Tag: Faculty Art Show

Interview with an art faculty member: Surabhi Ghosh

From January 21 to April 8th, the UO art faculty members will be showing their work in The Long Now, an exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art from January 20 to April 8 in Eugene. Selected works by six art faculty members will be shown at the White Box in Portland from January 24 to March 24. To highlight the artists behind the art, I’m having conversations with several of the faculty in the show to hear more about their practice.

This conversation is with Surabhi Ghosh. Whether she is drawing, painting, printing, stitching, or bookmaking, Ghosh is always invested in the idiosyncrasies of visual language. Her current research centers on the meaning of pattern and decoration within spiritual, political, and domestic narratives. Focusing on ubiquitous motifs like the circle and the dot, she creates abstract compositions that blur the lines between painting, sculpture, and textile design.

Ghosh is also co-director of an international artists’ collective and annual publication project known as ‘Bailliwik,’ which she cofounded in 2004. Her work and collaborative projects have been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including Western Gallery at Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA), NEXT Art Fair, MDW Art Fair, and Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago, IL). Her books are included in several collections worldwide. She has an upcoming exhibition at SideCar Gallery in Hammond, Indiana.

Dave Amos, A&AA writer: You’re the fibers professor, but a lot of your work is not in fibers. Why?

Surabhi Ghosh: My background is in fibers; I have a BFA and an MFA in fibers. I’ve been teaching in that field for the last six years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. About three years ago I switched my focus from working with fabric and textiles.

I’m particularly interested in repeat pattern design. I started doing small-scale drawings and paintings, approaching them as sketches or experiments about color and pattern. I realized I liked doing those and that I wanted to get bigger, focus, and improve on my technique. Since about 2008, I’ve mainly worked in painting, so now I’m as much a painter as a fiber artist. I don’t mean to imply that I’m never going to go back to fibers. It’s in my bones at this point.

Pierced Orb, 2011 -- In "The Long Now" faculty art show

And I paint using a somewhat non-traditional process: I use paint as liquid color. All of my recent work is made up of accumulations of dots, and each dot is made by putting a little drop of paint down. I use a really small brush, load it up with paint, and make a little drop instead of a stroke.

DA: Why use this technique? Is it fibers related?

SG: Yes, the very small, repetitive mark that I’m drawing on is related to various fiber techniques. I connect it to embroidered stitches as well as quilt-making, where patterns are pieced together by combining many different pieces of fabric. I also think about crochet structures and woven structures when I make my work. I create these swirling micro patterns within the larger form, and I relate that process formally to crochet, which is really important to my experience with fibers.

DA: That makes sense. Are the designs themselves inspired by fibers?

SG: They grew out of my interest in decorative border patterns. In Indian textiles decorative borders are very common. Saris always have borders around the edge, and they are often very abstract, very geometric, very decorative. The edges are embellished, and that edge is embellished, and then that edge is embellished–a motif is always edged with another decorative motif.

In my work, I reflect on the way patterns build incrementally. I never have a plan, but I use a roughly geometric system, which, when applied dozens or hundreds of times, creates unpredictable patterns. These patterns emerge out of the simple system of dot placement I use. I’m interested in that process of handmade geometry.

DA: How do you choose the colors in your piece?

SG: My color decisions are intuitive. Because of how the dots are built, each line is building on what came before each. With each subsequent line I make a decision about color. Sometimes I decide I want it to be a gradation, and sometimes I decide I want a contrast.

DA: So you don’t decide exactly what the finished piece will look like ahead of time?

SG: I draw out the basic contours and make that shape into a stencil. I often work in series, so I like to have them as stencils so I can use that exact same shape again but in a different way. If you look at my work chronologically, you can see that I have been simplifying and simplifying, and what I’m doing right now is purely focusing on the circle and the oval.

