Jennifer Moses’ Elbow Room: An Interview in Images with Linda Leslie Brown
Jennifer Moses’ quizzical, layered paintings are packed with physical and conceptual content. They also manage to pay homage, in ways both straightforward and sly, to a panoply of artists -some of whose work you may recognize below. Elbow Room, her show on view this month at Kingston, is a visual feast you won’t want to miss.
I met Jennifer for coffee recently to talk about her work, in an extension of an ongoing discussion we’ve carried on over the years. So, we sat around over at Nero the other morning talking about our art heroes and influences, of whom we have several in common.
Here’s one of Jennifer Moses’ works:
Jennifer Moses Bird on Wire 33×30 oil on panel
And one of my wall pieces
Linda Leslie Brown Nutthouse 2016 mixed media
We decided to conduct our discourse in images…
“First, she said, there’s…
…And don’t forget
Do you know this one?
We have to mention of course.”
And it seems both of us have a permanent Resident in our studios:
Well, that started a flow of images…
…as well as images of flow…
until I came out with
which started us both laughing. We could go on and on with this!
So I’ll leave it to you, Readers, to search out further references like these in Jennifer Moses’ paintings and collages at Kingston Gallery this November.
Laurie Miles is part of Kingston’s current exhibition, Our Voices. In addition to being an active Associate Member at our gallery, she is also in the midst of a Residency at Appleton Farms, Ipswich, MA. Miles, who lives on Boston’s North Shore, will work on the farm through the end of August. I recently talked with her to learn more about her time there.
SDG: Laurie, your work in Our Voices is lovely. I especially like the pieces with graphic qualities, with black marks on dense, textured grounds that look almost like parts of an alphabet of the future. Are the works you’re making at Appleton Farms related in appearance to these works?
LM: Thank you. The graphic element will carry through the new work, but handmade paper will take center stage, creating lighter, more sculptural pieces.
SDG: What made you interested in this residency? How did it come about? Do they typically have one resident per season at the farm?
LM: I introduced myself to the farmers last fall, asking to collect garlic and leek stalks that they had no need for, other than compost, of course. I’ve always been drawn to farms, and a residency was not only a great way to collect organics, but it offered the chance to immerse myself into farming
routines, to satisfy my personal curiosity, and to inform my work in the studio. Appleton does not have a residency program, but they are seriously considering it now.
SDG: What have you been up to so far?
LM: My main project is Organic Papermaking. For the past four weeks (and weeks ahead), I collect and process farm and field material to create an inventory of pulp. The resulting work will be an expression of haute couture textiles, referencing my experience at Appleton Farms and our relationship to the land.
SDG: When you say haute couture textiles, will you be incorporating them into any wearables?
LM: The work will not be wearable, but will reference fashion details–collars, necklines, fasteners, seams. It’s not uncommon for me to find inspiration from the runway.
SDG: Excellent. Tell us more about the materials that you harvest.
LM:Materials and experience with the farm and farmers will be referred to in the work. To date, I’ve made pulp from cabbage leaves, broccoli leaves, grass, hay, onion, garlic, and leek stalks, swiss chard, phragmites, and cat tails. This week’s challenge will be extracting the pre-processed fiber from cow manure. Stay tuned.
Interacting with the farmers also influences what I make. Dairy farming starts with a scenic field of grass. It’s actually a varying recipe of Alfalfa, Timothy Grass, Reed Canary Grass and the weather. It makes up a cow’s diet and effects the flavor of the milk and cheese we consume. Most memorable—standing in a quiet barn at 3:30 am waiting for the cows to shuffle in to choose a spot at one of the stalls. I didn’t know what was going on but they did.
Vegetable farming is a daily expression of teamwork, camaraderie, volume and repetition. It is a massive feat of time management and coordination. I think I gained their respect the day I spent 4 hours topping onions. It was a behind the scenes opportunity for me to get a large supply of resource material, while doing a job that freed a staff member up to do something else. I used the onion tops in my paper-making.
SDG: That is fascinating. It’s a veritable salad of materials. What else is special about the farm?
LM: In addition to the farmers, the event staff also work hard. They create opportunities for the public to learn about and celebrate the farm experience. They host farm dinners, cooking workshops, tours, and camp for kids. Just like everyone else, they love their job and never have enough time or money in the budget. I contributed a high energy day, making paper with 40 Farm Camp kids using recycled pulp.
