In July of this year, I moved out of my studio space in Riverwest which I occupied with peers for nearly 3 years. It felt bittersweet, nerve-racking, and filled me with a sense of uncertainty. Becoming part of a studio space and artist collective was my first real “art world” experience outside of finishing art school. Where would I make work if I no longer had a studio? How would I continue my practice? Artist & curator Michelle Grabner led a wonderful discussion a few weeks back with exhibiting artists from the LIVE/WORK exhibition series currently on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI. As I listened to the panel describe the last time they occupied their studios and what the circumstances were, I reminded myself that transitions in my own studio should be embraced instead of feared.
During the panel, Garry Noland talked about his very first studio space - a kitchen table. With kids, a wife, and nights that included dinner time prep - he would have to clear the kitchen table of his collage materials in order to make space for plates and food. After dinner time, clean-up and bedtime for the kids - the collage materials would come back out to fill the kitchen table once again. Odili mentioned that a studio can be anywhere, wherever it needs it to be out of necessity; describing an artist that operated solely out of a suitcase. Trenton admitted that he finished gluing up pieces of his installation for this very show at JMKAC in a hotel with plumbing glue (very potent with lots of fumes in a non-ventilated room) - admittedly then spilling Thai food all over the floor and joking he may be blacklisted for the foreseeable future from hotels in the area.
The studio is everywhere - it’s wherever you (the artist) inhibits. Just as anything made in the studio is art: a holiday wreath, a lamp, wallpaper, sculpture...Virgil described a previous discussion where someone asked him, “So what makes this art and not just a wallpaper?” as they commented about the project he was working on. The studio becomes a space to create conceptual work, but also gifts, craft projects, and anything else we (artists) decide to make. If we self identify as artists, that gives us the authority to grant objects their “arthood”, right? Virgil’s exhibition space and installation, Hothouse, walks a fine line between art and the furnishings of an invented space - complete with stools, lamps, carefully placed mirrors, and shaggy fabric that resemble an other-worldly home.
Jessica Jackson Hutchins talked about a recent transition in her studio practice; one that includes activating her beautiful ceramics through movement, dancing, eating, or serving. During the opening reception that very night, viewers were lucky to experience this first hand. Chili and iced tea were served from her creations as dancers moseyed about the space wearing large sculptures as accessories, crawling and miming throughout the space, perching themselves atop Jessica’s found and created furniture.
Peggy expressed how she treats her practice as a retail space - one she believes should always be open to the public. She enjoys taking the “privacy” out of a studio space by sharing it with as a retail storefront. She described how thinking this way has always made sense to her and the way she approaches art making in general. Peggy uses accessibility by allowing her sculptures or clothing to become goods created for exchange. She has owned and managed two different storefronts - one in LA and another in Kansas City.
Allison compared herself to an accordion when working in the studio. Flexing in and out - making a huge mess by sprawling materials out all over the floor to look for that piece of paper that’s “just right”. She makes a mess only to have to clean it up and repeat the that process again and again. Her work in the Makeshift exhibition included a board game that prompted the viewer to interact by creating a drawing after selecting a series of cards to gain inspiration from. Her paintings framed the board game along each wall. On the ground around the perimeter of her space were piles of collage materials and paper acting as an outline to her installation. I imagined the organized mess to be a window into her daily studio practice.
Brad explained how he acquired his first piece of taxidermy from Cedarburg, WI and described how it’s taken him years to put together these shelves in his studio.
Full of books and artfully organized artifacts; I was reminded of my first exposure to an artist studio. It was in my very own living room as a child. The way Brad arranges objects on his studio shelves draws a very striking resemblance to the walls of my childhood home; curated by my father with chatchkes, antiques, and various other artifacts. A bottle acts as a crutch for some keys, a clock face holds a pair of vintage glasses. For years I was enamored by the compositions of objects that surrounded me each day and I don’t think I totally understood why...until I figured out I wanted to be an artist. Because this is when I realized my dad was one too. He activity built a creative space for himself with his belongings inside his home. Exactly how artists do.