Orb 1, 2010

This piece was a huge change (Orb 1, above). This happened at the beginning of last year. It’s essentially a circle I’m filling in with dots. I’m interested in evoking the similarity between macro and micro views. This piece can suggest a map of continents and bodies of water or an orbital view of a planet of some sort, while it also resembles a view through a microscope of a sample.

DA: You have also used formats and techniques beyond fibers and paint in the past. Do you still?

SG: I’m interested in the book form and I always make books; it’s a regular part of my practice. I tend to use them to conduct experiments, create samples, or research ideas. For example, when I started using the circle primarily in my work, I wanted to know more about the circle as a decorative motif. I did this project with my husband, partner, and collaborator called See Ouroboros Run (below), where we researched circular motifs and how they recur in obscure or ancient belief systems, what various meanings circles hold, and if is there a universal meaning behind the circle. Those ideas were housed in a book made to look like a teaching tool, maybe for kids, which established a fictitious belief system from a conglomeration of sources. I’m interested in visual storytelling and comic books are a big influence on my work. I tend to make two or three books a year like this, in small editions.

See Ouroboros Run

I’m also coeditor of Bailliwik. It’s an annual anthology that works as an artist cooperative — everyone in it submits work and chips in some money. My partner and I do the layout and have it printed. We encourage special projects and limited edition works to include along with the printed book and once everything is assembled we send copies to the contributors, who then distribute them however they like. All of the work is also published online on our website. It’s a total DIY artist project. We’ve been publishing since 2005 with eight issues so far. At first we put out two a year, but it almost killed us, so now it’s annual.

I love books as a venue for the arts – as an alternative to a gallery or museum. It’s something that people can take home and sit on their couch and look at. Maybe we can reach a different audience than people who go to galleries or museums. It’s more personal, more intimate.

Interview with an art faculty member: Dan Powell

From January 21 to April 8th, the UO art faculty members will be showing their work in The Long Now, an exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Artfrom January 20 to April 8 in Eugene. Selected works by six art faculty members will be shown at the White Box in Portland from January 24 to March 24. To highlight the artists behind the art, I’m having conversations with several of the faculty in the show to hear more about their practice.

This interview is with Dan Powell, a photographer who received his BA degree in 1972, an MA degree in 1976 from Central Washington University, and his MFA degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1980. Powell taught photography in the Art Department at the University of Northern Iowa from 1980-1987 before beginning his current position teaching photography at the University of Oregon in 1988.

Powell has received numerous grants and fellowships including University of Oregon research awards, Polaroid Corporation purchase awards, a Maine Photographic Workshops grant, and in 1981 he received an Emerging Artists Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work appears in collections at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; Lightwork, Syracuse, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; and Art Institute of Chicago. Powell’s work has been reviewed in prestigious publications including Art Week, New Art Examiner, Art News, Afterimage, and the New York Times. A comprehensive archive of Powell’s work is being collected by Special Collections, Knight Library at The University of Oregon.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Dave Amos, A&AA writer: What drew you to the medium of photography?

Dan Powell: That was a long time ago. In 1972 I took a basic photography course and really enjoyed it for the same reason it’s so seductive for so many people. You feel your creativity oozing out of your pores and that’s a wonderful thing. And it led to a study in photography.

DA: I looked through your portfolio and there seems to be a division between your landscape work and your constructed work. Why both?

DP: The manipulated work I did as a product of where I went to undergraduate school, which really encouraged a conceptual or constructed approach. Rather than taking straightforward pictures out there in the world, images were constructed and highly manipulated, treated as much as a surface for marking as an image. That work was continuous from when I went to school to get a masters degree in the mid 70s all the way through the early 90s. It evolved over a period of years and was in keeping with how photography was critically recognized during that time. That was the kind of work that constituted my practice as an artist; that was what I exhibited. The work in the landscape and images shot on European travels were really more side ventures at the time. I never really showed that work much at all. In my later years as an artist that work has become more interesting to me than all the constructed work because it is tied to place and time and personal history.

Virginia City, Nevada, 1990

DA: Did you go to Europe to take those photos, or were you traveling and decide to take photos?