SDG: Wow, that’s a good number of kids.
LM: Yes, and keeping them away from the hose (water is a key part of papermaking) during our recent heat wave was important. It was just another way to point out the value of conservation during our severe drought. It’s top of mind for all of us and effects everything, including our spirits.
SDG: Indeed, that makes sense. Anything else you’d like to add?
LM: Every facet is connected. It’s a place where not much ever goes into the landfill.
Laurie Miles is a mixed media artist, coming to fine art after a career in print advertising—an industry saturated in design. She works closely with nature, both in and out of the studio, and has led several community art programs related to the environment. Miles received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art. You can follow her on Instagram (@milezart).
Barbara Moody is a resident artist at the Vermont Studio Center this month. She kindly sent photos of her studio and the drawings and paintings in progress. Like much of her work, these pieces possess rhythmic compositions that make the imagery seem to float, despite the elaborate compositions.
Those of you who visited Kingston Gallery this month may recall Moody’s large biomorphic, abstract piece in I Know Just What You’re Saying. It is the first piece you see when you walk in the door, and when you visit the exhibition page of our website: kingstongallery.com. My favorite part of it are the scratches into the surface of the varied colors.
Have a look, and take note that Moody’s next solo exhibition at Kingston will take place in April 2017. Stay tuned for other opportunities to see her work in Greater Boston and beyond.
This month marked the end of Lucky Li’s internship at Kingston Gallery. In addition to assisting with marketing, social media, and other duties, she accompanied me on studio visits. I’m very pleased that Lucky will remain with us as one of Kingston’s part-time gallery sitters. Here’s her description of the last studio visit we made together:
Recently I accompanied Shana Dumont Garr on a visit to Luanne E. Witkowski’s studio in the SoWa district. She graciously welcomed us and showed us her past and current work while sharing stories as she did so, giving us insight into the evolution of her process over time.
Early on in the visit I noted Witkowski’s astute take on how others react to her art. She explained that her work often tends to evoke stories from people. Similar to the way she visually expresses a memory with her art, viewers come to her with verbal memories of their own that were evoked by her artwork. The stories others share with her seem to delight and inspire her, and she shared a few with us. One came from a man who said the piece he enjoyed the most was the one with the large fish in it, and proceeded to show her which work he was referring to. He said it reminded him of an anaconda he saw on vacation once. Witkowski didn’t intend to depict any animals in that particular work, but she enjoyed the man’s vivid description, and even changed the name of the work to reflect the story.
One of the things that struck me the most about her from our visit was Witkowski’s passion for connecting with individuals and with her communities she is a part of. She is an active member of several local artist organizations including the United South End Artists, Mission Hill Artist Collective, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. She also offers Basic Training for Artists and Creative People Workshops (Healthy Artist/Healthy Studio) for institutions and individuals.
It is unsurprising that Witkowski is well-respected within her communities for presenting opportunities and skillfully advising those who express passion and potential in their work and personal character. She is an entrepreneur with a history of making opportunities for herself that started when she was young. She sees her responsibility as an artist being about filling the world with art, and supporting fellow artists. As she carries out these responsibilities, she helps others do the same. Always working with a larger vision in mind, her work is done with the interest of bringing the world to her art, and bringing her art to the world.
Barbara Moody’s smart new series of collages are on view at Kingston Gallery through August 2. The landscapes offer a complex revision of the suburbs, using photographs she took in various locations of Boston’s North Shore, where she lives and works. An overall pattern, quilt-like, emerges, with rich patches of texture and color, such as that of brick and rusted chain. At first the works seem like mixed media, but with the exception of acrylic, the swathes of color are all from photos. Moody cuts them in complex patterns, at times abstracting the original so it appears unfamiliar. The pieces are rejoined so that they arch, buckle, and ripple into spaces that do not recede and settings that do not impart a sense of order.
The collages rarely offer a space to “walk” through, but there is a hallway in Dwell, one of the smaller pieces. Moody captured buildings in the process of being destroyed or returning to nature. She uses these images to consider the vulnerability in residential environments betrayed by rough edges such as crumbling roof tiles, chipping paint, and rust. There are things we purposely ignore in order to retain a sense of stability, but, viewing these images, we continually shift from one form to the next, to a restless effect. Enter at Own Risk #2 is one of the darkest pieces in terms of mood if not color, with piles upon piles of ruin in turquoise, yellow, and white.
