Cross-disciplinary Collaboration. I was partnered with a geographer and we wrote a weekly blog about the intersection of maps and abstract art and the limits of what real world maps can convey. It was during the Bridge residency that I came to think of my own maps as “counter-maps”— maps that subvert our sense of knowing where we are in this world.

KS: Would you tell us about your piece titled From the Stillness and From the Thunder.

KK: At the beginning of the pandemic, I packed up my studio and brought my art supplies home. I set up a table in my bedroom and was able to work on a series of small pieces. When my studio opened up over the summer I was ready to work on something large and expansive. I unrolled watercolor paper on the floor and began working on what became the eight foot long piece, “From the Stillness and From the Thunder.”

The title, “From the Stillness and From the Thunder,” comes from something my sister’s rabbi, Rabbi Sharon Brous, wrote last summer about the stillness and quiet of the beginning of the pandemic (when the world went into lock down) and then the thunder of rage, trauma and grief after the murder of George Floyd. 

This painting tells a story about the urgency of the moment we are living in but at the same time tells a story of deep geologic time, eternity, infiniteness, and traces of the mystery. 

David Traylor, Bell Tower and Observatory

KS: David, your Garden of Lost and Found incorporates these structures you have designed, but crucially it isn’t just hardscape and architecture – you made a deliberate choice to create a garden, and therefore incorporate plants. Could you tell us a bit about that decision and how the materials of the garden, and the space of the garden, relate to the kinds of intellectual or emotional experiences you would hope to catalyze in a viewer in such a space? How does the botanical here relate to the architectural? 

DT: For a long time, I have been trying to find a way to use an explicit narrative into my work. I mainly have made abstract paintings and ceramic sculptures where the viewer would have to create their own interpretations and stories about a piece. Previously, I have created installation/pieces for a modern dance company and have designed and built gardens and landscapes around the country. So, I thought that creating an imaginary garden with vaguely architectural features would be a way that I could approach some of the ideas about lost and found that Billy had explored in his essays. It would be a way through the design of a landscape and the follies (which I made “architectural” models in glazed stoneware) to tell a story.

The garden I designed was at once a setting for more specific stories but also would be a place where one would be become both “lost” while meandering through the plantings and over a reflecting pond but also would find delight and insight while experiencing the structure of the garden and the architectural features. 

KS: David, your Follies for the Garden of Lost and Found make reference to the early modern European fashion for follies: small, aesthetically interesting structures set into a landscape garden – these follies were playful and impractical – they did not typically have a function beyond the poetry of their presence in the landscape. Follies are known for not having a function, but here your follies seem to interrogate our understanding of what “function” means. Can you talk a bit about what draws you to the form of the folly, and describe the role it plays in this work?

DT: I must admit that I am bonkers about garden follies, those structures without apparent practical function that pop up in gardens. However, follies have served an important aesthetic function.  Much of garden traditional design comes from English gardens that were inspired by the paintings of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Think of a Greek or Roman ruin placed as a focal point in a bucolic landscape. I also own a lighthouse which clearly fits the definition of a folly. So, the design and the creation of ceramic models of them is a great way to tell a story about lost and found.

I thought that the follies in my imaginary garden could expand a bit on this aesthetic function to include sound and poetry. The belltower that I would have in the garden would have bell chambers both above and below ground that would, in a sense connect heaven and earth. The observatory would be a vehicle to inspire poetic observations of places around the globe based on the location of the moon or sun at a particular moment. I also included a series of obelisks that historically have their own function and mythologies. I am currently working on several painted, six-to-eight foot wooden obelisks. 

Anna Macrae, C Resilient Escapement

KS: Anna, in your sculpture C Resilient Escapement there are elements that seem Classical – a container that resembles an amphora, miscellaneous objects that, at first glance, take on the color of patinated marble. Hanging together like something dredged up from the deep, they seem like lost objects from another era – until one looks closer and realizes that they are very contemporary, from flipflops to tea bags. The associations here span a seemingly contradictory range, from garbage to precious antiquities. Can you tell us a bit about how you are thinking about these objects in relationship to these dichotomies: past and present, detritus and treasure?

AM: This work is about honoring the mundane. For the most part we all live pretty average lives, filled with routine and domesticity. I have taken everyday objects and artifacts and woven them together in such a way to create a new unexpected surface to explore. I wanted to give the sense of aging and time, and invite the viewer to consider their own connection and experiences to the embedded objects as they make new discoveries beneath the surface. I enjoy contrast and contradictions, so by giving these objects license to transcend time and morph between apparently precious objects and debris, I hope to we might question and value the seemingly mundane.  

KS: Anna, much of your work here, but specifically the oil and mixed medium canvases, there is this interesting relationship between the high modernist visual concerns of abstract painting and the material qualities of product packaging, which is collaged into the work. How do these materials relate to your process? Are you performing a sort of visual archaeology of modernity in these works by drawing parallels between the forms of product packaging and modern painting?

  AM: This collection has been generated by my fascination for deconstructing cardboard boxes and packing materials. I am so intrigued by the design work that goes into a simple box, its tabs, folds, strength and function. The texture of the cardboard itself, either smooth, corrugated, or anything else in-between. As a process artist, I am drawn to the materiality, and this gives me a springboard to respond to. In my exploration of using everyday objects, I enjoy the contrast between non-precious materials to create a higher value oil painting  

Miha Sarani, The Psalm of Passage- after Anselm Kiefer

KS: Miha, can you tell us a bit about your work The Psalm of Passage (After Anselm Kiefer)? This particular work stands apart from your other paintings in the gallery in part because it has a sculptural element, with those roses in relief, standing out from the surface. But beyond three dimensions, this work incorporates a fourth dimension: time, in the form of an accompanying piece of music that you wrote for it. Will you tell us about that? 

MS: This work touches on several components I believe are central to my art practice. The first, and most important component is the subject matter itself. Very large part of my work revolves around figuration and the suggested narrative it provides. Subject matters, which thematically interest me most, are commonly rooted in socio-political observations and critiques of our contemporary lives. The specific genesis for this work were historic, global changes occurring in the period of spring/summer of 2020, ranging from Trump and the pending election, a global pandemic and murder of George Floyd, to systemic racial and gender inequalities surrounding us. Additionally, there was the inability to see my kids for months—marking the longest period of our separation. I wanted to adequately express all these episodes; however, the real question became how. How could one encapsulate all these thoughts and feelings—communicate the anxiety felt by so many. I recalled a powerful impact Anselm Kiefer’s painting at SAM once had on me during a particularly critical time in my life. I needed to create something with a similar resonance and scope, as well as similarly timeless quality. Naturally, my work could not match his scale – particularly while we were all stuck at home – so I decided to incorporate another element, which would be sound. Or more precisely musical composition.

This brings me to the second component commonly employed in my work—the use of multi-dimensionality. In the case of this work, not only are there sculptural elements, as well as a very active and tactile surface – but most importantly the use of sonic enhancement. This helped provide a 4th dimension to the work by manipulating viewing time, thus allowing me to help guide the audience visually on a temporal journey.

The third component commonly utilized in my work is the use of non-traditional materials. I have always been drawn to experimentation in regard to materials and process. This work employed a combination of acrylic paint and commercial. I had also used other less common techniques, such as coffee staining as an underpainting, rocks and pebbles from the yard for tactical variations. Also added were wall-compound, wood stain, and spray-painted pinecones as flowers.

The fourth component commonly utilized in my work is the aesthetic itself. I rarely work within seriality, in terms of style, and most commonly approach each project with a new visual language. This visual language becomes very specific to the project itself. This creates a rather eclectic variety of styles within my oeuvre.