DP: What came first was the western landscape work. I am from the west and after living in the Midwest for 9 years I acted upon my affection for the land here photographically. Then came photographing during travels overseas, in the 90s mostly. I loved to travel and my wife and I traveled a great deal in the Mediterranean region. I would always take a camera and then I applied for a few grants to travel. Within a very short time photography and travel became a part of the same activity, impossible to separate. It was a wonderful union to make and I miss that a great deal.

I didn’t have any preconceptions about what I was going to shoot. We used to drift a lot when traveling. We had a general route, of course, but specifics were left open and we came and went according to our desires at the time. Photographing was much the same way, just what presented itself to me.

Plakias, Crete, 1996

DA: What catches your eye? Is it light, or composition, or what?

DP: The whole idea of drifting pertains to the camera too. It is making visual sense out of what you see, or better put, seeing something that makes visual sense to you. The idea of seeing and finding something that lies outside the ordinary. Sometimes that’s very formal. Photographing itself is to create some kind of formal construct around what you see, to organize a space. It was the idiosyncratic in many cases, but not all. In my portfolio, many images may be very painterly in form; others might be more idiosyncratic, as in ‘how could that be?’ Images depend on different sets of considerations, and I always like that eclecticism in my work.

DA: There is a section of your portfolio where you juxtaposed two images. I kept thinking about what the pairs were trying to say. Is that what you were aiming for?

DP: Definitely. That work came from the early trips traveling in Europe in Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Croatia and going to these fine museums where you could photograph. There was natural light and it was beautiful to photograph these antiquities. So I took it upon myself to create my own collection from that collection. To collect the collected, in a sense; to photograph books in a library or something like that. That’s why I often combine those images of antiquities with book images. They are both a text, an evolution of human consciousness through time, in statuesque form and written form. What this work was about, “The Keeping of Record” (below) was photographing an archive; this vast archive of western consciousness, a western origin myth. So I’d photograph these objects and there they were but you can’t see through them into the time itself. We can’t go there from the constraints of the time we live in. We can’t escape our present cultural skin. I took it upon myself as an artist, instead, to put another image up against it, to correlate something with it. To provide my response to the image with another image. To play with it, in a sense, in contemporary terms. To make sense out of this past archive according to the present time that I live in. This work was a culmination of the European travel photographs that I made.

The Keeping of Record Series, 2000

DA: How has your work evolved through your career?

DP: Both activities [constructed images and travel/western land images] went on simultaneously, and one played off of the other. For instance, “The Keeping of Record” series, those dualities that were created there, are from individual images from which I had no plans to make that work. They were just other images that I shot in Europe and then later when I came home the idea occurred to me to juxtapose those images. That spawned the creation of that constructed work. One really rose out of the other, and that is true all the way through my work. Even the other constructed images, they all came from actual images, either made in the studio or out in the world. One sort of derived from the other. And many times the images from out there in the world just remained distinct. They were born whole.

DA: Besides travel, do you have other influences?

DP: In the last 15 years or so, I’ve been interested in language and cultural theory. Certainly language theory has played very heavily into my work. Word as a sign, language as a sign. It’s not just what it says but what it represents in the form of connotation. All the way through my work, even in the constructed work, a clashing of signs and symbols, words and images were important. I used to do a lot of dumpster diving when I was in graduate school. It was the beginning of the sprocket driven computer age, so you’d find these reams of computer read-outs that said phrases that made no sense. It’s language gone astray, gone awry, but you can still read it and create meaning, as in “The Flow Chart” series.

One of my foremost interests in photography is its use as a language. Of all the art media it’s probably most akin to the spoken word because of its relationship between representation and reality. A word is a replacement for the actual thing. The thing is not here to show you so I used the word to describe that thing. A photograph is the same thing. They both stand in; they’re surrogates. I’ve always enjoyed mixing those signs and symbols in my constructed work and that certainly carries over into my travel photographs and even the landscapes. Even the single images, oftentimes are complex in terms of a mix of things.

