Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I grew up in my mother’s art studio– a single story cinderblock building in Greeley, Colorado. This building made for an unconventional home but came equipped with a garage filled with art supplies and no limitations on the mess I could make.
I moved to the east coast for school, attending Skidmore College for undergrad and then earned my MFA in Painting from SUNY Albany. At Skidmore I was an Art Major and Math minor. I enjoyed math because I have a mind for systems but it wasn’t until the last few years that my art and math practice really integrated. I was a formally trained figure painter through all of my schooling and saw art as a creative practice, math as a logical one, and that they were separate. But when I began reading about artists like Channa Horwitz, James Siena, and Steve Roden, a lightbulb when off in my head that painting can be logical and systematic and I had no need to keep my two interests separate. Now I make paintings that start out figurative and then I slowly cannibalize (or digest) the figurative information with an algorithm that translates written text into painterly actions.
Currently I live and work in Seattle, Washington where I am part of an artist-run gallery called SOIL and during the school year I am a Painting and Drawing instructor at various colleges around the city.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I don’t remember deciding to be a painter, it is just something that has always been a fact about me like that I was born in September of have brown hair. I never questioned it.
I was lucky enough to have an artist mother who was always putting art supplies into my hand. But even luckier still, I have a lawyer father who always supported my desire to be an artist.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Much of our modern society was built on the idea that some lives are more important than others; that the disenfranchised were there to sacrifice their lives for those whose lives had value. While we have put an end to some horrific practices, many forms of it still exist. My work is about empowering individual lives by dissecting modern manifestations of this psychology until it is unrecognizable.
For my paintings, I start with written text. Documents that have the power to outline ways in which some lives are made more important than others. Words that have repercussions on a mass scale. Pronouncements and propaganda that strip living beings of their inherent value, and turn them into anonymous things.
I then take the numbers, letters, and punctuation that comprise these texts and alphabetically reorder them. The result is total nonsense. All of the same elements are there, but they no longer have the power to do harm. They have been disarmed. Like taking a gun and switching around its parts so the mechanism can no longer fire.
Finally, I use both forms of the text to write an algorithm that that drives the decisions of each brush stroke of paint. I input the raw data of the text into the algorithm, run it through a series of “if/then” rules I assign based on the structure and grammar of the written words, and receive an output of painterly actions. The painting could not exist without either the original or altered text.
Alternately, in my drawings I am seeking an antidote to this poisonous psychology. I engage in acts of repetition that facilitate an accumulation of similar but inevitably unique marks while concentrating on compassion. These actions are meant to highlight the concept of the individual while showing the strength that many individuals have together.
What is your process like?
My process is very meditative. When I was a figurative painter I would stand, furiously painting and listening to death metal. I could only sustain 3 or 4 hours a day at this pace. But since working with the algorithms, my process is completely the opposite. I sit down to work, listen to audiobooks and can work 9 hours without noticing the passing of time. These paintings take about 60 hours to complete, the longest one taking over 7 months.
The difference is that when I was a figurative painter, I was making constant creative decisions. But now that I work systematically, once the algorithm is written I make almost no creative decisions. The algorithm dictates my actions for the majority of the painting. I work with a round #2 brush and fill a 4-6 foot canvas with methodical strips of 1/4 inch marks either striated or concentric, with no gaps in between. The final surface is highly textured and dense, but organized. I have been a Buddhist for 15 years and have a lot of experience meditating. I don’t think I could work this way without that experience.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
Primo Levy said that Nazis got their power from reducing unique individuals into anonymous things. This psychology is behind most tragedies, stripping distinct living beings of their inherent value. This pain in the world is often calculated and government sanctioned. These realities make me feel powerless. That is when I am glad to be an artist. I can take that emotional experience and turn it into something logical, transformative, and sometimes even beautiful.
And I try to remember that lawyers change laws, doctors fix bodies, but artists change hearts.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for art?
Scrub oil paint off of my cat in a big soapy, furry, colorful mess. A cat who is paralyzed in her back legs from a BB gun shot wound when she was a stray, and has since developed a retired gangster attitude and a complete hatred of being restrained.
For the cat lovers out there, she is otherwise very happy, healthy and pampered.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I am a teacher, working as an adjunct professor at various colleges around the city. If I made enough money on my art practice to not have to teach, I still would choose to teach. I am very fortunate to have a job that feeds into my creative thinking. The students have fresh perspectives and help me stay connected to this quickly changing modern art world. I often find that while discussing work with a student I will have some of my best personal insights.