The palette, including the whites and coastal grey of worn wood, gives hints of its setting of Boston’s North Shore. She placed the images of the wood, lightened, dried out and cracked by the salty seaside air, as the sky on most of the pieces. As we focus on the horizon of the landscapes, then, we see things that are found on the ground.
The collages conjure a specific setting of suburban, coastal Massachusetts, but they also relate to disturbing stories in the news, such as the recent earthquakes in Nepal and the drought in California. The culture humans built is jumbled up as a result of the forces of the earth, a theme that relates to Moody’s earlier series of paintings. The different media provides a change in composition, as the collages fill the grid of the picture plane in contrast to the more atmospheric feel of the paintings. Both series comment on the fragility of life. The opposite of Instagram filtering, they intensify and compress the ravages of time on our built world to comment on the damage inflicted by nature.
Not all art should make you feel comfortable, and often the best art awakens you in some way. Humans are just as much a part of nature as the trees, complicating the victim/culprit dialectic. This idea came up at a gallery talk by Steve Locke, who curated the current exhibition, Arcadia: Thoughts on the Contemporary Pastoral, located nearby at Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts. We were looking at photographs by Eirik Johnson, who photographed details of trees that people carved words into. The tree bark entirely fills each frame. Many of the words are evidently old, and the surface of the bark has since healed and obscured the language. One tree says “we were here,” and the ghostly letters manage to come across as both predictable and prescient. Our knee-jerk reaction to carving letters in trees is that is disrespectful, but in the scheme of things, and as captured by Johnson, they seem more like an ongoing and ancient conversation. Likewise, in Moody’s collages, the unease is apparent, but a specific perpetrator is not.
Sarah and I met at the gallery on the first day of her exhibition, Salvaged Garden (open July 1 – August 2, 2015) to discuss her work. Although the Center Gallery is not a particularly large space, her works made it seem so, with an installation and two large paintings looking sharp as all get-out.
SDG: Artists such as Rebecca Louise Law take flowers into a sculptural profusion that fills the exhibition space. Your profusion is rooted into abstract painting, even the installations. Tell us about your relationship with painting, and what it has meant to you to expand into installation.
SMB: Ultimately, I want to create an exhibition that has everything. There’s something alluring about that blank rectangle, and I am a painter first, but I also like to see the different ways that the forms I create translate into space. I am working on a few sculptures now in the studio, using similar materials, and look forward to showing them in the near future.
SDG: Your installations have received positive media attention in the past few months, including coverage by Cate McQuaid in the Boston Globe and in Artscope Magazine by Sarah Kinkade. Other than the evident quality and beauty of your work, do you think that the issues you deal with, or perhaps they way you work are having a moment in our cultural imagination?
SMB: I work with repurposed, recycled materials. I love them not just because of the environmental message they contain, but also because they look so cool. I am likely one of many artists out there asking, why put new crap in the world if we can use the old stuff?
I think that STUFF has even more power than ever now because of all of the digital matter we process every day. Actual things really speak to us, their physicality. I love seeing the combinations I can create, and I almost feel like I’m cheating when I put things I’m working on up on the wall-wire, cloth, and floral material-and they look so appealing, organic, and plastic.
SDG: I appreciate it when smart, driven artists like yourself openly engage motherhood in their work. It enables viewers to align motherhood with creativity and productivity outside of running a household. What kind of feedback have you received about works such as Ode to Pregnancy or Mommy Love Me, in conjunction with their titles?
SMB: Painting is like therapy for me, and whatever I’m thinking about makes its way into my work. I had two ridiculously dramatic pregnancies, and I am still working through the emotions. My youngest is just seven months old, and the power of the sensations and what a mess babies are is still very much a reality for me.
Many different emotions come up when people view this work, both positive and negative. Teens LOVED the painting “Ode to Pregnancy” when it was exhibited at the Danforth Art Museum. They were curious about the process, i.e. “what IS that, a painting or a sculpture? How did she make it bulge like that?” People have asked whether it depicts a miscarriage, and that becomes a touchy subject. I use my artistic process to work through the mess of life, and ultimately arrive at a form that I find really beautiful, even if not in the traditional sense. That is the point of my art: to capture that simultaneous beauty and ugliness; growth and decay.
SDG: As you work, do you make decisions in an organic or intuitive response to the materials, or do you plan how things will go in advance? Do you work in a sketchbook before or while working on a new piece?