Study from Gray to Black, in "The Long Now" faculty art show

DA: Do you feel like a Northwest artist, whatever that may mean?

DP: Not at all. But I was born in the Northwest, and other than a nine-year stint in the Midwest and a year in New York, I’ve lived here. I love the West. It’s a fine place to live and a person is fortunate to live here for many, many reasons. When I came back here, I was delighted to come back from the Midwest largely because I was interested in photographing the land here. At that particular time in my career I was really involved in that, really interested in that. That was ‘86 through ‘90; they were really big years for me for photographing in the land and photographing the Northwest. Then I started traveling overseas more.

As far as being a quintessential Northwest artist, no, I don’t feel that affinity anymore since my days photographing in the land here.

DA: The Knight Library at the UO is collecting your work and creating an archive. Could you tell me more about that? It must be an honor.

DP: The Knight Library, starting four or five years ago, started collecting my work, my archive, in a sense. Over that course of time, I have donated work and they purchased others that are representative of all the series I’ve done and all the phases of work I’ve done. They’ve collected probably 1600 pieces at this point and more to come. I feel fortunate and honored. I think it fits my work more than others because of the quality of document that much of it holds; particularly there is a lot of work in Oregon and of the west. That’s mostly what they’re interested in, but in collecting me they’ve also collected all of my other work. I feel fortunate to be able to leave my work with them.

DA: Should work stand for itself, or is something gained hearing from the artist?

DP: Both things are true. I think the work should be able to operate on its own merit. That doesn’t mean it might not be combined with language, with words, as a part of imagery or in the process art making. A lot of conceptual art uses words. The work that I have in this show is heavily dependent on the title. In fact, you wouldn’t understand it completely without the titles. The titles explain the work, and I want the titles to explain the work. They’re a part of the piece.

On another token, reading about someone’s involvement in their art and why they make it and how they view it, can really inform you a lot and help you understand the work in different ways than you might otherwise. If you go into a museum and you see work and it hits you and you like it, you think certain things about it. If you go read the words, the work expands, and you probably will think different things about it and have a richer sense of the experience.

So, yes and no. I think different kinds of art work in different ways that way too, and that’s very important. One piece may need to stand on its own, and another piece must absolutely need words with it. If you see a great film and then read all about the director and the process of making it, their intention in making it, it maybe doesn’t make it a better or worse film, but it informs you and gives you more information to feed into the work.

Interview with an art faculty member: Sylvan Lionni

From January 21 to April 8th, the UO art faculty members will be showing their work in The Long Now, an exhibition at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Artfrom January 20 to April 8 in Eugene. Selected works by six art faculty members will be shown at the White Box in Portland from January 24 to March 24. To highlight the artists behind the art, I’m having conversations with several of the faculty in the show to hear more about their practice.

This conversation is with Sylvan Lionni, a painter visiting the UO for the 2011-2012 school year. Lionni’s has been shown in New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Berlin, Vienna, Stockholm, and Sydney. He has upcoming shows at Kansas Gallery in New York and Stene Projects in Stockholm. The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.

Dave Amos, A&AA writer: What kind of art do you do?

Sylvan Lionni: As tempting as it is to define other artists, I don’t want to do it to myself. Once you say ‘I’m this kind of artist’ you take away a whole range of choices and you limit yourself to just doing that one thing.

"Pick Six," 2005

DA: Where do you get your inspiration?

SL: I really love minimalism and geometric abstraction. When I was fifteen I fell in love with Mondrian and then later Frank Stella and this whole group of artists. At the same time, I had this problem with the arbitrary nature of painting. Why is this yellow and this green? Why is it this big instead of that big? That’s a problem that’s inherent with abstraction. You’re always going to run into that when making an abstract painting and I could never get over that. My solution was to find things that make me feel the same way that the art that I love feels, and then make those things. That’s what I do. It’s walking down the street and seeing something. You go into the deli and see the lottery tickets and, oh, that means something and that can connects to this and they look like buildings (above).


