Can you tell me a little bit about you?
I grew up in Omaha, NE which is a fairly conservative, Midwestern city. I moved to California right after college, earning my degree in advertising from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, NE. I remember thinking that if I didn’t leave Nebraska then, I never would.
I worked for two years in Sacramento, CA in advertising before becoming disillusioned with that profession. I wanted to contribute to society more productively; I wanted to be an artist.
So I moved to Kansas City to attend the Kansas City Art Institute, then continued my education by earning an MFA from Queens College in NYC. I remained in New York after graduation, feeling a strong connection to the small-town feel of Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, NY. Five years later, the boy I dated in Kansas City (my now husband) joined me. We decided to move to Grand Rapid, MI after our two sons were born to be closer to extended family. We have been in Michigan ever since.
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
I always drew as a child, but it wasn’t until I was at the University of Nebraska (UNL) that a friend suggested that I take a drawing course. This thought frightened me because I had never taken any art classes in high school. I was a very shy student, and was intimidated by the art students. I didn’t think I belonged there.
So, I signed up for a beginning drawing course. I was exploring the art building after class one day when I passed by an unknown room. I was attracted to the light emanating from the space. It turned out to be the painting studio. Until that point in my life, I didn’t know that painting was a skill that could be taught, and I didn’t know that people still painted! I thought it was an antiquated profession occupied by older, white men whose work could only be seen in museums and coffee table books. I was amazed! I still remember the lighting, the floor, the smell of that room, and seeing row upon row of easels with paintings. It seemed like a magical place and I wanted that.
What do you like most about working where you do?
My studio is in the basement of our home. Our neighborhood is very quiet during the day, which I like. I can run out into my yard whenever I need a break and breathe fresh air, listen to the birds, watch clouds pass by, then head back into work. I also have an endless supply of coffee here.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Inequality is at the forefront of my mind. The current global pandemic is opening all of the fissures in our social structure. It is disheartening. Caring for others (not just humans, all others) and our environment should be paramount, not restarting the economy.
I’m attempting to address this in my work.
What is your process like?
Usually, something I read or hear about will send me down a rabbit hole. I research, think, and then see if a visual response surfaces. After spending some time considering possible outcomes, I will make sketches and if needed, create small mock-ups.
I like to pair a lengthy project with one that provides more immediacy. Having several projects happening simultaneously is how I stay engaged in the studio.
Sometimes they all feed off each other, and other times one is a break from the other.
Presently in my studio, I am working on the logistics for a large installation, a labor-intensive smaller piece, and several smaller drawings.
What is your favorite material to work with, and why?
I don’t have a favorite material, but I like the pairing an element of permanence with something recognizes as temporal. Whatever material I choose is transformed through a labor-intensive process.
Lately, I’ve been flattening chipboard boxes and methodically drawing graphite grids on them. I choose boxes that were once used as packaging – they are a vessel containing something of value. Because the boxes are inherently well-made, I view the content and container as equals.
Disrupting pre-existing categories or value assessments is important in my work right now. Materials that lend themselves to that thought interest me.
What is the last thing you read?
Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarlane. Waiting on my bedside, The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine by Rozsika Parker.
What are you passionate about?
Nature. I take a mile walk every morning regardless of the weather. It’s my chance to do what I call ‘own the day.’ When I had to go into an office every day from 9-5 a daily, morning walk saved me. I love the quiet of the morning, the light quality, the feel of the air, hearing birds, and moving through space before anyone else is stirring. I let my mind wander as my body moves. Walking outside and thinking, Peripatetic School of philosophy, only the conversation is in my head, not with others.
Is there any subject or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?
Equality. Specifically, gendered labor or “women’s work”, which provides the infrastructure to our culture that is overlooked and undervalued. This has always been of interest to me, but every year it seems more timely. It feels dire now due to policies put in place by the current US administration.
Anthropocene. This is another area that weighs heavily on my mind. What work can I create to cause a positive shift in the discourse surrounding the topic?
What is the most surprising response you’ve received about your work from someone?
I was an artist in residence at Marble House Project in , VT. During an open studio evening, a woman walked into my carefully curated space. She looked at one of my drawings composed of rows and rows of thread stitched across the surface of the paper in a basket weave pattern. The piece employs two colors of thread that resembled a particular woven basket I own. She pointed at the piece and said, “What do you do with it?” I didn’t know how to respond.
How do you spend your time when you’re not making work?
Reading, hiking, teaching, gardening, some knitting, walking my cats, and spending time with my teenage boys while they still want to be around me.
How has your work evolved over the last few years?
I’m not to be married to a way of working or a material. I drift between 2D and 3D seamlessly, depending upon the thought I want to communicate.
Lately, I am drawn to traditional 2D art-making materials, most likely the result of teaching in the foundation area of a visual media arts department. I have a newfound love for colored pencils.
Do you have a day job or other work that you split your time between?
I am presently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Grand Valley State University. I have had a lot of jobs over the years, but I recently realized that teaching art is the best job by far. It is exhausting, but it keeps my head in the game at all times. I get to talk about artists and art and share its importance with others. Win-win.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
Maureen Conner, a NY based artist who taught at Queens College when I attended, had a huge impact on my practice. I was primarily working in two dimensions before studying with her. My love of materials stems from seeing her work and listening to her speak about it. I wasn’t linking my thoughts with my art until graduate school.
One piece of advice from an undergraduate professor (male) which I chose to ignore, find yourself a sugar daddy.
Is there any piece of advice you would offer to others?
Trust yourself more. Ignore advice from people who don’t support or understand you.
What do you do when you’re find yourself in a creative rut, or feeling unsure about what direction to go?
I get outside, or look through books on artists, or start reading a book, or clean & organize; everything eventually links back to art.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into the mode or mindset to make your work?
I try to go into my studio right after breakfast, fairly early in the day. I like mornings best.
When leaving my studio for the day, I leave in the middle of something I’m engaged in so I want to return. It helps me focus. Going into the studio without a plan always sounds exhilarating, but usually, I need a direction even if it’s just a hint, like telling myself to use plaster today.
How significant has attending art school been on your practice?
Attending graduate school was extremely beneficial for me. I needed that time without the distraction of earning a living to find my voice and trust myself. I am very grateful I was able to have this time to grow and experiment. I was in a new city, at a new school, surrounded by new people. My work completely shifted during that time. The work I make today still addresses themes I began exploring in graduate school.
How would you define “success” in art?
I feel successful when I share my work and receive feedback about it. Just getting my work out there takes so much effort! I enjoy participating in exhibitions. It’s exciting, challenging, rewarding, and necessary. I need to connect with others and hear different interpretations of the work.
What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far, related to your work?
I have a piece of work in the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) permanent collection. It was a lengthy process once they expressed interest in my work. It didn’t seem real until I visited their website and I saw my name; Maureen Nollette, American.
What are you working on right now?
I am working towards a show that, due to COVID 19, has been postponed until June. SO, I’m making new work for it. It’s with an artist/friend, Kim Cridler.