SMB: I work on paintings differently than on installations. My paintings evolve as I work, often turning out very differently from how they began. I respond to the materials and the forms as I go, and I like that. I work on the floor a lot, and the paint moves around as I work.
This installation at Kingston was initially designed for a different space, and since then I have reworked it for other spaces. I begin by sketching the overall forms, and as I build it, it grows and changes within the limitations of the space. The organic materials grow and move, and I fix them with wire, but they still do their own thing and surprise me.
SDG: Which artists inspire you? Could you recommend anyone’s work we should have a look at?
SMB: I am in the second annual pop-up exhibition at Flock Gallery in Manchester, New Hampshire. The opening reception is Thursday, July 23 at 5:00pm – 8:00pm, and the exhibit runs July 23-28th.
I have a solo exhibition at the Danforth Art Museum in the main center space from March 6 to May 16, 2016. For that exhibition, I will reinstall an archway piece and create a site-specific piece for an alcove. I’ll have news about another group exhibition in the near future as well.
You can follow Sarah on twitter @sarahbrent and on her website: sarahartist.com.
Associate Member Susan Emmerson divides her time between Boston and Chicago. Her first solo exhibition at Kingston Gallery, “Around a Thousand Tiny Corners,” just ended in May, but she’ll be show work from another series in a exhibit at Kingston in August. I recently caught up with her to talk about her work.
SDG: My mom and brother are surgeons, and so I am especially fascinated by how your experience as a surgeon inspires your work. You speak of your art as a type of translation. How does your piece Flesh and Bone translate into biological terms?
SE: I began Flesh and Bone when I noticed the strong resemblance of melted white Tyvek to the inner structure of bone, and began to try to reproduce the appearance of other body tissues.
SDG: How about all of the colors-are they direct or more metaphorical?
SE: I used organic colors found inside the living human body: subdued reds, yellows and browns. The drawings are based on various cells and parts of cells, and I included partially hidden features to give the illusion of looking inside the body.
SDG: That explains the complex textures that I find so appealing. How about this other piece that appears dramatic on Kingston’s grey walls, Visible Absence?
SE: In Visible Absence, I use forms based on the structure of the lymphatic system, with tiny vessels interconnecting seemingly random clusters of lymph nodes. I called it Visible Absence to emphasize that these structures are almost imperceptible in our own bodies and function more or less without our knowledge unless something goes wrong. The shadows that form behind the piece serve to emphasize this illusory quality.
SDG: What a gorgeous way to bring to light information that we typically can’t even sense, let alone see. Would you say your art is a metaphor for the body at work?
SE: The abstract shapes share many qualities with live organisms: flowing, expanding, growing, repeating and proliferating.
You can learn more about Emmerson’s work at her website, susanemmerson.com, and see more of her work this August at Free Association2015: Kingston Associates’ Annual Exhibition, from August 5 to 30, 2015.
Mary Bucci McCoy spent this past February as a resident at the Vermont Studio Center, and I recently caught up with her to hear about how the month went. The residency provides a largely open schedule, with optional visiting artist presentations, studio visits, and open studio participation. Other than that, residents have the all-clear to devote themselves to their work.
We had a strong group of paintings to discuss, as McCoy made progress on an ongoing series of works on panel and experimented with other grounds. She builds each panel herself, then sands them several times to create a porcelain-like surface.
A thick stack of canvas swatches stood on a work table during my visit, making McCoy’s interest in the details evident. The wide range of samples made both of us realize, in the course of our conversation, how painters and viewers alike may become complacent about the potential influence of surfaces. We remember many paintings for the colors, the quality and composition of the marks, but not always for the relationship between the marks and their grounds. McCoy tried many of the fabrics over the course of her residency. Each sample offered different grains and shades of “neutral,” where it became apparent that some beige colors are not so neutral in comparison to others. The results are striking, particularly Pull, made with acrylic and iridescent acrylic on linen. Its background shows the color of the linen through a transparent acrylic medium.
It may come as no surprise, considering her balanced attention to all materials involved, that McCoy sculpted before she painted. Trained as a ceramic artist, her studio is presently adjacent to the studio of her husband, David McCoy, who also works in ceramics. Her background, therefore, informs her present work. Her intuitive, process-based method creates imagery that viewers may identify as recognizable objects, although that is not her intention. I asked McCoy about frosted windows after observing the image at the heading of this blog post, and she said it may have been subconscious on her part, as February in Vermont certainly has its share of frost. She agreed that her surroundings find their way into her work, but not in an overt way.