"Coney Island Baby," 2008


DA: Some paintings, like the faded American flags (above) have an obvious socio-political message. Others, like your painting of the dot stickers seem less obvious. Is there commentary or meaning behind all of your work?

SL: That’s a tough thing, meaning in paintings. I go back and forth on it. There’s the tendency in the art world to want to make a sound bite about your work to make it more saleable or to make you seem smarter. It’s always a bit of a problem. The flags — maybe I shouldn’t have made the flags. Right after September 11th and everyone had flag stickers on their cars. Then a couple of years went by and they had all been bleached by the sun and it seemed like a good metaphor for something. Art with messages, ugh. I don’t want to make propaganda.

DA: As someone who doesn’t study art, I have this idea that I need to figure out the meanings of paintings.

SL: F— that.

"Interregnum," 2005

DA: The paintings of the stadium diagrams (above). They weren’t meant to look good, but when you paint them like you did, they look great.

SL: Exactly. Meaning in art is a good way to get into making something. You have to go through those mental gymnastics to make something, but in the end it’s better without it. If you’re looking for meaning in art, I don’t know.

DA: Do you paint your work by hand? It seems like it would be painstaking.

SL: No no no. I draw everything on the computer. Depending on the piece, I’ll have a big sticker printed and then paint over the sticker and then peel the sticker off. Like those stadium paintings, if I sat there and tried to tape one off, it would be a nightmare. I just draw it with a computer.

DA: What’s your overall process?

SL: I make a lot of drawings. Walking around, I make mental notes. That’s interesting, or that would be good. I take a picture of it. I make a lot of drawings; I draw them all on the computer. Most of them I throw away because there’s nothing there. The ones that I think are kind of interesting; I’ll Photoshop them onto a wall, just to see what it would be like as a painting. I always have a folder of 30 ideas and maybe each will have 10 drawings that could possibly be paintings. It depends on if it’s for a show or something, or what I have money to make, as they can be really expensive.

So finally I get to a point where I have to make something new and I decide. There’s always the problem of what kind of panel, or stretched canvas. If it needs a sticker I get the sticker printed. I paint the background color. I put the stencil on, paint over it. That could take a long time. If it’s four colors its quick, if it’s fifteen it takes longer. I have to tape off each area over the stencil, paint, peel the sticker, and I’m done.

DA: You have a couple of pieces directly on to a wall. Could you tell me more about those?

SL: I did a couple of wall paintings. I did one for a show in Washington, D.C. I used to show at a gallery there. That was the carpet from ‘The Shining’ that was from a specific frame from the movie just with the boy taken out. I like the idea of making a painting of the floor on the wall. I don’t know, I just thought that was fun. The whole thing with ‘The Shining’ was interesting to me, too.

"Red Shift," 2010

DA: Some of your pieces don’t come from the every day (like “Red Shift,” above). What’s the thinking behind it?

SL: I was always so afraid of making an abstract painting. I could never justify decisions to myself. At some point, I said to hell with it. I should do it because I’m afraid of doing it.

DA: It’s refreshing to hear. In my first architecture studios I had a hard time justifying my decisions. I would ask questions like, ‘Why should I put a window here instead of there?’

SL: This is the first time I’ve ever taught. I was explaining to one of my students last week: take out everything in the painting that you want to be there and leave the things that need to be there. If you want to put a window there, it’s probably going to suck. If you need to put a window there it will probably going to be really good.

Art is supposed to be ugly. People have this idea that art is supposed to be beautiful, but it’s not true. I’m not saying I make ugly paintings — I wish. Cocteau said, ‘Fashion is what’s beautiful today and ugly tomorrow. Art is what’s ugly today and beautiful tomorrow.’ You look at photos of the people in the 70s today and they look ridiculous. You look at Picasso when he made the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and people were like, that’s not even a painting, that’s hideous. That’s what you are supposed to do.