Just like Brad did by building and filling the shelves in his studio. It’s interesting that Brad collaborated with his father for this exhibition - a 90 year old pilot who built an airplane that sits at the center of the main gallery surrounded by Brad’s dreamcatchers. I found the father/son relationship fitting as I sat listening to the panel and thinking of my own father and his artfully arranged treasures.
More than one artist admitted to having multiple (5-7) studio spaces over the past several years, some of them lamenting about moving all of their work and materials from one space to the next. But they ultimately agreed that this can happen at any time and one has to be prepared for change. Trenton joked that his goal now is to get museums to show his “collections” of thrifted and found objects so he can stop seeing himself as a hoarder. JMKAC must have agreed to these terms, as his installation in the Makeshift exhibition include large retail shelves filled with toys, games, figurines and other ephemera.
Garry and Peggy’s installations encompassed the viewer on both sides with cut-outs of foam characters, shapes, and various wall hanging sculptures on either side of a long hallway. Peggy’s bold and unashamed use of color complimented her father’s printed wood panel texture which acted as a background for his sculptures. The arrangement of their work encapsulates the viewer and places them in an environment that encourages creation, play, and experimentation.
Being immersed in the artist environments as part of the LIVE/WORK exhibition series was nothing short of magical. The presence and diversity of the artistic imagination among this group of artists leaves an impact on the viewer. Traversing through the artists’ spaces and becoming absorbed in the large scale installations mimicked the presence of being in the studio as well as being in the mind of these makes. It was a glimpse into their world; their studio. This series encourages one to consider that the studio doesn’t only exist in a physical realm, but it’s present in how artists navigate through the world, observe things, organize, and problem solve. It exists as our reaction to the environments around us at any given moment.
So, as I think back to moving out of my studio space this past July, I remind myself that we as artists take the studio with us wherever we go. My current setup is between my car, an extra bedroom in my apartment, and my garage. I have nothing to be worried about, I’ll continue making wherever and whenever I need to.
The Live/Work exhibition series is on view at JMKAC now through March 3, 2019
Made and Connected: Garry Noland and Peggy Noland
Dark Matter: Joel Otterson
Hothouse: Virgil Marti
Makeshift, curated by Michelle Grabner
Participating artists: Michelle Grabner, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Brad Kahlhamer, Virgil Marti, Garry Noland, Peggy Noland, Odili Donald Odita, Joel Otterson, Barbara Rossi, Greg Smith, Alison Elizabeth Taylor
Joel described his two separate studio spaces; one he uses very specifically for needlework which has to be clean and free of debris for the delicateness of that work. The other space is welcome to all other chaos - sculpture, collage, dust, paint, etc. He keeps a harsh division between the clean and the mess. The appreciation of both working styles is present in his exhibition, Dark Matter. Large, beautifully crafted quilts/tapestries hung alongside sculptural vases that were perched atop pieces of furniture. The integration of his separate studio practices was so delicately displayed; one can begin to infer how much attention each quilt or vase required before completion.
Post discussion, the exhibition guided me through vast spaces filled with large scale sculptures and installations. I was in awe of the spaces created by Virgil, Trenton, Greg and Joel. Whether it was large scale tapestry that hung from the ceiling and acted as backdrops to scrolled vases, or a comic created as a wall drawing in conversation with games, toys, and figurines sitting on retail shelves acting like a curated thrift store. Virgil’s space was breathtaking as metallic and holographic textures reflected through mirrors with soft colors and familiar objects reinvented in a new way: a chandelier crafted to resemble deer antlers with brightly colored lights atop them.
Greg’s massive sculpture seduced the viewer all the way around. Colorfully adorned, it also housed a projection, many lights, and fabric stretched like awnings. The installation was reminiscent of a tree-house, which is a childhood space I always equate to imagination, exploration, and creation: much like an artist studio.