And I have found that I will research things so much more thoroughly when they effect other people rather than just myself (like the safest way to have an oil painting practice, the best books to read when learning color theory, etc).
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
If you want to be an artist, be an artist. You may be on a less linear path but any attempt to do be anything else will waste your time until you find yourself back to being an artist again.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Find a balance of embracing your natural tendencies and pushing yourself to discover something new.
What does it mean to you to have a “community?”
Community is extremely necessary. I joined the artist run gallery, SOIL, largely for the community. And I choose to have a shared studio space rather than a home studio to find community there as well.
Without community I find that I am repetitive and predictable.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I mix paint to get in the mood. A huge part of my practice is color theory. I use the formal systems of color theory as part of the algorithm, but it also has an impact on my spirit. It seems like half the reason I paint is just an excuse to look at color.
I will indulge a good hour at the beginning of each work day to mixing paint. If I am at the planning stage of the next painting or series I could mix paint the whole day and then record the palette onto a simple mini painting.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
My attitude towards the significance of art school is expressed well in a quote made familiar by Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing upon the shoulders of Giants.”
Just as in any other field, artists can only advance the field by learning from previous discoveries. Without this learning, we will find that we are reinventing the wheel. I don’t think art school is the only way for a person to do this but it is organized and quantifiable.
Attending art school gave me tools of technical skills (choosing to use some and ignore others), helped me learn about art history and become aware of contemporary art with the goal making a meaningful contribution to the modern art world.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
Frustrating: times when I make bad paintings. I call them “sacrifices to the art gods.” As much as I know that they are a necessary part of any healthy practice, I still am just as frustrated as if they meant I would never make anything good again.
Daunting: Rejections. Again, they are a necessary part of a healthy practice and any successful artist has a pile of rejections behind them, but it is hard to remember that at times.
How would you define “success” in art?
What defines success in art: making art and having a community. The aspect of gaining money and recognition from art making seems very separate–It is fickle and unpredictable and not an indicator of a successful or unsuccessful artist. But if you have time to make work and a community to contribute to and be inspired by, you will be fulfilled.
And honesty. I believe the most successful work I have made or seen is one that cuts through shallow expectations and communicates honestly.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
Connecting art and math as a means to disarm otherwise powerful texts that are the source of great suffering in the world. That is my honest communication.
Are you involved in any collaborative or self-organized projects?
I am part of an artist run gallery in Seattle called SOIL. What I love about this gallery is that we have removed the financial burden to sell work off of the walls. We hold an annual art auction that makes all of our money for the year. So the work we show in the space is strictly work that we think contributes something meaningful to the world. In the back space we hold rotating solo shows for the members but the front space is dedicated to outside curators. We have a call for proposals once a year that is available to anyone from anywhere. Then we make our selection of shows with the goal of showing work that is avant-garde, stimulating, and that provides a platform for voices that traditionally have been disenfranchised or without a platform.
What are you working on right now?
I am continuing my practice of transforming harmful text through the acts of logic and painting.
But for the last three years I have sustained side projects of conceptual drawings made through repetitive mark making. These drawing happen outside of my studio and take roughly a year to make. For the first project, I engaged in a Buddhist Counting Retreat where I recited 100,000 compassion mantras. I then recorded the act of each recitation with a red mark. In another project, I asked people from around the country to draw a circle on a piece of paper. This demographic ranged from preschool age to senior citizen, upper middle class to homeless, and stranger to family. Without any further instruction and through the difficulty of drawing a circle, the individual hand and decision making of the person is pronounced.
And in my most recent iteration of this series, I completed over 5,000 full-body prostrations over 8 months. While engaging in these prostrations I recorded the movements with white pens attached to my hands. Since the materials are white ink on white paper, my marks were nearly invisible at first. But as the paper absorbed the repetitive kinetic energy it began to change and a ghost-like arc emerged. This drawing is accompanied by a sound recording of 108 prostrations.
These seem to come from a commitment to accomplish something that I find meaningful and making a drawing from something that would typically not have a mark behind it. These drawings have not come from an intention to make them but rather an unexpected curiosity of wondering what the process would produce.
What I am working on right now is remaining open to what the next repetition drawing will be.