The paint is liquiform when she begins to work on a piece. She selects each paint with care. “Color is like a space for me,” she says. Working flat, the compositions come about as the liquid paint gradually dries. The drying ushers in surprises, such as spindly threads of ochre rising up from areas of thick, lavender paint. McCoy’s acceptance of the unexpected is similar to putting an object into the kiln. During the firing period, blended glazes may shift in colors, and cracks may form where the clay seemed firm. She comes upon compositions through the process of manipulation and acceptance of the materials having their own say in the outcome of the finished piece. Accretion and the unescapable effects of gravity become themes of her current work.
The full-bodied materiality of the surfaces and the paints and McCoy’s focus and close relationship with the materials are essential parts of the character of each finished piece. Her efforts bring about singular imagery with luxurious finishes. Texture holds equal influence to shape and color, establishing intimacy between the art and the viewer. McCoy’s keen focus while making is at the heart of her work’s meaning. Her small-scale paintings cultivate, or perhaps invite, the rewards of paying attention.
One of my favorite superpowers of visual art is how it can make sense of the confusing, annoying, frightening, or oddball things we all encounter in life. In my formative years as a student, Jeff Koons’ ceramic sculptures of pigs, puppies, and pop icons made my grandmother’s living room a setting I could no longer discredit as simply old-fashioned. Robert Rauschenberg’s flattened cardboard boxes and socks stuck onto canvases made even alleyway rubbish seem to have the potential for a new, stylish life. Whether driven by social critique, theory, or design, visual art contains worlds where content and imagery can follow a higher logic than they seem to in real time.
This March at Kingston Gallery, solo exhibitions by Julie Graham and Joetta Maue integrate familiar material, including their own art work, to push their respective practices in new directions and transform their chosen media. Graham’s work is in the Main and Center Galleries, and Maue’s work is in the Member’s Gallery. Although the two artists’ exhibitions have different subject matter and influences, the similarities are worthy of noting.
Julie Graham‘s exhibition, If it’s not one thing… shows photographs with her paintings for the first time.As an artist, her driving impulse is to seek and resolve the unexpected. Graham often incorporates found objects and materials that are associated with architecture, including spackle and plaster. The resulting surfaces are complex and reminiscent of remote places, eras, and moods. Her painting Chevron is hung on an adjacent wall from a square-format photograph Chevron: Redux. The photograph captures a detail of the painting. The filtered, cropped image, seen apart from the painting, could be part of a road sign; the dried paint texture could be years of wear from exposure to weather. The close proximity to the painting and resulting change in scale form a drama between the two works, but each piece also thrives independently. They do not need each other, but one riffs on the other. Graham’s process references our post-digital world, where we often see artwork first online or via Instagram feeds.
Joette Maue begins with familiar, personal aspects of her domestic life to inspire her new body of work. Her embroidery, photographs, and drawings take in the disarray of parenthood: toys left in a jumble, laundry that is always in process but never done, and houseplants that may or may not have been sufficiently watered. Primarily working in fibers, Maue’s exhibition in transition… incorporates other media, featuring three large drawings and a grid of eight photographs arranged as four diptychs. Maue drew her own crocheted fibers by projecting and enlarging her subject to make still-life details of the threads. She makes something new by examining something else she made, as Graham does with her photographs hanging on a nearby wall. The drawings enabled Maue to change up her studio time and pace of production at a time when her personal life was recalibrating. The photographs are grounding and meditative views of domestic spaces that provide a setting for her textile piece, wash dry fold repeat, which echoes the rhythms of care that accompany motherhood.
Stacey Alickman’s paintings are all about the paint and the paint is alive. It is emphatic; it exceeds the boundary of its support. In fact there is a painting in the exhibit which has literally been shattered by design and has shed its frame. The paintings are filled with gesture; the paint swoops and flourishes, shimmies and shakes. It asserts itself. It announces itself with bravado. Each piece is a complete world; collectively the paintings create a universe, a universe that is emphatically hopeful, one filled with motion and connection. The artist invites the viewer to share in this exuberance and these worlds. She holds up a mirror and lets us in the door.
Stacey Alickman: Humpty Dumpty runs through December 28. Don’t miss this exhibit!
Image: Stacey Alickman, Lost Year, Oil on canvas. 48 x 42 inches, 2014.